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The Intellectual Dark Web Is Just Another Conservative Ghetto


As people in the West dwell on their first-world problems, Christians in the Muslim World and various totalitarian nations continue to suffer severe persecution, an issue that should alarm the religious and nonreligious alike. William Kilpatrick, Raymond Ibrahim, and many others have written extensively on this issue, citing abundant evidence and debunking many myths. Their arguments are solid and intensely relevant given the vast demographic change coming from Muslim migration happening all over the Western world.

Yet, outside a relatively small group of conservative readers, few people seem to know these writers or their arguments. Something that involves so many lives and cultures is hardly known or considered by otherwise educated, cosmopolitan people.

While lamentable—particularly for the victims, who perish unnoticed, and the victimizers, who are too often validated—this strange silence shouldn’t be surprising. Talking about Christian persecution will necessarily implicate certain groups and ideologies and invite uncomfortable arguments.

A discussion about Christian churches burning in Egypt or Christian farmers being slaughtered in Nigeria would bring up questions about Islam, which could lead to some considering whether Islam is inherently violent or incompatible with pluralistic representative government. Even if such a conversation could lead to reforms or clarifications in understanding, most people, including church leaders, have decided to dispense with discussing it altogether in the interest of preserving the peace.

Inverse Relationship Between Seriousness and Attention

This fairly typical craven attitude has sidelined many other important issues: immigration, the environment, the sexes, family breakdown, education, political authority, abortion, and others. It has become easy to tell if something matters by seeing if public intellectuals, politicians, and media pundits have chosen to ignore it. In a strange inversion of values, we often find the less something is talked about, the more it matters, and vice versa.

Some might say “good riddance” to the public discussing these issues, since it would only create more confusion and spread more falsehood. In light of serious media bias, this argument has some merit, but it ignores a much bigger problem: Few people are talking about these issues, so few people are learning about them. Instead, people either ignore the news and retreat into a customized electronic world indefinitely, or take in the misleading narratives and random attention-grabbing minutia of ultimately meaningless events and personalities.

Those interested in learning more have to search for it themselves. This search inevitably takes them away from the mainstream, respectable world and into a questionable, troubling one. The views are as unorthodox as they are varied. The platforms range from sleek and professional to embarrassingly clunky and amateur. The most influential voices are self-conscious and guarded to the point of paranoia.

Otherwise awkward nerdy intellectuals like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson have made themselves quite popular in this strange place. While talented and informed in their own right, they also happen to be the only show in town for young people who simply want an alternative to the spin and drivel of mainstream news.

What You Find Inside the Conservative Ghetto

It is encouraging that alternative (and mostly conservative) ideas are still expressed somewhere and happen to have some traction with a wide range of audiences, but this does not hide the fact that it occurs far away from normal media. Bari Weiss of The New York Times coined the term “Intellectual Dark Web” for this world, which sounds cool, but is meant to be an insult.

Rather than writing on the same distinguished pages as Weiss, teaching at the Ivy Leagues, and enjoying a place on Stephen Colbert’s couch, these dark web intellectuals make do on much smaller platforms and speaking tours amid heckling and make their cases to cynical audiences on the intellectual fringes, secretly hoping something they say or do goes viral and attracts the interest of more legitimate voices.

A more honest term for this underground would be the Intellectual Conservative Ghetto (ICG). Like other important issues, no one likes to talk about its existence. Weiss drew heavy criticism for even mentioning it. Despite all evidence to the contrary, people on the left prefer to believe their views are objective and inclusive. They would never like to admit, even to themselves, that they have marginalized such a large group of people and essentially put them in the media equivalent of ghettos.

Conservatives and others who stray from the mainstream catalog of acceptable subjects inhabit a realm that, while free and diverse, lacks the safeguards and rules that normally govern civil discussions. Some arguments and reports are more academic and well researched; other arguments are not so developed or logical. Some stories are outright fabricated.

And then there are the memes, which are more rhetorical graffiti than articulated positions. At one end, there are professors and policy wonks at Public Discourse or National Review, and at the other, there are conspiracy theorists at InfoWars and the trolls at Reddit. There are no gatekeepers (it’s a ghetto, not a gated community) and no consistent quality control. Readers must proceed at their own risk and learn how to sift.

Dark Web Content Is Also Defensive and Derivative

Even when readers do find trustworthy content with responsible editors at the helm, they still run into another problem in ICG content: It is all derivative and reactive. As more affluent boroughs of the city create culture, set trends, and dictate economic and political activity, the mainstream media creates the narratives, sets the contexts, and dictates the prevalent arguments and positions on every issue.

