Home / Robert Farley / Where to Put Dan Savage…

Where to Put Dan Savage…


I guess I’m not convinced by Amanda’s criticism of Benjamin Dueholm’s article on Dan Savage:

You can criticize Savage for being wrong or being sexist at times, but generally speaking, he’s trying to create an ethical system that’s anti-patriarchal not to fill a void, but because he believes that the old patriarchy was evil and unethical. He’s openly agreed with the feminist contention that the “old constraints” were more about oppressing gay people and straight women than anything else. In fact, this should be pretty obvious. A system that forces gay people to live in shadows and deliberately pushes women to be a servant class for men is not a system that’s about happiness, at least not for the majority of people. And that’s especially true if you grasp, as Savage often does, that straight men who are more interested in personal fulfillment than dominance are also screwed by a patriarchy. He may not use the word “patriarchy” often, but that’s the basic gist of it. And while I’m skeptical of a lot of the evo psych stuff he’s been indulging lately, it’s undeniable that he does so because he’s arguing that our basic human nature is thwarted by patriarchy, and he supports the claim that the “old restraints” were there more to keep men controlling women than to promote happiness or even stability.

I dunno. I read a lot of Savage in the 1997-2003 period, and it really, really seemed like much of his project was about convincing people that drag queens could be good Republicans, too. What I mean by this is that much of his writing and activism seems motivated by the idea of creating a standard nuclear family, with relatively standard ways of transmitting family mores, and simply substituting out some of the “traditional” members. Savage seemed enraged not by the notion of a “traditional” nuclear family, with pre-set roles and expectations, but by the idea that he should be excluded from this traditional vision. There’s some merit to that, of course, but it also reflects a certain comfort with a conservative vision of politics and family life. And so I guess that my reading of Savage is much closer to Dueholm’s than to Marcotte’s; Savage is a radical in that he argues for a different set of sexual ethical principles than most conservatives, but he has rather a Republican way of going about it. This puts me into the exceedingly uncomfortable position of agreeing more with Sully than with Amanda.

I’ve long thought that Savage was a much better editor than columnist, and I’ve also detected a level of judgement in his columns that doesn’t reflect the same values that conservatives hold, but that does treat interlocutors with the kind of moral contempt that’s common in conservative circles. Savage’s support of the Iraq War is worth mentioning here, because it falls into the same category; the idea that someone who has made a “radical” set of individual choices can still hold bog standard Republican views on war, taxes, etc.

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  • Eric

    That Sullivan article is typical: the subject is a sterling example of conservatism in principle when Sullivan agrees with him, regardless of the subject’s immense distance from conservatism as it is actually practiced in the real world today.

    • Robert Farley

      Right, although in this case I think there are exceedingly broad grounds of agreement between Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan; I think that Sullivan more or less gets Savage right because Savage and Sullivan are more or less in the same place.

      • djw

        The way Savage recently fell in love with the Evo-psych book “Sex at Dawn” is vaguely reminiscent to me of Sully’s love affair with “The Bell Curve”. (Obviously, nowhere near as appalling)

        • witless chum

          I haven’t read “Sex At Dawn” but I remember the author on Savage’s podcast specifically saying that he’d abandoned evopsych because feminists had convinced him their critiques of it were correct.

          But what I know of evopsych is mostly from reading feminists denouncing it.

          • djw

            I’m happy to withdraw that particular assertion in the face of credible claims to the contrary. When I heard the book described it sounded like standard evopsych, and it’s central argument as presented by Savage fits well within that tradition, but I haven’t read it or even that much about it.

            • Lindsay Beyerstein

              “Sex at Dawn” is a critique of monogamy and the nuclear family. The authors argue that humans evolved in small groups where sex with multiple partners was the norm, the parentage of children was uncertain, and childrearing was collective.

              The authors claim that monogamy and the nuclear family are relatively recent inventions that have more to do with male dominance and property ownership than ancient (in evolutionary terms) tradition.

              The standard pop ev psych caricature is that men are biologically programmed to nail as many women as possible while women are hardwired to give it up only for rich men who will marry. “Sex at Dawn” presents a radically different view. The authors argue that the caveman caricature ignores the facts about how early humans lived. If you go through life with the same small group of people, living collectively, you don’t have deadbeat dads. Standard ev psych posits that female attraction is all about what kind of guy would be likely to stick around and provide for the kids. But if resources are shared, and men stay with their bands for life, fathers end up supporting their kids whether they want to or not.

              I don’t know if the authors of “Sex at Dawn” are right, but they’re far from your average pop ev psych proponents.

              The authors think recreational, non-monogamous sex was an important part of life for both men and women–the kind bonobos have with each other.

