Taking the Leap

Today is a new beginning at Discourse Blog. Here’s why it means so much to us.

Today is the beginning of the newest, most ambitious, most thrilling, most terrifying phase in the very brief history of Discourse Blog.

For the last three or so months, this site (or newsletter, or collective act of insanity, or whatever you want to call it) has been a pure labor of love. We have built it up from nothing, and made nothing from it. But from today, we are asking you to give us some money to produce this thing, and we are going to make another leap into the unknown.

There are some baser reasons for this shift (like, erm, we need money for rent and food and things), but I want to zero in on one reason which was articulated by Aleks Chan last week:

[W]e’re also immensely motivated by what we hope will be a new frontier in digital media: Truly independent, worker-owned and operated publications.

[…]

Our ambitions, we think, are appropriately modest: a small, sustainable business that helps support our livelihoods doing work that is uncompromised by larger corporate interests. No chasing pageviews, no insane, hockey-stick growth goals. Just posts we believe in and actually want to publish.

This, for me at least, is the most meaningful part of what we’re trying to do here. In our very small and modest way, we are trying to create a different, more humane, more liberated future for ourselves.

Working on Discourse Blog has made me reflect more than ever on the relentless, pulverizing pressure so often found in corporate media. There is pressure to achieve endless growth, to do more with less, to never stop, and, above all, pressure to produce and keep producing. (We posted more blogs in a day at Splinter than we do in a week at Discourse Blog.) They are all the products of an environment which, at the end of the day, is centered around the extraction of profit from journalists for the benefit of the rich. They can also be very, very hard on the soul.

This is not something unique to journalism, obviously. It is how things are for untold numbers of people under capitalism. But the absence of this environment at Discourse Blog—the removal of those crushing forces—has been a very healing balm, especially coming after the trauma with which our last venture ended. At times, working on this blog has felt like a portal into another universe, one where everyone is free to simply try and do the thing they’ve always wanted to do.

But we do not live in a country that supports that kind of freedom. Just the opposite. Thanks to how that whole Splinter thing went down, and to the temporary expansion of the welfare state forced by the pandemic, I am lucky to currently be receiving generous unemployment benefits and Medicaid. But the unemployment money will run out very soon, and the free healthcare will, in all likelihood, not be permanent. What will my life look like at that point? How will my ability to give this fledgling venture the space it deserves in my day and in my brain be affected if I suddenly have to tear off a large chunk of my feeble income and hand it to some shitty Obamacare plan?

I have thought about this almost every day since Discourse Blog started. I have also thought about it from the opposite angle: What would my life be like if I never had to worry about paying for health benefits? What sense of my own freedom in the world would that give me? How much more would it allow me to try and fully live the life I want to live? Instead, I and everyone else on this blog will have to balance the fulfillment, and the freedom, it gives us with the grinding maneuvers and compromises this country imposes on everybody.

I sometimes think that people trying to articulate a leftist vision of the world don’t concentrate enough on this idea. We are living through a period of seemingly endless cruelty and repression, and it is vital that we marshal the force necessary to break with that. People deserve an end to white supremacy, hypercapitalism, misogyny, transphobia, police, prisons, detention centers, hospital bills, untrammeled climate change, and on and on because all of these things are basic moral outrages.

But destroying them is not simply about doing away with harmful systems. It is also about replacing them with humane systems, ones based in love and solidarity. It is about imagining what we could all do with ourselves if people didn’t have to worry about falling into medical bankruptcy, or racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, or being terrorized by law enforcement and the criminal justice system, or making poverty wages, or spending all of their time working and none of our time really living. It is, in other words, about what true freedom—rather than either the hyper-individualism of the free market or the means-testing obscenities of modern liberalism—could look like, if only we were willing to look out for each other.

What if we lived in that kind of world? How much happier would we be? How much more joy would exist? What wonders would we all come up with? How much better would it feel to live on this planet?

I am not going to pretend that the revolution runs through Discourse Blog—we’re just one dumb little blog!—and I don’t know how long we’re going to be here. But we are going to try very hard to make this thing work, and last, and to carve out this little patch of free grass for ourselves, and to do this thing that makes us all happy, and hopefully one day we will live in a world that makes our attempt to do that even a little bit easier. If you’re reading this, I can’t thank you enough for helping us out.

P.S.: Yes, I understand the inherent irony in doing a blog about freedom on the day we’re making this thing not entirely free. Go with me here! You know what I mean! It’s the bigger picture!

Screenshot: MGM