Clearnet, Dark Forest, and Darknet

Hey beautiful people,

Rebel Wisdom has announced the upcoming “Becoming a Live Player” course on their channel…

This is a course that I have co-created and will be co-teaching with David Fuller. A lot of Stoans have already signed up, and nine of the workshops will be happening at The Stoa, exclusive to those who have signed up for the course. You can check out more information about the course here.

Newly posted event:

  • Metagame Mastermind: One Year Later w/ Daniel Kazandjian. May 16th @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here

An event to get excited about:

  • Social Meditation: Mini-Practicum w/ Vince Horn and the Buddhist Geeks. May 11th, 18th, and 25th @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins. 60 mins.

Vince Horn and the Buddhist Geeks drop by The Stoa to deliver a mini-practicum on social meditation. In this series, you'll have the opportunity to try out several different social meditation techniques, each facilitated by a Buddhist Geeks Teacher.  


April 27th, 2021

I recently discovered a great article from Caroline Busta where she argues that the internet did not kill countercultures, but pushed them into “dark forests.” This passage is pretty dope:

So what does today’s counter-hegemonic culture look like? It’s not particularly interested in being seen—at least not in person. It gets no thrill out of wearing leather and a mohawk and walking past main-street shops, which are empty now anyway. But it does demonstrate a hunger for freedom—freedom from the attention economy, from atomization, and the extractive logic of mainstream communication. We can imagine collectively held physical spaces reclaimed from empty retail or abandoned venues hosting esoteric local scenes, a proliferation of digital gangs in dark forests who hold secrets dear, and a new desire for scarcity in cultural objects—deeper and closer connections made between people even while rejecting the platform’s compulsion to “like and share.” In the internet era, true counterculture is difficult to see, and even harder to find—but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

She even used the “digital gangs” phrase that we have been using around here. I invited Caroline to The Stoa, and she will be doing a presentation, probably around the dark forest idea. Our friend Yancey Strickler wrote a viral piece on the dark forest theory of the internet back in 2019, which is the article that introduced me to the concept, and I've written before about how The Stoa itself is a dark forest. 

Yancey wrote a recent follow-up to his dark forest piece, where he argued that these dark forests are not going away, and they are going to be influential on the wider society: 

These tools of coordination and cooperation make today’s Dark Forests far more than digital versions of the 1970s commune. They’re new experiments in decision-making, movement-building, and collective action. The continued evolution and growth of web-based, informal groups will impact not just the lives of their members, but society at large. 

Yancey goes on to write that dark forests is where we can be most authentic with others: 

It used to be that people confessed their deepest thoughts and fears to their diaries, priests, or pillows. Today we confess them to group chats, DMs, and Dark Forests we digitally share. In the safety of darkness our ideas meet, find relief in each other’s existence, and create new ideas and lives of their own.

While in an email correspondence with Caroline, she sent me this website that had a clean trifecta model of the internet which I am going to start using: clearnet, dark forest, and darknet. 

The clearnet, or “surface web,” is the publicly accessible Internet. This is where all the public conversations are happening, and where all the eyeball addicts are clout chasing on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. 

The dark forest, according to the website Caroline sent me, is located in "Discord servers, paid newsletters (e.g. Substack), encrypted group messages (via Telegram, etc), gaming communities, podcasts, and other off-clearnet message board forums and social media.”

The darknet is the part of the internet that you cannot access through clearnet search engines. It is the anonymous internet, where people go so they will not be discovered. It is where drug dealers, child pornographers, contract killers, terrorists, and political dissidents hang out. 

To bring some Freud into this, this trifecta of the internet could be seen as the super-ego, ego, and id of the emerging noosphere… 

The super-ego, the part of ourselves that is aware and bounded by social standards, maps over to the clearnet. The ego, the part of us that tries to get into the right relationship with reality, aka the “reality principle,” maps over to the dark forest. The id, our instinctual self which operates on the “pleasure principle,” maps over to the darknet. This is not a perfect conceptual mapping of course, but it might afford some insights.

In both Caroline’s and Yancey’s pieces they gestured towards the amoral nature of the dark forest, hence if the dark forest maps over to the ego, then perhaps we can bring in the framing of egosyntonic and egodystonic, which basically is this: being in the right relationship with the ego and being in the wrong relationship with the ego. 

This is to say that there can be good or bad dark forests, which is an ethical assessment of the happenings in the dark forest, which is a separate distinction from being good or bad at dark foresting, which is about being effective at creating and stewarding dark forests. Perhaps an egosyntonic dark forest has both: it is a good dark forest that is being stewarded by someone who is good at dark foresting.

The Stoa—I hope—is oriented towards both things. I realize that a lot of my musings in these journals—whether it is musings on playing chess with cancel culture, becoming a spiritual bouncer, or having a zero fucks social media strategy—are me openly trying to figure out how to steward a dark forest, with special emphasis on how The Stoa’s clearnet presence can be in the right relationship with The Stoa’s dark forest.

This framing opens up a lot for me. I wrote a four-part series on culture war battlefronts before, and viewing these battlefronts through the lens of this trifecta now adds a three-dimensional component. As well, some of my joking “culture war consultancy” entries can be applied here, e.g. getting good at Overton window dressing—beautifying (while obfuscating) one’s own Overton window—can basically be seen as both effective protection and portalling at the intersection of the clearnet and dark forest.

I sense The Stoa is playing a different game from others playing the dark forest game. I often see people say things, especially political things, as if it were a super obvious existential given. I am more radically agnostic in my approach. True philosophy is dangerous, and you cannot limit where your thoughts want or need to go when trying to get into the right relationship with reality. 

This is about the culture dance. You cannot culture dance if your super-egoic clearnet machinations are the only thing that is online, you will not be able to engage in real second-person epistemics in that case. You have to engage with other reality tunnels with the belief that they could be right and you could be wrong, and you’ll have to wrestle with a lot of scary emotional states when you do that.

For sure, in the super-ego that is the clearnet, you will want to move with care, as even the most ardent conservatives and strongest advocates of free speech will gladly cancel your ass if you tread over their sacred values. We may need to sacrifice ourselves eventually, but it should be done in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason.

If we are going to play Game In-Between well, then we will need to get into the right relationship with reality, and for this we will need to get into dialogos with friends of virtue. We are not going to do that being clearnet consumers of memetic artifacts, or what our friend John Robb calls crowdslaves.

Dark forests are where getting into the right relationship with reality will be happening, so let us get good at this dark foresting thing, and be good while doing this dark foresting thing.


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