The Intellectual Dark Web and You

July 10, 2018 Joe Willmann

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The Advent of On-Demand Media

Like many college students, I hopped around between a few majors before landing firmly in the education world. One of those majors was telecommunications. At the time, I was convinced that I would, one day, be a producer for ESPN. This was the summer of 2004, and I remember it like it was yesterday. My professor was giving a lecture on the future of the entertainment industry, “There will be a day when people do everything on demand. People will not pay for cable packages, rather they will buy only the specific channels they desire and will consume what they want to consume, when they want to consume it.”

How right he was. The advent of YouTube, Smart TV services, and podcasting has turned the world upside down when it comes to content publishing and consumption. And while he was right, I don’t believe he could have foreseen the mass change that has happened.

At the time of the lecture I was sitting in, the technology that has led to a host of podcasting services, RSS-to-iPod, had only been public for 6 months, and Apple was a year away from releasing the ability for podcasts to be acquired through iTunes. The first iPhone was still three years away from being released.

Fast-forward fourteen years, and we now see that 42 percent of individuals hitting their prime child-rearing years, millennials, listen to at least one podcast a week. The generation just younger than millennials listen at an even higher percentage.

The Advent of the Intellectual Dark Web

It’s no secret that our culture is becoming more polarized by the moment. People are drawing hard lines in the sand and seem to be utterly dismissive of others who have different ideas and ideals than they do. College campuses have set up free speech zones, as if speech has become a weapon. It’s really no wonder how an outsider to all of this takes one look and walks away very confused and bewildered. The very ideals our country was built on seem to be under attack, and it has caught a lot of people off guard.

When you combine what has begun to happen in the fabric of American culture with the new access to publishing mediums like YouTube and podcasting, you have created the perfect storm for people to build their own platforms to discuss their ideas. The intersection between new media and current American culture led the way for what has been coined “the Intellectual Dark Web.”

The Intellectual Dark Web is a term coined by Eric Weinstein, who is the managing director of Thiel Capital. He uses it to describe a group of podcasters, YouTubers, academics, writers, and social media personalities that seem to have one thing in common: a belief in free expression of thought. You will be hard pressed to find members of this group who look the same. Many of them have wildly different political and religious views. Some of the names you might recognize in this group:

  • Joe Rogan
  • Jordan Peterson
  • Ben Shapiro
  • Sam Harris
  • Michael Shermer

That’s an eclectic group of people, and there are many more individuals who actively seek each other out to converse and discuss their viewpoints and ideas. They do it without yelling at each other and walking away on the other side of the conversation still being friends, even though they may vehemently disagree about the discussion that they had just engaged in. In today’s polarized climate, it’s rather refreshing.

What this Means for You, Dear Christian Parent

If we take any of the statistics from the Forbes article mentioned above seriously, either you or someone you know is probably engaging with content that these people are creating. If the younger generation is listening to more podcasts than the millennial generation, then they have probably engaged with this group as well.

This isn’t a bad thing on the surface, but it’s something we shouldn’t travel into without thought. I listen to a lot of these thinkers in the Intellectual Dark Web. There probably hasn’t been a week that has gone by in the last two years where I haven’t heard or seen content from at least one of them. And one thing I can tell you from my experience is that none of them come from a Christian worldview, at least to this point. So far there hasn’t been anyone in the group who comes from an orthodox view of Christianity. Atheists, agnostics, orthodox Judaism, cultural Judaism, pseudo-Christianity, you will find all of these in the group. You just won’t find someone who believes the entirety of Holy Scripture is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you not to listen to these people. They have fascinating ideas. They can give you an insight into the culture around you that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else. They will stretch you and engage your mind.

But you must listen to them through the filter of your Christian worldview. And knowing that our children listen to podcasts more frequently than we do, we need to help them develop this filter as they critically think through things that they encounter in the world.

It is understandable that you might feel looked down upon in our culture for being a Christian. Your values are put up to the fire on almost a daily basis in your social media feed and in the mainstream media. I get it. You worry about the world that your children will grow up in. It’s scary. Then you find this group, the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. A group of people that are attractive to most of us because they stand up for the one freedom that you and I enjoy the most in our country. Our freedom of speech and our free exercise of our faith. They do that. And because they do that, you run into the danger of jumping on board with almost anything they say, because that’s what confirmation bias does to us. It puts our guard down.

Again, don’t hear me say that you shouldn’t listen to these people. I encourage it. Just do what you always should be doing, and test their ideas against God’s worldview:

Love God and Love Neighbor (Matthew 22).

How do we see this play out? We have ten summary statements of loving God and loving our neighbor. Evaluate what they say through that, through God’s holy will for our lives.

Besides, isn’t this what we should be doing anyway?

God’s blessings as you teach the faith once for all, delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

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About the Author

Joe Willmann

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Joe Willmann is the Senior Instructional Designer for Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis, MO. A former teacher and administrator, Joe has a passion for education and learning theory. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Ball State University and his Master's Degree from Concordia University - Ann Arbor. He lives with his wife, Nicole, his daughter Ava, and his son Carter. You can read his latest posts here.

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