Criticisms (mine and others) of Bari Weiss’s “Intellectual Dark Web” piece

May 10, 2018 • 8:30 am

As Grania mentioned, I’m recovering from food coma (only the second time in my life), so I have time to write a bit.

Two days ago I wrote about Bari Weiss’s New York Times piece about “The Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW), which I thought was one of her less successful columns. The people highlighted as members of the IDW included Sam Harris, Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Christina Hoff Sommers, Steve Pinker, Joe Rogan, Michael Shermer, and so on. Weiss’s article was illustrated with nice photos of the subjects by Damon Winter, but those too were bizarre as they were all taken at twilight: a heavy-handed conceit emphasizing the “Dark Web” aspect.

My objection to Weiss’s piece was that didn’t seem to have a point: it lumped together a bunch of people who had little in common except a). they all anger members of the authoritarian Left (but are as different as Ben Shapiro and Steve Pinker), b). most of them have been deplatformed or disrupted in speeches on college campuses, and  c). they’ve nearly all been interviewed by Dave Rubin, who of course has been demonized for letting them talk and not asking hard questions (I have faulted Rubin a bit for this). This is the peroration of Weiss’s piece, and I can’t help but think that it’s one of her main points:

I get the appeal of the I.D.W. I share the belief that our institutional gatekeepers need to crack the gates open much more. I don’t, however, want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all. Given how influential this group is becoming, I can’t be alone in hoping the I.D.W. finds a way to eschew the cranks, grifters and bigots and sticks to the truth-seeking.

This is a non-problem, I think. People already know that Alex Jones is a loon, Milo Yiannopoulos (who did sometimes raise points worth debating) a provocateur, and Richard Spencer a white supremacist. It’s not the responsibility of people like Sam Harris or Pinker or Sommers to say, “Hey, these people don’t belong with me,” though sometimes they do.  Here Weiss seems to be throwing a sop to her angry NYT colleagues. After all, what does she mean by “I don’t want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all?”

Surely she doesn’t mean a culture in which people are censored. And by “censorship”, I don’t just mean violations of the First Amendment, in which government censors speech, but also the view and its sequelae that some views are so odious that they can’t be expressed publicly, as in college talks. I’ve said that I wouldn’t object to a Holocaust denier being allowed to talk in college, but yes, there are some people so crazy that I wouldn’t urge their invitation to a university: people like Alex Jones, who is either mentally ill or the greatest grifter of all.

Free speech in America (or anywhere else), as Brother Russell Blackford notes below, isn’t limited to the U.S.’s First-Amendment construal:

Now Weiss’s piece has been criticized by others on both on the left and right. An example of the latter is Jonah Goldberg’s piece in National Review (click on screenshot):

Goldberg’s criticisms resemble mine:

More substantively, I guess I still don’t get it. Having read the essay twice, it seems to me this IDW thing isn’t actually an intellectual movement. It’s just a coalition of thinkers and journalists who happen to share a disdain for the keepers of the liberal orthodoxy. Weiss recounts a bunch of conversion tales where once-respected and iconoclastic liberal types run head-on into the groupthink or party line of the liberal establishment. They suddenly have a revelation about the enforced orthodoxy of their own side, and as they pull on these intellectual threads, they face blowback and reinforcement from unexpected places.

Except for this one:

But I don’t think [Ben] Shapiro’s burgeoning media empire is best described as his being shunned by or “locked out from” the legacy media. He’s no victim, and neither is Peterson. And while the protests and shout-downs at college campuses do say something important about liberalism today, I’m hard-pressed to see how most of these very successful people have been “silenced” in some broader sense. Indeed, there are many people who share many of the IDWers’ ideas yet haven’t lost their perches in academia or journalism.

The issue isn’t whether they have podcasts or books or are widely read; it’s that the things they are saying are considered so odious by the Authoritarian Left—because they’re said to contravene intellectual propriety—that they’re not valid topics for public debate. And that is why their words are considered “hate speech,” and why college students go nuts and disrupt them when they try to talk on campus.

If there is a point to Weiss’s article, it’s one she doesn’t make explicitly: it’s time we stop seeing some views as completely off limits, and not worthy of consideration or debate; and that we allow debate on issues like affirmative action, abortion, immigration, religion, and so on. (I agree that among rational people there are some settled issues, like the wrongness of slavery, but I still wouldn’t mind hearing a debate between someone who thinks slavery was a good thing versus an opponent.) If Bari Weiss wants “gatekeepers”, she should specify exactly what she’s talking about. That was one of the weaknesses of her piece.

Here are Weiss’s answers on Twitter to Goldberg’s criticisms:

Umm. . . . Bill Nye versus Ken Ham? Christopher Hitchens versus Peter Hitchens? There are any number of public debates on YouTube involving people as different as Sam Harris and Ben Shapiro.

And that’s her point? Hardly worth making, I think.

If there is any validity in Weiss’s responses, it’s not that these people are making “common cause,” as that “common cause” has nothing to do with ideology. What is valid is that she’s emphasizing (and not being very clear about it) the value of debating ideas, even those ideas considered by the Left to be beyond the pale.

When I first read Weiss’s piece, my thoughts were these: “What about Alice Dreger and Laura Kipnis?” Surely those women, both apostates for criticizing the excesses of the Left (Kipnis for Title IX enforcement and Dreger for discussing the treatment of people with “non-binary” sexuality), deserved to be in Weiss’s article. It turns out that Dreger, at least, was supposed to be in Weiss’s piece but ultimately refused:

Here’s part of Dreger’s explanation for her refusal:

After [the photographer] left, I started thinking this was not the right story for me to be in. We had talked about who else would be in it, and it wasn’t so much as I didn’t want to be associated with those people as I didn’t know who most of them were. So, it wasn’t “I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me” so much as “Who now? What now? What am I supposedly a key part of?”

I was also, frankly, worried about any article that was going to have a bunch of highly dramatized images. That kind of thing has rarely worked out well for me. In such cases, I usually look like I’m there for the purposes of playing “one of these things is not like the others.”

Bari and I talked again, including in person when I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, and I became convinced I made no sense in an article for which I did not understand the most basic premise. If the idea is that I piss people off by being disloyal to my likely tribes, well, I don’t think that makes me that unusual; I think it just makes me a good intellectual.

