Since I wrote about Andrew Sullivan’s renewed Dish, Andrew has reported that subscriptions are near 60,000 — probably over that mark by now — and David Brooks has weighed in with a smart take. As always, David is hopeful:
Mostly I’m hopeful that the long history of intellectual exclusion and segregation will seem disgraceful. It will seem disgraceful if you’re at a university and only 1.5 percent of the faculty members are conservative. (I’m looking at you, Harvard). A person who ideologically self-segregates will seem pathetic. I’m hoping the definition of a pundit changes — not a foot soldier out for power, but a person who argues in order to come closer to understanding.
And as always, I’m a little less hopeful than David — or maybe I place my hope in slightly different places — in ways that I can explain by quoting another passage from his column:
Other heterodox writers are already on Substack. Matt Taibbi and Judd Legum are iconoclastic left-wing writers with large subscriber bases. The Dispatch is a conservative publication featuring Jonah Goldberg, David French and Stephen F. Hayes, superb writers but too critical of Trump for the orthodox right. The Dispatch is reportedly making about $2 million a year on Substack.
The first good thing about Substack is there’s no canceling. A young, talented heterodox thinker doesn’t have to worry that less talented conformists in his or her organization will use ideology as an outlet for their resentments. The next good thing is there are no ads, just subscription revenue. Online writers don’t have to chase clicks by writing about whatever Trump tweeted 15 seconds ago. They can build deep relationships with the few rather than trying to affirm or titillate the many.
Is it really true that there’s “no canceling” on Substack? I think we’ll only know that in time. We’re about two weeks, by my reckoning, from #BoycottSubstack becoming a prominent hashtag on Woke Twitter. It would be stupid for Substack to care. But in the past year or two a whole lot of organizations have been stupid enough to fold in the face of a few red-faced social-media scolds.
So maybe there will be canceling on Substack — but there are many alternatives to Substack. And the really good thing about all this is that newsletters are built on email, and email is transmitted through a series of open protocols that no one controls. It would be perfectly possible for people like Andrew and Matt Taibbi and other independent thinkers, if they got canceled by Substack, to hire someone to build out their own distribution system and continue as though nothing had ever happened.
The woke mobs are apoplectic, but not always stupid: they have reliably gone straight at the gatekeepers of culture, and the gatekeepers of culture, faced with a handful of people with plenty of spare time and no rhetorical restraint, have reliably folded like a cheap tent. So what’s the point of reading, much less paying for, a magazine or newspaper where, as Bari Weiss has rightly said of the NYT, “Twitter is the ultimate editor”? You know that almost everything you read will have been vetted to ensure that it conforms to the Authorized Narrative, so why bother? Even if you actually believe in the Authorized Narrative, do you really need to pay money to have your opinions confirmed, day after day?
No; I think even some of the woke, or at least the wokish, will send their money to venues,and writers, who say what they actually think. What a concept! And what makes this possible is the open web and the pre-web internet. How cool is that?
One of the greatest things about the open web and the pre-web internet is that they work at any scale. There is no difference, from the reader’s perspective, between reading a newsletter with 250,000 subscribers and reading one with ten subscribers. As I wrote a while back,
Facebook is the Sauron of the online world, Twitter the Saruman. Let’s rather live in Tom Bombadil’s world, where we can be eccentric, peculiar perhaps, without ambition, content to tend our little corner of Middle Earth with charity and grace…. Whether what I’m doing ultimately matters or not, I’m finding it helpful to work away in this little highland garden, above the turmoil of the social-media sea, finding small beautiful things and caring for them and sharing them with a few friends. One could do worse.
And in case you don’t know, my own little contribution to the Republic of Newsletters may be found here.