It started off as an experiment. In the summer of 2019, we were on a bus in Israel. We 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 yourselves a podcast.” And so we did.
We had no expectations. We just wanted a place where we could hang out and have unstaged, rabbit-hole type conversations as friends. But we weren’t just friends. We were sparring partners who disagreed with each other about some of the big questions. In fact, they were 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.
It’s 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.
Today, we’re expanding our ambitions and scaling up. We’re launching on Substack with a new team, including our first managing editor Robert Showah and a team of collaborators and co-conspirators, not least among them the political philosopher Samuel Kimbriel and the author and essayist Christine Emba.
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 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.
What are First Principles, Anyway?
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 and in their own communities. This is something you can actually do.
Once starting premises and “first principles” are clarified, each of us can begin relating to politics differently. A more frank and productive discussion becomes possible. Our mission at Wisdom of Crowds 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 with meaning? 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.
Shadi was never going to persuade Damir about the beauty of democracy however much he tried. And, trust us, he tried. And Damir was never going to persuade Shadi to become a browbeaten, hard-nosed anti-sentimentalist. But why should either of them be persuaded by the other, when one is a believer and the other isn’t? No amount of debate is likely to change that. And, so, instead, they have changed in other ways, without quite even realizing it. We think that’s the way it should be.
Our Move to Substack
As part of our move to Substack, we want to build a sense of community and bring as many of you as possible into the work that we’re doing. 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 fundamental questions. Our vision is to expand this community and model an alternative approach to contending with deep differences.
We are moving to Substack for a simple reason—it embodies a future internet that we want to be part of. One in which ideas have more space to breathe. One with more intimacy and personality than old media. One where it’s okay to love ideas, grapple with them, and be torn about them without pretending to be more certain than we actually are.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, we’d love for you to join us as members of the Crowd. 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. 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 single post.
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 and, yes, disagree with you too—our dear readers. And in turn, we want you to disagree with us. We mean that, and you can test us accordingly. With that in mind, we’re really looking forward to introducing new Substack-specific features like subscriber-only chats and discussion threads.
Not only that, we’ll also be rolling out video podcasts, live episodes, and curated debates where you 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 original essays, bring on outside contributors, and build out our team. 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.
Co-founder and editor
Co-founder and editor
Quick question on the membership...if we were paying members under the old platform, does that automatically transfer over to here, or do we need to change our subscription type with Substack?
Great to see you guys making the move and I'm excited to see WOC continue to grow!
That's him. Thanks! Appreciate your work at WOC and Zealous at the Gate.