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The coming culture peace
Slowly, one by one
The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël; Dutch: Kerstbestand) was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of the First World War around Christmas 1914.
In the week leading up to 25 December, French, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man's land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce.
The drive to war is very human, but peace can also stir our hearts.
It has become cliche to talk about the culture war, and it has certainly been an obsession that has shaped my own thinking: how the shifting economics of news fuel it; how the incentives structures of social media breathe oxygen on the blaze; how "doom scrolling" and "hate-reading" let it live rent-free in our minds. And I must admit that both I personally, and we at Substack, have sometimes joined the fray.
The culture war rages on, and there is not shortage of bad news in the world. The Christmas truce was followed by four more years of brutal world war, and it is easy to imagine how much worse things could get for us here at the end of 2022. But I hold out hope that that is not our fate.
I think a culture peace is coming.
Now, here I should note that this is the kind of prediction thatmight say I’m foolish to make. In the future, it will either seem banal or laughably, dunkably wrong.
I will also confess to basing this hypothesis on little more than a vibe, an intuition that a fever might be about to break rather than an evidence-backed diagnosis. And yet it is an intuition that I can’t shake. Hope is a sturdy weed, and it has taken root in my heart.
The Scottish poet Charles MacKay wrote: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” I think this is a deep truth, and that in our time we are already in the second half of this process.
To be sure, peace won’t look like the world joining hands and singing kumbaya. It will look, at first, like pockets of exhausted people seeking refuge. Writers and thinkers will break from the herd. People will seek out community based on what they love instead of who they hate.
Spirited disagreements will still exist, of course, but occasionally they will generate productive discussion instead of shrieking. And what fights still exist will feel less… all consuming. People will lay down their arms at least sometimes, and share a meal or maybe a game.
This behavior was often challenged by officers; lieutenant Charles de Gaulle wrote on 7 December of the "lamentable" desire of French infantrymen to leave the enemy in peace, while the commander of 10th Army, Victor d'Urbal, wrote of the "unfortunate consequences" when men "become familiar with their neighbors opposite"
We built Substack in anticipation of this shift, and also in the hope of helping it along in some small way. Some of what we’ve done is serve these early asylum seekers by giving them a place to go, and a model that helps them start to build something new.
The structure of the network matters a great deal here, because you can’t always solve thorny human problems with simple rules. Each writer and creator, and the community that they lead, in effect gets their own social network on Substack. What you see as a reader is determined by the people you subscribe to and the communities you choose to join.
This movement is building. It may seem small now, but I am starting to believe we are already past the worst of our current culture war madness and that we will get to see a detente, followed by some measure of peace.
Will this be good or bad for our business? Honestly, I welcome the change either way. But I think it will be good.
War can command our attention, but peace is the best environment in which to build. Our world is changing as fast as ever, and technology is redefining what’s possible for humanity. In a culture peace, we can get down to the hard work of figuring out who we are and how we want to live. This is more valuable than any war, even if you could win.
Those people seeking peace one by one—the truth seekers, the misfits, the poets, the builders, the outsiders—are the ones who will write the future.
We’re here to help how we can.