I’ve been trying to think of what to say about this New York Times articles discussing an alliance of heretics, and I’ve been struggling. I think it’s important to have people who challenge the orthodoxy, and who express views that are typically regarded as controversial, but the whole article about them just seems silly. They’re academic renegades, iconoclastic thinkers, who are the vanguard of this new intellectual dark web, all accompanied by rather odd, darkly lit pictures of these mavericks.
I guess I’m just struggling to see what all the fuss is about. A group of people with quite substantial platforms get to say controversial things. They don’t always get taken seriously, and sometimes they get quite strongly criticised. Sometimes the criticism is justified, sometimes it isn’t. Similarly, some of what they say is worth considering, some of it is not (quite a lot, in my view).
If what they were saying was widely accepted and rarely criticised, then it wouldn’t really be controversial and wouldn’t really be challenging societal norms. Surely this is all part of the process? If you really want to change how society thinks about things, it’s going to take some time, and it’s not going to be easy. Also, just because some people say things that others might not say, doesn’t suddenly make them mavericks. They could simply be wrong.
I think one of the issues I have with this whole scenario is that it seems that most who are elevated to the status of public intellectual eventually end up saying silly things about something they don’t understand very well. Some may learn from these blunders, but others seem to simply carry on, and then find reasons to criticise their critics.
My preference would be that people who regarded themselves as public intellectuals were more careful about what they say, that their critics were careful to engage with what they actually said, and that the media tried not to elevate individuals to a status that they can never really attain. Of course, this ideal can probably never really be achieved, and so the whole intellectual dark web scenario just seems like a natural consequence of the rather messy environment in which this is all taking place.