              The fact that Savage is a fan of “Sex At Dawn” is not a sign that he’s a social conservative at heart.

              • Joe

                “If you go through life with the same small group of people, living collectively, you don’t have deadbeat dads.”

                There is no means for some minority to go out on their own? Is there no interaction with outsiders, such as visiting nomadic groups or the like?

        • Halloween Jack

          I don’t think that Savage’s enthusiasm for Sex at Dawn shows any particular enthusiasm for evopsych as much as it does simple confirmation bias.

          • Lindsay Beyerstein

            Joe, like I said, I’m not endorsing the thesis of “Sex at Dawn.” Obviously, if humans didn’t evolve with a social structure like the one the authors infer, then the argument fails. It’s an empirical question, though.

            • Joe

              The question is addressed to you since you appear to be familiar with the work, not to assume that you agree with it. Given the premises, I was sort of confused on how deadbeat dads were avoided.

              • Lindsay Beyerstein

                I think it’s safe to assume that there was limited mobility between small bands of hunter gatherers.

                For other large primates, leaving or getting kicked out of your group is very risky. The outcasts have to survive until they can be reincorporated into another group, which probably isn’t going to be thrilled to welcome some strange male.

                There’s anthropological evidence that leaving one band of hunter gatherers and joining another isn’t as easy as buying a bus ticket to another city.

                Going and joining some other group that also lives communally isn’t such a great evolutionary strategy. If you stay home, you’ll be working in part to support your own kids, who carry your genes. If you go somewhere else, at great personal risk, you’ll end up supporting only other people’s kids and, at at least at first, none of your own. And if you’re the newly-arrived male, your mating opportunities may not be as good as they were back home.

                If you’ve got limited inter-group mobility and communal living, the deadbeat dad strategy doesn’t make a ton of sense in terms of passing on your genes.

                At least, it doesn’t make such overwhelming sense that you’d expect it to be the fundamental male sexual strategy–as pop ev psych asks us to believe.

              • Joe

                Thanks for the extended discussion on the ‘deadbeat dad’ question. To me, it seems that the discussion suggests they would be fairly rare, not nonexistent. A quick summary lacks some nuance so I think that’s okay.

  • I’d argue that the problem with Marcotte’s article, as well as with Savage’s writings, is the problem with a lot of liberal feminism (and members of many other liberal but not radical movements)–that the battle to win is one with patriarchy (or other single enemy) and not against a wide array of interconnected conservative values that includes patriarchy broadly defined, but also neoimperialism, structural racism, developmentalist attitudes toward nature, emphasis on property values and white homeowner populism, homophobia, etc., etc., etc.

    • Ed Marshall

      Radical: From the latin “Radi”. From the root.

      There is one root. If your radical politics place the root at the patriarchy, then neoimperialism, structural racism, etc… are by products of the root disorder.

      Now if this is your theory, you need to *destroy* Patriarchy. Having two dad’s doesn’t destroy Patriarchy at all. At worst you just multiplied it by 2x. It’s incoherent.

      • Maybe this is true in a theoretical world, but it also leads to a lot of myopia and questionable political decisions. This was as true of American Marxists who couldn’t reconcile their class analysis with the experience of racial minorities in the U.S. as it is of so many groups today.

        But in this case, this all might be irrelevant because I’m not at all sure that Marcotte sees these connections between patriarchy and everything else. As Matt says in the comment below, the mainstream liberal definitions of feminism and queer rights are often not really radical at all.

        • Ed Marshall

          It’s just that “radical” means something, and it isn’t “I’m edgy”.

          Words bug me. I’m a pedant.

          • Fair enough I guess, but as someone who very much believes in the evolution of language, I don’t necessarily define radicalism as you do, regardless of Latin roots or the OED. And I don’t think most people define radicalism this way either.

            I’ll take popular definitions of words over technical definitions any day. They mean more.

            • dave

              Quite often, they mean less – largely because people think they mean things they don’t, and get confused when other people think they mean something else.

          • rosmar

            There is nothing about the idea of from “from the root” that inherently has to suggest there is only one root. In fact most plants have more than one root.

            • Ed Marshall

              but there is! There is a root cause, or why the hell be a radical? The taxonomy falls apart.

          • chris

            Does the phrase “etymological fallacy” mean anything to you?

            • Ed Marshall

              Either it is an etymological fallacy, or we have undone an entire school of political thought when I wasn’t looking.

              • Ed Marshall

                It should have been “if”, not “either”.

        • witless chum

          Um, Loomis, do you read Pandagon regularly? I do and I think I read a fair amount there that suggests Marcotte sees things exactly that way. I don’t see how she’s going to include that in every post she ever writes on the blog, either.

          Scroll through the front page posts right now and I think it demonstrates that she, at least, isn’t wearing some sort of feminism blinders. Check out this, for example.

