Hypocrisy on Substack

An Opening Salvo

It is not my place, normally, to sit back and purport to be in any kind of position to lecture people about their behavior unless they are my children, or are behaving criminally. There is one other circumstance under which I'll grumble at people for how they conduct themselves, and that's when they are engaging in flagrant hypocrisy.

We all do this, from time to time, and I'm not blameless in this. I contradict myself with about the same average frequency as any other self-aware individual. However, this does not negate the accuracy of pointing out when others behave in a contradictory way. Moreover, when I have to call attention to those I respect and admire doing it, it stings quite a bit, because while I want to support these folks as best I can, I don't want to encourage further bad behavior.

One person who has almost top billing for my admiration and respect, and who just in the last few days has joined Substack as a newsletter writer, is one Edward Snowden. Snowden took his life and reputation in hand in order to reveal to the world at large the abuses of the American Intelligence Community and its various programs initiated to spy on people en masse. He is a staunch proponent of freedom of speech and freedom of association, and is a relevant example of how we must be ever-cautious about applying guilt-by-association to private citizens.

I'm overjoyed that he has opted to take to Substack as a long-form writing/journaling option, and that at least his first post is open to everyone to read from start to stop.

What I'm not thrilled about, however, is that even though his post is viewable by ALL, it can only be commented upon by those who PAY. Now, it isn't my place to tell people how to run their newsletters; after all, who doesn't want to earn a living off of their writing, you know? But it feels disingenuous at the least to claim that you're all about freeing people to speak, but then putting up a toll for people to do so, ESPECIALLY when the post you wrote itself is available for all to see online. We already know that you're not likely to respond to, read, or even glance at most of the comments you might get anyway, because nobody has time for that. Just ask anyone with a decent YouTube channel following, it's literally impossible. But it feels like you're talking out both sides of your mouth when you tell people they should be free to speak and associate how they please, but not to you, oh no, not unless they pay for the privilege.

I find I have this issue with Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibi, and several other prominent people who have joined up with Substack in the last year. Substack is supposed to be, at its best, an independent platform where the previous power dynamics of the traditional press and its gatekeepers was eschewed in order to allow people to more freely engage in longform writing with their audience.

So why does it now feel like just another new version of the same old, same old? Where are the references or interactions with folks who can't afford 'Pay For Play', the kind of moneyed access that so many of thesr journalists decry just before putting out their own newsletters?

I know what you might want to say here; "Josh, you're a relative nobody, you have no idea the flood of comments these people would have to contend with if they opened their comments sections." I'll grant you both of those points, because neither of them addresses my concern here. I'll never have to deal with droves of interactions like these folks, you're absolutely correct, I'm just a genre fiction wonk.

But I'm also sick of pretending that these same people are now busily trying to pull up the ladder behind them now that they've cornered their own slice of the Idea Marketplace, and that it's okay. It absolutely isn't. You don't have to listen to or read your commentary, but you also don't get to claim you're all about speaking truth to power and freedom of expression when you put the ability to respond, even positively, behind a paywall.

Because that's a tactic of the very power you're claiming to strive against.

Don't be a hypocrite.