The Intellectual Dark Web – a Sign of the Times?

The idea of an intellectual dark web sounds subversively negative, but it is a term coined by economist Eric Weinstein I originally picked-up from Jacob Kishere in his Medium post “What is driving the rise of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ ?“. A version of that same piece has also been published by Conatus News. I’ve linked and tweeted a couple of mentions to the former already.

It’s a topic close to my heart. So much would-be rational discourse falls into standards tropes of polarising binary debates in all forms of media (and polls and referenda!), compounded by the compression into rapid “bites” in social media memes and their click-bait headlines, and further moulded by PR and PC constraints on should-know-better “platforming” by academic institutions, institutions in the “market” for money and punters.

It’s a good thing that intellectuals do find their own space to have proper dialogue. Dialogue where not every statement is subjected to the glare of public “transparency” (*) and can simply be treated as part of the dialogue towards mutually beneficial learning. Sure, no learning dialogue should be confined to ivory towers, the learnings must hit the road as real rubber at some point, but difficult dialogue needs space for subtlety and nuance of differences to be integrated into workable knowledge and practical wisdom. It is reductive to insist that every step in discourse – in context – must stand up to instant scrutiny in some global objectivity. [It’s the same reductivity of scientism that presumes all wholes are determined only by their parts without the complex processes of their whole history (see ergodicity). And (*) Transparency in 2010 and most recently with Dan Dennett.]

However as Jacob points out, it is a sure sign of the bad state of things in the public intellectual sphere. Public debate on important and difficult topics simply cannot be conducted in the media and institutions that most people subscribe to. Proper dialogue needs curated boundaries, and trust must be able to exist both sides of such boundaries. Good fences make good neighbours.


[Post Note: Is it any wonder people with something to say retreat to the intellectual dark web, when there are barbarians at the gate in the real world?]

Also published on Medium.

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