. . . Mostly what worried and worries me is this: the group identified as the “Intellectual Dark Web” appears to be so-identified because they have a lot of opinions. As I’ve been saying to Bari since the first time we talked, a few months ago, I’m really tired of the valorization of opinions, and I think it is exactly what has gotten us into the mess we are in. (I admire her for still talking to me after how many times I’ve said to her, “Bari, listen: what you do is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”)

Dreger’s criticisms again underline the weaknesses of Weiss’s piece, though I’m not sure precisely what Dreger means by the unwarranted “valorization of opinions”. Many of the people in the so-called IDW don’t just render opinions, but give data and reasons supporting their opinions. After all, Dreger does that herself, and Dreger has “a lot of opinions.”

Finally, not all the criticism of Weiss’s piece was rational or germane. P. Z. Myers, for instance, produced the expected fulmination against the members of the IDW in two separate posts (here and here).  Most of his writing, as usual, discredits itself, so I’ll make only a few points in response to his criticisms:

  1. The IDW does not consist of “self-appointed intellectual thought leaders.” These people became well known because what they wrote made many people think and appealed to some of them. That is the way anybody becomes an intellectual thought leader; you can’t just declare yourself one. Nor can you become one by tearing down other famous people. Myers says “these people named themselves the dark web.” That’s simply a lie.
  2. This is one of the bits that discredits itself, but it shows how intellectually dishonest Myers has become. A quote from his first piece:

“The list of members consists mainly of people who are demonstrable assholes. They include:

  • Sam Harris
  • Eric Weinstein
  • Christina Hoff Sommers
  • Dave Rubin
  • Jordan Peterson
  • Heather Heying
  • Ben Shapiro
  • Douglas Murray
  • Joe Rogan
  • Maajid Nawaz
  • Bret Weinstein
  • Michael Shermer
  • Camille Paglia
  • Steven Pinker
  • James Damore

Etc., etc., etc. You know, if you really wanted to compile a list of the worst people in America, the shallow populists who poison the discourse with conservative toxins and Libertarian lies, that wouldn’t be a bad start. These are not particularly smart or interesting people — they are good at inflaming other assholes and acquiring a following, but that’s about it.”

[Note that, as Speaker to Animals says in the comments, “Nawaz and Murray are Brits.”]

I mean, yes, these people are of variable intellectual quality and accomplishment, but calling people like Steve Pinker, Heather Heying, Maajid Nawaz, Bret Weinstein, Sam Harris, Christina Hoff Sommers, etc. “assholes” and “the worst people in America”? Seriously? I can think of many worse people, starting with our Chief Executive.  And let us remember the what Myers means by “poisoning the discourse” is “saying things I don’t agree with.”

 3. The “loss of free speech”—something that Myers says doesn’t really exist—is not negated by these people having social-media platforms and a New York Times article written about them. It is the fact that what they say is considered “hate speech” that is neither worthy of consideration nor “free speech”—and seen such by many academics. And that their “speech” is seen as “violence”.

Remember, too, that academia is where many of the ideas of our future leaders are hatched. Yes, many of these “IDW” folks have visible social media platforms, but many of them have also been the subject of violent college protests trying to shut them down.  The view that some opinions are so clearly wrong that they needn’t be met with counter-speech, but with ridicule and invective instead, is exactly the message that Myers conveys regularly on his website (viz., the term “assholes” for the group listed above).

4. Myers seems greatly disturbed by the fact that some of these people, like Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson, make decent amounts of money from their social-media activities. Again, their popularity among some, and the fact that they’ve cashed in on it, doesn’t mean that we don’t have an issue with free speech in America. The issue, as I’ve said repeatedly, is the recent claim that “hate speech” is “not free speech”, the deplatforming of speakers on college campuses in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., and the increasingly widespread view on the Left that some opinions aren’t worthy of either consideration or debate. That is a relatively new phenomenon. As John Stuart Mill recognized, speech can be under threat without any involvement of the government.

5.  Myers ends his second tirade with these words referring to the IDW members:

I guess we can put all of them soundly in the conservative camp, since they meet the two main diagnostic criteria: they make money off their persecution complex, and they’re all flailingly hypocritical.

This makes no sense at all; it’s pure frothing about the mouth. Not all conservatives make money off a persecution complex (in fact, a persecution complex itself won’t make you money as an intellectual), and I don’t see any of the people listed above as “hypocrites.” I’d love an explanation, for example, of how Steve Pinker or Christina Hoff Sommers or Claire Lehmann are hypocrites. You may not agree with their views, but they certainly don’t dissimulate. And anyone who claims that Steve Pinker, Sam Harris, and Bret Weinstein are conservatives doesn’t have a surfeit of sanity or rationality.

h/t: Grania

149 thoughts on “Criticisms (mine and others) of Bari Weiss’s “Intellectual Dark Web” piece

  1. Well, as much as his curiosity and willingness to listen to real thinkers is commendable, I don’t think Joe Rogan belongs on a list of intellectuals.

      1. I think the intended criticism is that here you are writing a long criticism of the list and you didn’t call out Rogan as not qualifying for any list of intellectuals.

        I may be mistaken, but that’s how musical beef’s comment comes across to me. For the record, I also mildly disagree with musical beef’s criticism (if I have it right). I’m just articulating it, not agreeing with it. I did note that you said that these folks are of varying intellectual quality and don’t think there’s any requirement once one starts making criticisms of something to make all possible criticisms.

  2. Just imagine for one delicious moment what would happen if Hitch was still here to respond to Myer’s drivel. Blissful thought.

        1. His commenters have corrected him on the difference between Krugman and the others; for one thing, I don’t think Krugman has ever been deplatformed, shouted down, or had invitations rescinded, much less causing riots and physical violence.

  3. P.Z. Myers forgot one name on his list of the worst people in America, the shallow populists who poison the discourse and who are demonstrable assholes. P.Z. Myers.

  4. Drinking deep draughts of the proverbial Kool-Aid will eventually percolate to one’s reasoning. In other words, the narrative has been adopted and so continued.

    (maybe someone else should be included on a list of “assholes,” eh Weiss?)