      • rea

        There is one root.

        Your tree is going to fall over in the first high wind. Usually, there’s more than one root.

        • chris

          Maybe his tree is a carrot.

          • gmack

            Or maybe it is a rhizome. The point is that “root metaphors” are perhaps deeply misleading in trying to understand how society is put together. I’m of the opinion that if we define “radicalism” as “getting at the fundamental (or singular) root of things,” then our thinking and action will be muddled.

            • DivGuy

              Or maybe it is a rhizome.

              Thus it is proved that Gilles Deleuze was actually a conservative. QED.

              (I think Deleuze was not a particularly admirable radical in a lot of ways, but I think he’s a reasonable example to show that the claim that “believing in root causes” is necessary (and maybe even sufficient) to being a “radical” makes no sense historically and well as philosophically.)

              • SEK

                Where’s John Protevi when you need him?

              • gmack

                DivGuy: I basically agree on all points.

    • SeanH

      I’ve scarcely seen a modern feminist who wasn’t aware that the enemy was a wide array of interconnected conservative values that includes patriarchy broadly defined, but also neoimperialism, structural racism, developmentalist attitudes toward nature, emphasis on property values and white homeowner populism, homophobia, etc., etc., etc., however much they might fail to follow through on, to take just one example, anti-racism. The current term for this sort of thing is “kyriarchy” – googling that will probably get you more of the discussions you’re looking for.

      • Manju

        There’s a conundrum here, if one holds this position position while simultaneously complaining that so many women refuse to identify as feminist.

        By virtue of having so many necessary ingredients, feminists are now relegated to a very narrow strand on the ideological spectrum…one that no doubt would exclude most women.

        It would also put feminism at odds with the civil rights movement, given its historic social conservatism and religiosity. That appears to be Dan Savage’s model.

        Your neoimperialism, property values, and environmentalism mandates jump out at me, since I have female relatives enjoying a level of freedom and wealth in Bangelore that they could’ve never imagined…until the arrival of the neo-colonialists that is.

        This model is incompatible with diversity. Somethings gotta give.

      • dave

        The irony is, of course, that in inventing ‘kyriarchy’ to be against, these ‘radical’ feminists have taken themselves back to where the good old Anarchists had got to in about 1890. It is, I suppose, going to the root in one sense, though probably not in the one they imagine. They may also have forgotten that “Feminism is anarchism in action” was quite a well-known slogan in some circles in the 1980s.

        Still, at least we got a new word out of it, which is the important thing, right?

        • Ed Marshall

          if barely anyone is left to appreciate the irony, is it still irony?

  • Matt Stevens

    I guess I’d have to disagree with Marcotte’s claim that “the truth is that a theory of radical (and feminist/queer-friendly) sexual liberation threatens the power of authority.” The fact is that feminism and queer activism are perfectly compatible with capitalism, the nuclear family, representative democracy and even organized religion. (There are enough lesbian pastors to prove, in my mind, that Christianity and gay liberation can get along just fine.) They are not the threat that revolutionary Marxism used to be. I’m sure someone like Marcotte likes to think of herself as a dangerous radical, but she isn’t.

    • Ed Marshall

      Marcotte is using a definition of radical sexual revolution that isn’t radical. It’s just a program of trying to educate people to mind their own business and let people manage their own family and sexual affairs. That is a liberal sexual agenda.

      • Malaclypse

        Marcotte is using a definition of radical sexual revolution that isn’t radical

        Exactly. While Marcotte is great on many things, let’s face it, working for John Edwards is hardly a subversion of the social order. That statement is true regardless of Edwards’ personal situation.

  • Guess it’s a good thing I’ve stuck to reading Savage Love and nothing else.

  • MPAVictoria

    You really need to listen to Dan Savages podcast Robert. He is a firm supporter of peoples right to organize their lives as they see fit, including Polyamorous relationships. He is also a proponent of a woman’s right to choose, comprehensive sex education, the decriminalization of many drugs, and federal support for contraception and women’s health. The man is no republican. This quest for ideological purity gets tiresome after awhile.

    • L2P

      I don’t think that’s inconsistent w/ Rob’s point. You’re basically saying that Savage can’t be a conservative, he supports abortion rights, drugs, and some other personal freedoms issues. But what Rob’s arguing is that, despite those issues (and pro-sexual freedome positions), Savage is basically comfortable with a lot of very conservative notions about what it means to have a family, what familys should do, what governments should do, and similar things.

      Another frame for this. Are you one of those people who thinks that it’s impossible for a libertarian to be part of the conservative movement? Because if so, I don’t think you and Rob are going to have much of a conversation here, and that’s basically the argument over Savage.

