Dan Savage is irreverent, irrepressible, and opinionated. He's held his own on Politically Incorrect, told tales on This American Life, continues to write a beloved nationally syndicated column-and he's had it up to here (my hand is higher than my head) with the moral, conservative scolds who proclaim America is slouching towards Gomorrah (to use Robert Bork's phrase). Are we really that bad?
Yes, we are! And in Skipping Towards Gomorrah, Dan Savage eviscerates those cynics as he commits each of the Seven Deadly Sins himself (or tries to) and finds those everyday Americans who take particular delight in their sinful pursuits. Among them:
Greed: Gamblers reveal secrets behind outrageous fortune.
Lust: "We're swingers!"-you won't believe who's doing it.
Gluttony: Dan meets gluttons with attitude at a pro-fat conference.
Sloth: Leave it to Dan to find a way to celebrate this sin that will get him in trouble with his mother.
Anger: Texans shoot off some rounds and then listen to Dan fire off on his own about guns, control, and the Second Amendment.
Envy: Meet the rich-then be glad you're not one of them.
Pride: You'll never look at a gay pride parade the same way again.
Couple all this sinning with a unique history of the Seven Deadly Sins, a new interpretation of the biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, and enough Bork, Bennett, Buchanan, et al, bashing to more than make up for their incessant carping, and you've got the most provocative book of the fall.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Dan Savage is the author of The Kid and Savage Love. The Kid was named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the ten Best Books of the Year. He is the author of the nationally syndicated column, "Savage Love" and the editor of The Stranger.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The truly revolutionary promise of our nation's founding document is the freedom to pursue happiness-with-a-capital-H. Unfortunately, this promise is considered problematic by some Americans. The very pursuits that make some Americans happy (some very happy indeed) are considered downright sinful by social conservatives. By itself, this attitude wouldn't be a problem if these other Americans were content to avoid activities they regard as sinful, live their lives according to their convictions, and recognize the right of their fellow Americans to do the same. While some Americans might choose to lead a less than virtuous existence, at least in William J. Bennett's estimation, what skin is it off Bennett's ass? If we aren't free to pursue our own version of happiness, then the first two items on Jefferson's wish list are without meaning. Life and liberty do us no good if we can't employ them-or waste them-in the pursuit of those things that make us happy.
Sadly, America's professional virtuecrats aren't content to mind their own business, to let their virtues be their own reward on earth, and to content themselves with thoughts of whatever reward they having coming to them in their heaven. Instead, Dr. Laura Schlessinger lectures us on the radio daily, Bill O'Reilly gripes at us on cable nightly, and William J. Bennett seems to produce a book a month. Fine, they have a right to their opinions, and they have a right to express themselves. However, the virtuous in America aren't satisfied with merely lecturing us. They want to give us orders, and to that end they've banded together in what appears to be a never-ending effort to shove their own virtues down all of our throats. They've convinced themselves that the pursuit of happiness by less virtuous Americans is both a personal and a political attack. Not content to persuade their fellow Americans to be virtuous-which, again, is their right-they want to amend constitutions and pass laws.
While the efforts of the virtuous to make their virtues compulsory haven't been successful-have you given up any of your vices?-the virtuecrats go largely unchallenged in the public arena. The virtuecrats haven't succeeded in halting the sale of rap CDs, the giving of blow jobs, or the getting of high; they have succeeded in convincing us that no one has a right to challenge them. They're virtuous, after all. They're good people trying to do good. Who can argue with good? By successfully framing the debate as virtue versus sin, and not the laws versus your freedoms, the virtuecrats have succeeded in silencing their political foes and the sinners who enjoy the happy pursuits virtuecrats seek to ban. So while tens of millions of Americans have listened (or have been forced to listen) to the Borks, Bennetts, Buchanans, Pat Robertsons, Dr. Lauras, and Bill O'Reillys go off about the dangers and immorality of, say, smoking pot, unbiased researchers have long since documented that marijuana is safe, harmless, less addictive than caffeine, and less harmful than alcohol. Despite this research, nothing remotely positive is ever written or broadcast by American news media about the recreational use of marijuana. Sure, medical marijuana gets some good press, but only because it plays to the media's obsession with victim stories; medical marijuana activists have an endless supply of sympathetic cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers, and AIDS patients at their disposal. But no one at a daily paper or a mainstream news program will risk saying anything truthful (and consequently positive) about recreational marijuana use for fear that William J. Bennett and Dr. Laura will swoop down and accuse them of sending the "wrong message" to kids. (Since when is the truth the wrong message?)
Some social conservatives, like Robert Bork, the author of the bible of social conservatives, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, go so far as to argue that our founding fathers were just kidding around about the pursuit of happiness. It was, at best, a rhetorical flourish on Thomas Jefferson's part, not anything we should take seriously, much less act on. Bork, ironically, is a leading proponent of the "original intent" movement in legal theory, which argues that judges should base their rulings solely on the intent of our founding fathers, which can be divined through a close reading of our nation's founding documents. Except, of course, for the first lines of our nation's first document. That "pursuit of happiness" stuff? That's just poetry. Americans shouldn't be free "to choose which virtues to practice or not practice," Bork argues, as that would entail, "the privatization of morality, or, if you will, the ‘pursuit of happiness,' as each of us defines happiness." (Morality is apparently the only thing social conservatives don't want to privatize.) The pursuit of happiness is so rank and unpleasant a concept for Bork that he sticks it between quotes as if he were holding it with a pair of tongs.
