It’s not often you get a person so appropriately named as “Dan Savage”. Savage by name and, sadly, savage by nature.
Which so-called dangerous idea do you each think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if where implemented?
Dan Savage’s response was, frankly, breathtaking. In all the wrong ways.
Population control. There’s too many goddamn people on the planet. And I don’t know if that’s a – you know, I’m pro-choice. I believe that women should have the right to control their bodies. Sometimes in my darker moments I am anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years. That’s a dangerous idea. She wanted a dangerous idea. So throw a chair at me.
Now obviously that’s a quite outrageous thing to say. What staggers me is that the girl who asked the question is on camera smiling and laughing as Savage gives his response and there’s not any discernable outrage from the audience, the same audience who have been cheering Savage along for a good while during the show.
But then we ought not to be surprised because Savage’s extraordinary statement, that he thinks there should be enforced abortion to control population, provided a classic climax to and demonstration of an argument that Peter Hitchens, another panellist on that night, had made during the hour-long discussion. Consider this exchange,
Oh, hi. It’s a question for Peter. I’m fascinated by your conversion from revolutionary to authoritarian and so I wanted to ask how did this turn around in your personal values occur and was it an epiphany or was it a series of doubts that eventually weighed on you and convinced you that you were wrong?
PETER HITCHENS: Well, hang on a minute. First of all revolutionaries are tremendously authoritarian. It’s revolutionaries who build gulags and set up the KGB. Revolutionaries are far more authoritarian than I am …
DAN SAVAGE: How do you hope to bring about the world – to return the world to the state you would like to see it in without authoritarian (indistinct) …
PETER HITCHENS: I gave that up long ago. It would only make me miserable. I know that you people have won. All that I seek to do…
DAN SAVAGE: Which is why you have to be gay married now and do drugs now with the rest of us.
PETER HITCHENS: No, all I seek to do is to tell the truth about you and what you want while it’s still allowed to do so because you are so fantastically intolerant.
TONY JONES: Now, Peter, I’ve got to interrupt. What do you mean when you say “you people”?
PETER HITCHENS: I mean the cultural revolution. I mean the cultural and moral revolution which has swept the western world since the collapse of Christianity.
DAN SAVAGE: I’m not intolerant.
No please understand Hitchen’s argument at this point. He is pointing out that there has been a massive cultural shift that seeks to change not only the way we view morality in our Western society but also is increasingly intolerant of those who disagree and seeks to silence them. And then you get a classic example of such an attempt to silence an opponent…
DAN SAVAGE: I’m not intolerant.
PETER HITCHENS: It changed our societies, as anybody who has lived through it knows, out of all recognition in the course of 50 years and in my view for the worst. He’s part of it. She’s part of it. For all I know you are part of it but I’m not.
DAN SAVAGE: You’re paranoid and you’re projecting by saying we are intolerant. You have…
PETER HITCHENS: See, this is the intolerance. Because I hold an opinion different from his, he has become suddenly a qualified psychoanalyst who can tell me – who can tell me that my opinions which I am entitled to hold.
DAN SAVAGE: You’re entitled to your opinions. You’re not entitled to your smears.
PETER HITCHENS: But are a pathology. And this is the absolute seed bed of totalitarianism. When you start believing that the opinions of other people are a pathology, then you are in the beginning…
DAN SAVAGE: You’re the one standing there pathologising other people’s choices.
PETER HITCHENS: …in the beginning of the stage that leads to the secret police and the Gulags.
DAN SAVAGE: You are the one sitting there saying that society is sick and damaged because other people are now free as white men used to be.
PETER HITCHENS: You’ll have the whole world to yourself soon. You can’t imagine anybody else is entitled to hold a view different from yours without having some kind of personal defect. That’s what’s wrong with you.
