No, Thought Catalog, Not All Thought Is Relevant


Amid the clamor over Ferguson, the bad news and the bad coverage of news, one article about the crisis in Missouri stood out as the champion of the race to the bottom. “Ferguson, Missouri Looks Like A Rap Video,” published on Thought Catalog, avoided the complications of being codedly racist through straight-up, old-fashioned bigotry.

The author, whose repertoire includes stories like “The Only Difference Between UFC And Gay Porn Is The Padded Gloves” and “11 Questions From a Craigslist Prostitute,” assessed the situation in Ferguson with eyerolls and sarcasm. “Like a normal neighborhood dealing with the loss of someone they love, they started breaking into every shopping center plaza store and gas station,” he wrote. “You cannot find Jordans, rims, weaves, or Quick Trips in Ferguson, MO.” His article does have one important function, however: Proving the stated editorial ideal of Thought Catalog—that “all thinking is relevant”—wrong.

It’s a confusing mission on many levels. Relevancy is a subjective quality, it is not an absolute. It only exists in terms of the topic at hand. Not all thought is relevant, nor can it be relevant. Not every thought is worth publishing. (Just look at the comments section of any major news website). Not every article has equal importance. That is why architecture for filtering information exists. That’s why editors exist. That’s why, on most news sites, information on, say, an impending hurricane trumps instructions on how to make a quinoa salad.

Thought Catalog’s ideals include “a neutral editorial policy governed by openness…we want to tell all sides of the story and generate dialogue. If you think someone and want to tell the world, then it’s relevant and appropriate for Thought Catalog.” That’s a lovely thought, but a problematic editorial structure. Keeping a balanced perspective on the news is a worthwhile endeavor, as is soliciting voices from all backgrounds. But simply removing the doors of the floodgate and allowing the opinions to pour in doesn’t actually help advance alternate points of view. The many sharp writers who contribute to Thought Catalog get yelled out of the room by navel-gazing listicles and questionable essays about navigating the “Friendzone.” If you amplify every voice equally, you just end up with an echo chamber of indistinguishable shouting.

The Ferguson article is far from the first time that Thought Catalog’s laissez-faire policy has worked against it. Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes published an essay titled “Transphobia is Perfectly Natural,” which openly mocked the trans community and basically justified hatred towards them. Obviously, this is garbage. I guess it counts as “thought.” But if there’s anything that the transparency of social media has taught us, just because you think it doesn’t mean that it’s true or valuable.

According this kind of honor to all thoughts is not only shortsighted; it’s dangerous. Not all thoughts are created equal. Nor does, as Thought Catalog puts it,  “all thinking [have] a strand of resonance and therefore every act of expression serves a purpose.” The beauty of thoughts is that we can choose which ones to express and how to do so. We can take other input, reconsider, talk about them, hash them out. Making every mental mechanism you have publicly available is impossible, exhausting, and ultimately undesirable. The value of thoughts is not just having them. It is filtering them. It is considering and rejecting ideas. Good writing is not just good thinking, it’s good judgment. And that is a quality that Thought Catalog sorely lacks.

Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby

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  1. Since you are still putting comments on your posts, I’d like to thank you for this article. I am hoping to get a thoughtful statement and some action from those in charge of Thought Catalog.

    This week has been very troubling to me as a contributor. I’ve only had good experiences with the people at Thought Catalog, but I don’t want to feel complicit in what I consider hate speech. This problem is going to be endemic, if it already isn’t, in web publications that let contributors post without editorial supervision. Are places like Thought Catalog and Medium and other web publications merely platforms, akin to providers who bear no responsibility for what’s posted there?

    Obviously, any web publication would have to remove posts that were illegal: threats against the President, clear libel against individuals who are non-public figures, the vague Supreme Court standard from Brandenburg v. Ohio of “inciting imminent lawless action,” etc.

    My suspicion is that the advertisers will have the most influence. Does Hewlett-Packard or McDonald’s or Bank of America want their ad on a page with offensive speech? Remember how advertisers pulled out of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show after he made the remarks about Sandra Fluke? (Sadly, some of them returned when the immediate controversy died down.)

    Thanks again, Margaret.