The new ethicist.

I had to keep checking the top of this story, so sure was I that I knew the author. The byline says Benjamin J. Dueholm, but I could have sworn it read Mild-Mannered Jeff.

It’s a thoughtful look at the work of Dan Savage, the alt-weekly sex columnist, who in recent years has branched out from refereeing bedroom disagreements to offering broader advice on what constitutes an ethical life. The premise of the story is that Savage has become an ethicist for the modern American age, in which no one is surprised (or should be) by sexual behavior, but is struggling to fit our new understanding into old frameworks. Here’s the nut, to this editor’s eye:

Half my mail at ‘Savage Love’ is from straight men and women who want to be reassured that their kinks—from BDSM to cross-dressing to fucking animals (!)—are normal,” Savage wrote in 2007, echoing a note of exasperation he has sounded a few times over the years. Savage has made clear he is not primarily interested in adjudicating whether people’s bedroom proclivities lie on the safe side of normality. …For him, what’s most important is that abandonment of inhibition should never entail an abandonment of personal responsibility.

That’s what makes him the right man for the job. Leave kinks aside for the moment. (Please.) Just as medical technology gallops ahead of our moral and ethical structures — does the surrogate mother get a card on the first Sunday in May? does the sperm donor owe anything to the children he helped create? — so too has our own behavior. Most adults with a functioning brain have figured out who the real beneficiaries of female virginity-until-marriage were, what’s really behind homophobia, but they’re uncomfortable with throwing all restraint out the window. Savage looks for an underlayment of basic human decency:

In ways that his frequent interlocutors on the Christian right wouldn’t expect, Savage has probably done more to uphold conventional families than many counselors who are unwilling to engage so frankly with modern sexual mores. “A successful marriage is basically an endless cycle of wrongs committed, apologies offered, and forgiveness granted,” he advised one very uptight spouse, “all leavened by the occasional orgasm.”

The reason I mention MMJeff is because it turns out the writer is a Lutheran minister. (Not that I would *ever* confuse Jeff with a Lutheran, perish the thought! It just had a certain clerical tone.) And he gets to my misgivings about Savage lower in the piece:

If there is something to treasure in the old, traumatized ideal of lifelong monogamy, it’s not that it demeans sexual fulfillment. Rather, it’s that monogamy integrates sexual fulfillment with the other good things in life—having someone to pay bills and raise children with, having a refuge both emotional and physical from the rest of the world. It is an ideal that is powerful even when it is not fully realized (as it rarely, if ever, is), not a contract voided by nonperformance. A worldview in which sex is so central to life that it may be detached from everything else and sought apart from every other ingredient of happiness presumes a world in which happiness itself can be redefined—in which people can be retrained in what they expect and accept from one another. To approach the libertarian ideal of human relationships, emotional shock therapy of the sort contemplated by AHND will be required. The promised land of natural, ethical, autonomous sexuality lies across a desert of self-mortifying trade-offs between sexual fulfillment and all the other joys and comforts of life.

Well-said. And that’s enough quoting from the copyright for one day. Worth your time.

What a day yesterday was. I spend a couple hours of Monday morning going around to our police stations, checking the blotters for’s public-safety report, easily the most popular feature of our site. And may I just say, all it takes is about a month of that to disabuse a person of any fantasies she might have had about living with a better class of people. (For the record, I never had any in the first place.) Most don’t make the roundup, as I define “public safety” as that which affects the safety of the public as a whole, but occasionally I’ll throw a domestic assault in, particularly if a weapon is involved. My favorite of this week was a woman who reported a “belated” assault, i.e., one that happened sometime before she sobered up and realized someone had punched her on the chin. The report described two black eyes, but noted those were from plastic surgery she underwent sometime before she went drinking and ran into an old boyfriend, her presumed assailant, although she wasn’t sure, because she couldn’t really remember anything. Some people live exciting lives, but mostly they lead drunken ones. Take alcohol out of the world, and people would find fewer reasons to beat up on one another. I’m sure we’d find another excuse pronto, however.

My second-favorite: A three-year-old boy found wandering near a major intersection, a full three blocks from his home. He’d been turned out into the yard by one of the adults in his short but unfortunate life, who was allegedly watching him from inside and couldn’t imagine how he’d gotten out, although, said adult noted, this was the fourth time he’d done so. “He’s a runner,” another caretaker reported. Can’t hardly blame the kid. I’d run, too.

Please note that I’m using “favorite” ironically here. Man hands on misery to man, etc.

Yeesh, it’s getting late. Best hop out of here before the day slips away. It’s Fat Tuesday — Paczki Day here in Detroit. I might stop somewhere around here for one later, although it’s decidedly not part of my diet at the moment. Wherever you are, I hope Mardi Gras finds you.

Posted at 10:29 am in Detroit life, Same ol' same ol' |

27 responses to “The new ethicist.”

  1. jcburns said on March 8, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Paczkis!! The food of my people! Have one on our behalf, Nance. Maybe two.

