The “Intellectual Dark Web” is a Billionaire-Funded Echo Chamber

On May 8th of 2018, the New York Times published an opinion from the editor by Bari Weiss, titled “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.” While the piece was the subject of much derision at the time of publication, the titular phrase has gained traction both ironic and sincere. The opening paragraph of the piece states: “Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered ‘dark.’” This is a statement of the values of the editor, Weiss’ political stances.

Weiss initially distinguished herself among right-wingers with her involvement in countering campus backlash towards Israeli war crimes. The National Review recently published a masturbatory writer’s retelling of Weiss’ rise, “The Sliming of Bari Weiss,” which included the phrase “In short, criticism isn’t censorship.” Of course, the irony of a turn of phrase such as this being used to defend someone who feels “free speech is under siege” is lost on an outlet founded by William F. Buckley Jr. and edited by Ralph de Toledano, both known for codifying the rhetoric of the Southern Strategy whereby conservatives could pander to the racial aggrievement of white voters to co-opt their political support.

In “The Sliming of Bari Weiss,” the National Review dredges up Weiss’ hardline support of the Israeli government, not a full month after Weiss’ NYT op-ed was the word on everybody’s lips. For an outlet founded by notorious racist political strategists, this seems an unwise move lacking in awareness, given that in May Israeli soldiers had gunned down hundreds of civilian protesters, killing a handful and leaving many, many more injured. The United Nations is launching an investigation into Israeli war crimes, so it might not be politically savvy to bring up Weiss’ staunch defense of a murdering apartheid state. Still, it’s a remarkable footnote in a suspiciously homogeneous series of conservative hucksters on the “Intellectual Dark Web” rising to prominence, and Weiss’ piece is as good a line-up as any.

“Guys, guys, guys!” goes the refrain of Dave Rubin, host of the Rubin Report, who insists many people on many sides of many discussions all have good points. Yet Rubin consistently refuses to platform anyone that isn’t right-wing, if not explicitly then in their stated values. The obvious hypocrisy on display here, as with Weiss and the National Review, is that if there is truly a threat looming where dissenting opinions are marginalized, why is the standard for dissent and marked by Rubin’s choice of guests and Weiss’ IDW profiles so exclusive to right-wing punditry and opinions? For people in danger of being silenced, conservatives sure seem to be making a ruckus.

Maybe conservatives aren’t really in danger of being silenced. Maybe Rubin isn’t the one choosing his guests. Consider the following: the Rubin Report is partnered financially with Learn Liberty, a think-tank started by the Institute for Humane Studies. Don’t let the name fool you; the Institute not only receives generous donations from Charles G. Koch, Koch also sits on its board of directors. The Kochs are known for funding right-wing initiatives to push their political narratives using their multi-billionaire fortune, and have invested in the loyalty of at least fifteen hosts and contributors of a quaint little news start-up you might have heard of called Fox News. According to the Huffington Post, these hosts and contributors include Tucker Carlson, Mike Huckabee, Laura Ingraham, Guy Benson, Dana Perino and Andrew Napolitano.

Naturally it’s in the interest of billionaires to create political propaganda or appropriate it when necessary to defend their status as billionaires. Dave Rubin appears to have left the Young Turks because they wouldn’t pay him significantly more than workers who came into work every day just to film his segment for a few hours a week. The Kochs, on the other hand, would pay generously through whatever convenient organized media grapevine Rubin was willing to partner with, and his work is now to be a mouthpiece for bullet-pointed billionaire musings on who the real problem in our society happens to be today. Never the billionaires, though, right?

There is an unsurprising return to Weiss’ talking points in Rubin’s redundant and monotonous choices of topics of conversation. The Left wants to silence everyone who doesn’t agree with them despite no clear or consistent attempts by leftists to do that, identity politics is a plague on our political discourse despite the Right’s intense care for the views of rich white men, differences in the ways we treat minority groups are just naturally The Way Things Are: rinse, lather and repeat. We shouldn’t aim to give Weiss too much credit, however; even she admits in her own piece that she did not invent the IDW so much as investigate it wholly uncritically: “It’s a pattern that has become common in our new era of That Which Cannot Be Said. And it is the reason the Intellectual Dark Web, a term coined half-jokingly by Mr. Weinstein, came to exist.”

“That Which Cannot Be Said,” appears to refer to a string of statements commonly recognized to be bigoted or outright false, which have been re-tread so many times they ought to be re-dubbed That Which Has Been Said Too Much. But that’s a criticism, and if you’ll recall, criticism is not censorship. Ergo, the free speech of Weiss and every shill she cozies up to is entirely unthreatened.

The Eric Weinstein mentioned in the previous quote is the managing director for Thiel Capital, an investment firm which is dedicated to the financial initiatives of Peter Thiel. It’s nice to see Weiss diversifying her acquaintanceships with shills for more than one billionaire family.

