The rapid-fire dissemination of information, via the internet, has been a mixed blessing on humanity. Its influence, I contend, has been a net positive. People who don’t have the money, time, or will power to attend university can now listen to dense intellectual lectures and debates on a myriad of topics from their bedrooms. This has, overall, led to people being more informed, but has also led to the rise of a number of charlatans who have developed cult followings that have cordoned themselves off into echo chambers.
Recently, a disgusting Zionist cow named Bari Weiss went on Bill Mahar’s show and blamed Palestinians form blocking IDF snipers’ bullets with their bodies, claiming it was some kind of planned PR stunt. But I’m not here to talk about that. A couple weeks earlier, that same cow penned an opinion piece in the New York Times called Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web. In it she explored the antics of a group of alternative media personalities. Namely: Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christina Hoff Sommers. I have varying opinions about these people. Some of them I’m very familiar with, others I know almost nothing about. I think it’s laughable to use Dave Rubin’s name and the word ‘intellectual’ in the same sentence. I watch Joe Rogan’s podcast from time to time, and, over all, I respect him. I have little to say about the last four mentioned. In this article, I’m going to focus mostly on Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson.
Sam Harris has made a name for himself in the New Atheism movement, and is primarily known as a staunch opponent of Islam, although, as best I can tell, he has only a superficial understanding of Islam and geopolitics in the Middle East. The most important trick in the tool kit of any pseudo intellectual is to sound very confident. Harris achieves this by speaking slowly and cautiously, as if he’s choosing his words very deliberately, and, of course, avoiding saying things like “I think” or “in my opinion.” I read from a random YouTube commenter that Harris is “how stupid people think smart people sound.” As condescending as it sounds, that is a very accurate description of Harris and Ben Shapiro. To someone who works a full-time job and lacks the energy or intellectual curiosity to study the Middle East on their own, Harris’s arguments kind-of make sense if you don’t think about them too much.
He spreads neocon talking points to a secular, liberal audience. His us-verse-them narrative is as dehumanizing of Muslims as fundamentalist Christian rhetoric is. I think he has really filled this niche after Christopher Hitchens died, although he was at it before then.
Some of his more repulsive views include defending torture, endless apologetics for Israel, and claiming that the US’s body count in the Middle East is less troubling than Jihadists’ because the US has ‘good intentions.’ He also gives little regard to historical context, suggesting the Middle East’s problems stem primarily from dogmatic adherence to the Quran, and political subjugation plays an insignificant role. Like a typical neocon, he doesn’t like to differentiate between Sunni and Shia, because if he were to acknowledge that almost all jihadists are Sunni, his anti-Iran and anti-Hezbola rhetoric wouldn’t land as hard.
We could just dismiss him as another inconsequential moron, except for that fact that he has a cult following of mostly young, ex-Christian males who think he is some type of intellectual god. Watch any YouTube video critical of Harris and you will see his mindless minions coming to his rescue, not with logic and reason, but with rebuttals like “Sam would destroy you in a debate,” “You’re just too stupid to understand him,” “you’re taking him out of context.” These are mostly Americans who think it is edgy and revolutionary to be an atheist. Many are former Christians who are angry that they were lied to by their preachers and Christian parents, but lack the self awareness to realize that they have latched onto another preacher. Others are liberal-leaning millennials who hate Republicans but feel that the mainstream left doesn’t provide them with an adequate outlet for their Islamophobia.
Harris was a Hillary supporter and probably did more to rally people into the Hillary camp than your average CNN reporter. I’ve seen Harris fans fail miserably trying to rationalize their support for Hillary. They simply appeal to the authority of their savior. There are many online forums and YouTube communities that are essentially Sam Harris fan clubs. There is a YouTube channel I check out every once in a while with the cringeworthy name of Atheism-Is-Unstoppable which makes attack videos on all of Harris’s critics and has nearly 100,000 subscribers.
Sam Harris is more of a legacy charlatan, and I think his audience is shrinking. But a rising star on the pseudo intellectual scene is Ben Shapiro. Like Harris, he’s also a Jew from Hollywood. Do with that information whatever you see fit
Shapiro is part of the new right, which means he spews the exact same talking points as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, except he’s young and wears a yamaka. He has a podcast and YouTube show that is a weird throwback to Total Request Live with Carson Daly where he looks strait ahead into a camera but is filmed by a second camera off to the side. He employs a very different rhetorical technique than Harris. He demonstrates confidence by speaking very fast, as if he can’t get the words out of his mouth fast enough to convey his flawless and intricate thoughts.
There is an entire genre of YouTube videos of Shapiro ‘destroying’ or ‘owning’ a ‘libtard’ or ‘SJW.’ He mostly only debates college undergrads and Cenk Uygur. The format for him ‘owning’ someone is typically a college undergrad asking a question or making a point, then the mic is taken away, so Shapiro can respond with a couple one liners and zingers, then his sycophants cheer like it’s the WWE and he just clotheslined someone.
Like Harris, he sounds very authoritative. If you’re uninformed, your natural assumption is that he must know what he’s talking about since he seems so sure of himself. Upon critical analysis and fact checking, almost everything he says is absolute horseshit.
