Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ross Douthat Is A Shining Beacon On A Hill

Oh my God! It's the end of the world! Watch where you put those paws, mister!

Evidently Megan McArdle is much too busy with her Detroit trip to blog, so let's take another look at Ross Douthat and his continuing effort to force everyone to be just like Ross Douthat.

The main objective of any serious social conservative, in the end, should be to restore a particular sexual ideal among heterosexuals, not just to forestall the redefinition of the institution of marriage to include gays.

It's all about the vagina with our Ross . Sex, sex, sex. That's all the man ever thinks about. Sex and God, sex and Muslims, sex and marriage.

By the way--this has nothing to do with anything, it just popped into my head--Catholics are forbidden to masturbate. It must be very frustrating. But back to Douthat.

What does Douthat's "main objective" entail?

The goal should be a world where the struggle to defend marriage is understood primarily as a struggle against divorce and out-of-wedlock births and premarital promiscuity, and not just a world where the law offers a particular distinction to Newt Gingrich’s third marriage that it doesn’t afford Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi.

Let's take divorce first. Douthat thinks that everyone should not be able to divorce. If you marry a child molester, or spendthrift, or adulterer, or cold, cruel person, you should not be able to divorce him. If you marry a woman who does drugs in front of the children, lets her boyfriend in the house when the husband goes to work, is a spendthrift, is mentally ill, you should not be able to divorce her. Even if you have no children you should not be able to divorce. That is what Douthat considers ideal.

Perhaps he would make allowances, but after that it's just a matter of degree, isn't it? Much like the abortion debate, it's all or nothing. But why? Why is divorce, of all things, something that's existed since antiquity, one of the Holy Trinity of Official Pillars of Marriage? We are forced to guess, since Mr. Douthat coyly refuses to say. God. His god, to be specific. What God hath wrought, let no man rend asunder. But it's a bit awkward to tell the world, "My Catholic religion forbids divorce and all political laws should support my religious laws so everyone lives just like me." The non-Catholics disagree, and even the Catholic Church has assimilated to the point of offering annulment so Catholics can remarry and stay in the Church.

If there is another reason for Douthat's decision to claim that divorce should be illegal, he can't be bothered to give it so it must not be important.

And if all that social conservatives can ever hope to accomplish is to keep homosexual couples from getting marriage licenses, then there’s a case to be made for living with the public redefinition of the institution, taking the older ideal private, and trying to rebuild a thicker culture of marriage from the ground up.

How? Don't leave us hanging! By breeding, building an army of Catholics one pregnancy at a time? Mind control? Hypnosis?

The whole idea of rebuilding a culture of marriage is hilarious to this woman. From your first pink blanket to your Bride Barbie to your Easy-bake Oven to lipstick to Seventeen to Cosmopolitan to a whole genre of romantic films--our whole society is centered around the culture of marriage. It's bred into us. Why does he think gays want it too? But like the hysterical and fearful mosque maniacs, Douthat just can't stand the idea of anyone different soiling his sacred traditions. It would just hurt his feelings too much.

Let me put it this way: If tomorrow, without much outcry or opposition, the United States of America actually legalized polygamy, and straight Americans began practicing plural marriage in large numbers, my interest in the fight against legalizing gay marriage would drop away to zero. That isn’t going to happen, obviously. But the mass heterosexual abandonment of the marital ideal may have put us closer to that situation than some gay marriage opponents want to admit.

Aww, Ross, that's just lame. The "dogs and cats living together!!!" defense? Please.

And remember, you're also talking to a generation of libertarians who grew up on Robert Heinlein, and think a dozen hot wives is no less than they deserve.

The other pillars are out-of-wedlock births and premarital promiscuity. Poor Douthat doesn't realize that those two pillars are the best friends marriage ever had, and are responsible for a huge percentages of marriages. Just like Douthat wants.


Anonymous said...

You know, Susan, much as I hate Ross I think the import of this article is actually slightly different. He's trying to say something that gay rights supporters have said for a long, long time: if you really want to obsesses about shit that Jesus actually said and try to force that on society you should focus on divorce and not on gay marriage. Because Jesus didn't mention gays at all, but on the question of marriage and divorce he did have something to say.

Ross is arguing--if you can call it arguing--for a "fewer but better Catholics" model in which Catholic (or, as he elides it, Social Conservatives) return to minding their own gardens on the subject of gay marriage and focus instead on bringing back whatever ineffable social and cultural things are conducive to attacking divorce, premarital sex, and promiscuity. His use of the term "social conservatives" enables him to pretend that his obsession with, say, Divorce, is shared by other socially conservative groups (like Orthodox Jews or Conservative Muslims) who, of course, have nothing against divorce.

But I actually think he's trying to pull out (pull out, this goes back to Catholic teaching on sexuality and procreation) of the entire anti-gay marriage debate. I think he lost that one so spectacularly with his "thick/thin" defense of marriage column that he's decided to abandon ship. But he's such an excruciating writer and such a dishonest and amoral thinker that you can hardly tell the special pleading fromthe mere pleading.


Susan of Texas said...

I think you're right in your analysis (although I also think he emphasizes divorce because he can say it's for secular reasons--For The Children--as well as religious reasons).

Another aspect I find odd is his emphasis on purity over practicality--he doesn't consider the repercussions of what he wants. The Catholic Church says to live through God, for God, and in one sense he does, yet in another sense he's very much part of a successful, material world. The sacrifices always seem to be made by someone else.

Anonymous said...

First, I think to the degree that I can decipher Douthat, aimai might be right. He's almost throwing in the towel here and saying "well, maybe we should be Amish" - let there be a secular version of marriage that is covered under contract law and social conservatives can have their own "ideal" marriage that involves no divorce. Catholics already do this in the US, so I'm not sure why he'd think this was a new idea but whatever.

But this part gets to me:

"If tomorrow, without much outcry or opposition, the United States of America actually legalized polygamy..."

Polygamy itself IS legal in the US. If my spouse and I were to decide to start a couple of harems of consenting adults up in our home and have an exchange of religious commitment vows among all of us, there's absolutely nothing that the US government would do to stop us. There's absolutely nothing that the state or county or city governments would do to stop us either. It is not illegal to practice polygamy in the US - it is only if your spouses try to obtain legal rights (power of attorney, visitation, inheritance, etc) or job benefits (e.g. insurance) where this situation would run into a problem. And even there in some cases you could use the same mechanisms of contract law that gay folks have used for decades to get around this in an ad hoc manner.

The fact that there AREN'T a large number of polygamists out there attempting to get their multiple marriages recognized by the state suggests that Douthat is missing something very important in his analysis of why gay marriage is an important issue.


Susan of Texas said...

I agree, he seems to be giving up the fight against gay marriage because it's a losing proposition.

But this is a Holy War for him, so I'm sure he'll come up with something in time.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Douthat writes about the "abandonment of the marital ideal" as if the "ideal" were strictly defined and universally agreed upon. My marital ideal is quite different from his, I'm sure.

Mr. Wonderful said...

I love aimai's special pleading/pleading line.

Can someone tell me: What is the difference between a "social conservative," in this kind of discussion, and "a reactionary"?

Meanwhile, let us contemplate his phrase "the marital ideal." What he eagerly, proudly ignores is the fact--established, through struggle, by people just as virtuous as young Ross, as well as by liberals over centuries--that marriage is not simply a religious ritual that lazy Vatican II apostates and decadent atheists now can't be bothered to perform.

It involves actual people, actually living with each other. (And how long has HE been married, now that you mention it?) If he really imagines he is, or should be, fighting the good fight to compel people to remain married when one (or both) of them don't want to, then he is literally living in an imaginary world, in which values--HIS values, which are Catholic values, and arguably based entirely on superstition-- trump everyone's actual, lived reality.

If that's what "conservatism" means to him (and it sure looks like it is), then he's a fool. And that's worse than being a douchebag or an asshole. He is a classic, world-historical fool, the depth of whose deeply-held values is exactly equal to the depth of his detachment from the world everyone else lives in.

bulbul said...

Mr. Wonderful,

What is the difference between a "social conservative," in this kind of discussion, and "a reactionary"?
The same as between "excrement" and "shit". The former sounds more noble and dignified, but both look and smell the same.

The sacrifices always seem to be made by someone else.
Fred Clark (slacktivist) often points out that the reason religious leaders talk about homosexuality so much is that this is the only sin most of their listeners are not guilty of and so it's easier to get all righteous about. This applies to the Catholics just as much as it does to protestant evangelicals. Somehow all that stuff Jesus said about the poor, the rich and the temptations of this world seldom features in sermons or Ross' columns. And why would it? The listeners/readers might recognize their own sins and stop listening/reading...

Douthat writes about the "abandonment of the marital ideal" as if the "ideal" were strictly defined
I don't know enough of Asshat's philosophy (nor do I care to find out, God bless all y'all who have the stomach to read his drivel), but I'd be willing to bet that if we were to inquire, we'd find out that his 'marital ideal' can be found in the times before feminism.

Also, pre-marital promiscuity, donnez moi un break. It reminds me of Watchmen and how the superheroes there viewed promiscuity as one of society's great evils. Not poverty, not injustice, not inequality (about which, incidently, the Bible has a lot more to say than about marriage and sex), but promiscuity. All Asshat needs is a cape and a mask and whooosh he goes...

