The Intellectual Dark Web’s master spinner
Recently I wrote an article entitled ‘The Intellectual Dark Web is Dead’. Intellectual Dark Web is a term which was coined by well known mathematician and trickster Eric Weinstein. In the piece I argued that this loosely affiliated group of individuals did not represent a genuine counterculture, as the name suggested. This was not a personal attack on any of the members of the group, none of whom I have anything against, only an attack on the concept. Where was the ‘dark’ in this group? Where was this dangerous hidden substance, the illicit merchandise? I didn’t see it in most of the ‘members’—only in some. The name seemed to me a misnomer, a new kind of tribalism that I didn’t want to identify with—with a materialistic bent. It was only after hearing Eric Weinstein weave his magic spell that I saw that the joke was on me.
Let me explain. A few months ago I watched an argument between Bret Weinstein, Eric’s brother, and Jonathan Pageau. I was persuaded by Jonathan Pageau’s point, that humans are profoundly bound to a mythical and religious superstructure. I had therefore dismissed Bret as a materialist—and assumed his brother was as well, in the same camp as Sam Harris.
Sam Harris is a vociferous critic of religion and has said: ‘intelligence is a matter of information processing in physical systems’. This strikes me as a reductive, perfect example of the absurdity of the materialistic view. How does Sam Harris know this? Where is his proof? Isn’t his argument based on ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ in some kind of metaphysical superstructure. Is a Shakespearean sonnet merely ‘information processing in physical systems’? And hasn’t Harris, by uttering such absolutist claims, located himself within a dogmatic, religious framework—even if his religion happens to be science? Aren’t we profoundly religious by nature?
And then Rebel Wisdom’s David Fuller told me: ‘You know, you are wrong about Bret and Eric Weinstein’ so I was forced to investigate. It turned out that both brothers had more nuanced views than I thought—different from the materialism of Sam Harris. After listening to Eric and Bret on Joe Rogan’s podcast, I was forced to re-consider. Eric said: “Only archetypes of the kind found in religion are sufficiently deep to explain why humans behave the way they do.” Notice, this is not an argument for or against religious dogma, but a simple acknowledgement of a deep truth.
Changing Our Minds
Often we would rather die than change our minds—so instead of learning we we become ciphers of ‘information’. It’s relatively easy to weave a tapestry of cliché and truism, to get lost in ideology and automatism—it’s a lot safer to be ‘right’. Pundits easily spin a convincing narrative from borrowed tropes; the media manages to hypnotise us through key words. We can ‘download’ a lot of information for a good patchwork story and hide within that story, remaining invisible — even to ourselves. In other words, it is a lot easier to posture than to think.
However, some people, like Bret and Eric Weinstein for instance, really do think different. Of course, ‘think different’ is an advertising slogan, which indicates an attitude and an aspiration—and most of us fall short. To think different doesn’t necessarily mean to be a showy contrarian, but to remain humble enough to allow the knowledge of our soul to reveal itself in quiet moments. On the other hand, a real thinker must be willing to face the noise and distortion of existence and still keep a steady gaze.
I believe there is an angelic constellation buried deep within each person, beyond all the personas and masks we have created in order to survive. You could call this genius if you like. The sad thing is that for most of us, it remains in embryonic form; our seed falls onto the hard ground. However, when we truly perceive the ‘terror of the situation’ —when survival is not enough—we may be ready to really and truly, beyond posture, think different, which actually means to think clearly but also with feeling. If one is humble but at the same time brave, then one is ready to receive knowledge.
One of the stupidest ideas circuiting today is that intellect and feeling are separate entities — that the heart and the mind exist in two different spheres. In fact, the way to know a shallow intellect is lack of feeling. A savant or sophist may have a high IQ and be very capable of manipulating information, but still have little wisdom. Great thinkers like the Weinstein brothers, on the other hand, are deeply intuitive individuals, whose depth of feeling matches their powers of abstraction.
