I should have known that writing about Dan Savage was going to get me into a bit of trouble with readers. I should have, but didn’t because, as I wrote in my piece last week, I don’t know all that much about Savage. Many of you have sought to rectify that situation.

Since last week I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and readers, all taking issue with my categorization of Savage as “a perfect example of the new morality.” As evidence, they’ve made me aware of a number of offensive things that Savage has said over the years, all of which I stand firmly against. I would hope that it would be obvious, for example, that I don’t condone wishing death on Republican politicians, publicly taunting Christian students, or ridiculing Catholic priests in the way Savage has done. In fact, I find these things deplorable.

I accept responsibility for holding Savage up as a model of the new morality without knowing more about the man. That said, in my piece I indicated that what I do know about him is that he frames his arguments — gay marriage, for example — in terms of morality. This, I was hoping to indicate, is what I respect about Savage. I don’t think we can take this for granted. It was not too long ago that the easier argument, that old fashion things like morality no longer apply, might have sufficed for someone advocating for gay marriage.

And this is why I aligned Savage with the new morality. The arguments he makes, whether you agree with them or not, come from a place of moral reckoning. And, as I alluded to in last week’s post, a lot of that morality aligns with traditional morality, even where it expands to cover a broader range of concerns.

I know a lot more about Savage now. I was never under any illusion that he’s a perfect man, and now I know for sure that he’s far from it. I noted that I don’t read his column and that if I did I probably would be uncomfortable with it. Now, I feel further that I wouldn’t want to support a person who has said some of things he has. But I still think he makes for a good example of the ways in which morality is shifting and simultaneously resuming its essential place in the public square.

A reader responded in the comments section of the post last week that it is not revolutionary that people are guided by a moral compass. This is true; I have no doubt about it. But what is revolutionary is that a public figure like Dan Savage bothers to appeal to that moral compass to make an argument in the public square. There were those, not long ago, who felt certain that postmodernism (and the specter of relativism that they imagine haunts it) was going to destroy anyone’s ability to make an argument based on right and wrong. Dan Savage, for all his faults, proves these predictions false.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to Dan Savage Redux: What I Got Wrong

  1. Kevin says:

    Weren’t those predictions were always obviously false for anyone who was paying attention? The LGBT rights movement always framed its arguments in terms of morality. Few outside academia ever paid attention to Foucault. So what’s new about this morality?

  2. Fitz says:

    I wasn’t really thinking Foucault, so much as the everyday evangelical pastors who feared relativism as if it was going to bring on the apocalypse.

    • Kevin says:

      Okay, but given that the left never really embraced relativism, but nearly always framed its positions in moral terms, weren’t those evangelicals arguing against something that never actually existed? That being the case, what’s new about the morality?

      It’s a bit like saying The Beatles are your favorite new band, because you’d never actually listened to them until recently.

      • JDP says:

        the Left has always framed its arguments in egalitarian and personal liberty terms. this might be appropriate depending on the issue but it can seem like a very thin form of morality, even if it’s not necessarily “relativist”

      • JDP says:

        also to treat relativism as something completely marginal is a little silly IMO, not to say it isn’t overstated sometimes

  3. Where do the practitioners of the New Morality derive their principles from? If there is a disagreement between two New Moralists (say, whether or not it’s okay to publicly wish death on a politician), what authority do they appeal to?

  4. Also, I just wanna say that blog posts where authors own up to their mistakes in previous posts are rarer than they ought to be, so I very much appreciate your willingness to do so!

  5. JDP says:

    OK, so i’m hectoring a little here, but you still haven’t explained what exactly Savage’s “moral argument” is for advocating and living in a “marriage” involving mutually-agreed cheating (i normally disapprove of scare quotes on this topic, regardless of one’s position on same-sex marriage, but given the specifics here i think they’re appropriate.) granted he’s said it’s “stabilized” his relationship and that us awful Puritan types have to get over our hangups about it. not very compelling.

    for the record i think it’s obvious that the dynamics will be different in a male same-sex relationship than an opposite-sex one (although, Savage advocates non-monogamy for everyone,) but good luck trying to convince people that they should consider you married if that’s the arrangement

  6. JDP says:

    and Matthew, “New Morality” seems to just be a neat-sounding way of the expected capital-E Equality liberal arguments. some might make points, some may not, but i don’t think it’s much of anything new.

    • JDP, yeah, that was sorta my argument in the first post (which Fitz alludes to in this post.) We have heard strong moral arguments made in the public square from a non-theistic perspective since… well, the French Revolution.

      But then again, Fitz is primarily critiquing the “worldview analysis” subtribe of evangelicalism. It’s an influential little group, sure, but Patrol’s primary albatross is that a good 50% of what’s posted here is a not-quite-over-the-breakup reaction against growing up listening to a bunch of blather about postmodernism.

      …and now I have “Somebody That I Used To Know” stuck in my head.

  7. Ryan says:

    I think some of the backlash against Savage on this site is a bit unfounded. First of all, Savage [partially] apologized for and explained his actions at that high school: http://www.mediaite.com/online/dan-savage-apologizes-for-his-comments-about-christianity/

    Considering how the Bible has been and continues to be used as an excuse for brutal anti-gay violence, harassment, and social banishment, Savage sure gets a lot of heated push back for arguing with that portion of the text.

    Secondly, he never said monogamous couples just need to “get over their hangups.” He explains that a lot of people aren’t monogamous, but they pretend to want to be, and that causes a lot of problems. His emphasis is that honesty trumps feigned fidelity. For him, being “monogamish” (aka mostly monogamous with a few mutually consensual exceptions) has worked out, and he imagines it would be beneficial to a lot of other folks too. I don’t think that’s an “attack” on monogamy or Christians.

    I don’t always agree with Savage. The man is a sex columnist–his primary purpose is entertaining and educating readers, not so much providing an intricate, infallible map of theology or morality. But the majority of what he advocates for is rooted in a commitment to honesty and mutual respect between partners, and for pursuing truth over dogma or social acceptance, I think he should be commended.

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