Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web

Four quiet days before filing a lawsuit against the State of California this past May and with a make-or-break space launch less than a month out, grand genius and world savior Elon Musk took time out of his busy schedule to visit with Joe Rogan and put the COVID-19 crisis into terms we lesser minds could all understand. “Yeah th-the- these were, these were [sic] definitely not stand up, uh, you know, if if, fs’the [sic?] Supreme Court here I mean it’s, obviously c-complete violation of rights.” Genius language is tricky to parse even when intentionally pared down. Ever since it was revealed to Kanye West by Kanye West that he was a genius, popular media has laid supine to the myth that all geniuses are crazy and say whackadoodle things. So Mighty Musk was simply following the dictates of this natural law, espousing debunked conspiracy theories about COVID-19, and patriotically/selflessly extolling the constitutional privilege of citizens to work at his factories despite the unabating global pandemic.

That was podcaster (and frequenter of The Joe Rogan Experience) Eric Weinstein’s sentiment at least. He’s the managing director of Thiel Capital and (wait for it…) one of Elon Musk’s investors. Speaking via Twitter-thumb Weinstein recently set loose the praise, “He may be wrong, but Elon Musk is a maverick and a contrarian risk manager. What were you expecting? I don’t get it. Ward Cleaver? Mr. Rogers? Pat Boone? Genius is messy.” More like Charles Keating, but if we follow Musk’s reductionist view of consciousness and human behavior (zero free will) Musk’s “contrarian” move is clearer than Weinstein’s investment portfolio would have us believe. Musk’s neurons sensed financial trouble, and his synaptic structure produced a predetermined response calculated to sway public favor in his direction. Musk’s eventual lawsuit would remind reactionaries that their colonial forefathers perished for their inalienable right to ignore already watered-down health guidelines in the midst of a staggering global pandemic. But this is already written into the “sourcecode”, a favorite term of Weinstein’s and neo-Puritan Musk’s, meaning that all the events of the universe have already been determined and programmed into the simulation we call reality. Why bicker about Musk’s actions? If his worldview is correct, Space-X already has or has not colonized Mars and humans are simply conscripted actors playing out a predetermined simulation, ironically gifted by evolution with the myth of consciousness which fools us to think we’re not autonomous.

Managing-Directing one of the largest investment companies run by right-wing nutjob Peter Thiel’s not the only hat Musk-apologist Eric Weinstein wears. Besides christening that YouTube algorithm of liberal apostate and right-wingers (Slavoj Zizek, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro) as the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW), Weinstein’s also a physicist who’s proudly unaccepted by the physics community. Like all healthy lads on the fringe Weinstein harbors suspicions of his own genius, due mainly to his pet theory – Geometric Unity. As a connoisseur myself of controversial physics/consciousness theories like Sir Roger Penrose’s “Conformal Cyclic Cosmology” and Penrose and Staurt Hameroff’s “Orch OR” (more testable and specific a consciousness model than anything Musk’s brain has so far pre-computed), I have no inherent prejudice against Geometric Unity – and not simply for the reason that neither I nor Mr. Weinstein could cogently summarize it if asked.

Born of the moment’s polygamous wedlock of unlearned skeptics, unreachable dolts, moderate right-wingers on their way toward extinction or Joe Biden, white supremacists in search of new rhetorical tactics, and genuine liberal and progressive defenders of free speech; Eric Weinstein and brother Bret have emerged as two of the leading lights of this dim web of “thinkers”, a new consensus politics whose chief strength lies, of course, in pretending that it’s not a consensus politics. (Though Bret’s currently trying to rally the supposed non-consensus of “free-thinking” followers behind his self-drafted Presidential ticket of Andrew Yang and General William H. McRaven and a new governmental structure which he’s thought out so the rest of us don’t have to). Have mercy on my fingers as I now transition “Intellectual Dark Web” to the tidier IDW. The IDW inhabits the terrain of liberal apostasy first settled by Christopher Hitchens, eminently more intelligent and valuable than any of this IDW mob despite his flaws. Hitch nevertheless showed that there was gold in them hills, and his 2011 death left behind an as-yet unfillable shoe. Largely treading the solid ground of free speech and political anti-orthodoxy, figures have been so desperate to fill Hitch’s lucrative void that many of these heirs-to-be haven’t been able to evolve beyond a shabby form of populism that would make John Stuart Mill, George Orwell, and Sir Bertrand Russell cringe.

