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Why Does Douthat Think the Poor Exist?

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You guessed it–too much sex!

That idea makes some people on the left angry. As they see it, it’s money and only money that Murray’s Fishtown and Putnam’s hometown lack and need. And it’s unchecked capitalism and Republican stinginess, not the sexual revolution, that has devastated working-class society over the last few decades. Fight poverty, redistribute wealth, and you’ll revive family and community — it’s as simple as that.

Actually, it’s not quite that simple Ross, but whatever. The sexual revolution is responsible for today’s poor! Why? Who knows! In Ross’ world, the fact that the poor have cable and cell phones is why they aren’t actually poor. They are lazy, shiftless, and too horny. In other words, Douthat is in many ways the prime columnist of the New Gilded Age, blaming the poor for their own poverty by taking an elitist, paternalistic, and strongly disapproving view of working class moral behavior. All they need is religion, sobriety, and to listen to their betters and Horatio Alger lives.

But only if their betters also live moral lives. Which they are not because of too much sex.

The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.

But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.

Sure, the “cultural revolution” (nice touch Ross) isn’t the only possible something else. In fact, it’s not even remotely connected to modern poverty. But let’s ignore that only possible part of the equation for me to shame people for sex, rich or poor. Meanwhile, let me go back to my mythologized vision of the 1950s that exists in only my brain.

Finally, what did Leonard Cohen do to deserve citation in this column?

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