The Dangers of the Intellectual Dark Web
Is James Damore The Intellectual Dark Web’s Clock Boy?
Recently, Eric Weinstein used a cool metaphor to describe a phenomenon. He pointed out that there’s a bunch of cool intellectuals in the world today who can only talk to each other because the mainstream media ignores them. Eric described this phenomenon as an “intellectual dark web” which was a clever thing to say in the context of the conversation.
Unfortunately, in coining this phrase, Eric pasted a big red Kick Me sign on his back and on the backs of many of his friends. Free thinkers across the country now find themselves lumped together into a category which is named after the worlds most effective mechanism for disseminating child pornography. If the label sticks, free thinkers of all types will have to waste their time fighting word thinking instead of explaining their useful ideas.
Word thinking is one of the least useful types of thinking our minds are capable of, but it’s also the easiest. We can communicate our displeasure to children by using words like, Bad and Nasty without imparting any information beyond the emotional valence of the words themselves. Likewise, we can sort things together using labels like Right, Left, or White, and then form tribes by tying our egos to the prestige associated with the words. The fact that this type of thinking requires less mental energy than any other, guarantees that it will predominate, and this is why most public debates are contests to see which team can attach the most disturbing emotions to the other’s unifying word. The fate of democracy may depend on whether “right wing” or “snowflake” turns out to be the most demeaning term.
“Owning” a label can be a good tactic if your interest group is based on vapid ideas or consists of people with nothing in common except the fact that they share a label. You score more credibility points by saying “I’m a musician and a father.” than you do by saying “I have a kid and I play the banjo.”, especially this time of year.
If you don’t have anything important to say, you can amplify the significance of what you are saying by speaking on behalf of a large group, and you can defend your opinions from ridicule by hiding your personal identity inside a of large group. Imagine how hard it would be to ignore or attack someone who was simultaneously a card carrying INCEL and a woman of color. If you have coherent, useful ideas, labels can only make you vulnerable to word based attacks, guilt by association, and rent seeking. All the press has to do is make the public, hate the term “intellectual dark web”(IDW), and everything Eric Weistein says will be dismissed automatically.
James Damore is the IDW’s “Clock Boy”!
A while back during the Obama administration a young boy who happened to be Muslim was looking for a way to finish his science fair project at the last minute. As resourceful as he was lazy, the young fellow removed the casing from an alarm clock and put it into a suitcase, he then presented it to his science teacher saying something like “hey look, it’s a clock” thereby avoiding a zero score.
The science teacher recognized that in the present climate, a timing device inside a suitcase might frighten some of the more high strung members of the humanities faculty, and told him not to play with it until he got home. He took the project out again later and triggered one of his schools Zero Tolerance policies, which got him sent home. For reasons largely beyond his control the incident caused a backlash from people who didn’t know or care about the details, and the lucky lad ended up getting to shake hands with the president. Richard Dawkins criticized the boy and said all of the fuss was bullshit because he doesn’t understand America. I totally get it, because long before 9–11 I took a box of rocks into my elementary school science class under similar circumstances and claimed it was full of Uranium. Luckily, my brave teacher examined the contents of the box before summoning the authorities to arrest me and force feed activated charcoal to all my little friends.
If you replace public school with Google HR, James Damore’s case is identical. He was clearly sitting around at work watching Jordan Peterson lectures on youtube, when he decided to make some trouble for the people responsible for boring him out of his mind. I’ve read his white paper, and it’s clearly a summary of Jordan Peterson’s lectures on gender differences reformatted as a google doc and with added citations. I don’t object to the contents, but the document is clearly the intellectual equivalent of dismantling an alarm clock and calling it a science fair project.
Damore sent this document to the very people most likely to be annoyed by it, and they overreacted just as embarrassingly as the Clock Boy’s english teacher did. The timing of Damore’s absurd firing caused a backlash, that got him the rare privilege of being interviewed by the very man whose ideas he had copied. Damore’s ideological allies treated him as if he were some sort of insightful gender researcher, just as everyone but Richard Dawkins hailed the Clock Boy as some kind of chronographic savant!
James Damore is the Clock Boy of the Intellectual Dark Web!
So there’s the problem. Thanks to a label, my cheap analogy can become an exciting catchphrase that transmits the emotional valence (I got this term from “Maps of Meaning.”) associated with the Clock Boy incident to everybody who identifies as IDW. Rationally speaking, I’ve done nothing but point out superficial similarity between two situations, but rhetorically I’ve attacked everyone from Paul Ruben, to Steven Pinker. This is only possible because of the label.
Then there’s the free rider problem. All a person has to do is get labeled IDW in the media, and they’ll suddenly have the credibility of being associated with Joe Rogan, and Peter Thiel. If your ideas don’t have any substance, a label is a great way of bribing people into agreeing with you, but if you’re trying to promote subtlety and open minded deliberation, the last thing you want is a self made Eco-chamber full of hired spokes-people.
As James Damore proved, ideas have a life of their own and can spread easily independently of a movement. Ideologies, seem to require a the protective structure of a movement in order to persist. If a large number of brave intelligent people with good ideas are forced into a movement, ideology will choke the ideas and take the whole thing over like mold, due to lack of oxygen on the inside. I hope this Intellectual Dark Web thing blows over.