Ross Douthat Explains Himself

December 6, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: Esquire

By Charles P. Pierce:

Ross Cardinal Douthat, Patriarch Of Dweebopolis and Archbishop Of Dorkylvania, is back with a defense and clarification of his column earlier this week in which His Eminence was critical of white American ladies who are out there having child-free sexytime without his permission, and thereby shirking their moral duty to pump out white babies to keep the blahs and the brown at bay. This, to Ross, is not merely unpatriotic, but "decadent," a loaded word that indicates that His Eminence has lived the sheltered life of an entombed cleric. People reacted rather strongly to this contention, so he has come back today to revise and to extend — and I do mean "extend," if you understand what I'm saying, and I think you do — his remarks.

Critics of my Sunday column on America's sagging birthrate fell into two camps. The first group denied that sub-replacement fertility is a socioeconomic problem at all, which is an argument that I may try to take up a later date. (For now, Megan McArdle's extended post on the subject deserves your attention.) The second group agreed with Matt Yglesias, who praised my focus on the levers that policymakers could use to make life easier for would-be parents while rolling his eyes at my concluding paragraph's suggestion that cultural decadence as well as economic incentives might have something to do with why so many rich societies aren't reproducing themselves. Sighed Yglesias, speaking for many liberal readers: "It'd be a much better country if social conservatives would stop writing things like that second paragraph [on decadence]" and just focused on family-friendly policy instead.

Oh, dear me. There is a third camp. That would be the camp that feels compelled to point out that, if the first evidence in support of your contention comes from the legendarily innumerate — and heretofore notably childless — Megan McArdle, your argument is already sucking pond water by the gallon. That camp also feels compelled to point out that the sighs of Matt Yglesias are the nicest reaction that this nonsense should expect from anyone with a brain. Howls of derisive laughter, on the other hand, should be the norm.

But you can't write honestly about the policy component of these issues without recognizing the existence of cultural forces larger than the cost of higher education or the incentive structures created by the tax code.

Actually, you can, because if you're writing about public policy, which is certainly what Yglesias is about, then that's all you should write about. I'm no small-government guy, but I really don't see a role for the government in combating the "cultural forces" that give His Eminence the vapors, and I would be so bold as to suggest that, if he's suggesting a return to the kind of cultural sanctions that held those forces at bay in the golden age before he was born into this vale of tears, he should make the case for enforced patriarchy out in the open. Wait, what's this?

This means acknowledging, in this case, that while the burdens on modern parents are real and considerable and in certain ways increasing, people in developed societies enjoy a standard of living unprecedented in human history, and the sacrifices required of would-be parents in America or South Korea or Germany do not undo their immense material advantages over their parents and grandparents and great-great grandparents going back millennia upon millennia. Once you've acknowledged that (fairly obvious) point, then you're acknowledging that people in rich countries who forgo or limit their childrearing aren't all just responding in inevitable ways "to the situation that actually exists," as Yglesias puts it later in his post. Some are, yes. But others - many millions of others, in Europe and North America and Asia - are actively creating their own situations, and deciding that children (or more than one child, or more than two) don't fit with their ambitions or desires or preferred consumption patterns.

Holy crap, the men are in on it, too! This paragraph suggests that His Eminence never in his life ever has encountered another actual human being. I think he's just now discovering, like the guy in the old Twilight Zone episode, that he really is a zoo specimen.

The whole controversy is really about abortion and birth control, because those are His Eminence's primary manias. I'm not going to go all through the rest of this bilge. But, down past all the links to detached-from-common-humanity stuff he's written in the past, and the faux-reasonability, and the snarkery about how "the feminist revolution" should be strong enough to stand a return to 1940's baby-making, and the strawman attacks on misanthropic environmentalists — This is now a D-plus sociology paper and sinking fast — we come to the peroration of His Eminence's remarks.

Or to put it another way, if we have moral obligations to future, as-yet-unborn generations, as almost everyone seems to agree, surely those duties have to include some obligation forsomebody to bring those generations into existence in the first place - to imitate the sacrifices that our parents made, and give another generation the chances that we've had? And if that basic obligation exists in some form, then surely there comes a point when a culture in which it's crowded out by other goals, other pursuits and yes, other pleasures can be aptly described as ... what's the word I'm looking for ... decadent?

I might look for other words. "Choice" comes immediately to mind. So do "freedom," "independence," and "none of your goddamn business what we do with our genitals, you little fop."  Is the survival of our culture really dependent upon families who are not the Douthats fulfilling some vague "moral" obligation to have some number of kids between one and the Duggars?  Is having only one child because that is all you can afford without selling your house really "decadent"?

But this is no time to discuss what words mean, and you can turn an ankle in that final sentence — What's that last "it's" referring to? The basic obligation? The form" The point? The culture? — but you can only wade through this so far before asking, what the hell are you doing about this decadence, Ross? We know that there's a certain reluctance in other homes to have little McArdlings scuttling through the pink Himalayan salt, but what's going on at the Douthat manse? Get away from the keyboard. Stop lecturing the rest of us and, dammit, get to fking. The survival of the nation depends on your fecundity. Just, for the love of the living god, keep it to yourself, will you?


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