In Defense Of Thought Catalog: Integrity, Artistic Integrity, And Why All Thinking Is Relevant


Thought Catalog has a lot of critics. And it’s a good thing. Critique is good; it is necessary for anything of importance, and it shows that people are thinking. But ever so often I come across a comment, a conversation, and an article as to why or whether Thought Catalog is “going down.” Or something like that. The latest one was by a Maxim Peakarsky, titled, “Why I’m Leaving Thought Catalog.” Now for the record this is not a personal attack towards the writer because they are not the first person to have such an argument. But I feel a need to counter this argument for several reasons, the most notable being that it is inconsistent with respect to the premise of the site, and ignores the individual integrity of writers and readers alike.

Joseph de Maistre, the Savoyad philosopher, writer, and diplomat acclaimed, “Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.” Translation: Every nation gets the government it deserves. Now while this may not be relevant to many nations given the historical and present power structures of the social constructions that are these things we call, “nations,” I think it is quite relevant to popular culture and media. I say this as someone who grew up in a home and around people who you would call the intellectual elite and the professional class, where integrity of communication in anything is dinner conversation.

And indeed I believe in integrity as a personal accomplishment, a professional characteristic, and an artistic endeavor. Aside from the Catholic-Christian home I grew up in, in which spirituality of the faith was as important as understanding the theology and intellectual reasoning behind it, one of the books that made a deep impression on me, about this thing called, “integrity” is a book by one Yale law professor, Stephen Carter, titled (funny enough), Integrity. I highly recommend it for everyone. And in the book, you learn that integrity first and foremost is about the difficult work of moral discernment, decision-making that is dependent on that discernment, and having the courage to hold out your integrity to the world; that is, living out your integrity.

Now Thought Catalog’s mission is simple: All thinking is relevant. It’s short, it’s sweet, and most importantly, it’s straightforward and unambiguous. The idea is that anyone from any background can write on this site – their thoughts whether in list-form, in long-form, humorously, seriously, etc. can be relevant to the experiment that is Thought Catalog. Now I am not blind to biases and problematic structures in digital media and communication; in fact, that research is something I undertake in my academic work. But as to the backlash and the questioning of what is published, and in so doing the integrity of publishing these posts – which makes up a good amount of the critique – I must dissent.

Now I do not read everything on this site because I do not have an interest in everything on this site. But that does not mean somebody else doesn’t. I also do not write about certain subjects because as a matter of integrity, I choose not to. That is my integrity – personally and professionally. I believe that every person must be judged by a certain objective standard indeed. But I also look to other people’s standards for themselves. The problem I find, admittedly, is that many people do not do the “heavy lifting” of moral discernment to begin with – creators and otherwise. That being said, one cannot deny something about thinking, any thinking, – it is a good thing even when the outcome is not favorable.

As someone who is trained in marketing, digital media, and communications, I contend that the reality and the beauty of Thought Catalog is that to some extent the audience plays a role in what is published, what is continuously published, and indeed what is not published. And in this way, it reflects life and economics – people play a role in what they find important and what they deem irrelevant; and of course, good ol’ supply and demand.

Now I write in various ways including both long-form and lists. And anyone who may pay attention to my writing knows I am 100% better at writing in long-form. But it is also true, and indeed the numbers do not lie – that you, the audience, prefer my lists. Which is funny to me because my list-writing simultaneously takes the least amount of time and relevant thought, but is also the form of writing, I have the least confidence in my abilities to execute, at least in comparison to other writers on this site. I am most confident in my long-form, however, and believe it can hold its own any day. Yet I reiterate, my lists are better received if the numbers are considered.

In “the creative biz,” one cannot go through this industry without looking at the numbers. And the numbers tell some truths. The audience very much likes and responds to lists, angry posts, funny posts, and short posts. For all the complaints, the audience likes the so-called, “click-bait,”-  that’s why you do in fact, click. If you consider the psychology both of the human mind and society, it makes sense. People’s brains prefer shortcuts. People are more likely to verbalize a negative situation than a positive one with the exception of humor. Most people will read a book that is 100 pages over a book that is 1000 pages even if the 1000-paged book were to be more enriching and personally fulfilling.

For me, I will likely never stop writing about certain subjects: race, diversity, multiculturalism, religion, etc. And most of these will be in long-form. Whether 0 people comment or 100 people comment, or 1 person shares or a 10, 000 people share, I believe I have a duty to my interests and my education, and most importantly to society, to always talk about these important subjects. I won’t shortchange what I believe is the fundamental intelligence of humans, and the good of the whole, by only writing about things that are comfortable, or writing solely for popularity.

That being said, I will write about comfortable things and things that are popular as well because people do read them. Moreover, it provides people with some “lightness” in their lives, which I believe is also needed. I insist however, that I will always try do so in way that does not put my specific integrity on the line. Only I know where that line is, personally and professionally. And that is the only thing I believe, can really be asked of creators.

Integrity then, is balanced. And I think creators especially need to be reminded of this as much as the audience does. Because while we love our work, we also ought to be able to pay the bills and then some, like everyone else. And indeed Thought Catalog has bills to pay – writers, producers, and other personnel who are dependent on this site for their living. That is a matter of integrity too – being able to eat is a matter of integrity. Creativity, integrity, and the practicalities of life are not mutually exclusive; they can and do and should work in unison. And anyone who tells you otherwise in 2014 has not done their due diligence, I believe.

So despite the so-called Reddit invasion, the “tired” lists (that lots of people read, mind you), and the seemingly endless 20 something struggles, there is also long-form, serious thinkpieces, and relevant and relatable stories. And if you would like to see more of these stories, then read more of these stories. Because maybe they only seem few and far between because that’s what you’re choosing not to read. You, the reader, also have to take responsibility for your integrity in what you choose to click. And in so doing, you will get the Thought Catalog you deserve.

Ultimately, the experiment of Thought Catalog is a dynamic one, I think. If you’re on here in any shape or form, you have a voice, you play a role, and like the people who create, your thoughts are relevant. And the truth is, the idea that all thinking is relevant is difficult, it’s something we all struggle with; that’s why it’s a mission, an aspiration. But if we keep trying to live up to it, and become better thinkers and more authentically open-minded because of it, then I would say this experiment is successful. I would say this experiment has lived up to its integrity.

But alas, I wrote this in long-form. And so I expect it won’t be as widely-read as a list I considered titling, “X Reasons To Defend Thought Catalog.” Oh well; such is life.