I don’t get into Rod Dreher’s columns the way I used to. It’s not that I stopped thinking he’s a dangerous lunatic. In fact, that’s just become more obvious in recent months; I covered his early days as an on-site Orban functionary in Budapest, and you may have noticed the starring role he played in Tucker Carlson’s pilgrimage to the Land of Global Fascist Influencers. This actually got Dreher treated seriously by writers at the New Yorker and the New York Times, which is both amazing and appalling; his trick of saying something insane and then, when it’s noticed, going oh no you must have misunderstood me, however, briefly came a-cropper at the Times:
“If the right should somehow gain that kind of power, I don’t trust us with it,” Dreher told me. He seemed uncomfortable with the way this sounded like a threat, even as he articulated it. [LOL-RE] “I don’t trust us to be judicious and fair to the others in victory,” he went on. “The left is not being that way to us. And we’re not going to be that way to them.”
This led to a lengthy homina-homina from Dreher at his own site (“I’m trying to figure out the context of that quote from me, which sounds odd. I don’t dispute its accuracy…”) that, like so many of his bullshit takebacks, had me wondering why anybody with any sense gives this guy a platform
Anyway, normally I fry other fish but yesterday I saw something Dreher wrote about a new book by Ross Douthat. I know, right — Daily Double! But it was even weirder than I expected — I mean, a lot weirder.
Let’s start with some innocent fun from the logrolling blurb-writing part:
The only other book like it that I can recall is William Styron’s staggering and highly praised memoir of depression, Darkness Visible. It takes a true literary gift to make this kind of narrative appealing. Douthat has it. Does he ever have it.
Any person with any taste who has ever read a Ross Douthat column is now thinking, this can’t be topped. But stay with me.
The book apparently involved Douthat getting Lyme Disease. And really, one wishes to be kind; it’s a tricky disease from which some bounce back well and some do not. Douthat apparently did not. After enduring Dreher comparing it to himself getting mono (“I kept doing this job, and wrote three books before I was fully healed”), we hear how painful the condition was for Douthat, and the backstory:
Douthat had apparently done well enough at the Times that he and his wife “were able to sell their Capitol Hill row house for a huge profit,” and move to a “million-dollar 18th century farmhouse” in Connecticut, Dreher reports. The house was “a financial reach, as well as a project that would require some fixer-upping,” but Douthat says he felt himself up for the challenge: “‘It’s really impressive, Ross,’ a business-minded ex-military friend of mine said when we chatted about our big move. ‘You set this goal for yourself and you guys did it. You just did it.’”
But then Douthat got sick. “It takes a long time for doctors to figure out what he has and how to treat him,” Dreher says, which comports with other stories I’ve heard about the disease. Then:
One thing that jumps out about The Deep Places in this Covid era is how frustrating it can be to deal with medical science. All the back-and-forth over ivermectin and other non-traditional treatments? Douthat dealt with that constantly regarding Lyme.
[Bojack Horseman voice] Uhhhhhh
Doctors would tell him that it was all in his head, or that this could be handled with a program of this or that antibiotic — and nothing worked. It is profoundly unsettling to realize how blind science can be. We don’t want to think of it that way. We want scientists to have all the answers. But sometimes they don’t, and their own epistemological blind spots keep them from seeing their way to potential answers.
You may want to lay this all on Dreher, but from the book quotes it appears Douthat is also skeptical — not only of the establishment’s approach to Lyme Disease (“The narrow diagnostic criteria became the benchmark that researchers followed whenever they applied for public grants, so that Lyme research increasingly focused only on the most certain diagnoses”), but also of their approach to COVID.
At this point it may be worthwhile to stop and consider what’s going on here. There are a lot of diseases that medical science hasn’t figured out yet. It’s disturbing to think about how little science knew even a few decades ago about some conditions that are now more comprehensible and treatable — like the one that killed several members of my family. And there are patient advocates of all kinds who try to get more attention and research for the obscure illnesses that affect them or their loved ones, some of them quite adversarial — including some advocates for Lyme Disease sufferers. Sometimes you get Lorenzo’s Oil; but sometimes you get disappointment, heartbreak, cranks and quacks. And sometimes the anger and resentment doesn’t go away even when the pain does, because it was there all along.
Eventually Douthat hooks up with an alternative provider. “As a Harvard-educated, Times-writing member of the American elite,” Dreher writes, “Douthat was afraid to open the door to nuttery.” But the provider gives him some relief. Then Dreher goes to this:
There’s one more part of the book that profoundly speaks to our current moment. It’s the chapter in which Douthat discusses the possibility that Lyme disease was created in the Plum Island lab, a government research facility off the Connecticut coast, where they study animal diseases. Look how close it is to Old Lyme, for which the disease is named because of its outbreak there…
This “profoundly speaks to our current moment,” clearly, because a lot of rightwingers are committed to the Lab Leak theory of the origin of COVID-19, which this resembles — not because Lab Leak is well-founded (though to this day many of them will tell you it’s “proven”) or even because it means anything, really, except an excuse to blame Anthony Fauci for the rampant death and disease he has been self-evidently fighting since this thing started. (The same people are now spreading a bullshit story that Fauci tortured cute widdle puppies to develop his so-called “vaccines.”) Maybe next they’ll tell us Epstein-Barr Syndrome was invented on Jeffrey Epstein’s Little St. James Island — before the liberals murdered him to protect Slick Willie!
Dreher spikes this up by pushing the “gain-of-function” story that Fauci helped poison the world with COVID, for which his fellow lunatics like Lauren Boebert have demanded Fauci be arrested.
“Follow the science. Trust the medical authorities,” Dreher sneers. “The NIH gain-of-function story takes on a certain dimension in light of the story Ross Douthat tells.” He quotes Douthat, who is also very down on the American scientific establishment: “You couldn’t trust the CDC to roll out a reliable coronavirus test: They botched it,” Douthat says:
Operation Warp Speed delivered vaccines astonishingly quickly, but the FDA stuck with a cautious approval process… And from the beginning of the pandemic to its still-unfinished end, there were weirdos on the internet who were more reliable guides to what was happening, what was possible, and what should actually be done than Anthony Fauci or any official information source.
Maybe elsewhere in the book Douthat says which of these “weirdos” contributed more to our battle against COVID than, say, the CDC. One might excuse Douthat in his suffering, though I would say his continuing, awful columns in the Times suggest that he’s competent (I mean mentally, not as a writer) and knows very well what he’s doing; for Dreher there is no possible excuse except whatever brain worms he’s been suffering from for years.