What is Wisdom of Crowds?

It started off as an experiment. In the summer of 2019,

and were on a bus in Israel. They were debating something having to do with religion and nationalism, and of course an Israeli bus was a perfect place for that. A friend said “Guys, go get yourself a podcast.” And so they did. 

There were no expectations. They just wanted a place where to hang out and have unstaged, rabbit-hole type conversations as friends. But they weren’t just friends. They were sparring partners who disagreed with each other about some of the big questions. Probably the biggest questions. 

Over time, Wisdom of Crowds has grown into something larger and more ambitious. What began in the back of an Israeli bus is now a budding community—an ideas collective drawing in some of the sharpest and most creative young writers in America today. The core team of collaborators and co-conspirators now includes the political philosopher

and the columnist .

Wisdom of Crowds is also a distinct ethos. Our goal is not to win arguments or convince you that we’re right (we may not be). Our goal is to understand why people—even “bad” people—believe what they believe. Most of our political debates ignore this step and instead only brush the surface. Yet their superficiality doesn’t make them easier to address. It only makes it harder. And, so we—all of us—need to go deeper and talk about first principles. Our differences and divides are both legitimate and deeply felt. We shouldn’t hide them or suppress them in the interest of “consensus,” “civility,” or a common good that no longer exists.

We are against consensus. Polarization isn’t necessarily bad. Agreement is nice. But disagreement is better. And we mean that. 

A lot of you are sick and tired of what passes as debate these days. We’re sick of it too. Too often, it’s pointless, which is why at least one of us has stopped reading the news. So we want to ask ourselves—and all of you—whether we can create an ecosystem that seeks nothing less than to change the way Americans (and pretty much anyone else) debate and disagree with each other.

You might think it’s a bad word or one that reminds you of endlessly circular late-night dorm room talks when you were eighteen, but philosophy for all of its elite connotations is actually for the crowd—and it might even provide wisdom. Philosophy is the practice of confronting, clarifying, and refining the deep convictions that shape how we live. And it’s a practice that everyone can take on in their own lives, with their own families, and in their own communities. This is something you can actually do. 

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Once starting premises and “first principles” are clarified, we can begin relating to politics differently. A more frank and productive discussion becomes possible. Despite our best efforts, we can’t be completely removed from the news of the day. But we at Wisdom of Crowds will always aim to go several steps further. Our mission is to explore the source of difference—whether cultural, religious, or based on seemingly irreconcilable visions of the world.  

A growing number of political divides at home and abroad aren’t about facts or policy. Rather, they revolve around “who we are” questions.” They feel existential. How does one deal with this new reality of existential politics, where every debate seems  so heavy and consequential? We have an answer (sort of), and it involves learning to let go, suspending final judgment, and allowing disagreements to unspool naturally without any definitive knowledge of where they might lead us. 

Through Wisdom of Crowds, we hope to develop an ethos and sensibility among people who are like-minded only in the sense that they value unfettered, contentious, but still vaguely respectful debate around foundational questions. The vision for the project is to expand this community and model a particular approach to contending with deep differences.

Our style is informal and conversational. Just like you, we’re working out our ideas in real time and hoping to learn in the process. Interrogating the source of difference is the thread that connects everything that we do.

Become a Member

If any of this sounds interesting to you, we’d love for you to join us as members of the community. Paid subscriptions are for $5/month or $50/year. We know that isn’t nothing. But as we scale up and introduce more features, your support will make a huge difference.

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By subscribing, you’ll get access to everything behind the paywall, including subscriber Q&As, the return of our “debates” section, our full archive of essays, as well as members-only (and quite spicy) conversations with guests as varied as Francis Fukuyama, Ross Douthat, Glenn Greenwald, and

. You'll also be able to comment on every newsletter.

What excites us most about Substack is how it can help us build a community of readers and writers who share ideas and challenge each other’s premises. We love finding ways to connect and learn alongside you—our dear readers. With that in mind, we’re really looking forward to introducing new Substack-specific features like discussion threads and subscriber-only chats.

There’s a lot we’re excited about. We will also be rolling out more essays by outside contributors, chats, video podcasts, live episodes, and curated debates where you, our loyal readers, can jump in directly to discuss your first principles and hold us to ours. In short, your support will allow Wisdom of Crowds to commission outside contributors and support part-time—and, hopefully soon, full-time staff. It will allow us to expand our ambitions and make this one of the most exciting, original, and unusual platforms around today.

With all of this in the pipeline, we invite you to support us with a subscription of $5/ month and discounted if you sign up for a year.

We’re excited. We hope you are too. And we hope you’ll join us.

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Agreement is nice. Disagreement is better.

People

Columnist & Editorial Board member at The Washington Post. Co-founder of Wisdom of Crowds. My new book is THE PROBLEM OF DEMOCRACY: http://amzn.to/3Q15rwC.
Agreement is nice. Disagreement is better.
Director Philosophy & Society @ Aspen Institute. Editor at Large wisdomofcrowds.live. Other writing: amazon.com/dp/0199363986
Opinions editor at Washington Post and co-founder of Wisdom of Crowds.
Author of "Rethinking Sex: A Provocation." Opinion columnist and Editorial Board member at The Washington Post. Editor-at-large, WisdomOfCrowds.live
Santiago Ramos is Executive Editor of Wisdom of Crowds, an online publication and podcast devoted to arguing about politics and first principles. He is a longtime contributor for Commonweal magazine and contributing editor for Plough Quarterly.