The conundrum for those of us who support free speech (and cause célèbre to the unreachable consortium of reactionary racists) is that this ball is often dragged out just to protect the views of, say, genetics pioneer James Watson (hero of Eric Weinstein) who has said and will say again whenever you ask him that black people are genetically less intelligent than whites. Besides Weinstein’s liberal fetish for right-leaning loons (in fairness, Weinstein has stated his disbelief in IQ-race correlations), the man who wants us to believe that Fox-News “Elmo” Dave Rubin and generally apolitical scientist Steven Pinker are in the same intellectual coalition has an insatiable penchant for creating groupings of people and ideas that just don’t cohere. He considers Noam Chomsky, Elon Musk (surprise?), and James Watson to be in the same category of maverick genius, and begs the woke Twitter mob not to “cancel” them, nor hunt them into extinction (who’s cancelling Chomsky again?). But then of course, Weinstein has no trouble turning around and applying Jewish identity politics to Chomsky, attributing his views on Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to self-loathing. He considers any notion of Israeli pullback from its five-decades long illegal military occupation, apartheid rule, and the racking up of war crimes and nearly half of all UN Resolutions against the indigenous Palestinians to be rooted in “self-indulgent shame” (remember that phrase for later, as it’s key to Weinstein’s worldview in which every single progressive tenet is rooted in white-masochism). But what makes the IDW and its bishops like Weinstein appear novel is both the dementia of our waning American empire, and its practitioners’ application of free-speech’s timeless principles to cancel culture, political correctness, and identity politics. While pious to the attack against these modern political cudgels, the IDWers forget that it’s also political correctness that they and their sacred enemies engage in when they refer to Trump and Trump supporters as republicans rather than fascists. Worse, they circulate, or at very least imply via their own ignorance, a dangerous myth about the origin of identity politics – that progressives and/or people of color invented it and are its sole practitioners.

Those of us who tend to agree with Bertrand Russell that humans with interests confined to the short span between birth and death suffer from limitation of outlook, are aware that before the term “identity politics” was coined, identity politics Americain and its racial constraints were invented by Confederate white supremacists with their entire secessionist political movement based on matters racial and, cue political correctness, economical. White identity politics was then paramilitarized by the Ku Klux Klan, the first major American political group to organize themselves around a singular race and religion, and perfected by Nixon and Wallace in the 60s (resulting in the birth of the proto-politically correct term “law and order”), and from there passed mysteriously from white to left via a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. But before the KKK established itself around “white” identity and infiltrated academia and national politics in the 20th century, “white” was not the universal signifier of non-black Americans. In fact, those Americans resistant to “white’s” new compulsory suffix, “supremacy”, made an effort to retain distinctions between the various European strands, as they did in the Old World. Thus, with Ku Kluxery on the rise in American academe, Germanic-white firebrand and Ku Klux Bludgeoner HL Mencken tellingly summarized the entirety of Anglo-Saxon history in the 1930s as “a history of recurrent outbreaks of blind rage against peoples who have begun to worst him.” In America today, one would instinctually substitute “Anglo-Saxon” with “white”, toss all of Germanic stock in, and the statement would still ring equivalent as well as equally eviscerating. But “identity politics” and “political correctness” have gone through so many instantiations that all and sunder believe them to have either always existed in the progressive palate, or that they eminated a few years ago on the Left. A defect of identity politics besides the intellect of its hillbilly progenitors, is that it does not level the playing field toward truth or universality but rather toward tit-for-tat. Saying “I am X race and Y gender, therefore Z” does not absolve a white person from saying, “Yeah, well I’m white, therefore Tucker Carlson.” Worse, it has led to the most absurd epitome of all: “Blue Lives Matter” – identity fused to occupation. How moistly capitalist.