What is different about Eric Weinstein — and what makes me dance around the kitchen when I hear him talk on a podcast — is the combination of pure abstraction (mathematics) with felt and deep humanity. When he speaks I feel I am in the presence a real human being, in other words. His math (and I know less than zero about math) cannot be about mere numbers but secret patterns of light, ‘the divinity’ behind the numbers—if I can be religious about it. There is a profound spiritual impulse at work here behind this kind of math and sense making.
Bret Weinstein is also a kind of genius I’ve discovered — and what I have noticed is that the two brothers seem to shine most brightly when they are together. This makes me wonder if genius can be shared between siblings or even close friends, if genius is relational. But that is all speculation. The real nature of genius, as I see it, is to reveal a new code or vocabulary — a way to perceive the world and patterns, which may seem obvious once they are perceived, but which we didn’t notice at first. Both The Weinstein brothers seem to have a passion for finding these patterns beyond the mundane and the obvious.
Eric has spoken at length about his concern for the oddball, the weirdo, the idiot savant who people overlook—and apparently the Weinstein brothers had a hell of a time at school. (See The Tim Ferris Podcast). He talks about how the slow learner may be guarding a treasure—that a ‘disability’ may be the trauma of a soul who cannot adapt to a soulless system. By chance or grace, the hidden powers of such a person reveal themselves given the right circumstances. It takes persistence, a certain monomania, and the right encouragement. Eric embodies this spirit of encouragement, as you can feel from the following Tweet he sent my way:
As a person who has been told in different contexts that I have a learning disability, I now feel quite an affinity to Eric and Bret. I’m now in the weird position of defending them, from people who had the same misconceptions as I once had. In the beginning I dismissed the brothers as mere positivists, trumpeting the virtues of the enlightenment and science — ignorant to the complex spiritual dimension of life (because of my own bias towards spirituality). But my view was based on a caricature.
The worst kind of journalism makes caricatures and builds narratives around them. You only have to observe how a lot of the mainstream media has described the reasonable people in the IDW— as deplorable scumbags to various degrees. The hilarious thing is how extreme the mischaracterisation can be. But caricatures are expedient ways to understand reality. A cash hungry media would rather have us swimming in the shallows—gossiping rather than dialoguing—complaining rather than finding the secrets hidden in the fabric of space and time.
The Intellectual Dark Web is a brilliant joke
The Intellectual Dark Web, as Eric has said, is a kind of brilliant joke. The joke is that the darkness is elsewhere — in our inability to see or hold nuanced, complex views — where we hide behind ideology. Everybody knows the IDW are not dangerous alt-right revolutionaries but reasonable and fair-minded thinkers and humanitarians, a few of whom are left-leaning. The danger they present is actually to a state of crippling conformity and the status quo. These are bright souls, rather than dark ones, and the IDW presents a more heterodox picture of reality, instead of an ideological one.
In retrospect I see that my article ‘The Intellectual Dark Web is Dead’ was actually another kind of hidden joke or ruse, hopefully in the spirit of the IDW. It was asking people to go beyond tribalism, which is what the IDW is actually about. Certainly, this group is not dead yet, but quite vitally alive. But since I am representing no particular ideology I don’t have to be bound to fixed narrative about such matters. Luckily, as you can see from the above Tweet, I can change my mind.
The glory of Eric and Bret Weinstein and the ruse called The Intellectual Dark Web, along with the serious topics they discuss, is a mischievous sense of fun and play. They represent the non-conformist positive aspect of the American pioneering spirit: the willingness to be expansive and generous, to always look out for the underdog, to value truth over reputation. In an age of plastic and ideologies, it’s good to know that such real eccentric pioneers and individualists still exist in the dangerous land of America.
Eric, if you are reading this. Thank you for your Tweet and dinner invitation. If you are ever in Paris, France, I will certainly take you up on your offer — I’d love to discuss these things. And thanks for the tweet. And thanks for making America great again after all.
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The Intellectual Dark Web is Dead