Gad Saad tweeted today that the Reason Rally has a code of conduct that prohibits “speaking against religion”. This, I thought, seems unreasonable, so I did a quick Google search and found the text of their Code of Conduct. Read it for yourself. To me it smacks of a great deal of the opposition to free speech and social justice we see on campuses and in the social media today. Here is why.
The Reason Rally Coalition is committed to presenting spaces that are fun, friendly, and informative for all participants. This is the first sentence and summation of the conduct expected of participants. Unpacking this are the ideas that everything that occurs in a Reason Rally happens in some ill-defined “safe space”. Where have I heard this before? Oh, yes, places, usually an especially prepared room, in which those who are uncomfortable, challenged or angry with differing opinions can retreat to play with puppies, eat wholesome snacks, listen to soothing music and bitch about the evil opinions still loose in the world. Perhaps the Reason Rally people don’t actually mean this kind of “safe space”. We will see what they say.
The space must be fun. What is fun? Something that is continually enjoyable, happy and puts a smile on that face. But, is reason always fun? Many times it is not, since it may run counter to fun stuff that people take on faith or rumor, and that’s certainly not fun for them. Fun is what you go to Disneyland have.
The space must be friendly. Nothing much wrong with friendly. However, like with fun, friendly may run afoul of differences highlighted by, and defended with reason. It’s not exactly fun to have your religious beliefs, or other favorite ideology run smack into smart people who come armed with reason and look more deeply, more reasonably, into those memetic collections of bad ideas.
Next: This includes creating an atmosphere that is and [sic] harassment-free. On the face of it, this appears to be a reasonable demand. No one likes (well, with the possible exception of people like Trump and his ilk) to be harassed. It is neither fun nor friendly. But, I’m not sure what the Reason Rally folks define as harassment. They attempt to define it by:
Prohibited conduct may include—but is not limited to—harassment related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials), deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.
Harassment appears to be defined as harassment. Not helpful. So, if we, for example substitute fun for harassment, we get this:
- Prohibited conduct may include—but is not limited to—fun related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials), …
- I’ve excised the definitions of what reasonably can be defined as harassment: … stalking (legally defined activity) , …, sustained disruption of talks or other events (violation of freedom of speech, disturbing the peace and downright doltish behavior),…
- Of dubious merit, because of the modifiers deliberate, inappropriate and unwelcome are: deliberate (defined how and by whom?) intimidation (also undefined), …inappropriate (again, what constitutes inappropriate and who gets to decide?) physical contact, and unwelcome (yes, same…) sexual attention.
As we can see, the basic problem is, who gets to define these terms. Who establishes what is deliberate and what is accidental? Is accidentally bumping into someone in a crowded space inappropriate or innocent? Who gets to establish intent? We have cases on college campuses in which consensual sex was later declared to have been forced, or even rape, because one of the participants had a change of mind hours or days after the event. Are people supposed to ignore obvious characteristics of other individuals such as age, sex, race, disability? Why? I may not like it when a twenty-something socially inept trans-Muslim-atheist calls me old, but I am old and can deal with dissonance and hurt feelings.
Take the prohibition against religious harassment. Say you’ve got your Moslem on. You mention that I’m going to hell because I’m not a believer. I say don’t talk to me about your primitive superstitious beliefs. You call harassment. I say you are making me unsafe in this safe space, which is prohibited harassment. We have had a difference of opinion regarding the usefulness and history of religious belief. Should we both be kicked out for voicing opinions?
From harassment, we move on to sex.
Please listen to trans* people’s needs and stories when they are volunteered; but please respect people’s privacy and boundaries and do not ask questions that you wouldn’t ask of anyone else. Do not make assumptions about other people’s gender identity or expression. Please ask which pronouns a person prefers. Do respect and call people what they ask you to call them.
Transgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful.)
Gender Identity: An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.
Two-Spirit: A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.