Again, you may not like the manner in which Hitchens makes his point (and isn’t it ironic, though, that the apparently condescending tone of voice that he has is exactly that which was lauded as so wonderfully authoritative in his atheist brother) but the force of the argument is clear. Savage doesn’t engage with Hitchens’ argument, instead he seeks to disempower and disqualify his voice by branding him as psychologically sick. Which means that when you look at Hitchens’ statement about the “secret police and the Gulags” it’s actually a fairly accurate assessment of the strategy that Savage is pursuing; what Hitchens calls “the absolute seed bed of totalitarianism” evidenced in what Savage actually says and the methodology of continually reinterpreting what his opponent is saying.
On it goes.
DAN SAVAGE: You sit there pathologising other people’s choices. You sit there saying that other people being free to live their lives by their own light in some way oppresses you, when it oppresses you in no way whatsoever. You are free not to get gay married. You are free not to use drugs. You are free not to drink. You are free to stay married to one person for the rest of your life. You are free to stay home and raise your wife’s children so they always have a parent by their side. You are not free to sit there and say that other people being just as free as you are to live their lives and make their own choices in some way is damaging you personally, in some way is destroying society. People are freer now, happier now. It’s a less intolerant world than it used to be because people like me are now empowered to look at people like you and say you are full of shit.
“You are full of shit”. And there you have it. Here is Dan Savage’s tolerant equality and freedom. He looks to his opponents and publicly denounces them as “you are full of shit” rather than actually engaging in the argument being made. Instead, his M.O. is the very incarnation of that which Hitchens is talking about. Less engagement, then, than illustration.
And what is worth considering at this point is that Savage presents himself as an “anti-bullying campaigner” and yet he has no problem behaving in a bullying way. Here is, as Hitchens points out, a totalitarian authoritarianism. He wants to shut down those who disagree with him; portray them as mentally incapacitated, misrepresent their arugments and then publicly denounce them. It is, not least, the power of the masses. The entire episode is fascinating for the way in which the large Sydney Opera House audience, at least those who supported Savage (and they were the majority, at least the majority of the noise) were glad to become part of the overall strategy. Immediately following on from the above exchange we get this…
PETER HITCHENS: This is so personal. Can I respond to it before the…
(AUDIENCE APPLAUDE AND CHEER)
PETER HITCHENS: It’s a rally.
TONY JONES: Okay.
PETER HITCHENS: It’s a rally.
TONY JONES: Hold on. We actually do need to hear (indistinct)…
PETER HITCHENS: While you do this – while you do this I can’t talk. While you do that – while you do that I can’t talk and you know it and that’s to your – and that’s to your shame because silencing opponents is a very wicked thing to want to do.
DAN SAVAGE: You’ve been a lot of things tonight, but you’ve not been silenced.
But of course there has been every attempt to silence him. It’s just that seeking to silence someone is not simply putting a gag over their mouth. There are many other strategies as described above.
Now what is my point here? Well, as I suggested at the beginning we ought to see Savage’s statement on 30 years of mandatory abortion as the conclusion of a demonstrable authoritarianism. It ought to be no surprise to us that the same man who so readily seeks to silence his opponent, to deny him a genuine freedom of expression, is someone who is prepared to say we ought to force mothers to have their children killed.
The scary thing is that Hitchens is therefore proven right. He’s not only right in showing us what Savage is like but also what we as a culture have become. The response of the audience to Savage’s promotion of mandatory abortion is laughter. That’s where we’re at, my friends.
Which makes Hitchens’ own answer to the original question all the more poignant,
PETER HITCHENS: The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter. … It alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject It, it alters us all was well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.
And so here is the answer to Savage’s totalitarianism. It’s a different form of authority. It’s the authority of the Son of God who sets out for us very different but very good behaviours and responsibilities. Hitchens’ answer wasn’t an explication of the gospel but it was an appropriate answer to Savage’s assertion of authority. It was the bold answer that there is another ruler who is good and just and whom everyone needs to decide about. As Hitchens’ notes, rejecting this ruler and His rule alters us and Savage has demonstrated it all too well. And take careful note – it’s not just the unborn babies that suffer.