Bari Weiss

Dark Web Intellectuals Feel Like Their Free Speech is Under Attack—Even Though They Are Super Successful

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Sometimes you read an opening sentence and your hand instinctively moves to the nearest glass of wine, or if you are sober the nearest glass Diet Coke, because you are in for some shit. Take the opening paragraph of New York Times opinion author Bari Weiss in her piece “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web“:

Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

Weiss then goes on to talk about this collection League of Extraordinary Political Gentlemen made up of people like Ben Shapiro, Bret and Eric Weinstein (no relation to Harvey), Heather Heying, and Sam Harris.

The core members have little in common politically. Bret and Eric Weinstein and Ms. Heying were Bernie Sanders supporters. Mr. Harris was an outspoken Hillary voter. Ben Shapiro is an anti-Trump conservative.

But 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.

Within our current political and cultural climate, there is an idea that if you say anything bad or non-PC on the internet you will be “cancelled” and there will be no place for your career after the fact once the SJW come after you. Yet, with the exception of some people who no one except the most extreme would side against, those people don’t vanish. They end up getting profiled in the New York Times.

There is also this line of thinking that suggests that it is the “smug” liberals who are pushing people towards extremism like the alt-right. Conor Friederdorf makes that claim in his piece in The Atlantic:How Rhetoric on the Left Fuels Bigotry on the Right.” Friederdorf makes a comparison between not conflating radical Islam with everyday Muslims to this idea that we shouldn’t assign the title of “alt-right” to every conservative because it radicalizes ordinary members of the right into these more extreme methods.

The left should stop promiscuously labeling popular figures as ideologically diverse as Sam Harris and Ben Shapiro as members of the alt-right. Doing so is wrong simply because it is inaccurate. And strategically, if you want the term to retain any stigma, you could hardly do a dumber thing than expanding its scope to inaptly include very popular figures.

On a certain level, I do understand these arguments. I understand that because of the internet and “call out” culture it is very hard to have discussions where the goal is to share information and grow. There is so much hyperbole and anger that people sometimes just want to express. To have actual discourse you have to participate in full conversations with willing members and not every space on the internet can facilitate that. Hell, a lot of people on the internet on all sides don’t feel like doing that.

But, it also can’t be a bunch of academic intellectuals sitting around stroking each other’s egos about how much better they are at being rational. Congrats, you can separate emotion and empathy from talking about politics … yay?

Plus, where are the articles talking about how calling black women nigger bitch on the internet radicalizes them? Where are the articles about how closing Planned Parenthood radicalizes women into being more hard-core feminists? Nowhere. Because no one cares when it’s us.

I’ve been called nigger, slut, fat, bitch, dumb, had my intelligence dragged since I was 16-years-old by people who didn’t care what I had to say or the logical points I was bringing up, but if I was using feminism, race, gender, etc in that conversation I was just working with an agenda. Every black woman who operates on the internet and has an outspoken voice has learned to no longer be upset when an egg or boot calls them nigger on the internet. Same goes for Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, disabled and other female activists. But where are our articles about how we are being militarized? Or about even if you disagree with us that you should, at least not make racist comments about us. Nope. We need thicker skin.

People will drag Black Lives Matter till the end of time every time a visible leader falls out of step, but there is no empathy for the black experience. Meanwhile, we are asked to take a knee so that we can understand why people on the right don’t think police brutality is a thing. M’Kay.

That’s the problem with this idea that these people are on the fringe of society. They are not, they are successful. Maybe not on college campuses, but they are still making money in other ways. Most women don’t identify as feminists, we are still split on abortion, people are still confused about trans rights, and the phrase ‘identity politics’ may be used as a shorthand to mean liberal women and minorities, but if you are pro-gun owner rights and anti-choice, well guess what? Those are your identity politics.

Vox’s podcast “The Weeds” does an excellent and may I say, rational, job of discussing the ridiculousness of these self-pittying articles. If you have a commute it’s worth listening to.

When it comes to recognizing the difference between the right and the alt-right, the reality is that in many ways it’s like the difference between a horse and a zebra. Yes, the alt-right is more extreme, but it’s building upon a foundation that the right has been perpetuating since Goldwater. This is a mess conservatives need to deal with and yet the onus for reconciliation has been laid on the left for their “meanness.”

At the end of the day the left can’t help the right on this because even without the alt-right, we would still be opposed to them on issues like welfare, abortion, feminism, etc. The left needs to work on its own shit before we start worrying about the other side.

(via Vox: The Weeds Podcast, image: Screengrab)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.