      And I don’t think anbody’s saying that conservatives are bad people (at least here.) Some are. But theoretically, conservatism is a not-necessarily-terrible idea about recognizing value in traditions that I disagree with but if taken honestly isn’t all that terrible. Those honest conservatives are so very rare these days tho. . .

      • MPAVictoria

        But he isn’t a conservative. He may not be a radical but he isn’t a conservative. Name one self describe conservative who supports the things I listed? Also supporting federal funding for planned parenthood isn’t very libertarian.

    • I’m a little divided on Savage: on the one hand, yes, he does–pretty consistently–support people living lifestyles that subvert your traditional, monogamous, nuclear-family kind of stuff. All due credit for that. On the other hand–and I say this as someone who reads his column and listens to his podcast pretty regularly–I think it’s pretty clear that, consciously or not, he does consider the more “traditional” stuff to be basically the default setting–the “norm.” The pinnacle to aspire to. That other stuff is great and all, but really, for better or worse (and I DO enjoy his stuff and think he usually gives cogent advice), he’s basically reinscribing societal norms.

      • Anderson

        Well, by definition, the traditional stuff *is* “the norm.” That’s how it got to be traditional.

        Is the party line now that we are supposed to be *opposed* to the “nuclear family”?

        And if not, then WTF is Farley ragging Savage about?

        • chris

          Well, I’m no arbiter of party lines, but I think we should regard different family structures as a bit like different religions — people have the right to choose one and practice it the way they want, none should be officially exalted over any of the others, and government should keep its hands off as much as practically possible.

          Now, of course, some families include children, so you can’t be *quite* as hands-off as in the case of religion and still combat child abuse. But the ideal is that it’s a personal decision and people (and governments) should respect the individual’s right to decide what is appropriate for them.

          • jzimbert

            Religion includes children, too.

    • DocAmazing

      If you had to stick a political label on Dan Savage, “libertarian” works as well as any–it’s frankly one of the reasons that I’ve found some of his columns obnoxious.

      Ultimately, he’s does not appear to be interested in overthrowing the patriarchy, just in being left alone by it. I think even our Mr. Potts might find that a goal a Libertarian (capital or lower-case, your choice) might embrace.

      • Murc

        I dunno, Doc. The patriarchy only really works if you CAN’T opt-out of it in some way. If it consents to leaving people alone who don’t want to be bothered by it, it eventually kind of withers away and dies, because the patriarchy sort of sucks unless you’re a straight guy (preferably white), and even then you have to be a certain KIND of straight white guy. If it can’t enforce its norms against everyone else, it’s already lost.

        It’s kind of a ‘soft’ overthrow.

        • chris

          Well, sure, that’s what’s already happening, isn’t it? You don’t have to *actually* strangle anyone with the guts of the last priest if people have just sort of stopped listening to him.

          • Hogan

            I don’t? Damn.

      • bobbo

        I would say more like “libertarian on issues where Dan Savage personally wants to be left alone” – smoking pot, having an open marriage, etc. He is a moral scold when it comes to bathhouses – you can tell him that bathhouses don’t spread STDs but people having unsafe sex – anywhere – do, and he will basically say, “yes, but, it’s just wrong.”
        He was also incredibly quick, and expressly unapologetic, in jumping with Sully on the “Prop 8 passed because of the blacks” bandwagon, and, for all his contempt for Christian fundamentalism, happily contrasted Muslim extremists with Christian extremists by saying that Christians don’t use violence. (!!)

        • DocAmazing

          Yeah, but show me a consistent libertarian. Everybody’s belief system is going to develop holes where their self-interest pops up.

        • Lindsay Beyerstein

          Savage is not a moral scold about bathhouses, he’s an ordinary scold.
          Now, maybe he’s empirically wrong about the risks, but he’s not arguing that it’s morally wrong to go to a bathhouse.

          He thinks it’s somewhat risky to have sex with large numbers of strangers in an environment that virtually guarantees that those strangers are themselves having lots of sex with strangers.

          Savage’s main point is that, all other things being equal, it’s safer to have sex with people whom you trust on some level. He’s not saying people should only have sex in romantic relationships. He thinks acquaintances, or fuck buddies, or sex workers can be trustworthy sex partners–at least more trustworthy than anonymous strangers.

          He thinks it’s fine to have sex with lots of people, but he thinks it’s wiser to choose people who have some incentive to be honest and safe with you.

  • Jamie

    I’m going to have to go with tastes great, and less filling.

    Savage is, at root, a conservative who wants a place at the table for himself and his, and is at best less intersected with those who have an agenda more at odds with fulfilling the Jesus-driven commandment for a house in the burbs for those who like rimming and bondage, too.