  5. The term “Intellectual Dark Web” just makes me instinctively cringe, because it feels like the sort of childishly “edgy” title that dismissive critics would come up with.

    I’m also kinda with Dreger here. The only binding connection for this list of people, is that they all have views and opinions that have been somehow left out of the public debate, or shunned by it. People like Harris and Pinker couldn’t otherwise have less in common with someone like Ben Shapiro, the former Breitbart editor now masquerading as a deep thinker.

    And Rogan/Rubin are just interviewers.

    1. “The term “Intellectual Dark Web” just makes me instinctively cringe”.

      Me, too, starting with the name.

      Does the list maker not understand what “dark” means, in the context of the internet?

      It’s unbearably silly, and if I was Steve Pinker, I’d be embarrassed to be included.

  6. The danger of identification with a label is that buffoonish ideologues like P.Z. Myers can easily find some loon to associate the entire group with, and then happily apply the well known set of tags that spans Nazi – misogynist – hate monger – genocidal maniac.

  7. This entire IDW thing is ludicrous in my mind, but how can anyone think mild-spoken Steven Pinker is an asshole? Myers, though is the poster boy.

    1. I felt special when Peez called me one by name; then I discovered that’s his go-to epithet for everyone he dislikes.

  8. Some years ago I loved PZ Myers sarcasm and sharp tongue, as he attacked cretionists and religious buffons.
    But then he transformed into some kind of raving lunatic, who insults anyone, who does not submit 100 % to his opinion. PZ Myers cannot be taken seriously anymore. What a downfall!

    1. He sure has a lot of hate to go around, doesn’t he?

      Reading Pharyngula years ago was from my perspective as a reader the “canary in the coal mine” moment. Once the discourse and Myers’ writing became infected with identity politics, rage and purity testing I was like “WTF is going on here?”

      It quickly reached a level of toxic that was just clearly “bad for the soul” when reading and I’m glad not to be visiting that site these days.

      1. The turning point (in my opinion) was after PZ Myers moved Pharyngula to Freethought Blogs. I noticed that his articles got more embittered as time passed and turned to polemics, rants and outright attacks against people, who were his allies before (such as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris). So I ceased to read his blog.

        1. It seems like that point when he started writing like that and about those people was when he also realized he was never going to be among them.

          In other words, it seems like his nastiness and opposition to certain figures is more about himself (and his own shortcomings) than about anyone or anything else.

    2. I used to be a big fan, too. Pharyngula was my daily read. I loved what seemed like wit and a talent for story telling. What I wonder is whether I missed something back then. Were his arguments against non-theists then as vacuous as his arguments against the “IDW”? Even then, some of his rhetoric involving chain saws or some such seemed really off, which I took as an anomaly rather than a sign of something more fundamentally wrong.

      I switched to WEIT many years a go. Jerry holds to many sound positions that are nuanced and less popular than the easy answers, such as about determinism, whether morality can be objective, etc. The discussions here are not virtue signaling dog piles out to squash dissent from the group.

      1. Ditto.

        Jerry’s posts are always informative and thought-provoking, and I think the WEIT comments section is the best comments section I regularly visit.

      2. I was a regular reader of Pharyngula from its very early days. I think PZ definitely has changed, a lot. No, his arguments against believers were not, usually, vacuous like many of his arguments these days. But I also think there were plenty of warning signs along the way. Even very early on it was very noticeable to me that he never admitted to being wrong about anything, even relatively minor things. Though it may have happened and I missed it, I’ve never seen him admit to being wrong about something when someone points it out to him. His usual response was to double down, with at least a bit of a shitty attitude. The attitude got worse as time went on.

      3. I suspect the change came through thwarted ambition. PZ desperately wanted to be part of the Four Horsemen (or Brockmans 3rd Culture crew). But he’s just not of the right intelle4ctual callibre. His bitterness drips from every blog post.

        1. Nope, he didn’t, not at all, absolutely not! He’s way too woke to rub shoulders with those CHUDs. He was a feminist before he could take solid food.

    3. PZ Myers Strange Doublestandards

      One of the really strange things is just how transparent the money, leader and the obsession arguments are that are frequent in his writing (as they are here again). They are such obviously misguided, I cannot comprehrend why anyone would make them. PZ Myers might be all sorts of things, but he certainly is smart enough to see just how dubious this looks like:

      When he got together with a bunch of people and filled the speaker roles in the atheist movement (as he did one time), the thought-leader thing was all fine. The FTBers explicitly wanted to replace the Richard Dawkins etc “old guard”. When people he doesn’t approve of happen to be of influence, he complains about “self-appointed” leaders, and it’s suddenly a bad thing.

      When he or people he approves of write blog post after blog post, or make video after video critical of someone else, it’s all fine. That’s never a problem. There cannot be enough blog posts critical of Sam Harris. But if critics do this to people he approves of, then it’s — of course — obsessive, stalking harassment (I mean here people who really just use their own venue or platform to criticize, just he does on his blog).

      In the same fashion it is with making money. When people he dislikes make money from their activity, it’s in and of itself a morally bad thing. You can almost see his thought process going here — it’s like dirty money from blood diamond trade. Again, when he likes the people and they do what he approves of, then they deserve every penny. He even promote their fundraising campaigns.

      The hero worship topic works the same way. Myers himself was for a couple of years completely mainstream in the atheist movement. Those who were critical of the woke atheists were outcasts, also thanks to him. Did he, his merry friends and their community react with grace to criticism? Of course, on the contrary: those critical of the woke dogmata could experience the most nasty comment sections I’ve ever seen. And that’s not just my opninion. His comment section was infamous. Even the co-host Chris Clarke admitted to this later (after he left).

      Here’s an informative review about authoritarians on this very site, maybe it sounds familiar:

      When they like the behaver, the behavior is acceptable; when they dislike the behaver, the behavior is not.

    4. If you trawl through the recesses of aged blog archives you may come across instances of Myers being accused of rank dishonesty by theistic types and others who were the usual targets of atheist rhetoric. I recall at least one instance where he was said to have stood meekly at the back of a talk by a theistic type and then blogged about how he’d boldly put the speaker on the spot. Few people ever bothered to dig too deep into the truth behind his attack posts and even if they did they assumed their hero’s version of events must be correct because we all knew that theists and conservatives were the dishonest ones, right?

