Savage Happiness


Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage, Plume Books

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been enjoying Dan Savage, kick-ass advice columnist. I just finished his book Skipping Towards Gomorrah. While I don’t recommend it quite as highly as his  Savage Love sex advice columns, it’s a great read.

It’s basically a meandering critique of the hypocrisies of the socially conservative right-wing “professional virtuecrats” ie: William J. Bennett, Robert Bork, Pat Buchanan, Dr. Laura, Alan Keyes, etc. He really nails all of them… but then again I think that we all have inconsistencies in what values we believe in and hold tightly  (and I wouldn’t want Dan Savage’s razor critique on my personal foibles.) 

As the subtitle The Seven Deadly Sins and Pursuit of Happiness in America makes clear, Savage does his critique through trying out the Seven Deadly Sins… here’s a crib notes version of the sins, with the activity that Savage does and tells:

  1. Greed – Savage trys his hand at gambling.
  2. Lust – Savage attends the LSO (Lifestyles Organization – basically a swingers group) convention
  3. Sloth – Savage smokes marijauna.
  4. Gluttony – Savage eats at the NAAFA (National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance) convention.
  5. Envy – Savage spends a week at an exclusive rich-folks Ashram.
  6. Pride – Savage savages gay pride festivals.
  7. Anger – Savage learns to fire guns.

Here are a couple of selections that I most enjoyed – and the book is funnier than these excerpts. In his chapter on Envy, Savage points out the dissonance in the religious right’s embrace of both virtuous poverty and virtuous affluence.

Like other well-off conservative scolds, Robert Bork clearly recognizes the character-building benefits of other people’s poverty. “Religion tends to be strongest when life is hard,” he writes, “and the same may be said of morality and law.” He’s right of course. A man who isn’t sure where his next meal is coming from is likelier to be found on his knees in a church than he is in a restaurant. But if hardship and the fear of want render people and nations virtuous, it’s hard to understand why Bork and other conservatives object so strongly to taxing the wealthy. If the government soaked the rich to finance a single-payer national health-care program it wouldn’t make the working poor affluent, and therefore less virtuous. It would, however, make the affluent a little less affluent and, according to Bork’s logic, a little more virtuous.

Even if money extracted from the wealthy in the form of taxes wasn’t spent on social programs or anything else that might minimize the socially toxic impact that wealth inequality has in the United States, reducing the net income of the wealthy Americans is something we should do for their own good. In addition to making money available to provide for the common good (health care, meat inspectors, national defense), hiking the taxes of the affluent would make the rich less affluent and therefore-provided Bork is correct-more religious, moral and mindful of the law. (Who knows? If Ken Lay had to shoulder a slightly more onerous tax burden, perhaps Enron wouldn’t have been run so crookedly.) If the government should come between music lovers and rap, pot smokers and pot, adulterers and and other people’s spouses, well, why shouldn’t the government come between the rich and their money?

And here’s a fun one about being honest, from the chapter on Pride:

We feel obligated … to wrap the [gay – LGBT] pride parade up in goody-goody rationalizations, such as “We’re here to help gay youth,” or “We’re fighting for political liberation!” Gays aren’t the only Americans who feel obligated to rationalize their pleasures  in this manner; pleasure-hating Puritanism runs deep in the United States. […] Even hedonists in America have a hard time viewing simple pleasure as a legitimate pursuit: marijuana-legalization activists want to ease the suffering of people with glaucoma; swinging couples approach nonswinger couples because the lifestyle is a great way to enhance a marraige; casinos create new new tax revenues that states can turn around and spend on schools.

One might expect that gay people, of all people, would be able to recognize the legitimacy of a good time for the sake of a good time. After all, coming out of the closet is about the pursuit of the most basic human happiness: sexual fulfillment. We come out to get laid and, with luck, find love. […] Coming out is about pursuing happiness even at the risk of losing the love of your biological family and never getting to enjoy the experience of no-fault divorce proceedings. So why can’t gay parades be a celebration of pleasure? And fun? And the pursuit of happiness? and honest?

Savage is an excellent writer. He tells a good story, builds an airtight case, blends serious and fun… I feel a little intimidated writing about him, because I don’t think that my writing is anywhere near as good as his.

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