I got to read and review Ross Douthat’s memoir of Lyme disease, The Deep Places for National Review. The book is thought-provoking and unsettling. It is as much about how to endure suffering as how to address medical mysteries.
In some ways, Douthat’s striving for a cure is a transposition of the same meritocratic story that he was living out before he fell ill. His wife, Abigail Tucker, is a New York Times–best-selling author; he was a wunderkind pundit — when he was hired as a New York Times columnist, he was the youngest person to fill that role. When his descent begins, he and his wife are preparing to “graduate” from a cramped home in Washington, D.C., to a spacious home in the Connecticut suburbs. On the morning that Douthat first notices a possible tick bite, it is overshadowed by his wife’s positive pregnancy test.
Douthat has been a public skeptic of the meritocratic mindset, suspicious of the way our modern elites’ confidence in their own striving erased any sense of noblesse oblige. But he admits the idea is too deeply rooted not to mark him, too.
The meritocratic American dream is one of transcending need or vulnerability. Money cushions scarcity and shocks, social status eases you past the lines or red tape, education and accomplishments quiet any sense that these gains might be fragile. The gig economy makes it easier to fill in any gaps, to the point where the elite might look askance at Christ’s proclamation that His Father “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Surely we are just one disruption away from resolving that bug in Creation.