It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the willfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell. A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises.
—G. K. Chesterton, “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family,” Heretics
Micah Mattix deftly sums up my own thoughts about the mainstream media’s efforts to paint Substack (and podcasts, YouTube, Reddit, or any platform beyond their control, for that matter) as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. One part in particular made me think of the Chesterton quotation above:
Of course, newsletters can contribute to this bifurcation of society, too, but they can also bring people together in ways that national publications can’t. Because of their smaller size, they offer readers the opportunity to interact with writers and editors, where readers might influence the coverage of a topic or change how a writer or editor sees particular states of affairs. Some newsletters have the potential to put readers of different socio-economic classes in direct contact. I’d like to think this column (which is also a newsletter) one does. I can tell you that you are all over the map, politically, religiously, and professionally. I am not saying that newsletters are a contemporary version of what Lasch (citing Oldenburg) called “third places.” They’re not. Still, they are closer to them in some ways than our current national publications.
The same people who are complaining about Substack (and podcasts, et al.) are the same people who have made Diversity and Inclusion™️ such a clichéd example of cant. The same people who prattle on about Diversity and Inclusion™️ are the same people who are highly allergic to genuine diversity, who would break out in hives upon being forced to converse with someone who sees the world differently. Only a few short years ago, it was all the rage to read behavioral economists and talk about “confirmation bias,” “intellectual silos,” and “filter bubbles.” One shock election result and one pandemic later, and suddenly it’s epistemological anarchy and hysterical tribalism. But I digress. My real point is to suggest that all the wailing we hear about our terribly polarized society is based upon an illusion of unity fostered by the golden age of mass media. Prior to radio and television, news and current events had a much more regional flavor. For a brief few decades, when everyone saw the same few television shows, the same movies, and the same nightly newscasts, while listening to the same music on the radio, it was possible to believe that we were more alike than we really were. The internet came along to re-fragment everything and introduce some genuine, possibly dangerous diversity once more. Media figures bemoaning their vanishing respect and influence are essentially the new Luddites, trying to smash the new narrative-weaving machines, unable to come to grips with a changing world.