    But I don’t think he would have have been anywhere nearly as effective if he hadn’t been. I think he’s a net positive, in that there’s been a generation of Luthern ministers who grew up reading him and pen appreciative (if pensive) columns about him.

    That’s good.

    But maybe I’m suffering from some of what Amanda is- anyone who can singlehandedly tank Santorum’s career in such a beautiful way wins points in my book.

    • dave

      One issue here might be that you are using ‘conservative’ to mean, AFAICT, ‘supporter of individualist capitalism’; whereas the norm in US politics is for it to mean ‘upholder of extreme Christian/patriarchal values’. Cf. disucssion of ‘radicalism’ above, sometimes it really does matter to know what a word ought to mean in its given context.

      • Jamie

        I’m confused. I made three references to the conflation of ‘conservative’ with a particular strain of Christianity, and don’t mention capitalism anywhere.

        My point being (and mayhap I should have spelled it out more explicitly than I did) that Savage wants “a place at the table”, by which I meant social acceptance for him and his doing normal, conservative things – (he’s richer than this now, but) a house in the burbs, kids, not being shouted at or lynched by Santorum-spewers, etc.

        His general approach to this is to emphasize similarities with his fellow social class members – that many LGBT folks want quiet boring lives, that plenty of middle-class Jesus-heads like it in the butt, etc. This emphasis on similarities is the important moving part – he’s been pretty consistent, I think, in a couple of messages – (1) safe, sane, consensual sex is good, (2) he’s got no beef with moderate religious people. And then throw in the fact that he goes after religious nuts like Santorum, and you see where he’s trying to shove the wedge.

        So, if your problem is that I’m using ‘conservative’ to mean something closer on the spectrum to ‘Rockafeller Republican’ than ‘Bible-throwing death-cultist’, well, then we do, indeed, have a difference of opinion on the use of that word, but it isn’t about capitalism, it is about where the line between ‘political’ and ‘crazy’ is.

        • dave

          You said, and I quote, “Savage is, at root, a conservative”. And you define that in terms of norms of suburban middle class existence which are capitalistic and individualistic, rather than religious and moralistic. To me, that’s fine – it’s a sense of ‘conservative’ that most normal people outside the USA would appreciate.

          Then, however, you go on to assert that ‘conservatism’ is about religion. Therefore, I do not have a problem with understanding what I, myself, mean by words. You, however, appear to.

          • Jamie

            Well, whatever. I would phrase that as, “Dave appears to misconstrue what Jamie is saying”, but as always, YMMV. I don’t care enough to play semantic ping-pong on this one.

    • Midwaypete

      Santorum is the one responsible for destroying his own career. He might have been able to be a long-term senator from South Carolina, but Pennsylvanians can only tolerate a prig for so long.

  • rea

    I must admit I don’t understand what some of the “radical” commentors above want. Take my situation–one of two guys, monogamous, been together 20 years, raising 4 kids. The patriarchy doesn’t like that arrangement. The so-called “radicals” above don’t like it either.

    Well, I know what the patriarchy wants, but tell me, radicals, just how I have to live my life to meetyour approval. Should I sleep around more, whether I really want to or not? Get rid of the kids (how?)?

    Sorry if my life is insufficiently radical for some of your tastes, but it works, more or less, from the practical point of view, we’re all fairly happy, and I don’t particularly want to try something different.

    Some of you seem to have taken the homophobic propaganda as prescriptive, and are rooting for the destruction rather than reformation of marriage.

    • Malaclypse

      For what it is worth, this particular radical thinks that two (or more) adult individuals who freely consent to cherish each other, and have each other’s backs when the chips are down, is a Good Thing.

      • DivGuy

        Me too, and I think gets at an important point in Savage’s defense.

        I don’t think that a broadly construed ethic of responsibility that enables these sorts of long-term commitments, and allows us room to criticize the personal and sexual ethics of others in our community is simply “conservative”.

        Dueholm, I thought, wasn’t really clear on what the alternative to Savage’s so-called “conservatism” was. When he actually got around to a specific critique, he stood up for monogamy against Savage’s skepticism of the ideal. (Really radical there, Ben.) I got the sense that Dueholm thinks that a liberal or radical ethics shouldn’t prize commitment or responsibility, and I think that’s a complete caricature of what both liberals and radicals have believed through the ages.

        I fear that Dueholm’s conservative caricature of what a liberal or a radical believes in the area of personal or sexual ethics is being carried through in this discussion to suggest that Savage’s beliefs are “conservative” because they don’t line up with some caricatured “no judgment, man” hippieism. I think that’s what rea was getting at. (If that’s not the case, what are the specific critiques of Savage’s ethics?)

        • seeker6079

          DivGuy is correct.

