Bari Weiss and the Intellectual Dark Web’s Utopia

Bari Weiss and the online alliance called the “Intellectual Dark Web” don’t want you to believe they live in America. Or even the real world.

The I.D.W. is a loose collection of thinkers and pundits, on the left and right, who believe they have been maligned for daring to speak their minds. Members include best-selling author Jordan Peterson, a masculinity fetishit who believes Frozen is evil lesbian propaganda, former Breitbart commentator Ben Shapiro and noted Islamophobe and atheist Sam Harris, who has also called Black Lives Matter “irrational.”

In a new op-ed Weiss writes that it’s “hard to explain” the I.D.W., “which is both its beauty and its danger” and describes it as “a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now.” Like the upside down on Stranger Things, the I.D.W. is a shadowy universe adjacent to our real one, where giant social media platforms and packed auditoriums aren’t even part of “the culture,” much less culture itself.

Weiss ends with a quote from evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein’s wife and fellow “professor in exile” Heather Heying, “Some say the I.D.W. is dangerous. But the only way you can construe a group of intellectuals talking to each other as dangerous is if you are scared of what they might discover.” But they’re not just talking to each other. They’re talking to their audiences, in public arenas like Twitter and in real auditoriums with real people.

Weiss and the figures she highlights in the story don’t want you to think they’re in the real world, but a utopia of their own invention, free of social conventions and politics. There, and only there, can you espouse racism cloaked as biology. Or tweet, like I.D.W. member Ben Shapiro did in 2016, “Trayvon Martin would have turned 21 today if he hadn’t taken a man’s head and beaten it on the pavement before being shot.”

This, in addition to being insanely racist and racially insensitive, is insensitive on a basic human level. The level in which you don’t tweet about dead teenagers deserving to be dead.

The problem with the IDW, and Weiss’s coverage of it, was summed up in this tweet by HuffPost,’s Ashley Feinberg: “love that bari weiss’s big oppression piece is also just a cascade of photos of highly prominent and well-off white people”

The IDW members were photographed in what appears to be the Forbidden Forest if it were transplanted from Hogwarts to Los Angeles. Take Weinstein, standing among giant mossy tree roots and looking like a skinnier Hagrid. His wife was photographed standing against a tree in a ludicrous floral vest straight out of Wizarding World Nazi sympathizer and evil cat lady Professor Umbridge’s wardrobe.

Both Heying and Weinstein were criticized and ultimately left their tenured positions at Washington’s Evergreen State College after objecting to the school’s student-organized “Day of Absence.” Organizers encouraged white students to stay home after students of color reported feeling unwelcome under Trump’s presidency. This was a reversal of a years-old tradition of students of color skipping class for a day in protest. Weinstein inaccurately claimed whites were banned from campus (they were in truth encouraged to stay home). He wrote a letter to one of the organizers, telling her that he would indeed be there and offered to organize a lecture on how evolutionary biology plays into race. How generous of him.

In her conclusion, Weiss writes that somebody suggested she join the I.D.W., given how much she has enraged the political left on Twitter through her racially ignorant tweets about Asian-Americans and her willfully stupid op-ed on Aziz Ansari and #MeToo. Weiss feigns concern over being conflated with her I.D.W. subjects because although they “share the belief that our institutional gatekeepers need to crack the gates open much more,” she doesn’t “want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all.” But she ends by writing that she hopes the I.D.W. will “find a way to eschew the cranks, grifters and bigots and stick to the truth-seeking.”

The subjects of Weiss’s story are the cranks, grifters and bigots. Weiss needs to stick to truth-seeking.