Change of Pace: Free Speech, Internet Culture, and the Intellectual Dark Web

If you believe the loudest voices on the internet, the political Right has co-opted free speech. It’s the triggered leftist who want to ban conservatives from speaking on college campuses, who dictate what pronouns you can use, and dictate where one should fall on the political spectrum based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Clearly, the Right is comprised of the freedom fighters against the Orwellian Cultural Marxist state that the Left wants to impose on us.

Gosh, now I’m having an identity crisis. I like free speech. I even like to listen to people I disagree with. I like to argue. I think people should be allowed to say whatever they want, short of directly inciting violence. I love that about America. But all this time I thought I was a far-left Takoma Park socialist Elrich-ista. Should I call myself a right-winger now?

Long-form podcasts are my guilty pleasure. Why guilty? Because lately, I fear that they have replaced books, as I can listen to them while running or cleaning or driving/sitting on the Beltway. Books require me to devote all of my attention, and time available for that is a luxury. I am working on this, and getting back to reading at least one book a week. Podcasts, though, are accessible and can accompany me everywhere.

I like podcasts of all kinds. Science. True crime. Ghost stories. Political or political-ish commentary on issues that make people uncomfortable…

I am referring to the group of (pseudo?) intellectuals who like to call themselves the “Intellectual Dark Web” – badasses who present ideas that are so controversial, they are banned from the mainstream media.

OK, I’m familiar with the dark web (ask me why…mwahaha). It is not badass. The ideas presented by these commentators/podcasters/whathaveyou are not banned in the mainstream media. I’d wager to say that for the most part, these people do not have the scientific substance to contribute on a mainstream platform, but do offer interesting alternative perspectives on an array of ideas that are fun to think about. I believe that bringing some of these topics to the forefront of honest and open discussion would be constructive, but I would hesitate to cite most of these people of a valid source for anything (except maybe Ayaan Hirsi Ali). They present ideas, speculations, and opinions – which we should not be afraid of. If the Left wants to reclaim free speech as theirs – and I believe they should – I think they should engage with these kind of voices and some of their challenging views.

Sam Harris As the host of the Waking Up podcast, (which I listen to often) neuroscientist, and atheist, soft-spoken Sam Harris has managed to anger the Right and the Left. The Right loathes his atheism and his criticism of Donald Trump; the Left thinks he’s a racist, or at least an Islamophobe. I find him to be a fairly objective centrist. While some on the left may disagree with me, I don’t see his opinions as dogwhistles or carrying thinly-veiled agendas. The height of the controversy surrounding Sam Harris was his decision to interview Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, which contained a chapter on race and IQ. In a preface to this interview, Harris noted the controversial nature of the author and the topic and stated clearly that he opposes attempts to correlate race and IQ. Harris said that even if one did find the two to be correlated, nothing good could possibly come as a result of such research, no matter what it showed. For the most part, I agree with what Sam Harris has to say about religion, Trumpism, gender, biology, and other topics. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he calls attention to particular atrocities committed under Islamist regimes. I will say, however, that his views on Islam, at least indirectly, point to a more hawkish foreign policy recommendation than I would propose myself. Harris also has some pretty interesting things to say about consciousness and free will. This all being said, I wouldn’t cite Harris as a source for any real research; I find his topics more philosophical and fun to think about than scientific.

 

Jordan Peterson Hands down the most overrated charlatan of the “Intellectual Dark Web.” No, I don’t dislike Jordan Peterson because I’m a triggered leftist who lives in a politically correct safe space. It’s because I find a great deal of his ideas to be ridiculous. While 60% of what he says makes perfect sense, the other 40% is basically social conservatism repackaged into some pseudo-intellectual drivel designed to make lonely, underachieving white men feel better about themselves. I mean – forced monogamy, seriously? As for the 60%, that is mainly his warnings against excessive political correctness, (with which plenty on the left are on board), his rehashed Jungian psychology,  and his “clean your room” self-help mantra (which I learned from my parents, not from Jordan Peterson). What’s even more annoying is how much credit Peterson gets for classic strawman arguments – because clearly, anyone who doesn’t agree with your views on the merits of traditional gender roles wants to impose 37 different genders on you and denounce the masculine/feminine duality altogether.