    74 chars

  2. Michael said on March 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

    From time to time NPR gives you those driveway moments where you have to sit in the car and listen even though you have arrived at your destination. One such moment was Dan Savage in “This American Life”. He’s not caustic or arrogant. He’s actually vulnerable and at one point on the verge of tears.

    Being Catholic, a former seminarian and gay perhaps made this piece much more poignant for me. But if you have 16 minutes to spare today this is worth a listen.

    Act Three. Our Man Of Perpetual Sorrow.
    Dan Savage points a finger at the Catholic Church for being the kind of criminal organization that drives him to atheism—despite the fact that he still wants to believe he’ll see his mom in heaven someday.

    Move the time bar to 38:14

    829 chars

  3. LAMary said on March 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I wonder how often Fat Tuesday and the International Day of the Woman happen on the same day? Can I just do a general sort of celebration covering both events?

    159 chars

  4. Catherine said on March 8, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Mary, I was just thinking the same thing. Maybe I’ll get a king’s cake from Porto’s & just call it a queen’s cake? Or maybe I can find an Elizabeth Cady Stanton cake topper.

    177 chars

  5. Connie said on March 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Did the best I could for Mardi Gras. I am wearing my Mardi Gras beads in the office. Purple ones.

    99 chars

  6. Deborah said on March 8, 2011 at 11:53 am

    A Polish guy in my office brought Paczkis for everyone and sent around an e-mail message that helpfully said this:
    Paczakis typically have 300 to 450 calories and 22 to 27 grams of fat… So what do you need to do to burn off that fat and calories? Here are some ideas:
    Activities for one hour
    Jogging (413 calories).
    Racquetball (413)
    Moving household items, boxes to an upstairs (531)
    Ice hockey (472)
    Rock climbing (649)
    Rowing, stationary (561)
    Lawn mowing (325)
    Scrubbing floors on hands and knees (325)
    Gymnastics (236)
    High-impact aerobics (415)
    Automobile repair (177)

    I could only eat about 1/3 of one, very rich and sweet.

    648 chars

  7. Jenine said on March 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Dueholm’s piece is good. Savage’s sexual ethics seemed relevant to my life when I was in my 20s and 30s living in a big city. They don’t apply as well to small town life or any settled life that includes lifelong relationships. But that said, I love Dan S, his commitment to discussing the undiscussable is absolutely needed. There are always things people have a hard time talking about, whether about sexual expectations or about recurring patterns in a relationship. Making the effort to see what’s really going on and try to communicate about it is couples counseling distilled.

    582 chars

  8. Little Bird said on March 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I have ordered two paczkis with Bavarian Cream. I pick them up in just a bit. The shop in Deborah’s building gets them every year, and you have to order them the week before if you want any. They are amazingly good!

    218 chars

  9. jcburns said on March 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I was experimenting with Google Translate this morning, and I’m pleased to report that Nance’s clever post headlines even survive brutal machine translation and end up sounding quite, how you say, poétique et hip:

    Bon appetit?

    1105 chars

  10. Julie Robinson said on March 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    That was a great piece, and I didn’t have to check, but did, that the author is my kind of Lutheran. There is room for intelligence and doubt and discussion in our church and I love that.

    Does anyone know the Irish equivalent of paczkis? We often just do pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.

    Everything sounds better in French, or at least looks better on the printed page.

    374 chars

  11. Bitter Scribe said on March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Everything sounds better in French, or at least looks better on the printed page.

    That reminds me of an old cartoon in which a waiter whips the cover off a serving dish, revealing a black, smoldering mass, and shouts at the startled diner, “It’s a fried telephone book! We gave it a fancy French name and you ordered it!

    338 chars

  12. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    I’d pick up the check for the opportunity to have lunch with those two guys, Ben & Dan both. That would be a marvelous conversation. And Nancy, at least four Sundays a year I’m Lutheran (ELCA), so it’s only a compliment. Plus I have a framed print of the Junker Georg painting of old Martin on my wall along with a crankier looking Alexander Campbell.

    (Julie, if he’d been Missouri Synod I would have fainted dead away.)

    update: JC & Bitter, it’s “annuaire téléphonique frites”

    491 chars

  13. coozledad said on March 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    One of my biggest worries is that I’ll wind up in a rest home, where people are not only continuing their quest for sexual fulfillment, but they’re doing so while dragging an IV stand with them. These places are also notorious for brutal hierarchies among the residents, like some kind of junior high redux.
    I’m gonna stock up on a few sword canes against that day.

    367 chars

  14. moe99 said on March 8, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Guess it’s not going so well for the Indiana Secretary of State:

    149 chars

  15. Jakash said on March 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Hmmm. Something tells me I’m not going to be doing the 3 hours of jogging evidently required to atone for my 3 paczki Fat Tuesday observance this morning…

    157 chars

  16. alex said on March 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    There is room for intelligence and doubt and discussion in our church and I love that.

    Or apostasy, as this dweeb sees it.