        • mpowell

          What?? Which article did you read? Dueholm defends traditional monogamous relationships, but his central critique of Savage (and by far his most important), is that it’s not all about the sex. This is a major blind spot for Savage. It’s not just about tolerating reasonable sexual proclivities. It can also be about suppressing them in the context of a relationship that, on balance, you are satisfied with. For a person who values the stability and opportunities a monogamous relationship provides while legitimately missing the excitement of sex with new partners, following Savage’s advice could be a recipe for long term dissatisfaction. I don’t know what else Dueholm has to say on the subject, but attributing to him strong statements about what radical or liberal ethics require doesn’t seem supported by the text. I don’t understand why this article is being interpreted as taking a position in the debate about Savage’s standing as a conservative. The article is talking about how much we should let your sexual desires drive the rest of our lives. And that doesn’t have to be a conservative/liberal issue.

          • Lindsay Beyerstein

            Savage doesn’t say that sex is the most important thing in the world, in fact, he often says the opposite.

            It’s just that, as a sex advice columnist, he ends up advising a lot of people who are being made miserable by their sex lives.

            I think people get the wrong idea because he often tells readers and callers to break over irresolvable sexual differences.

            Savage isn’t saying that everyone should break up over an unsatisfying sex life, or that no relationship can be any good without good sex.

            He’s saying that if your sex life is ruining your marriage, and you can’t fix your sex life, then you should get out of your ruined marriage.

    • gmack

      Rea–I’m not sure how you are inferring that any of the “radicals” above are seeking to approve or disapprove of your familial arrangements. The question at hand is what Savage’s ethics actually consist in, and I think a very good case can be made that his ethics are quite consistent with the ideals of the free market (such that sexual contact becomes understood in terms of commodity transactions) and with maintaining stable relationships. Now, one may think that these are good ethics, or that in Savage’s hands they are an improvement on traditional patriarchy and homophobia, and in my opinion, one would be right. But one cannot look at these ethics and conclude that there is much that is radical about them. More pointedly, there are also costs to them (e.g., the market model tends to ignore the messy ties that emerge in human relationships, an ironic tendency to moralize, etc). Investigating these costs and exploring the limits of Savage’s approach is not the same as purging or rejecting it.

    • seeker6079

      What do the vocal radicals want? Honestly, half of them just to bitch at you and feel morally superior to you, no matter what choice you make.

    • DocAmazing

      This particular radical wants you to be good to your kids, good to your spouse, and happy, in that order. The rest I’m too busy to inquire about; sorry to disappoint.

    • I’m a radical also, and I don’t know how one could possibly infer that I have anything against happy, monogamous relationships. The only thing at issue is that we shouldn’t marginalize people prefer different situations.

      • dave

        Except the ones who abuse children or beat on their partners, of course.

  • strategichamlet

    I think Amanda’s post is right on.

    Criticizing Dan Savage about his Iraq War stance is kind of pointless. I think it’s obvious, even to his supporters, that as a political pundit his comparative advantage is zero. There are a million political pundits, most of whom suck, and he’s no better than average, so why bother?

    As a sex columnist, though, he’s a national treasure. There is no one else producing anything like his quality for anything like the same size audience. Criticizing the sexual ethics he publicizes for hints of conservatism when they’re light years better than the societal norms we have now is just counter productive. So, how about we just wait till we live in a feminist utopia before purging the likes of Dan Savage?

    • witless chum

      This. Eleventy times, this. The Pandagon comment thread on this was mostly hating on Savage for having said some shitty things about transpeople and bisexuals. I don’t begrudge people who are offended by that from saying “Fuck you, Dan” but the guy is still light years better than any alternative I see. Compare him to Cary Tennis and Dear Prudence, to say nothing of Dear Abby, and Savage comes out ahead.

      • Robert Farley

        I am flummoxed by the notion that anyone could read this post and conclude that there is an effort about to “purge” Dan Savage. Critique, and attempt to situate, yes; purge, and ur reading it wrong.

        • witless chum

          For my part, I didn’t take the “purge” thing strategic hamlet wrote seriously. I was agreeing with the main point that, like Marcotte said, he isn’t perfect, but his ethics are quite a step up from the sorta societal default I perceive.

          I’ll try to be more specific, because ‘my general impression of Dan Savage is different than Farley’s’ isn’t much of an argument.

          • I’ve heard Savage advocate dump the motherfucker already to plenty of people, while the mainstream view would be that they should try to make their relationships work.

          • I’ve heard Savage often advocate the idea that just because a relationship ends, it isn’t “failed.” I think that’s against the mainstream view that explicitly calls any relationship that doesn’t end in death of one party or the other “failed.”

          • Savage is anti the normal conception of monogamy, because he doesn’t believe that most people can really pull it off.