Trouble is, you’re not likely to confront this analysis if you rely solely on the purple belts of the IDW (as many do) for the “contrarian” maneuvers with which they insist you should be working over that dead horse of anti-progress-inducing progressivism. You’re also not likely to encounter this dead horse at all if you support or are part of the protests currently going on in the wake of George Floyd’s murder – unless you listen to Eric Weinstein and Sam Harris, an IDW pundit who does believe in the correlation of IQ and race. It may risk dishonesty to call their analyses of the George Floyd protests predictable, but it is certainly revelatory of their own motivations that both Weinstein and Harris insist the movement is an extension of “cancel culture”. Their general argument for claiming that their sworn enemies “woke orthodoxy/piety” and “white self-flagellation” reign supreme at the protests they haven’t bothered to attend is confusing. Especially since they’ve frequently claimed that social and mainstream medias have ruined public discourse and threaten our democracy, one might expect them to embrace the moment when said discourse finally spills street-ward due to the work of hundreds of thousands of diverse protestors. But Weinstein and Harris make no moves to engage any of them in person. Instead, they apparently harvest all their protester info from Twitter and CNN before passing their wise counsel along to fans who have largely done the same.

I’ll attempt a Weinsteinism here and chock the defect and weak argument up to a quantum entanglement (that’s a physics term) of a fundamental lack of understanding the moment, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and the ego-incentive of sticking to the contrarian/apostate brand. Consider a YouTube chat from June 5th, in which Weinstein claims he wants to be able to relate to George Floyd as a human – yes, several of us can and do – though, Black Lives Matter has supposedly disallowed him because he’s white (no indication whether this was relayed to him publicly, privately, or telepathically). However, Weinstein then proves race is transcendable by channeling his inner Candace Owens, wondering aloud whether “not particularly good person” George Floyd himself even believed that black lives matter – presumably because of his criminal record that involved only one instance of a crime that was not victimless: the armed robbery of a black couple in 2007. Then, as someone determinedly outside the movement that has sprung up around murder victim George Floyd (who, the implication is, not only didn’t care about black lives, but didn’t care about them as much as Weinstein), Weinstein naturally condescends to give us all flimsy mandates for our relation to Floyd and for our participation in the protests. First, he insists the only way to participate in the movement or even in the discussion at all is to claim unequivocally that the problem with policing is only relegated to people of color. Weinstein then courageously spears his strawman by reminding us of Daniel Shaver, a white pest-exterminator who was murdered by police on video – a video which was shared to me (as I’m sure it was with others, save Weinstein) by both progressive and libertarian supporters of the George Floyd protests, many of whom were people of color. In fact, in recent days my combined social media feeds have been saturated with posts by friends of color critiquing “cancel culture” (a largely white, middle-class phenomenon) and “white fragility” as ineffective and counterproductive measures of solidarity.

Venturing back to Weinstein’s dreamscape on Episode 36 of his Podcast “The Portal”, we find him making sure the dead horse of cancel culture gets on its second leg. He does so by fighting identity politics with identity politics, evolving his argument to give us race-based mandates for solidarity and protests. And he would not be Eric Weinstein unless he did so from the identity of the IDW’s only approved pronoun, “We/Our”. “We outside the black community, in our maudlin guilt and performative shame, are now in the process of losing the ability to meet our own amazing sub-culture of black America as equals.” Besides the curious prefix sub, and the grammatical implication that black American (“sub”) culture belongs to the community outside of it, this is predictable contrarian syntax. Take the truth – that the purpose of the protests is to meet Americans of all colors as equals – and say the opposite is the intent and the reality. More than a grammatical constraint, a view of black Americans being unequal “sub” to white America is impossible in Weinstein’s hunky-dory world, in which black Americans have already “triumphed over the humiliation of oppression.” Accordingly, if you’re white, before becoming part of the movement or even supporting it from social media, GoFundMe, or signing petitions to reopen cases into clearly racially-motivated murders of black Americans; you must apparently first drop to your knees in the nearest public square and perform auto-erotic self-flagellation. And again, this has been dictated directly by the, per Weinstein’s usual gift of phrase, “frequently wrong” black community, not by his own fever dreams in which everyone is begging him to self-indulge in the name of progress. But allow the man the courtesy of his own words:

“Those of us in white America who believe most in our black brothers and sisters are not going in for this groveling and performative bullshit… Forgive me, but no true friend of mine has ever asked me to wear a hair-shirt for my connection to racial crimes of slavery committed by people who vaguely looked like me decades before any of my family ever came to this country. Don’t ask me for reparations, to abolish the police, to repeat lines that you feed me, to kneel when you instruct, or to accept lower standards of empathy toward people because of the uniqueness of your pain.”

I was spooked when I heard this. First of all, one is obliged to believe everything Weinstein says about current events because, like all geniuses, he has of course seen this whole moment coming – just like he frequently reminds us he did with the financial crisis in 2008. Listeners of Eric’s (and brother Bret) can recite the homily of self-congratulation in their sleep. So, would my donation to bail-funds in Minneapolis be refunded because I hadn’t yet blamed myself personally in public for slavery, colonialism, and police brutality? Worse, I haven’t seen a single friend who’s posted in support of the protests or from the protests – many of them Gen Zers and peers from my notoriously progressive alma mater Bennington College – record an Instagram story where they’d flagellated the self, nor had any of my friends of color requested this of their Instagram and Twitter followers or FaceBook friends. HAD WE ALL MISSED SOMETHING, INCLUDING THE “FREQUENTLY WRONG” BLACK COMMUNITY? No. Turns out Weinstein missed the point, by no fault of his own save his predetermined reasoning powers. What makes me suspect the latter is his pulling the old Sam Harris trick of telecasting profundity by speaking as slowly and tonelessly as possible. When Harris falls apart effortlessly in his probably purposefully scant comments on Israel/Palestine, he reverts to conflating the worst or most disagreeable elements of Palestinian politics with the entirety of said nation and their apolitical, working class citizenry – a move both he and Eric get their hackles up about when someone does the same to Israel (or, in the case of Harris, applies his own teachings against religious fanaticism to Zionist settlers and Israel’s reigning religious-right government). It’s a violation of the mathematical proof that a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square. For example, Hamas is in Gaza and Gaza is in Palestine, thus, all of Palestine is Hamas and arresting Palestinian children as young as 8-years old in the Fatah-controlled West Bank unaffiliated with the Hamas political party (militarily sequestered in the Gaza Strip) is a better outcome than upholding international law and human rights, granting Palestinians a state or citizenship with equal protection under the ethnocratic laws of Israel, or, you know, doing anything at all to alleviate their suffering or prevent the frequent visitation of war crimes upon their heads. Thus, with Black Lives Matter and various groups protesting – not to mention individuals, which no longer exist in Weinstein’s “We” world – Weinstein insists a rectangle is a square, cancel culture and white-flagellation are progressive phenomena, BLM is progressive, therefore the protests are cancel culture and the black community, not the white, is asking for self-flagellation. The entire movement is conveniently based on podcast fighting and the exact white self-immolating metric on which Eric’s built an entire brand. We indeed!

