The Rise and Fall of the IDW
Everyone remembers when Bari Weiss, in 2018, wrote an article for the New York Times that profiled an emerging phenomenon known as “the Intellectual Dark Web”. Now, this loose subculture of writers, scientists and podcasts has separated. What happened?
In truth, it was never an especially cohesive phenomenon. Linked by opposition to censorious and dogmatic trends on the left, there was little else that bound its different elements together. They agreed to open and collegial discourse — but towards what end?
On the one hand, for example, the “IDW” included the dissident sociologist Marvin Marverson, who had achieved some notoriety for refusing to accept that someone who weighs 500lbs could be in perfect health, and was now promoting a fusion of the world’s major faiths that he called Hinjuslamanity. On the other, it included the popular author and alleged cardiologist Mark Freeman, who had published bestselling “new atheist” books like The Case Against Religion, Why Are You Still Religious? and My God, You Have to be Dumb to be Religious.
Arguably, elements of the Intellectual Dark Web had not been especially interested in intellectual inquiry in the first place. Interviewer Tim Levin built an audience with his YouTube show Levin the Left — which was based around the virtues of free speech. He interviewed journalists about free speech, politicians about free speech, YouTubers about free speech, plumbers about free speech and proctologists about free speech. One time, in a telling interview with the chemist Clem Isst, conversation turned to Periodic Law. Levin’s face turned bright purple, there was a hard cut and he and Isst were suddenly discussing why the left are so often the real racists.
A certain amount of egotism was also prevalent in the sphere. Academic Sad Gaad was annoyed not to be included in Weiss’s piece and published a series of blogposts with titles such as “Exclusionary Dynamics and Dissident Spaces” and “Why Isn’t Anyone Paying Attention to Me?”.
Other members of the Intellectual Dark Web included the pioneering Twitter user Ben Cantor. No one quite knew what Cantor did and didn’t do but he built quite an audience with his apparently allusive posts about “tribindividualism” and “the podcast revolution”.
Fractures in the “IDW” first developed around their different attitudes towards President Donald Trump. Mark Freeman took the view that Trump was a black hole of evil, sucking in the souls of men and spitting them out in lies, and hatred, and greed. Levin, on the other hand, was of the opinion that he was a wonderful man who should stay in the White House for 1000 years. Somehow, finding a reasonable and moderate compromise between these different positions proved challenging.
Further issues arose during the COREV-18 outbreak of 2020. As the revenants spread across the world, some argued for radical containment. “You can’t reason with what is fundamentally unreasonable,” argued Mark Freeman, “So we need to rain thermobaric bombs on every inch of land where people might have been infected.” Marvin Marverson, on the other hand, thought the outbreak was a dangerous distraction that was being exploited by the powers that be. “Who are the real revenants?” He asked. “The bloody post-modernists, that’s who.” Brent Cantor — the physicist brother of Ben, who had acquired fame for refusing to accept the “All Men Wear A Dress Day” policy at his college — became known for promoting the suppository Anusol as a cure for the disease.
A movement which had been formed around what it opposed found it difficult to build solid foundations in what it supported. Marverson, for example, was surprised when some of his admirers found themselves gravitating towards the strongman and controversial motivational speaker Mike Balls, author of The Puss Crushing Manifesto. Marverson had been promoting the masculine virtues of stoicism, discipline, loyalty and restraint — but it turned out that a lot of people were simply more interested in the virtues of crushing puss.
Freeman, who was clearly embarrassed to have ever been associated with this sphere, burned his bridges with a series of comments in which he described Trump apologists and suppository pushers as “ignoramuses at best and liars at worst.” His former admirers were left to ask themselves how the author of such essays as “Religion is stupid and possibly a mental illness” could have so suddenly and bafflingly developed an intolerant streak.
Where is the IDW now? Marverson was recently allowed back on Twitter, where he posts so often that it’s a wonder he can find the time to clean his room. Ben Cantor is still writing his allusive posts, though people are beginning to wonder what they actually allude to. Some new venues for contentious “culture war” discourse have opened up, like the entertaining British podcast Cultural Opprobriation, hosted by the anti-woke comedians Kinstantin Konis and John (Peter? Eric? Paul?) Smith (Johnson? Barker? Baker?). Ostentatiously sarcastic opinion commentators are still writing articles on Substack about it — because what, after all, was the IDW for if not for generating more commentary. One hopes that it did at least inspire people to question some of the clichés of mainstream society, and then to follow more purposeful and productive lines of work.
Sad Gaad is privately relieved that he was never mentioned in Bari Weiss’s article. Most of the people who were mentioned privately suspect that most of the others have become revenants.
The Zone is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.