Ross Douthat and the Match Throwing Club
Fire is good; firefighters can be dangerous; and the club is back to normal now.
1. The Match Throwing Club
Once upon a time there was a club of people who enjoyed throwing matches. They were reasonably careful about it—they didn’t throw matches around gas stations or in wooded areas. Mostly they liked to walk down the sidewalk lighting matches and tossing them on the pavement. It was harmless enough and the people in this club were quite clever. They would never think of trying to start a real fire.
Match throwing became a popular pastime and more people joined the club. Some of these new people were less intelligent, and didn’t understand that a stray match in the woods could start a fire. And some other new members actually wanted fires. They thought it would be fun to blow things up. So they made a habit of hanging out at gas stations to do their match throwing. And these match throwing parties became the most popular events in the club’s history.
The original match throwers were deeply troubled by this turn. Some of them quit the Match Throwing Club. Others didn’t formally leave the club, but stopped throwing matches. Both of these groups joined the rest of the general public in trying to put out as many burning matches as possible so as to prevent a conflagration.
But a third group from the Match Throwing Club did something strange.
This group was also deeply troubled by the new guys throwing matches at the gas stations. They would never dream of throwing matches around gasoline themselves.
But still, they liked throwing matches. So they stayed on the sidewalk, tossing their matches where they wouldn’t do any harm. Which was odd, since the rest of the Match Throwing Club now gathered exclusively around gas stations.
Odder still, these OG match throwers insisted that the new people who dominated the club weren’t real match throwers and that what they were doing wasn’t actually throwing matches at all. No, it was merely a fad based on a misunderstanding about the true nature of match throwing.
But the oddest thing about these old guard match throwers was that even while dangerous fires were springing up all around them, they kept defending the practice of match throwing and criticizing the people trying to extinguish burning matches.
“Even if match throwing causes the occasional fire, sometimes fires are helpful,” they said. “The great fire of 1871 in Chicago, for instance, made the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright possible. And smoke jumpers will frequently light containment fires or perform controlled burns in order to prevent wildfires. So actually, fires are good.”
These old guard match throwers were less concerned with the damage the fire could do now than with the problems that the people trying to extinguish the fires might someday cause. “We have more firefighters than we really need,” they said. “With all of these firefighters inciting an anti-fire panic, even innocent people who just want to use matches to light a stove feel disrespected. What if all of this firefighting causes a water shortage? Who appointed these people to fight fires anyway? Do they have the proper permits? What if they don’t adhere to best practices while extinguishing fires? And what if, in all of their excitement, they spray a hundred gallons of water on a sidewalk match that was never a real danger?”
Eventually, most of the people who wanted to blow up gas stations left the Match Throwing Club. Some of them were burned by the fires they started. Some of them got bored with throwing matches and moved on to another hobby. Some of them became dispirited because all of their matches had been extinguished by firefighters, so they melted away into the Florida seaside.
All of which made the original members of the Match Throwing Club happy. They got their club back without having to leave it or even pause in their personal—and responsible—match throwing. And they never had to betray their club by extinguishing another member’s fire.
They all lived happily ever after.
Or at least, happily until the club’s next membership drive.
On a totally unrelated note, Ross Douthat has written a new essay about Trumpism and the Republican party.