But make no mistake, Weinstein’s not a bigot. I listened to all fifteenish minutes of Portal Episode 36’s opening salvo, in which he brags of being as blown away by black music as Keith Richards. Per usual with contrarian nit-pickers, Weinstein acknowledges a problem of racism, but doesn’t move the discussion forward at all. In fact, he’s apparently lost enough cabs to stand aside on police brutality this time, “We have already many times stood in shock when the cab which slowed to pick us up sped off when it saw who we were with. And I can assure you that we were never called something so genteel and euphemistic as ‘n-word-loving race-traitors’ as we were physically bullied in school.” He must of course have something to say counter to liberalism, or else he is not sufficiently contrarian in a moment in which some 74% of Americans currently support the protests. So instead of pushing the discussion forward, he lowers the standards of a “revolution” and applies it vaguely to the present as well as the last forty years? I don’t know. After listening to several of his interviews and previously enjoyable livestream walks, I can’t say for certain. He explains this odd, dare I say misuse of the word “revolution” by informing us that what’s been happening for the last X amount of decades of course “doesn’t look like revolutions we’ve been through, and as a result, quite frankly, we don’t treat it like a revolution.” Ah, ok. And what, pray tell, is the name of this revolution that looks more like the gradual development/devolution of a republic-turned-empire-turned-national-security-state O wise physics apostate? The “N^2 (squared) Revolution.” So then, was the descent of Rome into the European Dark Ages the N^1 Revolution?

For those unfamiliar, Weinstein’s chief rhetorical technique is a sort of incommunicable lather, sprinkled with physics terms so that the unlearned in his audience stay occupied and reminded that they are currently transcending their own stupidity. By couching all his arguments in physics jargon, the suds of Weinstein’s anti-establishment brine presents itself as a Rorschach test, whereby anyone can return warmly and reflexively to their already held believes with confidence imparted by a few foreign and nonsensically applied physics terms. Oh, my reactionary racism is just part of the N^2 revolution? Coronavirus is an instance of the twin-nuclei problem? What else? Civil unrest is just the backward time-referral of a gauge metric? Black Lives Matter is a spin echo, trapped in a five-dimensional lattice? That’s all this is? Or, perhaps we’re witnessing textbook mediocrity? When you have nothing new to say, start wedging words where they don’t belong. Misuse then appears to be novelty, for if you change the language your audience thinks in, they might mistake it for new knowledge.

Besides the facade of honesty one risk of contrarianism taken as ideology and principle is that, when you confine your entire platform to henpecking from the sidelines every nuance of every statement made by the same singular progressive opponent (Harris and Zizek are really the only prominent IDWers to go after Trump), you risk positioning yourself as supposedly infallible – an outcome you’d think would be avoided at all costs by people that supposedly care so much about free speech and rationality. So apparently driven to disgust by the misguided mob, you risk making yourself out to be the only unfaltering source of the truth, of the rational non-hysterical take. But in truth, you reduce yourself to a hostage of every form of reactionaryism, orthodoxy, and pretensions to infallibility you supposedly despise. Thus, when Science magazine decided to take a day off of work to educate themselves on race and analyze where they can improve their own organization in this respect, physics-outcast (therefore prophet) Weinstein summoned full scientific authority and lather to claim that the magazine and the science community which he’s never forgiven for rejecting him was betraying the principles of science by doing this. That as scientists, they should instead be running controlled experiments. For both his and our sakes, he doesn’t elaborate on what in the world “experiments” would entail. What should they do, murder a man of every race in isolated cities with a knee choke-hold and record whether the same organic street protests actuate? He then repeats his wet-dream mandates for supporting the protests, and spends the last few minutes discussing how Nature magazine and science academia can get more women and minorities into science by suggesting that the labor market be allowed to work without using VISAs as labor relief. Because all women and minorities come from outside the country? Confusing. An argument only an audience which already knows how it feels could be convinced by. (75% of which when polled on June 10th voted that “this moment” – predictably vague but presumably in reference to George Floyd and the public response – was either “performative” or, 44.3%, “stupid”.) Then, with full professionalism, Eric begs the science community to “come at him,” and call him “a bigot.” I’ll refrain from the latter, as it’s what Weinstein’s brand and wallet begs.