  9. … a bunch of people who had little in common except a). they all anger members of the authoritarian Left (but are as different as Ben Shapiro and Steve Pinker), b). most of them have been deplatformed or disrupted in speeches on college campuses, and  c). they’ve nearly all been interviewed by Dave Rubin….

    Most importantly, they are willing to tackle ‘third rail’ questions, to debate civilly, and to agree to disagree.

    Weiss summed up what she saw as their commonalities thus:

    … they all share three distinct qualities. First, they are willing to disagree ferociously, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject: religion, abortion, immigration, the nature of consciousness. Second, in an age in which popular feelings about the way things ought to be often override facts about the way things actually are, each is determined to resist parroting what’s politically convenient. And third, some have paid for this commitment by being purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought — and have found receptive audiences elsewhere.

  10. Myers seems greatly disturbed by the fact that some of these people, like Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson, make decent amounts of money from their social-media activities.

    I’ve learned not to be surprised at how frequently unhinged, embittered, or toddler-sulky comments of that type are simply responses based on resentment over money, whether they’re made by colleagues IRL or by people on the interwebz. It used to surprise me because so many people in US academia in particular claim that money isn’t important to them.

    1. LOL. PZ has always displayed massive envy for anyone more successful than him. Which makes him a very envious man indeed.

      It surely’s gonna add insult to injury that the links above alone will generate clicks that at least triple Pharyngula’s monthly visitor stats.

      But hey, PZ is going on sabbatical to write a new book. I’m sure that, building on the success of his Happy Atheist, it will launch him back into the limelight.

      1. “Money isn’t important to us” was (and probably still is) the dominant paradigm of the graduate program that fledged both Myers and myself. Like the cake, it is a lie.

        The university system that currently employs me doesn’t have sabbaticals – perhaps the concept is considered too bourgeois. 😉

      2. I remember the build up for his magnum opus, “Happy Atheist”. It was to be a great work. Finally PZ Myers would have a book like those other popular atheists like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan. Status and popular recognition would follow. Then the book came out. And it was really compilation of previously published blog content, not a “real” book like other atheists managed to write and publish. You could almost hear a trombone playing “WHAW, Whaw, whaw” as it flopped. That failure was, in my mind, was a key point in the radicalization of PZ Meyers.

        1. Every time that PZ rails about “self appointed leaders”, let’s recall the only time that someone did try to appoint themselves a leader … saying that they’d be the “fifth horseman”, the “horseman of the internet”.

          You all know who that was, right?

          Hint: it rhymes with easy-peasy.

        2. The failure to realize his aspiration of joining the upper echelons surely led to him dropping his mask of civility.

          The Happy Atheist seems to have been a last-minute replacement for his true magnum opus, Natural Revolution, which PZ promised would turn evolutionary biology on its head with its lamarckism, striving, and assorted anti-darwinian gobbledy-gook.

          Either PZ never finished NR, or the publisher blanched after reading the galley. Enter the blogpost compilation.

          The new work is to be the definitive take on atheism & science.

          One thing you can grant: the man has hubris.

          1. The mask of civility was kept in place by his followers who resisted looking behind it, or who scrubbed the truth from their minds if they caught a glimpse. The intolerance of disagreement, disingenuousness and petty hatreds were always there.

  11. The point sails over Goldberg’s head when he observes: “it seems to me this IDW thing isn’t actually an intellectual movement.”

    No, it’s not. It’s more of a socio-political movement (if a ‘movement’ at all.) Nor do they just “share a disdain for for the keepers of the liberal orthodoxy.” They’re standing up to the dangerous rise of totalitarian speech and thought policing.

    And, as Brett Weinstein recognized, a coalition of the libertarian left and libertarian right can win this battle, as its opponents, the authoritarian left and right, are constitutionally incapable of working together.

    1. Ol’ Jonah wouldn’t know the “liberal orthodoxy” if he tripped over it. He gets off on the smear tactic of conflating Regressives with the whole of “the Left.”

    2. And, as Brett Weinstein recognized, a coalition of the libertarian left and libertarian right can win this battle,

      Surely not with folks like Gary Johnson at the helm of the libertarian movement. And it is Bret, with one t.
      I enjoy listening to Weinstein, he’s undoubtedly a gifted speaker. However, if you go back to the beginning of this brouhaha, and listen up to now, his narrative has shifted significantly. Not unlike how people are describing PZ’s evolution.

  12. Pinker himself tweeted about the article, writing:

    “Excellent analysis by Bari Weiss of the “Intellectual Dark Web.” I can confirm Joe Rogan & Dave Rubin’s reach: More strangers recognize me from their shows than MSM appearances. Weiss identifies the promise (enriching debate) & danger (legitimizing kooks).”

  13. I agree that the article is not Bari Weiss’s best work. Its point is a bit vague judged by the variety of responses to it. While I found it meandered a bit, the point of the article seemed clear to me and can be paraphrased as “This IDL group is a thing and has created some strange bedfellows.”

    A lot of the responses from people mentioned in her article just don’t like “meta reporting”. They don’t mind articles reviewing their work or discussing their favorite topics. They know how to react to those. However, when it is about them and their position as public intellectuals (yes, I know), they are a bit touchy. This is really why Bari Weiss’s writing generates so much controversy. She’s reporting on public intellectuals, and intellectualism, in the internet era.

  14. A well thought out post.

    “Non-problem” and “… I still don’t get it” summarize this media precipitated episode.

    Hitchens once said religion poisons everything, a rather noteworthy, empirically testable statement. PZ Meyers has his own doctrine: those who I disagree with poison everything.

  15. “I don’t want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all?”

    I took that while the IDW may have a vague charter, and lumps together people who shouldn’t be lumped together, it performs an editorial and curatorial function and, in general, she thinks that’s a good thing.

        1. I have a WordPress site too, though I have yet to do much with it, and it does allow comment editing. I think it depends on how it is configured. Many websites, including mine, use the very popular Disqus ( commenting plugin. If I remember correctly, it is free to use as long as you are ok with a tiny “Commenting powered by Disqus” link appearing next to the comments. I also believe you can pay a small fee to run without the link.