 

Bret Weinstein, Eric Weinstein, Heather Heying. I didn’t link to all their personal websites, as you can go and read about them yourself if you are not familiar with who they are. Bret Weinstein was the subject of the Evergreen State controversy, in which he disagreed with the 2017 proposal on campus to require white students to stay off campus during the “Day of Absence,” finding it counterproductive. Weinstein argued that it exacerbated the problem of free speech becoming dependent on race. His wife, Heather Heying, also resigned from Evergreen, and she as an evolutionary biologist has argued that gender and sexuality do have roots in biology and are not entirely social constructs – though, she recognizes that there are exceptions and that differences in sexual orientation and gender presentation are also rooted in biology. Bret’s brother Eric Weinstein is a physicist and managing director of Thiel Capital and coined the term “Intellectual Dark Web.” All three are left-libertarians, free speech advocates, and favor evidence-based science. I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

Joe Rogan  Ah, yes.. The Powerful JRE. Confession: I LOVE Joe Rogan. He’s all over the place. If he were the guy next door, I think we’d definitely get along. Joe Rogan was the host of Fear Factor, an MMA fight commentator and comedian who hosts an eclectic podcast. He’s friends with Alex Jones and Abby Martin. He can get along with pretty much anyone. Rogan and his guests talk about virtually any subject, for three hours, and Rogan’s favorite topics are apparently health and fitness, intermittent fasting and aketogenic diets, DMT tripping, political correctness, various conspiracy theories, the pre-frontal cortex, hunting, and (likely questionable) herbal supplements. Of course much of what he says needs to be taken with a grain – no, spoonful – of salt, but it is nevertheless solidly in the “fun to think about” category. Some people on the Left think he’s a right-winger, or at least sympathetic to the right, because he does have this tendency to mimic the points of whatever guest he happens to be talking to, some of whom are right-wingers. But a composite of Rogan’s personal takes on repeated issues show he’s more on the left than anything. He’s certainly anti-authoritarian.

Dave Rubin,  host of The Rubin Report, is a “classical liberal.” He “left the left” because it is “no longer liberal” and has been overtaken by “Regressives.” Or, that’s what he’ll tell you literally every single episode. I used to kind of like Dave Rubin, I took him as a legitimate libertarian who could challenge my views on economics and government regulation, but he really is a broken record. What’s more, is that it’s clear that he’s decided upon (or is paid to have, he’s partnered with Learn Liberty) a rigid ideology to parrot, because when he’s challenged, he doesn’t really have much to substantiate his arguments. And he’s apparently OBSESSED with the gay wedding cake story.

Ben Shapiro Editor of the Daily Wire, staunch conservative, but not a Trumper. Fast-talking Shapiro is a very good debater, but he can be beat. Shapiro has a tendency to hammer you with statistics too fast for his opponent to attempt to correct them and they often seem valid enough, and when someone eventually verifies them and finds his “facts” misleading, it’s probably too late. That said, he’s a conservative, but not a Deplorable.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali The founder of the AHA Foundation, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch ex-Muslim who sheds light on the violence committed against women in Islamic societies. I think of her in a similar way as I do Sam Harris, except I find her writings to be far more reputable and substantiated and backed up with actual activism and experience. There’s no beating around the bush – Hirsi Ali is politically a Conservative (though European Conservatives are not the same as US Conservative Republicans). She certainly stands a lot further to the right than I would on issues like immigration, and is yet another case of someone “with whom I would have my disagreements, but raises important points we all should consider.” Having suffered FGM, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells us the uncomfortable truth about some of the practices in fundamentalist Islamic societies, which defiant cultural relativists tend to gloss over.

