It seems so obviously absurd for the New York Times or the Atlantic to try to “strike back” against the tiny slice of market represented by a handful of Substack writers by rolling out their own Death Star version of “independent voices.” If they really wanted to wipe us out, of course, they could just put out a New York Times that sucked less. In a million years, that won’t occur to them.
With modern information and communication technology, should we not be living in a Golden Age, with clusters of great thinkers from whom we can acquire wisdom? I am going to suggest that the Golden Age is here. It’s just not evenly distributed. (nod to William Gibson)
The Golden Age is not found in the institutions that dominated intellectual life in the 20th century. While the Ivy League and the New York Times degenerate into what Julia Galef would call soldier mindset, scout mindset thrives on Substack.
One of the challenges I ran into when trying to oversee my Fantasy Intellectual Teams project is that there are too many high-caliber intellectuals out there scoring points for any human to keep track of them. There aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with Razib Khan. Or Tyler Cowen. Or John McWhorter.
The “owners” who participated in FITs drew my attention to Mike Solana, Jonathan Turley, Robert Wright, Amanda Ripley, and others who were not on my radar before. I discovered that podcast interviews, which were a very small portion of my information diet, tend to encourage civil discourse and generate interesting insights.
How do you tell a Golden Age intellectual from a partisan hack? I propose this:
The Golden Age intellectual is quite willing to make members of his or her tribe uncomfortable.
Paul Krugman or Victor Davis Hanson may have impressive intellectual credentials and outstanding polemical skills, but they only provide their fans with reinforcement. As a result, you learn nothing from reading them. You know what one of their essays is going to say when you see the headline. Their writing appeals to soldier mindset, even though they know better.
But FITs stars like Tyler Cowen, Scott Alexander, Andrew Sullivan, Bari Weiss, Yascha Mounk, Heather Heying-Bret Weinstein, Megan McArdle, and Matt Yglesias are never afraid to bring unwelcome ideas to the attention of their audience. They model scout mindset.
Although Substack obtained publicity by bringing on board Alexander, Sullivan, and Yglesias, its greatest value may be in providing a platform for lesser-known stars. Weiss and Mounk showcase other writers. The FreeBlackThought journal does, also. Some of the lesser-known Substack writers who I have started to follow are N.S. Lyons, Michael Hobbes, Anton Howes, and Matt Shapiro. No doubt there are many others awaiting discovery.
Tyler Cowen called this The Age of the Infovore. Incidentally, Infovores is an up-and-coming writer’s newsletter on Substack.