        2. WordPress is a platform that lets you do a huge number of things depending on what plugins you use and how you use CSS to modify it.

          You might need someone with the technical chops to make it work as you would like.

          1. Jerry is using rather than a self-hosted instance of the opensource WordPress software. The lower tiers of do not run plugins, so Disqus won’t run on them. And to get the full Disqus service with no ads and with the useful moderation features such time outs costs $90 a month for 150,000 or fewer daily page views.

            I think it is only pretty recently that any of the tiers short of enterprise class VIP hosting could run plugins. Now the $25/mo business class hosting allows plug ins. But I really don’t know what tier Jerry is using, nor what requires of Jerry for his level of traffic without advertising.

    1. I found that very amusing. PZ is the ultimate in “people who think they’re far more important than they are and go around trying to convince everyone else of it.” He’s a community college professor who thought he would be one of the new faces of worldwide atheism and, when that didn’t work out, he thought he could appoint himself the intellectual thought leader of a brand new atheist movement. Instead, he became a laughing stock.

      And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with teaching at a community college, same as teaching at any other college. I’m simply trying to convey the fact that he never accomplished anything like what Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. accomplished before attaining their positions as thought leaders. PZ felt/feels that he deserves to get the same respect as people like Hitchens and is entitled to a position among the most respected atheists because…well, because of his own ego.

      1. Yes. The fifth horseman should have been Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She couldnt be there in Harris’ flat that day (when the picture was taken) because of a credible death threat against her. But otherwise, her book and action would have made her a founder member. We just did an interview with Daniel Dennett where he talks about this. SHould be out soon.

        1. That’s an interesting thought about Ms. Ali. Would she really fit into that group? I feel like her area of study is largely in a different area, like Majid Nawaz. She’s less and atheist than a Muslim reformer and, as far as I know, hasn’t written about science (specifically, evolution or neurology).

          1. She’s friends with Harris and was friends with Hitchens (I believe). And she’s certainly not shy about taking on religion in general–but with special empahsis on Islam, of course. This is why she gets so badly smeared by apologists. They cant do the usual identity poltics manouevers on her (what with her being a black woman an’ all) so they go for the “tool fo the establishment” line like they do with Maajid Nawaz.
            I’m just going by what Dan Dennett said in the interview. Of course, the “four horseman” title wasnt self-bestowed, it came from others who respected their work. I guess this is one of the things that drove PZ over the edge. He so desperately wanted to be part of that inner circle but wasn’t of the right intellectual (or moral, let’s face it) callibre. If he could do controlled anger like Hitchens, Scholarship like Dennett or Dawkins, and rational deabte like Harris, then the world would be a different place. Alas, his anger sounds more like that of George Costanza. Peevish and dripping with thwarted ambition

            1. I find that aspect of Four Horsemen troubling as well. It’s exclusionary. Also each member has his own ideas. Lumping them together tends to make people think they are one-issue thinkers which, of course, they are not.

              1. They are lumped together because of the timing of their books about religion and the influence those books had. It is not an unreasonable grouping.

                If people think this makes them “one-issue thinkers” then that’s a measure of failing to understand their roles in recent history.

              2. I’m always struck by that sort of comment. Labels are features of language. They can’t be avoided. The only real issue is whether a label is accurate in it’s use and I can see no reason that this one was generally misused.

              3. People do choose labels so they can certainly be avoided, chosen poorly, or chosen with care. The accuracy of the label is not the only consideration. The main problems I have with the label are 1. the label contains no hint as to what the members have in common, 2. members can’t be added or removed without changing the label which would render it ambiguous for search and identity purposes. Finally, what’s going to happen when one dies?

            2. Yeah, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest she’s not peers with them. I guess I just see her as a different kind of figure. Perhaps that’s a false perception, or it’s borne out of less exposure.

      2. In point of fact, he is at the University of Minnesota at Morris. A small but I understood to be pretty rigorous university.

        1. Ah, sorry, I must have mixed that up in my brain. As I said, it wouldn’t have been different from teaching at any other school (except an Ivy or close to one), and it’s certainly not a reflection on someone’s intellect or ability to be teaching at a lesser known or community college. I was just making the point that he acts like he’s some very important person doing very important things in very important places, far more important than the plebeian masses who might disagree with him and lack the proper respect his greatness demands.

          1. I come from a line of public educators, and taught many riding lessons myself, if that counts. Teaching is a noble profession.

            But PZ has always had aspirations for grandeur, and fancied himself a major player. Teaching freshman biology at a rural adjunct campus — which would be a joy for many — seems to be a major disappointment for him. He harbors an over-estimation of his influence, brags incessantly, and, as noted above, finds it impossible to admit he’s wrong. He is completely devoid of the capacity for introspection.

            Since his disgrace and fall into obscurity, he’s done little more than issue incoherent rants and bilious attacks against those more successful or prominent than he.

            1. Teaching is a noble profession.

              Very true, Matt.
              I used to read PZ regularly as well, but didn’t have the time or energy to really incorporate (nor desire, really) myself into the horde. I’m sure he is a fine instructor, but have to pity the student whose work is graded after a bad day at the blog.

              1. I’ve familiarized myself with PZ’s views on evolution, and I would describe them as ranging from ‘fringe’ to ‘crackpot’, and all-in-all hopelessly muddled. He has also posted with some braggadocio on how he regularly leaves his students confused. He’s written for example (close paraphrase): ‘I teach them about Fisher, then I tell them why Fisher doesn’t matter.’

                Some of his critical RateMyProfesser reviews complain about him injecting unrelated political rants into his instruction. And then there was his decision share to the world about an erotic dream involving his students.

                So I have serious doubts about his fitness as an instructor.

  16. This isn’t very relevant to the post, but I just want to note something I’ve been thinking about lately.

    Richard Spencer was a man almost completely unknown and without any significant platform. One day, the media decided to cover the fact that he spoke to a crowd of 200 people as if it was some watershed event that reflected a widespread white supremacist movement in the country. Once the media gave him this breathless, non-stop coverage (and never stopped after), he became a national figure — if not in influence, then at least in his profile. The media created the Richard Spencer we know, as it creates so many others out of a need to uphold a narrative, or simply because they need something to write about. Spencer would still be posting on obscure white supremacist websites and speaking to tiny gatherings if it wasn’t for a media that wanted him to be bigger for its own purposes.