    241 chars

  17. Deborah said on March 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Coozledad, you are right about the junior high redux. My mother-in-Law is in an assisted living facility in Charlotte, NC, near where my sister-in-law lives. It’s where Ben Bernanke’s parents are too. It’s a really nice place but my MIL had a very hard time making friends. They have long established cliques and it was brutal for awhile. Sad but true. We thought it had something to do with the south, but have since found out that can be the norm everywhere.

    460 chars

  18. Julie Robinson said on March 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Alex, don’t even read that dweeb, I promise you will be happier. Yes, there are similar dweebs now leaving the ELCA, which is fine by me, because one thing I have no doubt about is that God’s love has no boundaries. Which means he even loves those dweebs, but not that I have to listen to them from the pulpit.

    312 chars

  19. prospero said on March 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    George Will called Mike Huckabee a dildo. (First sentence, second graf.) He must have canned those Union copy editors that were messing up his bottom line.

    Oh Mr. Will, next thing it’ll turn out you don’t know dick about baseball.

    334 chars

  20. Peter said on March 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Deborah, I had to go to my father-in-law’s living center today to take him to the hospital, and a local alderman was handing out paczki’s to the old folks – except they were like the El Famous Burrito version of a paczki – they were bigger than my head!

    I guess being in a home for a while warps your concept of free food – those seniors were practically fighting over the super paczki’s like it was almost Lent (which it is…)

    Mike Huckabee a dildo? Can someone get Sarah’s take on that?

    496 chars

  21. joodyb said on March 8, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    “He’s a runner.” God, I love that line.

    And Cooz, there’d better be light sabers for real by that time. i fully intend to have one.

    135 chars

  22. LAMary said on March 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I’d say he’s more of a dildo than a vibrator. This is just my take on the issue.

    80 chars

  23. paddyo' said on March 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    This being International Women’s Day, I believe we of the male persuasion should bow to the female view about what to call the device that Aw-Shucks-abee Huckabee is . . . but I’ll still give George Will props for sly elegance in labeling.

    239 chars

  24. alex said on March 8, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Vibrators are for vajayjays. Dildos have their heads up asses. I’d say prospero called it right.

    On edit: I kneel before Dan Savage. Few write so bawdily and redeem it with talent and heart and grace.

    205 chars

  25. Deborah said on March 8, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I heard that some poor soul got bonked on the head from ice falling from the Hancock tower this evening. Little Bird warned me before I left the office that they had Delaware closed off. Then I forgot until I saw the flashing blue lights. I was almost to Chestnut by then (south side of the Hancock). So I quickly dashed through Water Tower Place. My husband told me that it’s very well known in architectural circles that the Hancock has huge liability issues with wind and ice.

    I found an iPad sleeve that is the right price and the look I want (simple). I’ll receive it Thursday. A friend offered to order it for me through his prime account at Amazon so I don’t have to pay for overnight shipping. He’ll receive
    it tomorrow (I hope). I decided against the key pad version, partly for cost and partly because I don’t really type that much.

    I love Dan Savage. He seems like a super intelligent guy.

    910 chars

  26. Dexter said on March 9, 2011 at 2:05 am

    Raspberry. One of my fave flaves of Paczki. With Earl Grey tea this year, a few Paczki never hurt anybody, because of all the temperance to follow as Lent progresses.
    My radio guru ( I am a mere listener) is giving up his cigars for Lent. The executive producer promised to give up pot, but reneged when it was revealed he is going to Austin for SXSW, and to even put that pressure on the poor lad was too much…he will be stoned the entire time.
    I am not Catholic,never had ashes on my forehead, but I have given up things for Lent, such as candy and whiskey.

    Among my acquaintances, I have noticed that when somebody says they are going to give up something for Lent, they always do it.

    701 chars

  27. prospero said on March 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Giving things up for Lent isn’t a particularly Catholic idea. That’s Martin Luther, sweating in the Jakes. Fsct is the two groups are pretty close about the idea of social jstice. Reagan’s Wormtapes produced horrendous acts of abomination against Jesuit Priets and Maryknoll nuns. That happened. Try to claim it didn’t. Raygun hat and his minions despised every catholic priest south of the MEXICAN Border. Liberation theology is what every right-thinking American should believe in particularly Cathokics like that shitheel O’Donnell . How;s this all different from the new anti-government movements in Libya, Tunisia, etc. The total disconnect her, wgere Israel stole material and traded it to South Africa. So now Israe;practices apartheid. They don’t How. It’s a hideous fact that the Government of Israel does esactly the same thing to people that unquestionably live there longer. And the current state of Israel thinks it’s nuclear status is legitimate? So sorry for prolix. I’ve got a very bad cold, and mu respomse is alway antihistamine. In the form of Alka-seltzer and I’m one of those lucky people who that particular chemical makes me feel exactly feel like I’ve been smolomg pot. This is abad thing?

    I would say Nancy ever loved downtown and mildly dangerous the way I used to. I mean the Chessmate? you joking? Best blues club in hte City by miles. 6yj an LLivernois. You had to be frisked and buzzed in. Znd girl, it was pretty much John Leee jeaven. assume from some things you’ve said and what a g00e 0bw34v34, you must have been there, Well I MEANT TO SAY K

    1588 chars