The Substacks I Actually Read, Part 2
Worthy Reads for July 2023
Welcome to Worthy Reads, where I share some articles (and other things) (this month, like last month, it’s just substacks) that I think are worth your time. It’s always one of De Civ’s most popular features. It’s also the only one with any kind of paywall: everyone gets half the items, but only paid subscribers get them all. Retweets are not endorsements.
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Graphs About Religion
Well, duh. You just have to see the title and you know why I subscribed.
Religion (including irreligion), quite aside from whether it’s true or not, is a powerful social force. A society’s religious beliefs—both the beliefs it mumbles in its official creeds and the beliefs it actually believes deep down in its bones—profoundly shape how that society will affect the world.
We are inundated with narrative tropes about religion. “Opiate of the masses,” “rise of the nones,” “the religious Right,” “collapse of the mainline,” and on and on. Ryan Burge explores these tropes (and more) once a week. (Or twice a week if you pay him.) Some narratives, he confirms. Others, he blows up. If you know my philosophy of polling (“soundings from deep below the waterline”), then you know both are invaluable. Making sure our narratives “touch grass” in the real world is the key to telling true stories, and, as my father once argued, essential to rebuilding our politics.
One narrative is that religion is something for uneducated people to cling to, which educated people shed as they grow in knowledge and maturity. A pro-religious twin of the same narrative has it that religious is something that grounds the good, healthy, salt-of-the-earth yeomanry of our nation, while our elites defect and debauch. In this sample article, Burge puts both narratives under substantial pressure (while calling on Christian leaders to question why they aren’t reaching Pope Francis’s “peripheries”):
Matt Stoller only has one story to tell, but it’s an important one. He tells it bluntly, sometimes quite unfairly, but, as he’s the only one telling it, I’m listening anyway.
That is the story of concentrated market power, aka monopoly, and how it pervades every aspect of American life today. That feeling you’ve carried around your whole life like, it’s weird, isn’t it, that there’s basically only one company that manufactures, say, medical test collection tubes, or universal remote controls? You’re right. It is weird. It wasn’t always like this. It doesn’t always have to be. The fact that it is this way today is a political choice we have collectively made.
That political choice is responsible for lots and lots of downstream tension points in our politics. Why is it scary when Amazon pulls a book off its shelves for critiquing progressive ideology?1 Why were conservatives so mad about Twitter’s censorship before the Musk buyout? Why are progressives so mad about Twitter’s censorship after the Musk buyout? Same answer: these corporations exercise gigantic market power, which gives their unelected, unaccountable leaders significant power to shape public discourse and U.S. politics. Most proposals for dealing with these captains of industry involve making them somehow accountable. My position is that the real failure is that these giant unaccountable power centers exist in the first place. Stoller’s Substack explains that they don’t have to (and how we put ourselves in a position where they do anyway).
The world isn’t as simplistic as Stoller makes out. His opponents, especially Robert Bork and the Chicago School, had much better reasons for thinking as they did than he gives them credit for. Yet a lot of the most consequential political decisions of the past ten years have not been about racism or LGBTQ+ stuff or the Ukranian-Russian war, but stuff nobody is paying attention to, like the Paramount Consent Decrees and Lina Khan’s attempt to start enforcing laws again after a couple decades’ hiatus.
I admit, Stoller’s relentless critique of the Wall Street Journal pleases me, too.
Good sample post:
I only found Legalese because its writer (Bob) generously recommended De Civitate to his readers, and one of them subscribed here. When that happened, I got an email notification that someone had found their way to De Civ from Legalese, which was the first I’d ever heard of the place. I investigated, was pleased, and boom, subscribed. Another case where Substack was way pushier than I ever would have been, and yet it redounded to my benefit—this time, as a reader!
A small caveat in my recommendation here: I don’t listen to “talk” podcasts. That may sound odd to those of you who have heard that I literally spool Substack articles into text-to-speech apps so I can listen to them in my car, but, when I actually pull out my podcatcher, I only listen to the queen of podcasting genres: audio drama. The closest I ever got to listening to This American Life in the past three years was The Left-Right Game, starring my boy John Billingsley (and also some other people). Lots of Legalese is talk podcast. If there’s one thing I want to encourage Bob to do, it’s to please post your transcripts in the show notes so I can read them!
Yet Bob occasionally posts articles. I always read them. I’m a legal conservative, but I hem and I haw about the details. Bob is a conservative, and neither hems nor haws. To me, this makes for often-refreshing reading.
Bonus: Another deadstack—I used to read it, it died, and I wish it would come back. The guy at The End of the Peninsula is an ex-Gawker staffer, with all the rhetorical baggage that entails, but this post got me through 2020.
My kids were 6, 2, and locked down. For them, there was only the Paw Patrol. For me, there was only this article, The Paw Patrol Is a Threat to Democracy, which I’ve probably read three dozen times:
This is where the paywall hits. Sorry, free readers, you are all beautiful people, but De Civitate’s paying subscribers deserve some reward, at least occasionally. If you’d like to sign up to support my work and, incidentally, read the rest of this edition of Worthy Links, you can do so here:
In the remainder of this edition of Worthy Links: some right-wingers—will there be scandal???—some television, and a bonus video.
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