    I just had to get that off my chest. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately.

    1. Hear hear. Many factors go into his elevation among the far right. One factor (not the only one) is the loud and at times violent reaction of the Ctrl Left toward Spencer and his ilk. That has only raised his street cred. It would be better if his events were accompanied only by small crowds and chirping crickets. Instead there are loud protests. And therefore a large cohort of press covering the protests.

      1. Those protests all started with the media raising his profile. Then, of course, someone had to sucker punch him, and then all of “left twitter” decided to make #PunchANazi their new, celebrate cause celebre.

              1. Polyptoton, I believe, would be the rhetorical term.

                Far be it from me, BJ, to stifle you lexical creativity. Word play away! 🙂

              2. I’m always learning something from you, Ken.

                Anyway, I have to go to the proctologist tomorrow. I have a polyptoton my colon.

  17. This brouhaha over the “intellectual dark web” is a big ado about nothing. Throughout American history, at least, minority voices have been shunned or condemned by the establishment of the day. For example, the abolitionists were characterized harshly by the mainstream press of the day. Still, their voices were heard via public speeches and publications. Eventually, in the North, their viewpoint prevailed. Today, minority intellectual voices have huge audiences thanks to the Internet. Some of them, such as Pinker, Shermer, Harris and Peterson, are frequently discussed in the mainstream press. To even hint that Pinker has had his views suppressed is a total absurdity. There has been no attempt to stifle their views except on some college campuses, which has only had the result of giving them more publicity.

    Weiss’s article created a controversy when none existed nor should it have. The article should have been nothing more than a one day story.

    1. To even hint that Pinker has had his views suppressed is a total absurdity.

      The article doesn’t hint this. The all point is that people cited in the article have built a huge audience precisely because they are willing to discuss in a civil way ideas that have become controversial in academic departments that otherwise should be dedicated to the pursue of truth.

  18. The authoritarian left/regressive left senses that they are losing control of the dialog.

    That can’t be bad.

    1. When’s the authoritarian left ever had control of anything, aside from some faculty lounges and student fora?

    2. “That can’t be bad.”

      It could be, I don’t want the oppressive left
      replaced with Trump-style pseudo-fascists or Randian free-market worshippers.

  19. There are many less well known intellectuals who could be placed on the list. PCC and Heather McDonald come to mind. Then again, maybe MacDonald and others on the list such as Charles Murray dont belong there. As conservatives theres nothing unusual or incompatible in the positions they take. The list should be reserved for people who identify as liberals and who maintain their positions despite the gradual shift to the extreme that their fellows liberals tolerate

  20. Perhaps I am wrong, but I thought the original IDW page was just made up by some random person without consulting any of the people he or she included.

    If I make a web site with lots of people on it can I have the same media exposure please? I’ve decided it will contain Jerry, PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins as founder members of the Internet Dawk Web.

    1. I also am confused about this. Do the people in this IDW group self identify as part of this group? Did they form this group themselves? Or was this IDW and the “members” of it the idea of a third party?

        1. Eric Weinstein coined it for himself and his internet cadre, no? That would certainly qualify as self-identification.

      1. From the IDW About page:

        “I might choose to share that later. It’s hardly important. I have no affiliation with any of the people listed on this site, old media, new media or any political movement. I’m just a person who is trying to tell the truth. Talk to me @edustentialist.”

  21. Etc., etc., etc. You know, if you really wanted to compile a list of the worst people in America

    Nawaz and Murray are Brits.

    It’s a common failing on the US left that they see everything from the persepective of the US. Hence, Muslims are a tiny, powerless minority, slaves were all black, Nelson Mandela is a dead ‘African American’. The US left is less international than the nationalist right.

    1. I think that’s a failing of most Americans, not just leftists — we unfortunately tend to see the world divided into America and not-America. The American Right is hardly a bastion of internationalist sophistos.

        1. Intentional — “sophisto” was coined by Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, droogie.

  22. There should be NO topics that cannot be
    discussed in public with civility.

    I don’t know all the individuals on the Weiss
    list, but know a number of them that I admire, listen to and read. Whenever they come to Portland, OR I try to attend their events as they are always interesting and, I want to help support them. As I think I’ve mentioned here before, last time Sam Harris was here, the audience was wanded and checked for weapons before they were allowed entry. The time before, he just had bodyguards. Neither of these acts should be necessary to keep speakers safe, regardless of what the topic is. Thanks to all the members I do know of this group who are willing to discuss important issues despite potential incivility and, perhaps, danger.

    1. Alice Dreger had an interesting but alarming conversation with Dean Amitay on the perils to one’s professional career for questioning the radical trans lobby’s anti-science dogma. (Video available at Amitay’s website.)

      The pressure is already strong. But in Canada, California, and elsewhere, it may soon be legislated that a mental health professional will lose their license and face criminal prosecution for providing any therapy for gender dysphoria other than fast-track transitioning.

        1. Ontario’s Bill 77, Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act (2015), bans any treatment for gender dysphoria in minors other than sex reassignment.

          Ontario’s Bill 89, Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act (2017), allows the province to remove children from parents who do not allow transition for their gender dysphoric minor children.

          My understanding is that similar legislation is under consideration in BC and at the national level.

          As up to 80% of gender dysphoric children spontaneously desist by adulthood, laws such as these are the worst form of lysenkoism. They prevent mental health professionals from providing effective, science-based treatment, and constitute child abuse on a massive scale.

  23. Weiss’ notion that she wants a “gatekeeper” on ideas is alarming and undermines the premise of the article. I suspect it was, as Dr PCC noted, merely a sop to the leftists -like some on the staff at the NYT- who don’t like the idea that other people have different ideas. It is a small thing, I suppose, but it is a crack through which the worst authoritarian impulses can ooze.

    I would like to see people hold her feet to the flames over that. For a minute or two*. See what she really thinks.

    1. I respectfully suggest you may be reading too much into her “gatekeeper” comment. How can someone who works for a major newspaper in its editorial department NOT be in favor of gatekeepers in the sense of someone smart selecting who gets a voice in their publication and who decides what is worth publishing and what is not?