Wrongspeak with Debra Soh The “Wrongspeak” Podcast is fairly new, and as of August, there are only three episodes. I hope she comes out with more. Dr. Debra Soh is a science journalist and writes about gender and biology. Her controversial (I guess) topic is, once again, linking gender and sexuality to biology. She also writes about gender dysphoria and transgenderism from a pretty objective, scientific perspective. While the Left may take issue with her not embracing every individual’s initial decision to transition into another sex, true liberals should appreciate what she has to say, because she does support inclusiveness of transgender individuals and lays out the science behind transgenderism and exceptions to conventional gender binary presentation. She just doesn’t think it’s a good idea to inject a five-year-old with hormone blockers when he or she shows signs of preferring things associated with the other sex.

And now, internet personalities who are considered in opposition to the IDW.

Cenk Uygur,  host of The Young Turks. Oh, how the Right, the alt-Right, and the Intellectual Dark Web LOVE to hate The Young Turks. Cenk, who can be rather bombastic and not the greatest debater in the world, is a favorite target of those who love to ridicule “triggered SJWs.” Hate him or love him, The Young Turks have amassed over a billion views. Full disclosure: I’ve regularly listened to The Young Turks for about twelve years. It’s been my blood-pumping staple for getting ready in the morning – but I recognize it for what it is. It is not news; it is commentary, and they fully admit that it is progressive/left wing commentary. The truth is, though, Cenk and his crew are NOT of the “triggered SJW” stripe. Cenk and his co-host Ana Kasparian (yup, a Turk and an Armenian, side-by-side) have said throughout that they are proponents of free speech, they do not support banning speakers on college campuses, and they are not for “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces.” The real value shows like The Young Turks add is the breadth of their coverage, which I do find, makes up for their lack of depth. For example, they covered Standing Rock and the Flint water crisis to far greater length and far sooner than mainstream media sources.

Kyle Kulinski.  Kyle is the host of Secular Talk, a YouTube political commentary channel which I find to the left of The Young Turks. Of all the internet personalities here, he’s probably the one whose views resonate the most with me. He’s a staunch left-libertarian, a critic of capitalism, censorship, organized religion, and hegemony. I do find, however, that both he and Jimmy Dore are a lot more doggedly skeptical about some things that I would lend more  credence to, however, such as Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. Kulinski seems to think the Trump-Russia story lends no credence whatsoever. That being said, Kyle is a WAAAY better debater than Cenk Uygur, even though he also can get goofy at times.

Franchesca Ramsey The host of MTV Decoded. Or those videos that tell you why everything is offensive. She annoys me in a similar way as Jordan Peterson does from the right, but I can understand where she’s coming from….ok, I’m not allowed to say that, as a non-POC. Anyways, I don’t want to “white-splain” her videos, but my critique is that her characterization of so many things as offensive and somehow rooted in racism I find exaggerated and counterproductive to dialogue. She makes her points, and I do think that they are worth considering to various extents to become a more inclusive-minded and sensitive person, but you’re not going to get everyone to monitor themselves the way Franchesca may like us to. I say this pretty sure a few of my accessories I wore today were cultural appropriation of some sort.

In conclusion…

I like the “Intellectual Dark Web,” for the most part. I even like to listen to those with whom I disagree – and yes, I listened to Joe Rogan’s entire interview with Jordan Peterson.  But I’m against bestowing any of these people with a cult following. I like how each of them looks at things critically, but they themselves should also be looked at critically. Each, to varying extents, is guilty of the strawman argument trap (I’d say Peterson is the most guilty of that), validating their arguments with examples of the most comically extreme arguments of their opponents. At the end of the day, I think it’s a valuable thing to not only support free speech, but to engage with it. Listen to people you disagree with and people you partially agree with and find out what they have to offer. Honestly, it’s fun.

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