          • He thinks it’s okay to break up with someone because you aren’t sexually compatable.

          • He pays no lip service to the idea that premarital sex is bad and explicitly tells people to have sex before they get married.

          And, at least rheotorically, he applies these equally to men or women and gays or straights. That’s the part that I think qualifies as radical. I think there’s still a lot of essentialism directed at women in public that Savage, again at least rhetorically, doesn’t have time for.

          A good illustration of Savage’s value would be Savage Love podcast episode 202. Wherein Adam Corrolla joins Savage and Dan tries to get him to answer a women’s question about whom she should have a three-way with. Corrolla keeps dodging the question, giving the sort of answers you’d expect from someone who spent too much time near Dr. Drew about ‘blah, blah, blah, that relationship won’t survive’ where Savage will just answer the woman’s question.

  • DivGuy

    I agree with the critique above that Savage is motivated basically by liberal rather than radical ideals.

    What confuses me is why this makes him a conservative, rather than a liberal. Unless we’re defining “conservative” as that quality which obtains to everything that isn’t fully commensurate with a revolutionary Marxism, there’s a pretty big gap between ese things, and it’s a space where most modern liberals fall.

    I also think that there’s another important middle ground here. (I’m so even-handed!) It is certainly true that feminist and queer ideals can be used by capital to reinforce its power. Just being queer doesn’t make you a rebel against the system. But, and I think this is an important point, when folks who have been historically excluded from various valued positions in society are really integrated – not just let in and tolerated – that changes things. On a theoretical level, if a system has been built around the notion of the ideal subject as affluent heterosexual white male, and this system only functions through the practices of all the people who act as if the system is in place, then quite similar practices (marriage, or getting a job at a firm, or being a responsible parent) can have significant effects on the system as a whole when performed by folks who have been excluded in the past.

    To be more concrete about it, the fact that the feminist movement enabled more women to get jobs in boardrooms certainly didn’t radically overthrow capital, but there’s lots of evidence that having women in executive positions enables other women to move up more easily. The fact that women went out and got jobs certainly didn’t overthrow capital, but there are much more egalitarian norms in place among a large array of people now about how work and family should be balanced in a heterosexual household. These are real changes that should not be dismissed as merely the maintenance of the system, merely the work of “conservative” ethics.

    These are what liberal ethics get you. They’re not the whole system coming down on itself, but they’re not the conservative maintenance of the system either.

    On can fairly criticize either Marcotte or Savage for not being a revolutionary Marxist, but I think we shouldn’t claim that liberalism is just conservativism without the gay-hating.

    • Anderson

      What confuses me is why this makes him a conservative, rather than a liberal.


    • j_h_r

      possibly just a bit OT, but I often get the impression from reading Andrew Sullivan (and I do, because he is a spectaculary intelligent, erudite, public intellectual, regardless of his political bent (get it, bent? *snort*)) that Sully internalized Jonah Goldberg’s ahistorical trainwreck of a (god I have to say this) BOOK well before the Doughy one ever set pen to paper, and thusly, regardless of any original ascribed meanings to the word, in Sully’s eyes, the highest compliment anyone can be paid is be called a…wait for it…


    • Dave

      Actually, Savage is a self-described conservative. Can’t find the link, but the context was his advice that marriages shouldn’t break up over affairs. His rationale was (paraphrased?) “I’m a conservative.”

      To that end, I think Farley’s right; Savage is after social & interpersonal stability, and patriarchy doesn’t provide it. As a radical, I can’t say that bothers me.

  • witless chum

    Rereading Farley’s post, I should probably note that I’ve had most of my exposure to Savage from his podcast over the four or five years. I only occasionally read Savage Love before than, basically when I happened to buy a paper copy of the Onion.

    Maybe he’s become more live and let live over the past few years.

    Ultimately, though, I think what I as a leftist etc. want is for Dan Savage to be able to be a comfortable Republican if he wants. Just like I want Michael Steele to able to be. Or, say, Diane Feinstein. If we can actually make anti-gay, anti-feminist and racist views the property only the U.S. Taxpayers Party types and no longer tolerated in polite society, we’ll have won huge victories for egalitarianism.

    I think making the billionaires who rule our society more sexually and racially diverse is worth something. I’d rather have them mostly converted into multi-millionaires and prune their political power back to just outsized, but I don’t believe the first goal is nothing.

  • skyweaver

    I’ve read and watched Dan for year, and I’ve gradually realized that he’s a lot like, well, most people. In that he’s not easily classifiable. The moment you point (or he does) to any one thing that labels him, is the moment you (or he) can also point to something that indicates the opposite label. He’s wonderfully complex and colorful, like most people are, and those things defy easy categorization. He’s like Walt Whitman’s classic line about being large and containing multitudes. Why there is this striving to classify him like some kind of interesting bug I find pretty comedic at some level.

