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The Questionable Intellect of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’

The Intellectual Dark Web is a group of prominent commentators who oppose the so-called Woke Mind Virus which they believe propagates dangerous critical theories that threaten to destroy Western civilization. They decry identity politics and cancel culture, and warn all who will listen that these malicious critical theories are being advanced by shadowy actors across education, media, and government with the intention to destroy America as you know it!

This coalition of intellectual giants is led by the likes of Joe Rogan, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and Dave Rubin.

Are these information age entertainers also the intellectual giants of our time? Are they positioned to solve humanity’s greatest challenges? They sure seem to think so — and they have the audience to prove it! We all know the greatest thinkers of every generation have been primarily known for the size of their audience and exceptional ability to sell dietary supplements and pillows to said sizable audience. 

This group and their followers believe they have the best understanding of our present moment and how to move forward. Their view is that the natural, predestined, and divinely-inspired progress of Western civilization is threatened by the emerging Woke Mind Virus. These people often struggle to define what they mean when they say “woke,” a word they appropriated from Black culture, and it’s usually used to stand-in for any social justice-oriented initiative they oppose. To the best of my understanding, their opposition to woke initiatives generally distills down to a suggestion that pursuing equity-focused diversity initiatives somehow slows economic and technological progress.

That’s right. The central problem our modern society faces, these people believe, is not sustained violence or wealth inequality, but rather the unchecked progress we’ve made toward embracing diversity. The daily suffering lived by millions across the United States, and billions around the world, isn’t caused by greed-fueled capitalism, these people would have you believe, but instead is caused (somehow) by acknowledging the history of slavery and asking people to be kind to one another. 

The primary export of the Intellectual Dark Web is not knowledge and information, but rather grievance and anger. They work overtime to convince entire segments of the American population (primarily poor White conservatives) that they are, in fact, the real victims. Victims of diversity initiatives. Not victims of runaway greed and wealth inequality, but victims of the Woke Mind Virus which threatens the American Dream — the same exceptional American Dream that was promised to every red-blooded American in preschool when we also learned that European colonizers greeted Native Americans with a handshake and a turkey rather than centuries of genocide.

This faction of libertarian nerd influencers is financed by the likes of Peter Thiel, who has said he no longer believes freedom and democracy are compatible. Thiel believes that the next natural step in human evolution requires the dismantling of democracy in order to ensure absolute efficiency is achieved and maintained, profits are advanced, and technology is exponentially improved. For these actors, the only way out is through. We must always be innovating, regardless of the cost, both financial and human, which is required to ensure this exponential growth. In this dystopian world, true community is replaced with simple demographic data and the worker is replaced with a short line of code monitoring productivity.

Profit is prioritized. Dignity is abandoned. Meaning is lost.

From this perspective, we can see why these far right actors attack diversity initiatives instead of focusing on the true causes of global suffering. First, they’re financially incentivized by corporations and wealthy individuals to advance these uncritical theories, which seek to promote an artificial culture war that serves as a distraction from the reality of the suffering caused by growing global wealth inequality. Second, the attacks on diversity are necessary to justify their long-term goal of establishing a libertarian techno-utopia, which requires active ignorance to the suffering of billions of people around the world. The very real and present suffering is justified by the promise of a better tomorrow. The only way out is through. 

While there is nothing particularly “intellectual” about this group, “dark web” does seem to be an apt description of the approach embraced by these actors in their effort to confuse and corrupt their followers as they mask their dark, hateful, and disturbing beliefs in a web of nonsense.

“We all hang out together all the time — it’s pathetic. Our circle is seven people.”

Ben Shapiro on the Intellectual Dark Web
(via Rubin Report)

These individuals believe in natural hierarchies which can produce an idealized society where the apex predator reigns supreme and everyone else either falls in line or is left behind. They embrace doublespeak and rhetorical jumbo to advance deeply problematic policies which directly target the rights of minority individuals in an effort to further advance existing inequitable power structures. Many of these individuals believe in a natural progression of human existence where there is some Übermensch final form we should be aspiring to achieve. This includes advancing eugenic-adjacent initiatives

Instead of explaining their vision in any meaningful way, they hyper-focus on the need to preserve individual rights, particularly the individual rights of those who are already at the top of their conceived natural hierarchy. This just so happens to be the same people who have historically benefited in the White male-dominated capitalistic society we’re all trapped in. So, it is not surprising that the critical theories the Intellectual Dark Web focuses their attention on attacking ultimately seek to challenge the means by which those at the top acquire their wealth and power, and more critically, how many lives are destroyed in the consolidated accumulation of wealth and power. Instead of advancing their arguments on merit and reason, they focus on convincing their audience with entertaining rhetoric and misplaced confidence.

These individuals, in our time, are largely elevated by their access to wealth and their ability to manipulate algorithm-based communication platforms which, of course, are owned by the actors whose interests they just so happen to be advancing. Access to wealth and control of communication are often mistaken for authority and intellect. In reality, the ideology these individuals are advancing are just a repackaged techno-version of past failed and deeply problematic views. Views that President Biden might be inclined to call semi-fascist.

Whatever you want to call their ideology, they are not serious people. With that in mind, we should:

1) make fun of them, and 2) challenge the false narratives they advance.

There is much more to unravel in the examination of the Intellectual Dark Web and its role in the broader global far right movement. This ideology, or some version of it, is prominent in Silicon Valley, where tech billionaires are becoming increasingly detached from reality and assume a coming “Event” will cause significant disruption to the stability of human civilization

This emergent Silicon Valley ideology has been called “the Mindset” by author Douglas Rushkoff. Among believers, there is a sense of inevitability in achieving this techno-utopian society — it’s only a matter of time. This inevitability, along with the promise of endless exponential economic growth and technological advancements (not to mention living forever!), works to justify the present suffering as necessary to advance this “natural” and “inevitable” progress.

Of course, unless you find yourself at the top of the economic hierarchy, this techno-utopian vision does not particularly benefit you, in the same way that Peter Thiel injecting himself with young people’s blood doesn’t particularly benefit you. In fact, unless you’re at the top of the hierarchy, you are viewed by holders of this ideology as the labor force which will deliver this vision, at least until AI can replace you. Once we reach the mythical singularity whereby humanity is saved from itself, or whatever, maybe then you can upload your brain into a supercomputer, save yourself from the destruction of our natural world, and live forever inside the Metaverse. 

Until then, the Intellectual Dark Web would very much prefer you get back to work and stop asking too many questions. 

Nick Butler

Washington, DC
March 2023

“People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

Neil Postman, 1985, summarizing Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel “Brave New World”

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