I'm very glad that I didn't give up on Ross Douthat after his series of silly and chauvinistic articles. Because today he finally came up with a piece that isn't half bad (If it came from anybody else, I would say the article is pretty much intellectually impotent. Coming from Douthat, however, it's almost a revelation). In his NYTimes article "The Way We Love Now," Douthat talks about how romantic and sexual experiences vary across class lines.
Clyde Griffiths, the protagonist of Theodore Dreiser's amazing novel An American Tragedy, realizes that what distinguishes him from the class of rich and powerful men he desperately wants to join is their seeming indifference to sex. In order to succeed in America, you have to tame your sex drive to the point where it will only exist within the strict patriarchal norms of a Puritanical society. Clyde doesn't manage to do that and sees his dreams of social ascension crumble.
Almost 90 years later, Ross Douthat arrives at the same idea: "The difficult scramble up the meritocratic ladder tends to discourage wild passions and death-defying flings. For bright young overachievers, there’s often a definite tameness to the way that collegiate “safe sex” segues into the upwardly-mobile security of “companionate marriages” — or, if you’re feeling more cynical, “consumption partnerships.” This tameness has beneficial social consequences." Of course, if Douthat had read Dreiser in college, he wouldn't have to struggle so much to come up with this analysis. At this point, however, I'll take whatever I can get.
Of course, Douthat's solution is, as usual, shocking in its blatant contempt towards the lowly proles. The poor should give up on sexual excesses, which in turn should be reserved for the Douthats of the world: "Better, perhaps, if this dynamic were reversed. Our meritocrats could stand to leaven their careerism with a little more romantic excess. (Though such excess is more appropriate in the young, it should be emphasized, than in middle-aged essayists and parents.) But most Americans, particularly those of modest means, would benefit from greater caution and stability in their romantic entanglements."In spite of the parenthetical disclaimer, Douthat's entire piece is obviously motivated with envy towards those who are either too high up or too low down on the social scale to care about the repercussions of their "romantic excess." It's great to see, however, that - whatever the cause - Douthat finally manages to arrive at a thought that can be turned into something productive.