      1. I didn’t see her comment as referring to an editor, though you could be right. I thought she meant some people shouldn’t be allowed to be heard.

        Have I got her wrong?

      2. I agree and would add that websites with gatekeepers (whether singular or many-headed) seem to be better on average than those without. A few trolls and knee-jerk respondents can quickly bury worthwhile material.

  24. I’ll define the intellectual web as a Venn diagram.

    Draw a circle. Put the names of all the regressives in it. Anybody outside it is potentially in the IDW.

    It’s not an identity. They don’t have anything in common other than they are not regressives.

    People who aren’t pyromaniacs don’t need an ‘identity’. They just don’t burn shit down for kicks.

  25. That’s hilarious! Myers was denied entry to the Four Horsemen and now this. He must be incandescant with jealous rage. Must. Resist. Temptation. To. Taunt. Him.
    That wouldnt be nice, would it?

  26. Just a note on food comas – my dear kitty is dying. He’s 15 and the vet doesn’t think he has long to live. Because he’s been my little buddy his whole life and now that life is ebbing away, I’ve been giving him his super favorite food, one he still climbs my leg for even though he is now old and frail. I’m talking Tuna. Vitamin T. He’d do anything for it, except (alas) be healthy and young again.

    Anyway, once each day now I open a can for him and he eats like a kitten. Ferociously, like a d*g. Once he finishes (I swear I’m not making this up) he looks around, blinking and kind of dazed, walks over to the rug in front of my sofa, plops down and conks out for an hour or two.

    Tuna bliss, tuna coma, his last days are going to be as best as I can make them for him.

    1. Sorry to hear about your kitty. May he enjoy a few more tuna comas at least.

      These days I find myself wondering who will go first, me or my cats. They are young and I’m reasonably healthy so, with any luck, no one is going quite yet. Still.

    2. I hesitate to suggest out of concern for causing harm but a bag of catnip would be very nice.

    3. I’m really sorry to hear that, mikeyc 🙁

      It’s a great sign that he’s still wolfing down his tuna. You may have him for some time yet.

      Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you can still afford to give a new cat or two the home and lives they deserve. One may die, and another one or two may be saved for it. Life can be bitter, sweet, and often both simultaneously. Just like nummies.

    4. So sorry to hear that, mikeyc. Sounds like you are a lovely human companion to the dear feline. May his last days be filled with tuna bliss.

  27. I wish I could see an fMRI of P.Z. Myers’s brain; he MUST be suffering from some kind of degenerative brain disorder. I remember, many years ago, thinking that he was a reasonably smart guy. Now, every time I encounter anything by him, it seems worse than its predecessor.

  28. Although I deplore Myers’s take on this issue and his unwarranted name-calling, I didn’t mean for this to become a referendum on his sanity. It’s fair game to note how his writing has changed, but please avoid any kind of mental or physical diagnoses!

  29. Why is it intelectually dark? if anything, they’re out front and out there, i dont see them hiding in the shadows with messages we dare not speak.
    By the way, arseholes are useful for getting the shit out, it makes for good health. I don’t read P Z Myers but his, in this case, is a pure case of diarrhoea and that needs medication.

    1. “…a pure case of diarrhoea and that needs medication.”

      Hey, Jerry said no physical diagnoses! 🙂

  30. I recall that back in the 70s was that one of things that disconcerted my about William F. Buckley is that he was far more irked by the moderate left than he was by the Far Left.

    Something similar seems to be going on with Myers. Freethinker types that don’t tow his line annoy him more than right-wing zealots.

    1. I think that’s not an uncommon phenomenon. Example: Our host posts far more often in opposition to regressive leftists than to wackaloon rightists. Partly is because you (or at least I) expect the wackaloon right to be wrong in spades. Those who are closer to you really ought to be able to figure it out, damn it! 😉

    2. Yes. The phenomenon is common in many places. Atheists who become ‘faitheists’ get a lot of grief, I had thought.

  31. Ooh, really, P Zed, all one needs to become a conservative asshole is to have a persecution complex and be hypocritical? Hmmm, you mean like yourself?

    What a putz!

    1. Yes, that was particularly stupid. The two *main* criteria for identifying a conservative is inconsistency and feeling sorry for oneself? Those characteristics wouldn’t help you identify a conservative even if you used them only as supplemental criteria. Anyone can be inconsistent or feel put upon. Those characteristics are orthogonal to political opinions.

      It seemed to me PZ was trying to make a general insult do more work defining the enemy than it actually could, like so: PZ must be a conservative because he meets the main diagnostic criterion. He is a poopyhead.

  32. … it’s that the things they are saying are considered so odious by the Authoritarian Left—because they’re said to contravene intellectual propriety—that they’re not valid topics for public debate.

    I find myself, on this narrow point, in rare agreement with Jonah Goldberg, pace our host. “Fee speech,” of course, is not merely coterminous with the contours of the Speech Clause of the First Amendment, which proscribes only governmental infringements. The principle applies to private censorship, as well. Still, censorship is the key; it’s got nothing to do with mere criticism, however misbegotten or odious, including that which takes the form of “ridicule and invective.” That stuff’s “speech” worth protecting, too.

    Sure, I’m down with the cause to battle censorship, anytime anywhere. And I appreciate that no-platforming speakers constitutes a dangerous first step on the slippery slope of censorship — especially when it occurs on campus, where the next generation’s ostensible leaders are being nurtured. But I see scant evidence that anyone mentioned in Bari Weiss’s “Intellectual Dark Web” piece is being silenced. Hell, one look around the media, new and old, suggests there’re more opportunities to see and hear and read these speakers and writers than one can shake a faggot* of sticks at.

    *The original meaning of “faggot,” you pervs.

      1. Hey, I like tripe, so I’d never turn up my nose at that (though were a Midlands’ waiter to ask me if I’d “like to try the faggot,” it might make for an amusing conversation starter). 🙂

        1. I never heard the meatball definition. You learn something new every day.

          I did once read a British novel that contained a line that said something like “He was sucking on a fag.”

          America and Britain–two countries separated by a common language.

            1. I read somewhere that the derogatory meaning came from British public (i.e., private, in US/Canada English) schools and upperclassmen abusing their younger classmates. Is that wrong?