Bork isn't the only social conservative who wants to rewrite our nation's founding document. In his best-seller The Death of the West, Patrick J. Buchanan simply deletes the pursuit of happiness from the Declaration of Independence: "Jefferson meant that we are all endowed by our creator with the same right to life, liberty, and property," Buchanan writes. If our founding fathers were as thoughtful and wise as original intenters and social conservatives are always telling us, we can only assume that our founding fathers selected "pursuit of happiness" over "property" for a good reason. Out of respect for our founding fathers' original intent, shouldn't we assume that they knew what they were doing? Shouldn't we assume that they meant it?
Apparently not. "Pleasure is an event; happiness is a process," Dr. Laura writes in her book How Could You Do That?! "Pleasure is an end point; happiness is the journey. Pleasure is material; happiness is spiritual. Pleasure is self-involved; happiness is outer- and other-involved." Happiness may be a spiritual process for Dr. Laura, but all Americans should be free to define happiness for themselves, and some of us find happiness in pursuits that Dr. Laura wants to see banned.
But Dr. Laura is hardly the most extreme of the virtuecrats. "According to the Declaration of Independence, our freedom comes from a transcendent authority," writes Alan Keyes in his book Our Character, Our Future. Keyes is an African-American conservative who ran for president in 1996 and 2000, and is the host of a talk show launched on MSNBC in early 2002. (Gosh darn that liberal media elite!) Keyes is obsessed with abortion and homosexuality, and he believes America wouldn't be in such "a dismal state" if only Americans would recognize that the Christian Bible trumps the United States Constitution in matters of law and public policy. Why is that? "The Declaration tells us clearly where rights come from: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed,' not by the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, or the Supreme Court, or anybody else, they are endowed by their Creator." Since our rights flow from the Creator, we don't have the right to engage in anything specifically forbidden by Keyes's Creator. It's a willfully perverse reading of the Declaration of Independence. By invoking the Creator, Keyes argues, the authors of the Declaration of Independence meant to negate every other word they wrote.
Our founding fathers had ample chance to distance themselves from or completely disavow the pursuit of happiness when they gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft the United States Constitution. They didn't seem to slouch into Philadelphia heavy with regret about the happiness line in the Declaration of Independence. In fact, they seemed pretty pleased with themselves, gathering in Philadelphia, as they wrote, "in order to form a more perfect union." (More perfect?) I'm no Constitutional scholar, I admit, nor have I had the honor of being nominated to the Supreme Court; I didn't serve my country as the first in a long line of wildly ineffective drug czars; and I've also never hosted a do-as-I-say call-in radio advice program that obsessed about sexual morality while at the same time nude pictures of me taken by a premarital sex partner were circulated on the Web. And I haven't, like Bennett, "served two presidents." (I did, however, serve Prince Edward and Joan Collins when I was living in London and supporting myself by waiting tables.) Nevertheless, it seems to me that if "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" were such a big, fat, fucking mistake, then our wise founding fathers would have realized it in the eleven years that passed between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the first meeting of the Constitutional Congress. If they felt "the pursuit of Happiness" was a mistake, they surely would have done something to correct it when they gathered to make our union just a little more perfect. (Our founding fathers failed, of course. It was their "original intent" to allow slavery to flourish and to deny women the right to vote. Talk about your imperfect unions.)
Many of my fellow Americans are deeply annoyed at the self-appointed virtuecrats and preening moralists who clog our airwaves and best-seller lists, and have warped our political conversation to the point that simple honesty and truth-telling about sex or drugs disqualifies someone from public office. (Dr. Joycelyn Elders, RIP.) I, for one, am sick of being told that I live in an immoral wasteland. Robert Bork is a best-selling author, former federal judge, and failed Supreme Court nominee who looks at the United States and sees Gomorrah, the biblical city-state destroyed by God (along with Sodom, a neighboring bedroom community). William J. Bennett is the Jesse Jackson of the right, the omnipresent former education secretary and federal drug "czar," who, like Jackson on the left, is the ass his party feels obliged to kiss. The author of The Book of Virtues, Bennett pops up on television whenever a Democrat ejaculates on an intern. (Bennett was somewhat less prominent when Newt Gingrich divorced his second wife and married a congressional aide.) Pat Buchanan is the conservative television pundit, Hitler-admiring two-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and the Reform Party's candidate in 2000.
Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah was published in 1996, and in it Bork made the case for censorship (of rap albums, video games, and violent films), the rollback of reproductive rights, and the enforcement of sodomy laws, among other things. It's a thrilling read, and it set a new standard for conservative commentary. In books, magazines, speeches, and on television, Bork and other right-wing "scolds," as Andrew Sullivan has dubbed them, argue that the United States of America is in a state of moral collapse-Bennett says as much in the title of his latest book, The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family. Buchanan paints a picture of the United States in The Death of the West that reads like a translation of an Osama bin Laden video. The United States is "a moral sewer and a cultural wasteland that is not worth living in and not worth fighting for," according to Buchanan. (Buchanan seems anxious to be president of this moral sewer, however.) "To look at America today," writes Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, in his book Active Faith, "is to witness a nation struggling against forces as dangerous as any military foe it has ever faced. The threats, however, come not from without but from within." Those threats? Abortion, drugs, and single moms. "Bill O'Reilly is even madder today than when he wrote his last book, The O'Reilly Factor," reads the dust jacket to Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly's latest book, The No Spin Zone. "He's mad because things have gone from bad to worse, in politics, in Hollywood, in every social stratum of the nation."
In this seemingly endless flow of America-the-moral-sewer books and op-eds, scolds argue that our nation is shot through with moral rot, weakened by the demands of the ACLU, feminists, immigrants, secular humanists, and gays and lesbians. The moral-rotters, according to conservatives, are aided and abetted at every step by the liberal media elite. (The same media elite that can't turn over a rock without offering a book deal and a show on Fox News to whatever is found crawling underneath.) As we learned on September 11, 2001, our moral rot can have deadly consequences with supernatural causes. According to Rev. Jerry Falwell, it was the presence of feminists, ACLU members, homos, and federal judges that prompted God to "lift the curtain" of protection from the United States, "and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve [on September 11]."
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, some people predicted that social conservatives would have to shut the fuck up. Writing in The New Republic after the attacks, Andrew Sullivan pointed out that the reaction of the American people to the attacks on our country by Islamo-fascists proved that the scolds-the Borks, Buchanans, Bennetts, Falwells, Robertsons, et alia-had been wrong about America all along:
Not long ago, leading paleoconservatives were denoucing America as a country, in Robert Bork's words, "slouching towards Gomorrah." Moral decline was almost irreparable; civil responsibility was a distant memory; pop culture was sapping any social fiber we had; and the evils of feminism, homosexuality, and Hollywood were corroding the country's ability to believe in itself or defend its shores. None of this was ever true. . . . The response of the American people to the events of September 11 surely disproved these scolds once and for all.
Shortly after Sullivan wrote those words, Pat Buchanan's Death of the West-". . . [the United States is] a moral sewer and a cultural wasteland that is not worth living in and not worth fighting for. . . ."-shot up the New York Times best-selling list.
Curiously, after spending three hundred pages making the United States sound like Calcutta, Buchanan wraps up his book with a one-sentence paragraph about what a beautiful country this is. Speakers at the Republican National Convention do the same thing: Once they've finished telling us that the United States is a shithole, they wrap up their speeches with claims that the United States of America is unique in the world, a shining example to other nations, and the greatest country on earth. Oh, and God bless America.
It's difficult to square this circle: America speeds towards hell in a handbasket, year in, year out, through both Democratic and Republican administrations; things get progressively worse, never better; and yet the United States remains the greatest country on earth, year in, year out. How is this possible? How can we be the stinking moral sewer and the shining city on the hill at the same time? Gomorrah and God's country? Are all the other countries on earth so irredeemably awful, so squalid, so beyond hope that no matter how fast America falls we can't pass a single one on the way down? This explanation might cut it if the rest of the world were Syria, Sudan, and Serbia. But how do the Buchanans, Bennetts, and O'Reillys account for perfectly pleasant little countries like Sweden? Or the Netherlands? Or Canada? (...
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Book Description Dutton Adult, 2002. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: Dan Savage is irreverent, irrepressible, and opinionated. He's held his own on Politically Incorrect, told tales on This American Life, continues to write a beloved nationally syndicated column-and he's had it up to here (my hand is higher than my head) with the moral, conservative scolds who proclaim America is slouching towards Gomorrah (to use Robert Bork's phrase). Are we really that bad? Yes, we are! And in Skipping Towards Gomorrah, Dan Savage eviscerates those cynics as he commits each of the Seven Deadly Sins himself (or tries to) and finds those everyday Americans who take particular delight in their sinful pursuits. Among them: Greed: Gamblers reveal secrets behind outrageous fortune. Lust: "We're swingers!"-you won't believe who's doing it. Gluttony: Dan meets gluttons with attitude at a pro-fat conference. Sloth: Leave it to Dan to find a way to celebrate this sin that will get him in trouble with his mother. Anger: Texans shoot off some rounds and then listen to Dan fire off on his own about guns, control, and the Second Amendment. Envy: Meet the rich-then be glad you're not one of them. Pride: You'll never look at a gay pride parade the same way again. Couple all this sinning with a unique history of the Seven Deadly Sins, a new interpretation of the biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, and enough Bork, Bennett, Buchanan, et al, bashing to more than make up for their incessant carping, and you've got the most provocative book of the fall. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0525946756
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