It is tempting for many white progressives in an age of white fragility to be the first to cancel and smear, though it’s equally tempting in a climate which has lately sickened of the wolf-crying and the white narcissistic rage to beg the smear. I will however, “come at you” with this, Eric Weinstein. Don’t condescend to give me or anyone else dictates for the support of a moral cause that A., don’t exist, and B., of which you’re not a member nor participant. I’ve been a supporter of Palestine long enough – whose Israeli occupiers frequently sell arms to US Police Departments and train officers in the techniques used on George Floyd, another fact you’d never know if you listened to the mainstream media or the IDW – to know the importance of free speech and protest. Hundreds of thousands of people of all age, race, gender, religion, sexuality, and politics (74% of Americans are not Democratcs) are not gathered in the street to debate whether Aziz Ansari had a “bad date” or not. If Weinstein took a break from the daily grind of managing the investments of Thiel Capital in various weapons companies like Anduril – companies that may take a few quarters knocking if protestors achieve a true demilitarization of the police – he might notice this. For while billed as contrarians, apostates, and anti-establishment truth-tellers, there hasn’t been a hotter take on the internet – before the murder of George Floyd that is – than posturing against political correctness and identity politics. See Weinstein’s own recent oh shucks at the growth of followers, “You just pushed us over the 200k-YT subscribers yesterday! I thought we were going to shed subscribers given our material…” No. In fact, it’s been such a popular and lucrative position to take that those who’ve built entire careers on anti-progressive reactionaryism like Eric and lesser brother Bret can’t give it up now. Even Bill Maher has jumped in to will the dead horse of cancel culture a second wind and install it at the head of the protests, so he could lay into it. These truth-tellers apparently have never taken pause to consider that they themselves may be deeply lodged in their own echo chambers – which they constantly accuse the left and right of doing – because to acknowledge that there is even a chamber within which millions of IDWers are talking to each other risks ruining their brand’s calling-card – that the IDW is legitimate because it is anti-establishment and fringe.

Whether the IDW likes it or not, America is still a democracy and there’s nothing anti-democratic about a mass, sustained protest demanding things we’ll probably end up getting in compromised forms. Abolition of prisons and police departments – one need only be a realist to know that short of a revolution that’s not going to happen in the short term. But prison reform? Disbanding and rebuilding police departments with a dramatic reallocation of funding toward the creation of community-based programs to deal with emergencies not appropriate for armed police? A few wetted-drawers in government and a pair of eyes are all that’s needed to see that this is already happening. One must occasionally ask for the moon to wind up with the Earth, but figures of extraordinary political naivete like Weinstein are doing their best to keep wedging a square peg into a round hole, conflating demilitarizing and defunding the police with mandatory white self-immolation. Insulting his own audience by demanding that they take his word for it, kneel when he instructs, repeat the lines he feeds, and accept what we who prefer not to speak political-correctese whenever possible call “lies.” There are many of us who have been able to give the dead horse of cancel culture a few kicks and keep our progressive values. I’m somehow able to be a social democrat who supports radical police reform, racial justice, trans rights, human rights in Palestine, and free speech. I do because I believe like many others that progressive values are most convincing when argued against their opposites. When the unending and unspinnable stream of videos of police brutality against the citizenry, recorded by citizenry of all races vindicates them. Not when they’re conscripted or forced into acceptance through shaming. Ironically, the only voices you’ll hear spinning the George Floyd protests this way are those of Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris, and the dim web of internet pundits who have officially made the IDW a new occasion for piety, and worse, anti-intellectualism.

Nicholas Vincenzo Barney is an American writer, journalist, and advocate for human rights in Palestine. After the death of a close friend, Barney made several trips to the West Bank and spent considerable time living with Palestinian families, reporting on the Occupation internationally and domestically for Mondoweiss and The Palestine Chronicle among others. He is the founder and editor of The Palestinian Review, a subset of The Palestine Chronicle. Twitter: Email: