Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Guts And Glory: The Story Of Ross Douthat

Of all the lies that pollute our daily lives in America, the lies that tell us we are exceptional, that we are moral, that we are a benevolent force for good in the world, one of the most common is that we live in a meritocracy. We are told that our leaders are our betters because they inherited intelligence and drive from their successful parents and were trained and educated to be hard-working, knowledgeable, and successful leaders from birth. Because followers get their self-esteem from belonging to a group they must believe, despite any and all proof to the contrary, that their group's leaders are smart, capable and good. Any attempt to dissuade them from this belief is futile; followers must convince themselves that the leader is no longer a member of the group before they will accept any criticism of the leader. 

Remember that about 67% of the population is authoritarian to varying degrees. Most people, no matter what their religion or party may be, are authoritarian and will make excuses for almost any wrongdoing as long as it is their side doing the wrong. Most people will stay in a group that rapes, steals, and tortures because they know they will be expelled from the group, or be forced to expel themselves because they no longer willing to deny the truth. It is either lies and obedience or truth and isolation. One third of the population is willing to live with isolation, insecurity and doubt. The other two thirds are not and do not want to be harassed by a bunch of anti-social, untrustworthy tribal rejects.

And speaking of anti-social, untrustworthy tribal rejects, let's discuss the great conservative thinker  Ross Douthat. Resist the instinct to glance away at the sight of Mr. Douthat in The New York Times and take a closer look  as Harvard fusions a great big ball of gas and dirt into a conservative star. By reading Privilege: Harvard And The Education Of The Ruling Class, we can plainly see how blind worship of authority and one misfit's desire to fit in with the rich and powerful created the wise and witty pundit we know as Chunky Ross Douthat.

Like most newly minted Harvardians, I envisioned college as a magical place, a paradise where the difficulties of my teenage years would be sloughed off and quickly forgotten.

Douthat's parents, whom he claims "had the whole meritocratic pedigree" of Standford and Yale, dropped out and becoming hippies in Berkeley. They hoped to become writers but evidently that did not pan out.

But my mother was chronically ill with strange and inexplicable allergies by the time I was born, and my father--who had drifted through law school before meeting her--took the Connecticut bar and began to practice law, which he continues to do, successfully and unhappily, to the present day.

Douthat grew up in the ultra-respectable world of wealthy professionals but did not feel one of them.

[My] reality was somewhat different, as my mother's ailments, impervious to conventional medicine, drove us to seek unorthodox cures. We drifted through various diets--first vegetarianism, then the super-vegan philosophy known as macrobiotics--and alternative medicines, such as homeopathy and acupuncture. My sister was a home birth, delivered by two lesbian midwives and breast-fed until she was two, and neither of us was given the usual round of vaccinations, since my mother was convinced--rightly, I tend to think--that their side effects were worse than the faint risk of whooping cough. In the summers we went to health-food camps in Vermont, where I gagged y way through endless meals of brown rice and seaweed. We were religious wanderers, too , in the strange and esoteric world of American Pentecostalism, before we finally came to rest, late in my adolescence, in the arms of the Roman Catholic Church.

His parents refused to send him to "snobby" Choate, thereby sentencing young Douthat to a lifetime as a social second-rater.

[... I] settled in at Hamden Hall, excelled academically, and cultivated a resentful disdain for my more popular classmates. I was skinny and scholarly, with a concave chest, a romantic streak, and an awful sense of social inferiority. Everyone else seemed to be more athletic, more attractive, and more sexually active than I as, or could ever hope to be.

Douthat convinced himself that the Connecticut prep schools of the rich were bastions of liberal oppressiveness. He was, he said, a wonkish kid who rebelled against "the environment of reflexive liberalism that swaddles an overclass childhood," not a social misfit with embarrassing family life and ex-hippie parents. He and others like him "immersed themselves in right-wing ideology much as other, similarly geekish teenagers might lose themselves in computer programming, or alternate rock, or Dungeons & Dragons. This sort of Republican is likely to be a zealous proselytizer, interested less in winning elections than winning converts..."

Douthat did what Douthats always do, carve out a niche for himself on the school newspaper and start up an anonymous underground paper that made fun of jocks. The jocks had their revenge but:

[T]he occasional prank was a small price to pay for our sense of superiority, our smug assurance that we were on our way to somewhere higher and better, somewhere populated exclusively with people like us.


Once I reached Harvard, I told myself, I would never again have to endure the sneers of the high school jockocracy, the dismissive glances of the in crowd.... At Harvard I would be happy At Harvard I would be cool.

If  it weren't for those hippie parents/snobby elite/fools too ignorant to appreciate my wisdom I would be cool!!--the eternal lament of the libertarian, the hipster, the wingnut welfare recipient, the wanna-be. But Douthat isn't cool--that is, he doesn't feel at ease with himself so he can't feel at ease with others. He doesn't know what he wants or likes, he just wants what others seem to have that he does not. He doesn't happily live his life on his own terms, he worries obsessively that he is excluded from a privileged life lived on others' terms.  His family and tribe fail him so Douthat eventually moves on to being the little tinpot dictator of the tribe of Douthat, with the Roman Catholic Church taking the place of prep school and Harvard by providing him with rules to live by and superiors to suck up to.

Douthat quickly "discovers" that Harvard exists to raise up the rich's young to even higher levels of achievement and social success. Douthat's self-professed naive wonder does not mesh with what we have heard of prep school life; the striving and climbing start early and never let up, out of habit if not necessity. From the beginning he is obsessed with fitting in with the upper crust of the upper crust  and spends the next four frustrating years watching richer, better connected men and women succeed where he cannot. Also from the beginning, Douthat has nothing but scorn for the liberal elite of Harvard. They think they are so diverse when they really are all rich! Their social climbing is sickening, and they wouldn't accept him to the Porcellian club! Those liberal girls were just giving it away, but not to him!

Women are almost always "girls" to Douthat, and his first bit of fame at Harvard comes from trashing a female student who steals from a club's treasury.

I was a columnist for the Crimson by that time, and it would be nice to say that I put aside my personal feelings for [the student] and took the high road. But her arrest delighted me--it offered a delicious story, seemingly vindicating the moral order of the universe--and I decided to get personal.

The girl in question had always slighted Douthat, ignoring him in favor of more important people, so Douthat took his revenge. Douthat often takes his revenge; nearly every description of every person in the book is negative. His few positive words are reserved for conservatives and benefactors such as Harvey Mansfield, William F. Buckley and James Fallows.  Douthat doesn't think much of Harvard's curriculum as well; it does not have a set of core classes and he felt it was full of liberal academics who were all assuredly socialists and postmodernists, with the only exception being the economics department.

To tilt right is, in some sense, to assert a belief in absolute truth, and the only absolute truth that the upper class accepts these days is the truth of the market.

Douthat never got his absolute truth at Harvard, and was immensely disappointed afterwards that the school never made him feel like a well-educated gentleman in the best conservative tradition.

Naturally Douthat's many disappointments extended to the fairer sex, who had the messy and unengaging habit of sleeping with whomever they chose, frightening the hell out of him. He had been raised by an eccentric mother who evidently was obsessed, perhaps out of necessity, over what went in and on her body and the bodies of her family. Douthat thinks of himself as a great romantic and laments that none of the girls at Harvard wanted to be courted in the best tradition of Medieval Europe--chastely and at a distance, where they could not get any of their nasty women fluids on him. Thus the famous chunky Reese Witherspoon event, in which Douthat is repulsed by a pretty young woman's advances. He pursues girls who are dating other men and, serially, falls for the "not now" dating phenomenon, in which the girl strings him along.

[O]ur love had to be pure, untainted, perfect. And it would be. I just had to be patient.

Very, very patient. Which Douthat was willing to do, as his was a pure soul that would wait for True Love. While he was waiting, however, he decided that sex just didn't live up to its previous billing; that the media promised him transcendence and bliss and all he got was a rock.

When my classmates and I came to college, there was plenty of sex to go around--but it never quite lived up to its advance billing. We were promised a utopia, a landscape of erotic plenty, a place where, as in Huxley's Brave New World, everyone belongs to everyone else.Instead, we had to deal with confused relationships, mixed signals, hang-ups and violence and jealousy and misery--with all the unpleasant stuff of human desire, which sexual rebels long traced to the pernicious effects of repression and patriarchy and old-time religion, but which had endured despite the slow demise of these boogymen.

Bullshit. Nobody promises anybody paradise, or an exception from pain and distress. As always, Douthat has to set up a strawman to explain why he is eternally disappointed in the rest of the world, which never seems to live up to the fantasies that sustained young Douthat for lo those many years of alienated adolescence. The women themselves are beside the point; they only exist to give Douthat a club that he can finally belong to.

Douthat showed only a small amount of interest in classes, but greatly enjoyed getting drunk and rhapsodizing with his friends over philosophy, ethics, and politics, while sneering at liberal activists that actually put their theory to practice. Promised greatness all their lives, these Douthats are perpetually disappointed when all their privilege isn't enough to make them great.They look back to an earlier era, wistfully telling themselves that they would have been great heroes if it weren't for this modern, decadent era that was holding them back. Douthat was happy to get a job with a national magazine his last summer at Harvard but it was at National Review, which did absolutely nothing for his social life. The only bright spot was a couple of invitations from Buckley, who was canny enough to invite lowly employees working for peanuts to visit his world of yachts, penthouses and summer cottages.

It wasn't until 9/11 that Douthat felt called to greatness, and that feeling was temporary. For a brief, glorious time, liberals were silenced and everyone was a conservative. Douthat was in his element despite his fear, but alas, the terrorism attacks stopped and the feelings of unity and moral clarity faded away. At one point Douthat coyly hints that he finally found a girlfriend but as his time at Harvard draws to a close, Douthat imagines more opportunities for greatness ahead, opportunities that are more than fulfilled as Douthat bleats his little conservative sermons from his pulpit at The New York Times.

If you can't join 'em, force them to submit to your whims, with the full faith and force of the Catholic Church at your back. That'll teach those dirty liberal hippies.


Wilson said...

He's a very sad little man.

Anonymous said...

Jeezus Christ. I went to harvard, admittedly 30 years ago--douthat has to be the stupidest, least self reflective human being ever to matriculate there. Nothing that he asserts as generally true, either of adolescents or of people going to harvard or even of the course load bears the slightest resemblance to reality. Also, btw, I still live in Cambridge and am hosting a freshman this year so it's not like my knowledge is dimmed by time. There were always wankers at harvard--like douthat--but you had to work at it. His expectations and attitudes are off the chart weird.


RubyTea said...

So, he's an anti-vaxxer, too.

Color me shocked.

Larkspur said...

Oh lord, how embarrassing. I wonder if he asked his parents for a promotional blurb, and if they've taken out a restraining order yet. Thank goodness they are such total losers; otherwise young Ross might face being disinherited.

Ben said...

How can someone who drifted through a bunch of religions as a kid think that there is absolute truth before he goes to college?

Anonymous said...

I knew all of that before, but it's oh so sad.

Anonymous said...

dianedp said...

Off course when 9/11 happened he did not go off to defend our country.
He supported GW. And watched all those others go off to die. Wonder if he even knew any soldiers or anybody that died in service.

What a jerk and yes Wilson Reese
"he's a sad little man'

Professor Fate said...

Good lord what an utter utter wanker - and I notice the problem is never never never ever HIM. it's his parents, it's other kids, it's Harvard, women, liberals and on and on and on. it's never i was too young or didn't know what I know now. No, it's they never acknowledged what a special speical snowfake I am.
such a dick.

Anonymous said...

Well, all I got out of this was an old, old story: Kid rebels against his parents, and looks for ways to compensate for feelings of resentment and inadequacy.

Just a shame he had to get a NYT column and write Big Serious Conservative Books in order to deal with it...

Anonymous said...

the eternal lament of the libertarian, the hipster, the wingnut welfare recipient, the wanna-be.

Gratuitous dipshittery toward libertarians for a change. Of course... everyone should be a Donkeybot like Susan. Of course. And of course those libertarians are wannabes, and Susan isn't. Of course.

Snark only ranks well when it's funny, Susan. Envy and partisan self-promotion isn't funny.

Well, at least you've found something besides McArdle to waste your bad writing, foul "comedy" and absent logic on. Kudos, and all that.

Susan of Texas said...

What is a Donkeybot and why am I one?

What do I want to be that I am not?

Whom do I envy?

What am I promoting?

What have I written that is illogical?

Why is my writing bad?

Why is my comedy foul?

Anonymous said...

Like RubyTea, I had no idea that anti-vaccinationism was among Douthat's many faults (misogyny, religious fanaticism, authoritarianism, etc.) But this statement:

...and neither of us was given the usual round of vaccinations, since my mother was convinced--rightly, I tend to think--that their side effects were worse than the faint risk of whooping cough.

is just awesome in its ignorance. The only reason he had a faint risk of contracting whooping cough is he was (and I assume is) mooching off the herd immunity provided by all the other kids who weren't raised by a spacey ex-hippie.

The mind boggles.


Kathy said...

He's stuck in the 15-year-old mentality of entitlement mixed with resentment that Others can't see how wonderful he is. What's wrong with them?

Anonymous said...

Ross Gregory Douthat.

The "Gregory" must be in there to distinguish him from all the other Ross Douthats out there.

Whatta douchebag.

- spencer

Anonymous said...

Susan's description of Ross reminds me of Richard Nixon. Always the loser, sure that everyone else is wrong in how they disdain him. I wonder if the paranoia is far behind?

Anonymous said...

"Snark only ranks well when it's funny, Susan."

Well, the fact you don't find it funny shows that either:

a.) You're a typical humorless dildo of a wingnut/libertarian

b.) Susan's comment hit a bit close to home for your taste

Granted, the two aren't mutually exclusive, but ... still ...

Oh, and good job wholly ignoring what she wrote and, instead, attacking her personally. Guess you had nothing else, eh?

You and Ross: Two sad, sad and pathetic little men ...

Marion in Savannah said...

It isn't easy being a spectacularly failed social climber... Poor little putz.

HMDK said...

Hey, Karl Franz, all it takes to be a dipshit to libertarians is to tell them the truth. It's like vampires and garlic.

marc sobel said...

via!/CoreyRobin/status/196333713917878273 is piling on ?

Susan of Texas said...

Interesting article.

I don't think Douthat's gay, for admittedly nebulous reasons. Douthat seems more outraged at what he considers the breach of communal moral standards than by men having sex when he isn't permitted to do so.

Douthat seems to want everything to be simple and easy, to have a place for everything and for everything to stay in its place. Neat, tidy, clean, organized.

He's a man with a plan, and therefore he's dangerous.

The problems arise when reality refuses to cooperate. Many people refuse to agree with the Douthat Reality and even those who share his fantasy life refuse to do their proper job, which is to gratify Ross's ego by treating him as a natural-born leader, moral touchstone, and intellectual Big Thinker. In other words, cool.

The right can and does encase itself in a tight bubble of unity and agreement, refusing to let any alternate reality in, but they can't pretend that they are cool. Cool is self-confident, self-assured, and conservatism forbids such things, since they are signs of independence and rebellion against authority.

But they can't leave this cool thing alone--they know liberals are cooler and it kills them. Their tribe is supposed to be superior in every way and they are dying to be cool but it's hopeless; cool conservatives are a contradiction of terms.

I'm working on another Douthat post about this.

Susan of Texas said...

A quote I found at Balloon Juice---"One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent—he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

MrsTarquinBiscuitbarrel said...

"Breastfed until she was two"! My, but Ross' sister must be some kind of degenerate these days, just like her mom.

MrsTarquinBiscuitbarrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Reading this (excellent) review, one begins to wonder if the entire raison d'ĂȘtre behind Douthat's book, and perhaps his priggish conservatism, is that he has conflated libertine with liberal.

bulbul said...

"One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent—he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief."
Where I'm from, this is usually expressed by a (most likely apocryphal) quote from Fidel Castro: "Better ten thousand counterrevolutionaries than one idiot with initiative."