We did this interview via email:
What did Dr. Steve Edgell do for you?
In the aftermath of Generation S.L.U.T., I became a foaming-at-the-mouth right-winger. I can’t explain all of the causes behind my transformation, but the hate mail I received from a bunch of leftists had a lot to do with it. I had a reaction to their reaction, and I suddenly felt a connection with anyone who hated the people who hated me.
(In retrospect, the combination of rape jokes and anti-feminist rants was astonishingly stupid, but that’s how twenty-year-old boys talk—and I’m not a twenty-year-old boy anymore. I’ll have to live with those words forever, which I’m not thrilled about, so the best I can do is hope that people understand I’ve grown up and mellowed out. I still have a sense of humor, but good lord, I have no idea what I was thinking.)
I started to blindly believe every single GOP talking point, mostly because pissing off liberals made me happy at the time. I freaked a lot of people out—my friends, family and readers—with good reason. I put myself into a conservative echo chamber and kept getting more and more intense. I wasn’t seeing shades of gray; somehow I didn’t realize there are major differences between moderates, liberals, socialists and communists. You were either a conservative or a Red; I was overwhelmed with hatred for anything remotely progressive, and my new right-wing friends were encouraging this, so I kept going further in that direction.
I remember being angry all the time—at feminists, environmentalists, perceived media bias, gay marriage, antiwar protesters, you name it—and those resentments were taking over my life. My writing became increasingly overzealous, and I made a lot of comments that still haunt me. I really lost my mind.
Steve Edgell was a psychologist who contacted me in 2004 after reading S.L.U.T. He seemed curious about my thoughts, and we started a conversation that lasted for the next year, trading e-mails every day, sometimes talking on the phone, sending books to each other. Over those twelve months he talked me back down to earth.
Edgell had been a conservative at my age as well, but became more liberal as he had more life experience. He slowly but surely planted a seed of doubt in my mind. He didn’t make me into a screaming leftist by any stretch of the imagination, but he made me analyze the puritanical attitudes I had adopted, and over time I realized how far I had strayed from reality, and how irrationally angry I had become over nonexistent offenses.
Just as I was starting to moderate in early 2005, Edgell died from a heart attack. I never met him, but I dedicated the book to him because I don’t know if I would have ever come back from that bizarre, fanatical phase without him. I still miss him a lot; in a weird way he understood me better than most of the people I actually “know.” (In the biblical sense, I mean.)
How long you been with your GF?
Long enough for her to sodomize me with a plastic phallus… but it was for the sake of journalism, not personal pleasure. We never tried it again, I swear!
Anything new in your Jewish journey?
The final chapter of Dumbocracy takes me to Jerusalem on a search for God, but I don’t quite find what I’m looking for. I spent a week with the ultra-Orthodox, which almost drove me insane, and honestly I’ve given up for the time being, which doesn’t exactly mean I’m an atheist, but I wouldn’t say I’m religious or spiritual either.
I’ve seen enough weird stuff to convince me that some kind of higher intelligence probably exists, but I just can’t make myself believe that the Great Mystery cares if I turn off a light during the Sabbath. I want to believe, and I can’t logically explain some of the coincidences that have happened to me, but I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for organized religion. Then again, I don’t feel “alone” on the rare occasions when I pray, so I’m going to try to live a decent life, not be as much of a jerk as I used to be, and hope that it’s enough. But I don’t eat pork, if that’s what you’re asking.
What are the biggest differences between Israeli Jews and American Jews?
Israelis have tans, muscles and physical stamina. We have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Who are you going to vote for in 2008?
Barack Obama. I used to love McCain—he was the most centrist politician in the country—but he completely sold out to the Religious Right. I would have voted for the McCain of 2000 over the Obama of 2008, but McCain lost me when he started palling around with Falwell, Hagee and his other ex-enemies who despise the separation of church and state, which is this country’s core founding value.
Right-wingers love to accuse liberals of treason, but nothing drives ultra-conservative theocrats insane like free expression and the pursuit of happiness for anyone besides themselves. (There are certainly leftists who feel the same way—free speech for me but not for thee—and it’s equally disgusting; I bash both sides in Dumbocracy for their attacks on the First Amendment.)
Which chapter of this new book are you most proud of and why?
The aforementioned chapter where I look for God; it has an epic quality that’s unlike anything else I’ve written. Also the chapter on gay marriage because there is simply no such thing as too many penis jokes.
What do you like to think about when you masturbate?
The reflection in the mirror. (Runner-up answer: Luke Ford.)
Would you write about islam in same way as xtianity and judaism?
My feeling is that religious moderation is a good thing—people like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher are wrong to label all believers as zealots—but there are obviously extremists from every faith who want to spread their ideologies through violence, and those extremists are equally worthy of condemnation. Some radical leftists, who (justly) can’t stand Republican anti-secularism, are for some reason unable to criticize brutal theocrats halfway around the world, which is an absurd hypocrisy. Same B.S., different day.
What percentage of americans would not vote for a black for president?
According to the New York Daily News, 6 percent, but Colin Powell or Carol Moseley Braun wouldn’t have the problems that Obama is facing, because it’s not just race that’s hampering him; it’s this perceived foreignness due to his name and globe-trotting childhood, and this perception has fostered a huge nubmer of paranoid conspiracy theories. (By the way, did you hear that Sarah Palin cooks halal mooseburgers for Osama bin Laden? I read it in a forwarded e-mail so it must be true.)
You did not touch race in book? Why?
Oh Luke, you know me… I would never dream of causing any kind of controversy.