Anonymous said...

Yep, that's our Ross. Always trying to drag this country back to the moral codes of, say, 1910.

And don't get him started on chastity belts...

satch said...

I'm hoping that Ross and his most fervent followers will go for a retreat into complete ideological monastic purity...sort of like a Cat'lick version of the Amish. If we can convince Ross to renounce his laptop, and write all his columns by candle light with a quill on parchment, at least maybe they'll be shorter.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wonderful, I'm not "special pleading" for Douthat, I'm just trying to reflect on what he's saying accurately. I think Douthat is a kind of bellwether for a certain kind of hysterical, right wing thinking--he uses "social conservative" specifically to elide all the differences between different kinds of social conseravitves in order to pump up the position of Catholics who are actually rather a small, embattled, minority.

I think its interesting, though not important (because Ross isn't important socially or culturally) that Ross now feels, approximately five minutes after the thick/thin essay, that he needs to abandon his formerly deeply help beliefs about the importance of state ratification of his religious/cultural beliefs.

One thing about these authoritarians, it takes a lot for them to decide to relinquish using the state to enforce their personal religion. That's what Ross really wants, though, a return (?) to a world inwhich you don't need the state to enforce morality. I'm sure like most moral cowards he can't really contemplate the harm of forcing individual people to stay married to abusive spouses. Just as he couldn't face thinking--really thinking--about what it means to deny people the right to get married. Wht's happened is that somehow, someone has managed to communicate to him just how horrible the rigid application of his so called morality is to real lives. He's decided to back off the absolutist position because he doesn't want to take responsiblity for the fallout.

I'm totally pro polygamy--I want people to have to regularize their relationships. This current illegal/alegal form of polygamy hurts women much more than it hurts men. Its absurd. If people want to be in one, two, three or many forms of marriage they all have to have rights over each other, and they have to be able to go to law to defend their rights.

Batocchio said...

Rather than "special pleading" maybe it should be called "especially inept and annoying pleading" or "whiny concern trolling." Pretty much every Douthat column is standing athwart common sense shouting, "But you'll go to hell!" It goes something like this:

1) Life would be so much better if only people acted like socially conservative Catholics.

2) Why? Because it would make me feel more comfortable. And I'm better than you. And if you don't give me my way, I'll....

3) Whine, straw man, false equivalency.

4) Whine, victimization, sanctimony.

5) The big finish – the grandiose, trying-to-be-profound douchebag double axel, landing on his pale, very white ass, while his incessant, grating whine rises up to the heavens - there to be met by the Silence of God.

(That's right, I'm going Bergman on his ass. I got your existential dread rightchere, Douthat.)

Or, if you want to sum up almost all conservative arguments, from Douthat to Dick Armey's recent appearances: It goes against the national public good to do as I say, and goes against your personal interest to do as I say, but how dare you not know your place and do as I say?!?

A tolerant person says, "I can live the way I like, and you can live the way you like." The intolerant person says, "I can live the way I like, but you must also live the way I like." Social conservatives, particularly of the religious authoritarian bent, aren't seeking equality, which they already possess – they're seeking power, specifically power over other people. That's what annoys me so much about people like Douthat, because while I honestly don't think he's that bright, he's not a complete imbecile, either. Understanding the difference between those two dynamics is not beyond his ability. If he enjoys practicing his brand of Catholicism, whoop-de-doo for him. But there is absolutely no fucking reason why everyone else should do the same. He's not even pitching the merits of his faith or world view most of the time – he's just whining that other people don't share it, and the fact that they don't somehow victimizes him (and when Rossy is unhappy, it means Western Civilization itself is imperiled). Just from a sheer marking standpoint, I have to say, Ross – why the hell should I pick your god over all the rest when you consistently make such piss-poor arguments, and are such a sanctimonious asshole?

Susan of Texas said...

Have you ever read his mother's work? During the worst of the priest rape scandal, she was worrying that Catholics weren't sufficiently subservient enough. (My interpretation, of course.) Mel Gibson and his dad, Douthat and his mom--they are driven by forces they don't understand. If you don't agree with their world-view, you are making their parent out to be a liar, which they cannot endure. Their parent's view is all-encompassing, extraordinarily narrow, and filled with self-pity and hatreds against anyone who would threaten that world-view.

That's what struck me about McArdle so strongly. Her personal problems formed her political opinions, and we are expected to go along with it, just like with Douthat's religious mania for purity.

And I'm expected to bear more children than I want, to let him make my most personal family decisions, because he's neurotic. Amazing.