By contrast, the ghetto cannot initiate or create, but only respond. It is the exception, not the rule. Its denizens study those on the other side, while the mainstream seldom bothers to acknowledge them. This is the biggest reason conservatives know so much more about liberals than liberals know about them.

This dynamic results in an unhealthy insularity and divisiveness in the ICG. Ideas from the mainstream make their way into the ghetto, but rarely otherwise (except when a conservative writes a book, but few people really read articles about books), and writers and commentators all take their turn at it, competing with one another on who can fetch the most readers and make the wittiest takedown or look the most conservative.

Amusing as this is (these “red meat” articles are easily the most popular), this second-hand topic cycle takes time and energy from more pressing matters. Endless snarky tirades against Colin Kaepernick, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sarah Jeong, plastic straws, Michelle Wolf’s standup routines, avocado toast, soy boys, snowflakes, and “front holes” all take away attention from real problems that affect real people.

Let’s Fight Our Allies Instead of Our Enemies

They also lead to heated division among conservatives themselves. While most pick the low-hanging fruit cultivated by mainstream liberals, delighting in the easy win, they will spend the rest of their time and effort differentiating themselves from other conservatives. Trumpkins, Reluctant Trumpers, Never Trumpers, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, social conservatives, classical liberals, traditionalists, the Alt-Right, and even monarchists prowl like gangs in the ghetto fighting for their little bit of turf, often oblivious to the vast stretches of space outside their crowded little world.

It is true that in many ways so much diversity in close proximity can make conservative debates much more interesting and constructive, with points made on the Enlightenment, global trade, federalism, health care, religion, and other subjects. However, because it all takes place in a ghetto, these more esoteric or wonkish debates are dwarfed in magnitude and multitude by the tribal debates distracting scholar and troll alike.

In the 2016 election, many Republican voters who witnessed the vitriol expended between various Trump and anti-Trump factions often had to cry out like Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet: “You fools! The real enemy is out there! She wants to expand the state, restrict freedom, and she is an outright criminal! Can’t we come together on this?”

Fortunately, enough voters did come together, at least for a brief moment, before they returned to the ICG and resumed the same fight—leading many to doubt Republican election prospects this November despite the weak and ridiculous slate of contenders representing Democrats.

How to Leave the Ghetto

If conservatives and other non-leftists hope to finally win the culture war and make sustained gains beyond making Trump president, they need to leave the ghetto or somehow transform it. This does not mean that they follow George Will’s quixotic advice to convert to the other side and somehow reform the GOP, nor does it mean copying the other side and striving for party conformity no matter how stupid or insignificant certain factions are. It means escaping the ghetto mentality that fosters an inferiority complex and petty infighting.

What does a conservative movement outside the CIG look like? It looks like editors, writers, and their readers checking their weaker impulses and staying focused on important issues. It looks like people coming to the defense of any person being silenced, whether that be courageous Christian Jack Phillips or insufferable kook Alex Jones. It looks like a real coalition united against the depredations on freedom, with differences arising over the means, not the ends. It looks like active participation in conservative ideals, not just hopes of doing so in some distant future. It looks like conservatives having the confidence to speak their minds everywhere, not just with the likeminded.

Fortunately for ICG inhabitants, there is no better time for this change than the present. Much like the gentrification of actual ghettos happening in so many American cities, many people are leaving the Left and showing interest in conservative thought. They have grown up in the safe, artificial suburbs of progressivism and now seek the eclectic lively locales of the ICG.

Those who have responded to this influx, usually those who have learned to harness the great potential of online media, are quickly becoming the new leaders of today’s conservatism. Those who continue nurturing a defeatist attitude about culture and revel in Reagan-era nostalgia are rightly being displaced.

The next step for conservatives and their new neighbors is to initiate new discussions as they continue other ones. They need to produce and consume content independent of the mainstream, and gradually shape the general culture instead of remaining a subculture. They will no doubt meet heavy resistance from the formerly hip liberals, who will call them all sorts of names and discredit them regularly because they fear the ghetto will spread to their own pristine neighborhood.

However, once they realize that the ghetto itself is simply becoming richer and more popular, they will change their attitude and move there themselves—and, in turn, leave behind a Liberal Intellectual Ghetto where bad ideas and deceptive propaganda can wallow and die in obscurity.

In good conservative fashion, the choice to make this move is up to the individual. Success will depend on whether people can make this choice in united goodwill and thus form a true ideological community open to growth, or whether they will continue as a fractious collective artificially forced together that remains in the ghetto. Until people consciously make this choice, nothing will change, important problems will go unsolved, and the world will continue talking furiously about nothing.