“Dan Savage is a fascinating guy whose career I was in a position to follow from his Madison days up til now. His work has, over all these years, had a real impact on the culture, mostly in good ways, I think. And it’s been interesting to watch him try, in fits and starts, to develop a working ethics to go along with his more technical advice (in fact I’d like to write an essay on this very topic some day). It’s easy enough to see why that became necessary, since sex more than most aspects of human life is inescapably entwined with relationships, emotion, and all the dangerous vectors of intimacy.
“So it was curiously disappointing, though not unexpected, to see Savage kind of drop the ball in answering a question from a questioner who described himself as ‘a high-functioning regular heroin user (not quite an addict)’ and asked whether drug use is the new civil rights frontier.”
Along those lines, I thought Savage was off with this: “But if he wasn’t ready to resume his romantic and sexual life, ANB, he had no right to be out there dating anyone, least of all a man who looks exactly like his rapist.”
Maybe it was a mistake, but “no right” seems excessive, given how difficult it is to figure out when one is ready to address the emotional fallout of a horrific event. Some people throw themselves at it when it’s too early with unfortunate results, but plenty of people wait too long with equally unfortunate results.
Anyway, I say this not to condemn Savage, but to praise him. I agree with Ben: Savage Love is fascinating – the best advice column in the country, I think – in part because Savage is pretty explicit about developing a set of working ethics as he responds to individual questions, and for doing it somewhat piecemeal he’s surprisingly adept at constructing what I think is a pretty admirable one. It’s like doing normative ethics from the inside out, and even when it fails (fails in my opinion, of course), you can weigh that failure against what you agree with, as Ben does above (and that’s also worth a read).
Likewise, Savage is to be admired for featuring those who call him out, and calling himself out when they change his mind. There’s a – forgive me – open-source aspect to Savage Love that only makes the project better.