The professor Dr. Jordan Peterson tops the list of IDW intellectuals, and much like Weiss herself his claim to fame originally comes from a series of campus outbursts. Peterson in particular was offended by the introduction of what is now simply called “Bill C16.” What was Bill C16? Precisely speaking, it was technically an enactment to amend the existing Canadian Human Rights Act. How did it amend these Human Rights in question? Why, by adding gender identity and gender expression to a list of categories against which discrimination is unlawful.

Peterson’s claim is that, in telling him he is not legally protected to discriminate against people based on their gender identity or gender expression, the state is compelling his speech. By his reasoning, as he has stated time and time again, because he has to gender someone correctly, the government is telling him what he must necessarily say, which is a threat to his free speech. In his words, this is political correctness attacking free speech. That’s the whole argument. And it’s ludicrous.

This string of extraordinary inferences by Peterson are predicated on the assumptions that (a) Bill C16 in an way implies a single casual misgendering could have grievous legal consequences and (b) the government is telling him he must necessarily refer to someone in some way. Here’s the thing: neither of those assumptions are true. They don’t pass any basic standard of evidence involving reading Bill C16 itself, whose official summary on the government document — available on the Canadian government’s website — is as follows:

“This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

“The enactment also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.”

What are we suppose to be afraid of, again? The enactment makes clear that a threshold of evidence of bias/prejudice/hate must be met in order to move forward with legal proceedings regarding discrimination. Therefore, if you cannot be proven to have any of those qualities in your dealings with someone in the context of their gender identity or expression, you have nothing to worry about. This is standard legal language that leaves very little room for ambiguity.

We can hereby infer quite easily that Peterson is worried about trans people being protected under law against discrimination. Three guesses as to why he thinks that way. If you listen to his retellings of all this, however, he paints himself as the tragic martyr of all western civilization against postmodernists and neo-Marxists. Someone should let Jordan know his use of language is very postmodern, or perhaps we ought to ask what separates a Marxist from a neo-Marxist? Peterson has also dealt heavily with the phrase “Cultural Marxism,” which he apparently uses as a buzzword for whenever minorities want to be treated better. The phrase, however, was originally revived by neo-Nazis from the original historical Nazi conspiracy of Cultural Bolshevism. But to Peterson, the issue at hand is “political correctness,” (i.e. minorities not being under attack), not peddling Nazi conspiracy theories of a Jewish plot to introduce socialism for the purpose of eroding western culture. If you think that’s a stretch, consider that he also promotes each piece of that conspiracy theory separately: minorities defending themselves is “political correctness” and an attack on our freedoms, western values are under attack, and here’s some red scare language to top it off.

Peterson has a history of incoherent blathering covering sinister meaning. In multiple interviews and Q&A sessions he has implied that it isn’t the fault of violent incels (read: “involuntary celibates,” primarily men who think women owe them sex) that they are the way they are, but rather that society makes them so. A feminist might be caught saying something vaguely similar, except that Peterson has also advocated assigning women as sex partners to these violent men. Sounds like a quick way to breed domestic violence. He has also stated that casual sex implies a lack of responsibility — he does not substantiate this — and that the responsibility “has to be enforced somewhere.” Apparently Peterson is afraid that the Canadian government will tell him that it might be harassment for him to constantly and purposefully misgender trans people, but government or some other authority is allowed to tell other people who to sleep with. Right.

Peterson’s 1999 publication “Maps of Meaning” contains many rants and images that essentially summarize simple ideas but disguise them as deep insight. His favored refrain that if you clean your home and stay healthy you are likely to be living a more fulfilled life rings true to anyone who has ever, say, had a parent figure tell them the exact same thing. He goes to great length in his literature to overcomplicate the notion that, for just one example, sometimes people want things they can’t have and thus find themselves experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. It’s natural to academics to be choosy with their words, yet as anyone who has ever graded or reviewed an undergraduate essay knows, sometimes these seemingly particular turns of phrase are vapid stuffing in an unusually common notion.

In particular, Peterson’s Jungian language coding conservative ramblings on women and trans people is reminiscent of some certain dated Freudian coding that did much the same with gay people: in particular, with gay sex. The relevant Freudian interpretation was to read gay men as feminine and submissive due to an interpreted — and often heavily projected — desire for penetrative sex with other men. The subtext is that gay men take men’s penises, and so do straight women, so there must be an underlying psychology linking their sexualities, yes? Imagine being gay yourself and reading this in college, only it’s a dated psychological textbook and you have the added context that you’re also transgender and can laugh at the easily explicable analysis of ideas such as “penis envy” as a way of misreading something startlingly straightforward.

And they say conservative views on campuses are being silenced.

