The Intellectual Dark Web and its Discontents

Perhaps you’ve heard of names like Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Bret Weinstein, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Majid NawazJoe Rogan, or Ben Shapiro? If so, chances are you’ve come across these and others who have risen to mainstream prominence courtesy of what is now being coined as the “Intellectual Dark Web.”

I first came across the term “IDW” in a February article from The Spectator entitled “Inside the Intellectual Dark Web.” The piece immediately caught my attention because I soon realized that its author, Douglas Murray, was describing exactly that which I was experiencing, but had not yet been able to articulate: an emerging change within the culture led by unapologetic deep-thinkers, unafraid of challenging assumptions. It was a movement, I noticed, that was quickly gaining traction. Murray nailed it when he said:

For young people in particular, who have been let down by didactic and cowardly orthodoxies, these newly discovered heroes are providing a path out of the bewildering maze that their age has created for them.

Take for example, Sam Harris. Nearly 10 years ago I came across Harris as the author of a book on the topic of morality. Intrigued with his enviable vocabulary and uncommon style of thinking, I soon came across a couple of debates he’d participated in via YouTube, which eventually led me to his podcast. At first I was hooked by the poetry of his words, but ultimately I stuck around because of the depth of  the conversations he was hosting, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Today his podcasts are now reaching millions.

True to form, in May of 2018 the New York Times published a piece called “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.” In an attempt to describe “IDW,” author Bari Weiss writes:

“Most simply, it (the IDW) is 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. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.”

Rather than go into the details of what I think about the IDW here, I wanted to instead share an important discussion between Robb Smith, co-founder and CEO of Integral Life and Integral Ventures, and Mark Forman, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Integral Psychotherapy. For those who are ready to take a deeper dive into what this movement might mean in the context of cultural change, I encourage you to listen to what Robb and Mark have to say from the viewpoint of Integral Theory. (Click the image below to listen to the full discussion.)


In this video, Robb refers to the IDW as a group of counter-cultural intellectuals that characterize the new millennium. Mark explains it as a group of individuals who are all taking “against the grain stances” on the progressive, cultural issues of our time.

I particularly liked the commentary starting at about 26 minutes with regard to new power structures:

What you have is a group of people who are rebuilding their own power and autonomy, economic autonomy and audiences on a one-to-one basis … an autonomy outside of the existing power structures.

I also liked what they said about the need for reconstructive postmodernism vs. deconstructive postmodernism, and where IDW fits into the overall integral perspective: what it means, where this is headed, and why it matters.

In an accompanying post written by Robb, he explores the question of whether or not the IDW can save Western culture, noting that the movement is largely a reaction to the anti-realism, subjectivity, and political correctness of postmodernity. He points to Jordan Peterson specifically, as someone who is “helping people find renewed meaning by confronting the two-fold attack brought on by the alienation of modernity (orange) and the relativism of postmodernity (green).” He explains that the world is “evolving towards—and what it very much needs its leading thinkers to reckon with—is the requirements of a reconstructive postmodernism (i.e., a post-postmodernism).” What does that look like exactly? Only time will tell.

What Marketers Need to Know About IDW

IDW is significant for marketers to know about because it indicates the beginnings of a major cultural shift that will soon affect brands and brand positioning in a fundamental way. Back in 2011, I wrote a post entitled “The Greening of Global Brands”  where I talked about the growing desire among consumers for socially responsible and environmentally friendly products globally. A preference for environmentally friendly products globally marked a major shift in the social consciousness. As such, brands responded by adjusting the positioning of their products and services to fit this new level of consumer demand. The question is: what will we see next?

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