He is the king of straw man. A typical Shapiro argument in a speech will go something like: “The left thinks…fill in the blank with something that almost no one thinks…” Then he debates that nonexistent argument. He tells ‘the left’ (as if the the left is a unified group that agrees on everything) that they believe in equality of outcome, that people can change their biological gender, and , most absurdly of all, Israel is held to a much higher standard than other countries. His motto is “facts don’t care about your feelings,” yet he responds to the most mild criticism of Israeli policy with charges of antisemitism. In a classic case of projection, he also tells ‘the left’ that they avoid substantive debate by calling their adversaries ‘bigots’ or ‘racists.’
He’s also known for pushing the ludicrous talking point that single-payer healthcare would bankrupt the country, even though all it does it cut out the middle men (insurgence companies) and saves the American tax payers $1.7 trillion a year.
He’s an ardent defender of free speech, except when it’s people he disagrees with. Those people can shut the fuck up. He’s anti BDS and anti kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. In 2006, he wrote this article suggesting that dissonants against the Iraq war should be prosecuted. He’s your classic big-government authoritarian cloaked in libertarian lingo.
As with Harris, Shapiro’s fans clearly view themselves as his intellectual inferiors. You will not see any well-thought-out defense of their ideology from them, only appeals to authority and hero worship.
It’s a bit unfair to lump Jordan Peterson in with the previous two, because he is, in my opinion, a genuine intellectual. I discovered him quite a while back and enjoyed listening to his lectures, because he and I share a fascination with Jungian Psychology, although he knows much more about it than I do. But I was disturbed to learn that he has developed his own cult following, probably even more so than the previous two. He’s found a way to monetize his intellect and is now a millionaire, pulling in $80 grand a month on patreon. Why do people have to follow leaders? I don’t get.
He has also been engaging in Christian apologetics and dabbling in right-wing identity politics. I’ve heard him say some remarkably stupid things like, “Wars are not fought over resources,” and “You cannot be moral without believing in God.” I assume his idea of ‘God’ is more inline with Jung’s collective unconscious, but he is sufficiently vague enough that Christians think he’s one of them, vastly increasing his pool of potential followers.
At this point, he’s almost gone full on snake-oil salesman. He’s expanded from a Psychology professor to a self-help guru. His ideology is pretty hard to pin down. I think his main target demographic are people who have an instinctual respect for adherence to hierarchies and feel out of place in our increasingly nihilistic and post-modern society. This demographic spans political and spiritual inclinations, so he is intentionally vague about his own beliefs so as not to alienate anyone.
Another person who deserves honorable mention is David Packman. He is much less known than the previous three, but I think he’s relevant as a case study on pseudo intellectualism. He’s an adjunct professor of communications at Boston College and has a syndicated news and politics radio show and a YouTube channel with nearly 500,000 subs.
Packman is a pretty pro-establishment liberal; think MSNBC on YouTube. He’s a gatekeeper between MSNBC/ NYT and real, honest political commentary. He’s for people who are too smart for Rachel Maddow’s nonsense but aren’t ready to dive into reality just yet. He has impeccable posture which is juxtaposed with his hunched-over co-host. I’ve watched his show quite a bit, but I still don’t really know what his policy views are, because he mostly just covers the horse race of elections and scandals and “look how stupid Trump is,” but he does it in a way that Sam Harris would be proud of, using, slow, deliberate, authoritative speech. He also took a page out of Shapiro’s playbook and fields questions from the public, but instead of speaking on college tours, he takes calls. He gives his callers one question and a followup (with poor audio), then he hangs up on them and goes into a condescending monologue to show how much of a clear-headed moderate he is. If anyone asks him a difficult question, he masterfully turns the question back around on them instead of responding. For example, he’s a shameless promoter of the Russiagate conspiracy theory, and when anyone challenges him to provide evidence, his go-to response is, “What level of evidence would convince you.” The caller them typically responds with “uh,” confused by the unexpected change in the conversation, and Packman proceeds to roll his eyes and dismiss the caller as unserious. One caller said that Packman is the Ben Shapiro of the left. I tend to agree, though probably for different reasons than the caller. How any one can be fans of both Shapiro and Packman is beyond be, since they agree on almost nothing politically. Packman conceded that that was somewhat of a complement, because “Shapiro is a very effective speaker.”
In conclusion, people need to take information for what it’s worth. I like the line from The Grateful Dead’s Box of Rain: “Believe it if you need it; if you don’t, just pass it on.” You need to understand the power of the human mind. It can fool itself into believing something illogical due to confirmation bias. Just because you want something to be true, just because it comes from the mouth of someone who sounds smart, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Some people have perfected the ability to mimic authoritative rhetoric. I have certain public figures who have had a massive impact on my worldview, but when I look at the conversations of the followers of these charlatans, I think to my self: “There is no one I respect half as much as they respect these people,” and I’m left scratching my head. I’ve heard it suggested that some people have daddy issues. This could be part of it. When these people’s leaders are criticizes they take it as a personal attack on themselves. I guess that is a similar response to what someone would have if they heard their parents being needlessly trash talked. But I think it’s more than that. People need leaders. Even as adults most people are not comfortable being masters of their domains and trusting their own instincts.