Well, there’s good money in saying that. Jordan Peterson makes many thousands of dollars a month from Patreon donations alone, with recent numbers he released putting total donations at around $60,000. Peterson promotes the National Review, the Cato Institute (read: originally the Charles Koch Foundation), humanprogress.org (a project of the aforementioned Cato Institute) and the Institute for Humane Studies, just to name a few previously discussed shill factories.

We’ve extensively covered Weiss’ assertions about political correctness and free speech, but let’s return to an often overlooked component of her Intellectual Dark Web: the stated fundamental biological differences between men and women. To be clear, this isn’t a basic sense that all people have differences and are special in their own way; no, that would be evocative of some metaphor involving snowflakes, and we can’t have that. For those of us who watch a certain subset of bigots intently, it won’t come as a surprise to see that Weiss is taking up TERF talking points.

A “TERF” is a kind of anti-trans bigot. The term itself stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist,” but this can be misleading. The idea behind TERFs isn’t that they have a new and stunning radical view of gender, but rather that they sell their garden-variety transphobia with that attractive wrapping of cutting edge ideas, rather like the Rubin Report or Bari Weiss’ articles. A TERF is trans-exclusionary, but the idea is that they code themselves as radical, and they’re not even usually on-board with basic feminist concepts like women’s reproductive rights and anti-rape activism.

The trend with all these people is that they’re educated bigots who are “Just Asking Questions,” or as a colleague of mine once cynically — and crudely — put it: they’re JAQing off. Take Christina Hoff Summers, another teacher Weiss profiles in her glossy thinkpiece. She’s mostly reviled by feminists for being a defender of rape culture and blaming rape victims for their trauma, but she also receives funding from the American Enterprise Institute, an heir to the Heritage Foundation funded by the Koch Brothers. The AEI is also known for paying scientists to speak out against the broad scientific consensus on the existence of man-made climate change.

Weiss promotes a number of other faux-intellectual bigots in her article, including Ben Shapiro, who once tweeted out, “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage. This is not a difficult issue.” Presumably one can infer that Ben means to say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a difficult issue. That appears to be news to everyone involved. One may wonder if it’s news to Bari Weiss.

Another few in a long list of disappoints featured in Bari Weiss’ article were Sam Harris and Candice Owens, the former of which was previously known for being an outspoken atheist and is now more known for writing thinkpieces about nuclear first strikes on majority-Muslim countries and how there’s “no point” in allowing in Muslim immigrants across out border. Harris has said, “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” If that doesn’t show you who his allies are, what will?

Oh, as it happens, there is one more thing. A critique from Theodore Sayeed in a Guardian piece by Glen Greenwald goes as follows: “For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their ‘reflexive solidarity’ with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work.” Perhaps Harris thinks the Israeli government or Bari Weiss have sensible things to say about Islam.

For her part, Candace Owens has appeared in multiple advertisements for PragerU, joining such personalities as Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson. PragerU is, despite its name, not a university but rather a propaganda channel primarily hosting its content on YouTube — not unlike Rubin himself — named for Dennis Prager and owned by the Wilks brothers, who made their fortunes fracking for natural gas. Owens works as Director of Urban Engagement for Turning Point USA, another propaganda network known for poorly attempted satire of leftists that involved dressing up conservative campus activists in diapers (not inappropriately). Turning Point USA is also funded by the Koch brothers. You get the picture.

Bari Weiss begins to draw her May op-ed on the IDW to a close with a series of comments about the allegedly ambiguous political nature of the many individuals she has profiled as well as the “dangerous” nature of the IDW, of which many people are surely “afraid.” Presumably those people aren’t the organizations paying them to say what they say, or the billionaires backing those organizations. Weiss writes:

“Go a click in one direction and the group is enhanced by intellectuals with tony affiliations like Steven Pinker at Harvard. But go a click in another and you’ll find alt-right figures like Stefan Molyneux and Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich (the #PizzaGate huckster) and Alex Jones (the Sandy Hook shooting denier).

“It’s hard to draw boundaries around an amorphous network, especially when each person in it has a different idea of who is beyond the pale.”

It seems likely that the true meaning of this golden nugget inside Weiss’ shitshow of an article is that she herself has no proper method of disconnecting what she believes from what some of the worst people in politics believe, and furthermore she’s loath to analyze that trend based in the commonalities between herself, those people and the IDW: namely, the bigotries she clearly holds. To analyze something with that amount of self-awareness, it would be necessary for her to first admit it’s possible she’s writing all of this from inside an echo chamber insulated by millions and millions of dollars.

Not likely.

[Author’s Note: this piece previously referenced the dollar amount Peterson makes from Patreon donations based on earlier estimates; the good professor has since seen fit to release some numbers depicting his Patreon intake more accurately, and the information contained herein has been updated to reflect this.]

Violet Guinevere Stellar

Written by

Trans lesbian activist and social critic; YouTuber (Gwen_No_Fear) and author extraordinaire!

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