“You have to understand that the I.D.W. emerged as a response to a world where perfectly reasonable intellectuals were being regularly mislabeled by activists, institutions and mainstream journalists with every career-ending epithet from ‘Islamophobe’ to ‘Nazi,’” Eric Weinstein said. “Once I.D.W. folks saw that people like Ben Shapiro were generally smart, highly informed and often princely in difficult conversations, it’s more understandable that occasionally a few frogs got kissed here and there as some I.D.W. members went in search of other maligned princes.”
But people who pride themselves on pursuing the truth and telling it plainly should be capable of applying these labels when they’re deserved. It seems to me that if you are willing to sit across from an Alex Jones or Mike Cernovich and take him seriously, there’s a high probability that you’re either cynical or stupid. If there’s a reason for shorting the I.D.W., it’s the inability of certain members to see this as a fatal error.
What’s more, this frog-kissing plays perfectly into the hands of those who want to discredit the individuals in this network. In recent days, for example, Mr. Harris has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a bridge to the alt-right: “Under the guise of scientific objectivity, Harris has presented deeply flawed data to perpetuate fear of Muslims and to argue that black people are genetically inferior to whites.”
That isn’t true. The group excoriated Mr. Harris, a fierce critic of the treatment of women and gays under radical Islam, for saying that “some percentage, however small” of Muslim immigrants are radicalized. He has also estimated that some 20 percent of Muslims worldwide are Islamists or jihadis. But he has never said that this should make people fear all Muslims. He has defended the work of the social scientist Charles Murray, who argues that genetic differences may explain differences in average IQ across racial groups — while insisting that this does not make one group inferior to another.
But this kind of falsehood is much easier to spread when other figures in the I.D.W. are promiscuous about whom they’ll associate with. When Mr. West tweeted his praise for Ms. Owens, the responses of the people in the network reflected each person’s attitude toward this problem. Dave Rubin took to Twitter to defend Ms. Owens and called Mr. West’s tweet a “game changer.” Jordan Peterson went on “Fox and Friends” to discuss it. Bret Weinstein subtweeted his criticism of these choices: “Smart, skeptical people are often surprisingly susceptible to being conned if a ruse is tailored to their prejudices.” His brother was convinced that Mr. West was playing an elaborate game of chess. Ms. Heying and Mr. Harris ignored the whole thing. Ben Shapiro mostly laughed it off.
Mr. West is a self-obsessed rabble-rouser who brags about not reading books. But whether or not one approves of the superstar’s newest intellectual bauble, it is hard to deny that he has consistently been three steps ahead of the zeitgeist.
So when he tweets “only freethinkers” and “It’s no more barring people because they have different ideas,” he is picking up on a real phenomenon: that the boundaries of public discourse have become so proscribed as to make impossible frank discussions of anything remotely controversial.
“So many of our institutions have been overtaken by schools of thought, which are inherently a dead end,” Bret Weinstein said. “The I.D.W. is the unschooling movement.”