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.


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I lived in DC for 6 years before moving to the west coast this year and I'm a big fan of the Daily Show, so I like to say I would have gone to the rally. But after making a lame attempt to walk to the inauguration only to stop two miles away at a bar and wind up watching it on television, I probably wouldn't have. I blame the cold and the all day happy hour.

The main criticism I had was Stuart's equal opportunity tone policing. I believe he creates a false equivalency that since the right obviously has an "us vs. them" fear-mongering and racism problem then somehow the left must also and to an equal degree. It reminds of lazy and cowardly reporters giving equal weight to both sides of any contentious issue. Who, for instance, on the left is as popular in spreading lies, bile and fear as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Bill Kristol, Andrew Breitbart, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, etc?

I'm politically aware and I hardly recognized the liberal screaming heads during the video montage.

"The real media dynamic that undermines American democracy is not ginned-up ideological confrontation; it's agreement. The mushy middle. The inherent tendency of the political media to choose its position by splitting the difference between the (perceived) positions of the Left and the Right. Mistaking conventional wisdom for actual wisdom."


By Anonymous (not verified) on 01 Nov 2010 #permalink

Gillt - I don't disagree. There may have been a bit of false equivalence being peddled, but I think they wanted to go out of their way to appear non-partisan.

I'm conflicted about the O'Riley wannabes of the left. I used to watch Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, and agreed with them mostly, but also realized after a while that they (Olbermann especially) still resort to hyperbole and if not outright lying, at least ignoring contradictory points.

Anon - I agree in part, but I also think it can be chalked up to laziness. It's not that the media has a position in the middle, it's that they go out of their way to NOT have opinions. Not having your own opinion and splitting things down the middle is easier to report, and also less likely to draw flak directly to yourself. Taking positions on things is hard.

I was at the rally in DC and I enjoyed it. The content of the rally was immaterial compared to what it stood for as an event - that most Americans are moderates who are tired of the screaming nutjobs and tired of them being on TV 24/7. Doubtful any Republicans will head the message after taking back the House on Tuesday. Look for total gridlock in DC for the next 4 to 8 years.

I totally agree with you about Olbermann, a sports commentator and even Ed Helms but Maddow is an Oxford grad (I think poly-sci) who did her thesis on the US health care system. She's legit.

I'm also wary of opposing PZ, since I always realize I'm wrong while composing my reply. But I'll see how this goes.

I think PZ has gotten too sensitive. He's gotten to thinking all accommodationism is evil, probably because of his long experience in seeing religious accommodationism drive people inexorably to lie.

But if you want to call Stewart's political accommodationism evil, you need to go back to the drawing board. You need more than suspicious parallels in rhetoric. You need to catch him in a lie.

Stewart was strategic in his choice of arguments, in order to appeal to conservatives. But there's nothing wrong with that. We're wary of the "strategic" approach of the religious accommodationits because it's a demonstrably bad strategy, not because it's strategic at all. But Stewart's was the right strategy, because it probably drew conservatives into our web of reason without bending the truth at any point.

Stewart was against rhetoric composed of insults and bad reasoning. I think PZ felt threatened because he's all about insults and good reasoning. So the unfortunate, perceived, superfluous difference between Stewart and PZ is their stance on insults.

Compromise is and should be distasteful, but the only alternative is literally fighting each other with weapons. The rhetorical fighting that Stewart is against, and PZ believes he is for, is worse than useless. It is bad reasoning, and we (non-conservatives) are all against it.

Crap, I'm wrong!

Re: Anonymous, I would argue that the whole intention of the Rally, and I believe (as an attendee) its effect, was to demonstrate that the middle is not mushy, that in fact a large group of people can be together and have moderate disagreements but still cooperate and work to get things done. As Kevin said, it is the media and politicians who work so hard to represent the extremes that cause the real, substantive middle of cooperation to seem to disappear.

Damn it, stop creating a conflict between the middle and the passionate. This dichotomy is false. It's like you guys are cleverly trying to prove the necessity of Jon Stewart.

Ted and Rachel - Yes.

Gillt - I didn't mean to imply that Maddow or even Olbermann/Helms are not legit (though I agree that in terms of substance, Maddow blows the other two away).

Steve - I actually think you're dead on, that was the point I was trying to make, but I think you flushed it out a little better than I did.