Last mailbag of 2023
Nazis, "Ferrari," and Claudine Gay
The stretch between Christmas and New Year’s is always a slow news week, but a few good and noteworthy things have happened. Moderna’s mRNA cancer vaccine turns out to be more effective than previously known. Zepbound is similar to, but even more effective than, Ozempic. And we’ve got a ceasefire in the destructive-but-little-noticed conflict in eastern Congo.
Now to questions!
Marie Kennedy: Thoughts on the “Substackers Against Nazis” debacle? I don’t believe I saw your name on either open letter- is this a post-Harpers letter philosophy to avoid open letters, or no one asked you, or you just don’t have a strong opinion either way?
One lesson I learned from that Harpers experience is that you should be very careful what you sign. But as you can see, I’m not out here demanding that Substack deplatform anybody, which means that I am, on some level, in alignment with Elle Griffin’s “Substack shouldn’t decide what we read” letter, though I don’t endorse 100 percent of what she wrote.
Something that I hope Substack will think seriously about going forward is the very real tension between their desire to be seen as a content-agnostic software vendor and their desire to create useful network effects. Nobody does takes like “Microsoft Word has a Nazi problem” or “Ikea shouldn’t sell office furniture to companies.” There are lots of companies out there selling products that are very generically useful, which includes being useful to bad people. If a company told me proudly that they were the preferred desk provider of Nazis, I’d find that incredibly disturbing and off-putting. But the reality is that Nazis probably buy desks from normal mainstream companies, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to try to get America’s furniture companies to try to deplatform Nazis. Substack is mostly like that — a software product that I find useful and so do lots of people who have lots of different political opinions, potentially including Nazi opinions.
But it’s not entirely like that.