The Intellectual Darkweb (I): The Origins│ Rory Johnston
The Intellectual Dark Web. This new frontier of news and political analysis. Coined by mathematician extraordinaire, Eric Weinstein, the term largely denotes the movement for freedom of speech and free thought in alternative media. Exporters of the intellectual dark web herald from across the political spectrum and share two key facets: an absolute belief in freedom of speech; and a rejection of far left “progressive” dogma. In summary, the movement can by-and-large be personified by Dave Rubin’s vision for 2018 as “the year of unusual alliances”; the Intellectual Dark Web fundamentally is a major formation of ‘new vs old’ in the sphere of media.
Early origins of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) is owed largely to the Four Horsemen of Atheism (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Prof. Richard Dawkins & Daniel Dennett). Whilst their main body of work was published literature and spoken lectures, their appeal brought traction to the New Atheism movement that was widely broadened by the internet. The invention and subsequent popularity of the “Hitchslap” on YouTube is testament to this. Rather than other examples that will be mentioned in this article, the Four Horsemen were lucky that platforms like YouTube were still coming of age. Unofficially led by the enigmatic Christopher Hitchens, whose mastery of the polemic is still yet to be matched since his untimely passing, the Four Horsemen have not only been a huge influence amongst those now leading the Intellectual Dark Web, but we still witness their key ideas as a driving force of the IDW.
Atheism was obviously a major element of the Horsemen’s narrative, but it was the methods that the four thinkers promulgated that has shaped the IDW. As a rejection of the religious dogma they saw as regressive, the four Horsemen sought to break out of a perceived oppressive mould. It was the intention of the Horsemen to challenge the institutions directly, the form by which those who work within the IDW have ardently adopted. We see countless occasions such as Lindsey Shepherd of Laurier University or Bret Weinstein, formerly of Evergreen State University, combating the dogma preached by their respective institutions. Whilst the common display of defiance in the face of compelled speech was clearly not an invention of the Horsemen, the culture war against religion that they promulgated in the early part of the 21st century has now evolved into a new culture war, with the key people of the IDW taking over the Horsemen’s mantle.
A healthy dose of dissidence is another characteristic those within the IDW share with the Horsemen. Whilst Weinstein and Shepherd as previously mentioned have been dissidents within institutions, it is on alternative media platforms that we see dissidence in full flow. Prominent YouTube content creators have the freedom to create informative and controversial videos on topics that are simply no go areas for the mainstream. Excuse me if my admiration for him is shining through, but it is here where we really see the legacy of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, who pitted himself against the mainstream left as early as the 1960s, and then again in the 1980s, was seen as a having a naughty streak to him. There was an air of danger that surrounded Hitchens when his name was spoken within the mainstream, something that is being exploited by many prominent IDW types such as Ben Shapiro to name just one. It is a liberty entrusted in those opposing authoritarians in society. With the evolution of culture wars, the baton of dissidence has been handed down from Hitchens and the Horsemen to those who seek to challenge the mainstream bubble in the media.
The second overriding facilitator of the IDW is the growth of alternative media platforms. Alternative media has been the proving ground for those seeking to make headway in the IDW, with the founding fathers of this fertile ground being The Young Turks (TYT) network. Love them or hate them, TYT is an alternative media phenomenon. They themselves would hate this summation but TYT are a key reason for the development of the IDW. At the time of writing, they have over 3,500,000 subscribers on YouTube, whilst their sister channels under the umbrella of the TYT network have hundreds of thousands of subscribers too. Whilst channels like Vox and Vice may now boast more subscribers and regularly have higher view counts, The Young Turks were the network that revolutionised alternative media. Fronted by former MSNBC host Cenk Uygur, his vision for a progressive left news outlet put progressivism into the left wing lexicon. Back in 2012, as the Young Turks were quick to tell you, progressivism was a fringe movement amongst the Democrat base. Now in 2018, although TYT change their minds on this matter to suit their narrative, progressivism is now front and centre of mainstream left wing politics. Ugyur had even taken a major role in canvassing for Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign trail, introducing him to rallies on several occasions. TYT have been able to capture the minds of millions of young voters. I’ll confess myself, prior to 2014, I was a proud beating progressive who was utterly obsessed with TYT. Whilst their shoddy excuse for journalism contained eye wateringly poor research was always prevalent, it’s easy to see why they became so popular.
They were the first people to break out of the rigid mould set by the mainstream media. They were, and are still anti-globalist – a sentiment that this rapidly shared by the left and the new right – they always were hell bent on removing corporate money from politics and bringing power back to the people. Its serves as a stark reminder that these core tenets are largely what Donald Trump ran his presidential campaign on. The Young Turks were undeniably the first of a new wave of new political thinking. An in depth analysis into key players involved with the IDW often state that they were huge fans of TYT. Dave Rubin, a personal hero of mine with possibly the largest political chat show on alternative media was formerly a commentator for the network, back when his show, The Rubin Report was only concerned with the best dildos money could buy – if you allow the poetic licence, you’ll be surprised how common this topic was! Now, even Rubin has distanced himself from his former network and takes to twitter on a regular basis to emphasise his vehement dislike for his former employers.
Considering their formerly diverse fan base who have since turned their backs on the network, TYT have had a greater impact on the IDW than they might wish to admit. It the past half-decade, it has been TYT’s agenda to push what we would now consider mainstream radical leftism. Often providing sympathies for radical Islamists, whether it be some pundits condemning Charlie Hebdo cartoonists after they were attacked in 2015 or Cenk Uygur taking three hours to chest thump his ideology to Sam Harris following Harris’ controversial appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time alongside Ben Affleck, TYT have sought to purport the strengths of engaging in identity politics. What became even more frustrating for audience members such as myself, is that despite their claims of being pro free speech and being accepting Liberals, their hatred of anyone lying outside of their Overton Window is utterly transparent. As an anecdotal case study, although this remains a prevalent motif of their content, there is a video released by the network on the 27th May 2015 titled “Rand Paul: Republicans are responsible for ISIS”, in which the network praised the GOP Senator from Kentucky for blaming hawks within the GOP for creating ISIS. It was up until host Ana Kasparian stated that Libertarians like Paul were decent people, until they spout conservative ideas and one remembers they are a “terrible person”. This condemnation for people outside of their thought bubble is hardly uncommon, and their intolerance has largely driven people against the network. It was my belief whilst a viewer that they were becoming the Fox News of the Left, and after watching this video, that’s where the die was cast. I haven’t been subscribed since.
But this is symptomatic of large swathes of alternative media audiences. It had to wait until 2016 for Alex Jones of all people to storm TYT’s livestream stage at the Republican National Convention to tell Cenk Uygur that he and his organisation were the “anti-liberals”. Instead of this becoming a hit piece on TYT though, I want to demonstrate the anger that has been created by this organisation. The abandonment of true liberal principles from TYT had left a vacuum for these principles in alternative media. This is where we have seen the fertile ground for people like Dave Rubin, Jordan B Peterson and Ben Shapiro to name a few to flourish.
The concoction of dissidence mixed with the platforms enabled by alternative media is proving to be a powerful one. One need only take several minutes on social media to see that whenever the mainstream attempt to cover the IDW, it does so with incredibly bigoted viewpoints that amount to poorly written hit pieces. The mainstream is faltering before our very eyes, but we still need to shine a light upon those who seek truth outside of the mainstream media.
This is the first article in the Intellectual Darkweb Series by Rory Johnston. The next article in this series will cover the Naughty New Right.