I found myself nodding in vehement agreement to an article titled “Substack: Last, Best Hope for Free Speech“.
The promise of the Internet was that it would be a sort of Speaker’s Corner open to anybody and any ideas, an unlimited vista of imagination and innovation. In the 1990s it heralded a breathtaking advance for humanity, which had always been constrained by the distribution costs for ideas, which in turn created an oligarchy of information. If you didn’t own one of the handful of newspapers, magazines or television or radio stations in a given city, you had very little chance of reaching much of an audience. Pre-internet, the accepted cliche was, “Never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” Consider the title by which Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch were known: “press barons.” The rest of us were their vassals.
So the internet was a democratic revolution. For a while. Today, though, a huge proportion of ideas flows through just a few tightly controlled pipelines owned by the e-barons who rule Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google. The tech lords simply shrug at anyone who protests when they ban books, movies, newspapers, business bloggers, medical discussions and even a sitting president of the United States, which is what Donald Trump was when he was kicked off Facebook and Twitter. He continues to be banned from both platforms even as a private citizen, although the initial rationale was that he must be prevented from reaching an audience because he commanded the armed forces.
For those whose epistemology boils down to: Let everything be discussed, and may the best ideas win, it’s essential to build a safe haven for free exchange of ideas. Just in the past few months, Substack has emerged as that platform. To call it a breath of fresh air would be an understatement; it’s more like a blast of pure oxygen after emerging from a coal mine. Legacy outlets such as New York magazine and the New York Times, and even sites built specifically to challenge existing narratives such as Vox and The Intercept, have driven out some of their most talented people, but they’re all having the last laugh on Substack, where they are finding large and receptive audiences — and in some cases are startled to suddenly find themselves among the highest-paid columnists in the United States.
There are Substack newsletters about running, Hollywood, basketball, art, food, wine, money, sex and lots of other subjects, but the platform’s greatest value is in publishing thinkers who challenge the intellectual ruling class.
There’s more at the link.
I strive to read widely about issues, and learn about them from both sides of the political aisle. Substack hosts independent journalists who offer facts and honest opinions about them, with whom I can engage even if I don’t share their perspective. Two of them are Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, both (IMHO) worth the subscription to view their content regularly. There are many others, of course; see, for example, Substack’s listing of its most popular news sites and contributors. You’ll find other topics listed at the site’s home page under the heading “Who Writes on Substack?” (I must admit, even without having looked at it in any detail, I’m intrigued by the site named “Affirmation Chickens” and its “positive poultry message”. Why did the chicken cross the road? To be affirmed?)
I’ve been looking for a way to fund and support this blog and my writing without appearing to gouge my readers for money all the time. I haven’t used a blog “tip jar” for that reason. Our recent gun raffles have helped – my grateful thanks to all of you who’ve supported them. I’m thinking about some sort of Substack subscription newsletter, allied to this blog but not replacing it, where I could go into more detail about things that interest me, but wouldn’t necessarily be useful to casual blog readers. I could also put up regular excerpts from books I’m writing, discuss the writing world and developments there, and so on. I don’t know whether I’ll proceed with that or not, but it’s definitely worth thinking about.
If you haven’t checked out Substack for yourself, I suggest it’s worth a look. Many of its contributors offer free previews of their work, so you don’t have to pay up front to see what’s available. Just click on the “Let me read it first” line on the front page, and many will allow you a preview. Also, if you’d be interested in supporting a newsletter from me on Substack, please let me know in Comments. I’d like to gauge the potential level of support. Thanks!