              1. In British public schools a fag was a younger pupil who basically acted as an older pupil’s personal slave. It used to involve a certain amount of physical abuse (as did just being pupil, but from the staff) but not sexual abuse, although it would probably be naive to assume it never happened

              2. IIRC, C. Hitchens wrote about that phenomenon (and about its homosexual component) in Hitch-22.

                Guess the Battle of Waterloo wasn’t the only thing won on the playing fields of Eton. 🙂

  33. I’m amazed that there are still a small bunch of cranks, New Racists, and regressive loons who still read Pharyngula. Not counting the ones who go there for shits and giggles, obviously.

    PZ is going to wrote another* book. That will be a laugh for us, and a bunch if 1-star ratings on Amazon, to look forward to.

    I am dubious of this IDW, simply because broad churches of people who hold one value, and adopt a label for that one value, tend to lack focus. I also don’t need to share a label with, say, Ben Shapiro, to defend free speech and expression. However, I do laugh at how the IDW has got all the awful New Racists and regressives crying and mewling.

    * “Another” being somewhat inaccurate, since his first “book”, was just a bunch of his Pharyngula articles copied-and-pasted.

    1. I am dubious of this IDW, simply because broad churches of people who hold one value, and adopt a label for that one value, tend to lack focus.

      Like atheism. Part of PZ’s problem is, I think, that many atheists do not share his other beliefs and values. He thinks they are letting the side down.

  34. I disagree strongly this time.

    Problem One: Underestimating the Role of Social Media and Community Building. Talk-show hosts like Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin are community builders who often associate people with one another. They occasionally invited several people together to their shows, to discuss matters. These “meetings” also happened on the individual platforms, podcasts and YouTube channels, and then also in real-life by appearing together on venues for a talk. This very frequent association leads to a shared audience that is also cultivated that way. One week Peterson and Harris appear together on a stage. Another week, Harris talks to Pinker on his podcast, and in the next week, Pinker and Peterson might be guest at Rogan’s. You can also see here that the IDW has no essence, but it’s a textbook case of Family Resemblance.

    Problem Two: Severely Underestimating the Influence of the Far Right. You know this when you dive into the trench, follow people, subscribe to channels and get a feel for what is going on. Dave Rubin is an especially weak link. He promoted Alt Right characters, or recommended people (like Carl Benjamin and Lauren Southern) who are part of Faschist YouTube. The former is also listed on the IDW site. If you want to check this, search for identitarian movement, chats with Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, promoting Front National and that should keep you going (there is much more).

    Another example from a few days ago: There was a “Day For Free Speech” in London. The promo material was filled with Identitarians, even the Führer of the Austrian Identitarian Movement. Why would anyone would put such people on the promo material? Most people don’t know who Sellnër, so when he is shown on the poster, it’s clear what kind of people are invited to come to the event. Why does this matters? Because this event was positively received and promoted also by Stephen “Godless Spellchecker” Knight.

    Here’s how well the Far Right is hidden.
    (I did alert Stephen about this, he doubled down.)

  35. I’m not sure where to even begin with regards to the Weiss piece and the furor surrounding it.

    I found it annoying that she lumped together
    people who have controversial views that are fact-based and people who have controversial views that are not fact-based or are simply opinions. Alex Jones exists at the opposite end of the continuum of Sam Harris. Most of the others mentioned fall somewhere in between.

    I’m wondering if Weiss is performing a Richard Dawkins Twitter-like thought experiment wherein she throws out some chum knowing that the sharks will gather. Could she be that cynical/sophisticated?

    There is a hunger for Truth out there and that is what drives audiences to the actors listed. But a few of these voices are operating at a much more pristine and honest level than the others. I don’t find it that difficult to determine who those voices are.

  36. I understand the criticism of Weiss’ article that there is nothing cohesive about these individuals apart from their being no-platformed. So there is no “movement”, just people who are no-platformed.

    I disagree with Jonah et. al. who say that Peterson and Shapiro are not victims to be identified as Intellectual Dark Webbers because they are both so successful.

    Shapiro and Peterson have both been subjected to massive amounts of no-platforming and heckler’s veto at mainstream universities, home of the Intellectual Web. That makes both Intellectual Dark Webbers in my view.

    Peterson has experienced more, including very serious legal issues.

    I’ve heard the argument before in other forms, I don’t think it’s a great argument. Another form of the argument is “Look, you’re using a CNN screenshot of a story to show CNN is not covering a story.” That’s a very shallow analysis that doesn’t discuss who reported it, the length, quality, original reporting, frequency of new reports, when they first started covering it wrt when other venues did, etc. etc.

    My Safeway stocks Lil Debbie Snackcakes, it doesn’t make them a bakery.

    I never can figure Dreger out, but my read on her is that I’m pretty sure the truth is in her statement “it’s not that I did not want to be associated…” That is, the truth is *in* there.

    truth = statement.split(” “)[3:]

    1. “nothing cohesive about these individuals apart from their being no-platformed”

      There is something more than this. There is the response to no-platforming. It is an explicit instance on hearing people out when you don’t agree with them. While not worthy of the word “movement” it is an important unifying trait.

  37. Also quoting JS Mill:

    All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed – by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law.

    Why should this not also apply to speech? Certainly it does in some instances in free democratic countries. Aren’t we really arguing about where to draw the line on what is acceptable?

    “The idea that free speech is only about government censorship is nonsense, of course.”

    While that is true government censorship, and the onerous sanctions that accompany it are not really in the same league as social opprobrium usually directed towards unpopular speech. We are free to make racist, sexist, anti-Semitic jokes, but wouldn’t our friends and companions be constraining our free speech by not including us in social gatherings (for example) for fear we might say something distasteful?

  38. I have a sense that this whole affair is much like the labeling of New Atheists and the atheist “movement”, in that most of the individuals so labelled didn’t know that they belonged or that there was even a “movement”, and the terms and definition of membership are ill defined.

  39. I’m critical of a number of these figures (Shapiro, Peterson, Lehmann), but Meyers’ piece, like many such pieces on these figures, is just plain lazy. Pro tip (from an amateur): Base your criticisms on facts and sound reasoning.

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