Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Alice Dreger: Why I Escaped the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’

Opinion is not scholarship, it is not journalism, and we are dying for lack of honest, fact-based, slow inquiry... the operating assumption behind the Intellectual Dark Web seems to be that angering progressives represents a mark of honor in itself... What I’m left with after this experience is a sense, for myself, of how much academe matters. How we need to fight back against university administrators’ equation of "entrepreneurship," funding, and publicity with scholarship… 

I’m all for bringing intellectualism to the masses, but… I value ambivalence itself, along with intellectual humility. Yet these values seem in direct opposition to the kind of cocksure strutting that is the favored dance move of the IDW.

While I am very experienced at being annoying, including to members of my own progressive tribes, I don’t think this is a technique that should on its own be valorized. Pissing people off is something to be done accidentally, as a side effect, while you’re trying to fix a significant problem. Yet the operating assumption behind the Intellectual Dark Web seems to be that angering progressives represents a mark of honor in itself. Indeed, the group’s signature hack is leveraging these alleged badges of honor into greater fame and fortune. (Witness the singular genius of Jordan Peterson.)

I knew that some of the people named as part of the IDW are, like me, legitimate scholars — they care about research, data, and changing their own minds through honest inquiry. But that just made me wonder why these enlightened souls would want to be glorified as part of a "dark web." Perhaps they were in universities just long enough to get the pernicious message from their central administrations that all publicity is good scholarship (until it is cause for firing)?

The Times article confirmed my initial fears — and made me glad that I asked to be left out (which I was). The article begins by breathlessly reporting that the IDW is rife with "beauty" and "danger." So, what even is it? Here’s the vague rundown: "Most simply, it 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."

Meh. How is this really about intellectualism, darkness, or a special web? If these people are having conversations that are so rare "in the culture," how is it that they have millions of followers and pack auditoriums? (Is "the culture" The New York Times?) The whole thing — especially the excitement over these people having found a "profitable market" — made me identify anew with that person standing in the ESPN-televised crowd at some SEC football game holding the sign that said, "You people are blocking the library." I don’t see it as a sign of intellectual progress when a bunch of smart people find a way to make money off of niche political audiences by spewing opinions without doing much new research.

Opinion is not scholarship, it is not journalism, and we are dying for lack of honest, fact-based, slow inquiry. Twenty years since my first scholarship-based op-ed ran in The New York Times, here’s what I see: a postapocalyptic, postmodern media landscape where thoughtfulness and nonpartisan inquiry go to die. The Intellectual Dark Web isn’t a solution, it might just be a sign of end times... 
read more: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-I-Escaped-the/243399