  • Brooklyn Reader

    Argument fail.

    Integrity, honesty, love, communication, liberty, family, equality, justice, and yes, even patriotism, are neither Conservative nor Liberal values. They are human values. Once upon a time, all Americans espoused these values without claiming them as ideological touchpoints. The two ideologies have different views of how to achieve these values, but no one owns these values exclusively.

    What’s happening here in the discussion of Dan Savage’s philosophy and craft seems more about a desire to claim those values exclusively for one’s own political stripe than a desire to work to achieve those values through one’s own political philosophy. We do all have these same human values in common.

    Dan Savage is a self-described Democrat and Liberal, and is rightly peeved at being described as something else, a position backed up by even a cursory examination of his political efforts. Rather than trying to misdescribe his political affiliations, perhaps we ought to be agreeing that we all have certain goals in common, certain shared values, and stop trying to demonize each other as lacking them.

  • Liz T

    So, everyone who supports gay marriage is conservative? That’s the only logical conclusion from what you’re saying–that if you support making conventional marriage accessible to a larger number of people, you’re a Republican.

    Also, if you really stopped reading him in 2003, you don’t have much basis for disagreeing with what you quote.

  • tylerv

    He does have a thing for raising kids well and the idea of a nuclear family, whoever the participants. I’ve sometimes felt he was conservative in this way, but similarly, there are lots of points a social liberal can be conservative that are paradoxical only in the American dinosaur definition of conservative. Reality based conservatism? That’s more like it, but that’s not really what American conservatism is.

  • Bonefish

    I think the author of this article is missing a major point: that there’s a difference between believing that the OPTION of marriage & kids should be available to everyone, vs. the idea that marriage & kids is the ideal choice that everyone should choose.

    By my interpretations, Dan’s about options. I think his focus on the “married & kids” idea is due to the fact that this is what is being denied to people. This is what people are being told they’re incapable of, thus this is what people need to be told that they ARE capable of.

    I guess he could fight for the right of gays to stay single, but where’s the need for that?

    As far as his lifestyle goes; I think there’s a huge difference between a conservative living style and conservative ideals.

    There may be something to the notion that the nuclear family lifestyle is definitively conservative or patriarchal. But that’s not an argument against advocating to make the choice of marriage available.

    Nor does it make it less true that the marriage & kids setup, rightly or wrongly, is catered to in our society, and that the legal benefits have enough of a practical value that couples don’t have to be conservative-at-heart to see some appeal in those benefits.

  • Erica P

    Apologies if I missed where this was said, but the way Dan Savage is radical is that he wants “traditional marriage” but with same-sex participants. Hence, you can’t know who should do which job (be the wife / have the job) from looking at the spouses, and they have to do the work of figuring it out for themselves. The problem with “traditional marriage” is that it pushes people willy-nilly into their approved gender roles (which suck, overall, for both women and men). Gay marriage up-ends all that, and says there is no woman’s role in marriage/child-rearing that is different from the man’s role in marriage/child-rearing.

    • DocAmazing

      Not really radical, though: same play, with different actors playing the same characters. You still end up with one partner likely to be primary breadwinner, one partner likely to be primary homemaker, and the same power and social structures running throughout. Hugh Beaumont plays Mom, Barbara Billingsley plays Dad, and Jerry Mathers is still the Beaver.

  • I think Dan Savage is only conservative in the idiosyncratic way that Sullivan uses the term. Savage’s liberalism strikes me as totally genuine. Part of my reason for writing the article, however, was to raise the possibility that there might be some tension over time between Savage’s political liberalism and his personal libertarianism. If there’s a civil right to use heroin, I think arguments for universal health care get complicated. If you rely on the Randian concept of ‘self-ownership’ to legitimate this or that behavior, I don’t see where the idea of social solidarity ultimately survives.

  • Onyx

    The thing that strikes me with this debate is how obessed most posters are in their need to place things into neat little boxes. People are arguing if Dan is a Conservative, a Liberal or a Radical as if any of these categories are clearly defined and everyone fits just into one box or the other. This seems to me one of the greatest curses inflicted upon our society by classical Aristotelean logic. A is either B or C, but can’t be both.

    To me it would seem that Dan Savage is simply Dan Savage, an individual that may simultaneously hold some radical views, some liberal views and some conservative views (not to mention views that may not be neatly classified as any of these). To say that Dan IS a Conservative or IS a Liberal implies that he is only this and nothing else which is patently ridiculous.

    This is the reason why I tend to support the idea that general semantics and multi-value logic systems need to be taught fairly early on in education.

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