“We have met the enemy, and he is us”
⁃ Walt Kelly
As children, Hans and Sophie Scholl enjoyed parading with the Hitler Youth. They waved banners and sang songs of national pride. It was fun. They could not understand their father’s dismay.
It was only a few years later that the National Socialist Workers Party (NAZI) grew into a totalitarian regime, controlling every aspect of the economy, rounding up protesters, burning books, and conscripting men to wage war throughout Europe. Hans and Sophie came to understand their father and his misgivings, but it was too late. They were living in a nightmare, forced to fight or work for the state, while their friends and neighbors were rounded up and systematically murdered for being Jewish.
Determined to fight the atrocities around them, the Scholl siblings and other University of Munich students planned their non-violent campaign. Beginning in June 1942, they printed leaflets calling on fellow Germans to resist their maniacal leaders. The anonymous leaflets were signed, “The White Rose Society”.
The students distributed 15000 leaflets over eight months. Then, in February 1943, someone reported seeing the activists. The Gestapo, the NAZI secret police, arrested three members on the 18th. Christoph Probst, along with Hans and Sophie Scholl, were interrogated and tried in a “People’s Court” on the 23rd. They were beheaded by guillotine that same day.
The rest of The White Rose Society would be rounded up over the next year. It is unclear what effect they had on resisting the tyranny of a state gone mad, but we will never forget their courage. They inspire us today to fight the seeds of authoritarianism and populism growing in our own fertile bed of discontent.
Across our western democracies, we see new problems threatening to destabilize our institutions. The new tools of social media are immensely powerful and are sorting us into echo chambers where we curate our news and relationships to reflect our own political bias. This turn to tribal affiliations is polarizing our political parties and commercial media. (Ben Hunt, of Epsilon Theory, has a masterful essay about this called Things Fall Apart, Part 1)
And from this failed prescription for discourse springs two familiar failed ideas: Communism and Nationalism. It was the communists and nationalists that fought for power in 1930’s Germany. Today, we see a return of those two themes. We are polarizing into cartoonish versions of Left and Right. The Left is doubling down on socialism, scolding the not-yet-woke, and demonizing any diversity of opinion as alt-right. The Right is doubling down on nationalism, the failed Wars on Drugs and Terror, and blaming globalism and immigrants for our troubles.
“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” – Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
All the while, Rome burns. The Right and Left vilify one another on social and commercial media, ignoring our biggest problems. We talk nonstop about Immigration and the Wall, but never discuss why we are in Syria or fighting a proxy war in Yemen. We argue about foreign trade, but seldom discuss how our national debts and monetary policies will affect our economic security and social safety nets going forward.
So, where are the voices of reason and inclusion? Where are our leaders that would call for more careful judgment? Commercial news sources ignore moderates because modern media must provide pithy sound bites for their polarized viewers to pay the bills. The sensible centrist, left or right, can get no traction on social media either. If a moderate does get noticed, that person is attacked from both sides for lack of principle. All too often, the messenger is attacked, more than the message.
“The more you observe politics, the more you’ve got to admit that each party is worse than the other.” – Will Rogers
How about some good news? The middle ground given up by our ever-polarizing politics has some new green shoots. There are new “White Roses” rising across the world to lead us back to reasoned and rational thought. The Intellectual Dark Web. is a group of thinkers, writers and comics from left, right, and center that are networking to bring us back to the Enlightenment ideals that got us this far.
In a time when our traditional and social media are vying for our eyes and dollars with instant clickbait and oversimplified ideas, the IDW is turning to long-form videos, podcasts, and essays, like Joe Rogan Experience, Rubin Report, Quillette Magazine, Heterodox Academy, and others. This format has allowed great ideas to be shared and challenged publicly. IDW media encourage polite disagreement, even an airing of grievances, but also a refreshing willingness to listen to opposing views without perceiving an existential threat.
The IDW is intentionally misinterpreted by pundits defending their own domains, but in the new long-form media we get to make up our own minds. It takes time and nuance to understand this world, and it takes time to understand our own biases and to change our minds about important ideas. With humility and a desire to learn, we can preserve the best ideas from both sides. No one should agree with all of the ideas of the IDW, but taking the time to understand others is the only way to move forward together with mutual respect.
If all that is too hokey for you, the Intellectual Dark Web is currently our best bullshit detector, especially the comics. Or, as Eric Weinstein says, our traditional sense-making mechanism (journalism) has failed. The IDW is an alternative sense-making machine. So turn off your MSNBC, CNN, or Fox, and tune in to a new White Rose Society with these ideas:
and many more…
But then again, I’m