Reason Rally: Reasonable?

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A free exchange of ideas

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:

  1. 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), …
  2. 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),…
  3. 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.

 First, I’m not sure what trans* means. So, leaning on my friend Google, I find this from transequality.org:

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.

 So, unpacking these rather dense and recursive claims, it seems that:
1. One’s gender and gender behaviour is relative to one’s sex, and one’s sex is somehow assigned at birth. Who does this assigning? What about before birth? Is one sexless before birth? How can a baby’s sex be known before birth, as it frequently is, if sex is assigned somehow at birth?
2. Gender identity is a social construct and has no reality in the history and taxonomy of families and species other than hominidae, and it is a small and very late behavioral trait at that. Gender is an invention defined as encompassing ways of describing and perceiving male and female humans that guide societal and cultural roles and behaviours. So, it does make sense as the Code of Conduct says that one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. This is evidently why the Code requires everyone to ask everyone else what gender they happend to be at the moment. Maybe it should be like an AA meeting. “Hi. My name is Xenon. I’m a neutral gendered being. Please refer to me as AetherChild.”
I guess what I don’t understand is why it is up to me to find out all of this personal information about another person whom I am not intending to establish a friendly and intimate relationship with. How often should one check? Once a day? An hour? With each interaction or verbal exchange? Really. Courteous and sane social interaction does not require that I know or care about who or what you believe you are at any moment. If your actions toward me arise from these factors, I may in fact care and respond, but otherwise, go about your business and stop demaning that I recognize all that you think you are at that moment.
I support your right to define yourself however you like, as long as you do not attempt to prevent me from exercising my freedoms of speech, religion, association and rights as another human being and don’t presume to expect me to conform to your ideas.
I must digress for a moment. This has nothing to do with the Reason Rally Code of Conduct, but I found another definition of gender on transequality.org that is particularly interesting. Holding a degree in cultural anthropology this one illustrates the conflation of history, culture, new-age crystal-gazing goodness vibrations like none other:
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.
1. A contemporaty term. Obviously. No one who is, or knows anything honest about native people could come up with this stuff.
2. “… the historical and current First Nations people…” First, the historical people whom this seems to assume were the first native people, were not the first. We have no history for humans that crossed the land bridge from Asia into North America. None. Artifacts. Scarce and fragile remnants of camps and butchering sites perhaps, but nothing more than educated inferences. The “historical” first people were far distant relatives of those actual first migrants and in many ways extremely different in behaviors, beliefs and cultures. “Nations” is a western white term. The Cheyenne, also far distant from the “first people” referred to themselves as, and this is a white man’s translation into english, ‘the human beings’. Note that others, not part of their group, were not humans. Think about this.
3. “…people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits.” The big error here is in thinking that all “First Nations people”, are and think the same way. Do we include the Inuit, the Paiute, the Mohawk, the Seminole, Comanche, Aztec, Olmec, Inca and subsistence groups living in the disease infested Amazon basin in this group? Evidently the people who wrote this definition do. How do we know what all of these diverse human cultures and societies thought about the human spirit? We know much of that due to ethnographic studies by anthropologists and they are wildy different. If any did think that humans are a blend of male and female spirits they were few and far between.
That’s enough. Willful ignorance and loose connection to rational evidence is evident to all but committed believers. Minds will not change unless open to reason, evidence and rational discussion.
In conclusion, I support the underlying philosophy behind the Reason Rally, and I respect many of the speakers and attendees, but I don’t like the way the organizers structured it so that actual reasonable, factual discussions are prohibited or severely inhibited by their code of conduct.  Instead of conduct, these rules seem more  directed at feelings than facts. As Ben Shapiro often says, “facts don’t care about your feelings”.
Facts don’t need safe spaces in which to hide. Facts attempt to describe reality, and when that description is proven to be in error, facts change, they don’t flee to the puppy room.
That is called reason and science. They actually work.
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