Rally to Restore... Something

I was there! Not that it was easy. We decided to park in VA (in the parking garage of the National Science foundation - totally by accident) and take the metro in, but evidently the entire world had the same idea; the metro was about a 2 hour wait, and the bus stop had like 3 buses worth of people, and only two buses scheduled in the next hour. So we decided to walk the 6 miles to the National Mall, with less than an hour before the thing started. I was at Obama's inauguration two years ago, and there were screens and speakers all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, but apparently Comedy Central only had a permit to set stuff up until 7th street. In any case, it was hard to really hear anything, and I actually saw more of the rally yesterday online than I did while AT the Rally. Still, I was glad to be able to go and support the message, but what exactly WAS the message? Whatever it was, PZ didn't think much of it:

I was left cold by the fuzziness of the event. It could have been great; instead of embracing an apolitical perspective and saying nothing at all about values, it could have been a rally for moderation that emphasized the actual values that moderates hold: we believe in tolerance for people of different ethnicities and religious views and sexual preferences, we believe in building an egalitarian social and economic infrastructure, we believe in privacy and personal freedoms, etc., etc., etc., and they could have held to the theme of the rally by advocating rational argument and unified, organized activism within the system to advance those goals...but they didn't. There was no purpose given other than a generic insistence that we all get along nicely. And to what end, I ask?

It seems a bit presumptuous to disagree with him on my very first day here at ScienceBlogs, but I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway. I'm going to do it by agreeing with him first though - all of those values are important. The thing is, I think that those values PZ speaks of were expressed. Tolerance was arguably the largest organizing principal, and a repeated theme in many of the musical choices and skits. "Unified, organized activism within the system" is exactly what was happening. It's true, they didn't exactly use rational argument, they used comedy - but that's because they're comedians.

I can understand why PZ is wary of arguments that are about tone, and I'm sympathetic to his position. I find myself agreeing with him most of the time. But I also think there's a difference between the sort of religious "tone" arguments that he addresses most of the time, and the call for sanity and rationality in politics that I think Jon Stewart was advocating on Saturday. In the religion debate, as an atheist, the only way to not offend is to not make your argument. I can understand why PZ rails against others trying to disqualify any argument he makes as failing on tone. But we can have debates on what makes good policy without labeling our opponents as marxists or bigots. The point of the rally, in my opinion, was precisely to say we need to have rational arguments, not ceaseless ad hominem. The money line, in my opinion:

We can have animus, and not be enemies.


One final point: as an immunologist, I would be remiss if I failed to point out this line:

The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker--and, perhaps, eczema.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart - Moment of Sincerity
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or Fear The Daily Show The Colbert Report

Edited for egregious typos.