There’s no official membership list, but there’s a fairly clear description of who’d be on it. In the light of that description, I’ve just found out, much to my delight, that I am myself a member of the Intellectual Dark Web, or IDW. That puts me in the company of two intellectuals I most admire, Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt. It also puts me in the company of two I least admire, Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. But I can live with the trade-off.
The IDW is less concerned with being right than getting it right. And so we often find ourselves at odds with the ‘received’ view, or at least the received view-of-the-moment. But we’re also at odds with the received view of being at odds with the received view. That is, the received view is that one should get on board with whatever view happens to be trending. Our view is one should get on board only with what we’re convinced is true. And true is precisely what what’s trending often is not. Let me run just a couple of examples.
It’s unlikely that trans women always were women but we only recently discovered that they are. It’s far more likely that we only recently decided that they are. Deciding is a political act. So of course we can decide that trans women are women. And we can decide that she’s a woman just in case she says she is. But political decisions have consequences, in this case: unrestricted access for dirty old men to the girl’s shower room, exemption from the draft in times of war, and, upon conviction for a criminal offence, being consigned, much to the miscreant’s relief, to a women-only prison.
Consider three schools. School A admits only the sons and daughters of themselves well-educated professionals. School B settles for the inner city disadvantaged, predominantly blacks in America, indigenous in western Canada. And school C draws on a mixture of both. If I have a choice, where would I like to see my own child enrolled? So in heeding the call for diversity, we’re advantaging some students at the cost of others. It’s sold as an educational decision, but it’s really a political one. The inner city black student does better, but the suburban white one does worse.
I could go on, and elsewhere I have and will. But my point here is not to object to some of the political decisions we’re making. It’s to simply call them out for what they are. And if I’m allowed to speak on their behalf, I think the same is generally true right across the IDW. In pointing out, for example, that a university can seek either social justice or truth but not both, Jonathan Haidt wasn’t disparaging those who elect to attend the former. He just thinks the choice should be made explicit to prospective students.
What makes the Intellectual Dark Web dark then, isn’t that it hides in the shadows. On the contrary, it seeks to shine a light on that which flourishes because it’s in the shadows. That’s not always a welcome contribution to public discourse. But an unwelcome guest is not always one not to be invited in.