“Why Did You Publish that Column?”

Questions about why we published this-or-that column come up not infrequently at the Atlasphere. Below is a letter I wrote to a new Atlasphere member who had questions about how we decide what to publish, in general, and about Jessica Bennett’s most recent column, “Rationally Green,” in particular. Perhaps others will be interested to hear this information.

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In general, we strive to publish lively, stimulating content of likely interest to fans of Ayn Rand’s novels (who may or may not consider themselves Objectivists). Feel free to peruse our writers guidelines, if you’re curious.

Occasionally one of our authors skirts the lines of what we find philosophically acceptable and we definitely try to keep things relatively Objectivist-ish, in that regard. At the same time, we don’t devote a lot of time to enforcing intellectual “purity.” We trust and encourage our readers to think for themselves, and we’re more interested in providing stimulating material than in providing philosophically exact content.

To provide an analogy, within the Rand-admiring community, we strive to be more of an Atlantic Monthly than, obviously, an academic journal. If you’re looking for scholarly or philosophically scrubbed material, there are others that do this much better than us. If, on the other hand, you are interested in casual worldly discussions of this-and-that, we seem to be a good place to go.

At least, that’s the conclusion I reach from the number of people who’ve signed up for our columns announcements. We’ve had well over 4,000 members sign up to receive an e-mail notification each time we publish a new column, and every day more people ask to be added.

Fewer than 5% of those who request the announcements have ever turned them off — meaning they happily keep receiving three new column announcements from us every week — which never ceases to amaze me, personally. I truly never thought our columns would be quite so popular, but they seem to be meeting some kind of need, out there.

Regarding Jessica’s most recent column in particular, I think Jessica is advocating more of the “conservationist” position, which was the old name for environmentalism, before it became a political cause and a religion for some people. Conservationists were people who loved nature and wanted to help protect it. You can kind of sense that Jessica’s groping toward a free market solution to the problem of how to protect nature. I don’t think this is hard to see.

I actually didn’t see this particular column before it was published. Our editor, Carol Brass, handles all that, for which I am eternally grateful. She and I both have full schedules, and the Atlasphere actually doesn’t get paid for the time she and I invest in these columns. On the contrary, I pay our editor and writers a small amount of money to create this content, and I receive no direct compensation in return.

So if, in the rush of day-to-day life, something slips by that one of us regrets for some reason — I don’t see it as a big deal, usually. If it is a big deal, I’ll edit or pull the column post-publication, and send the writer an explanation. But I’m disinclined to do that for this particular column, because I think it’s just a matter of whether readers are willing to entertain a position that’s fairly understandable, all things considered.

You probably wouldn’t know this, but Jessica is actually one of our more popular columnists; she has her own following at the Atlasphere. Usually she doesn’t write about topics with a strong political charge. Something about her thoughtful (“poetic” as you called it) style of writing resonates with many readers — including me, I should say.

She’s stylistically different than our other writers, and she’s got a gift. She really does make you want to think things over, which I think is great. You might be interested to browse the archives (on the search page you can enter an author’s name to view all their columns) and read some of her earlier columns, if her style appeals to you.

You asked how you could submit a reply to her column. If you’re a paid Atlasphere subscriber and you’d like to reply to her personally, you can send her an e-mail via her Atlasphere profile (linked from the bottom of any of her articles). Or, if you’re interested in publishing a column on the subject, we do welcome submissions that present alternate perspectives on a subject as long as they don’t read like a response to an earlier column. Any column you submit should stand well enough on its own, without needing to quote-and-reply to earlier content.

I should also mention that we have published other columns, like this one by Walter Williams, taking a firm stance against environmentalism. So I don’t think there’s any reasonable way to infer that the Atlasphere is endorsing environmentalism per se by publishing what Jessica wrote. Ultimately, I think, Jessica is expressing an understandable tension between her own natural pro-nature sentiments and the wacky global-warming environmentalist Kool Aid that so many people seem to be selling these days.

I hope that answers your questions. I welcome your thoughts.

UPDATE (Mar 23): As it would happen, Thomas Sowell just penned a new column called “Global Warming Swindle” (his review of the excellent British documentary with a similar title) which we are happy to be able to publish. We look forward to covering the topics of environmentalism and global warming further, as the public debate over global warming continues to heat up and more excellent material is written.