Reason Rally: Reasonable?

maxresdefault
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.
Advertisements

The Long Goodbye

free speech

In the 1940s we were embroiled in a world war fighting against cultures and nations that were fueled by ideologies that were anything but open, humanitarian or free. Japan was in the throes of a theologically based monarchy supported by an authoritarian military class. Germany had been consumed by Nazi ideology drunk on world superiority and religious hatred of Jews. The Soviets were little better but having been attacked by one of our enemies, became as a result of that, one of our allies against the Japanese, Nazis and Italian Facists. After millions of casualties which destroyed cultures, countries and philosophies and produced mountains of bodies, the war ended and a new world emerged.

We all know the general story of what followed: the cold war, revolutions and coups in distant and mysterious places, the never ending drive by Islamic hate groups to continue the Nazi work of killing all Jews, decline of certain former world powers, the ascendance of others, the self destruction of communism in most parts of the world. On the positive side, we saw the steady advance of science, medicine, literacy and humanitarian movements, counterbalanced of course by the entrenched forces of conservatism, fundamentalism and ignorance. There has been much good and much evil since that world war ended, but until recently, the overall trend had still been positive. But now, it seems, all that human progress may have been an aberration, a momentary high in our civilization, and we are seeing many movements adopting the oppressive and ignorant values of former ages. Are we now saying a long goodbye to tolerance, intelligence, freedoms and appreciations of real differences, and instead breaking into absolutist, self-absorbed and intolerant social tribes?

Religion

Perhaps the most divisive and harmful of the forces that continues to captivate the minds of most of the world’s human population is religion. There is little doubt that millions upon millions of otherwise sane people on the planet feverently want everyone to share their own particular brand of medieval theology or be punished, perhaps killed, if they do not. And, to bring their point home, many of those millions are now engaging in outright warfare against and the torture and execution of those who oppose their beliefs. Worse, killing non-believers is believed to be sanctioned by God to the extent that those who die in God’s service will be amply rewarded in the afterlife, a sure fire ticket to heaven.

As far as I can tell, all religions that posit a divine creator who concerns him or her self with the daily affairs of humans, especially their sexual practices and possible thought crimes, is intolerant of all others who refuse to believe in their stories or follow their prescriptions. Most are openly hostile to anyone who refuses and refutes all religions. Atheism is a curse. This is not a problem in itself except they can’t leave others alone and insist on trying to impose their particular religious requirements on everyone else thorough local and national politics, among other means. Some are worse than others as the current global struggle with armed Islamists will attest.

Science

It is almost beyond belief that there exist millions of people, religious and otherwise, who not only do not understand basic science, but who are skeptical of it, suspicious and mistrustful of the role science has played enabling us to live longer and healthier lives, cure disease, provide machines and technologies to enable us to lead better and less stressful lives, travel almost anywhere on the planet, grow enough food to feed ourselves and provide the tools to more deeply understand our world and the universe we inhabit. We have actual medicine and rational, science-based health care, but sadly we also have “alternative” medicine. Alternative to what? If it works to prevent or heal illness and disease, it is called medicine. If it doesn’t, or is too complicated for the simple minded to comprehend, it is called “alternative”. Non-medicine (that’s the “alternative”) must be more of a religion, an article of faith, for its believers because even if a so-called alternative medical practice cannot be demonstrated to actually work, that doesn’t seem to matter. Certain people will continue to believe it works because they want to think it works. Acupuncture, for example, has never been realistically proven to do what its practitioners claim, but still many people ‘believe’ in it. Actual, science-based, peer reviewed studies show no actual medical benefits from acupuncture beyond a placebo effect. Believing doesn’t make it true.

Thousands of people, perhaps more, I don’t know, believe that contrails left in the air from airplane engines when the hot exhausts cause water vapor to condense into trailing clouds believe these contrails are actually chemically loaded clouds dumped at the dictates of some shadowy Illuminati group to either control the weather or our minds. Perhaps both. These people don’t (or won’t) understand basic high school science. Their minds are so open their brains have fallen out.

YouTube, for example, is full of chemtrail crap along with even weirder stuff like the flat-earth people. Yes, there are people so ignorant or stupid or willfully obstinate that they  will try to convince you that the earth is actually flat and anyone who says otherwise is part of some huge and evil conspiracy. One mindless splinter group thinks (and I use that term loosely) that this is a result of a conspiracy to hide the existence of God. Which god they mean isn’t too clear as they haven’t given that aspect much thought either. One rut at at time for them.

Freedoms

The gods help you if you should offer any real or perceived disrespect or discomfort to certain individuals or self-defined groups. Some of these groups are composed of privileged unemployed college students pursuing incomprehensible and realistically useless courses of study in our more expensive and prestigious schools. They are encouraged and supported by the faculty and administration in these universities. Want to highlight racism or poverty or religion with some satire? Better wear your earplugs and body armor because that isn’t “safe” and you will be disrespecting something that someone doesn’t want to be made fun of.

Have a different opinion? Be prepared to be insulted, vilified and shouted down, hounded through the halls of Twitter and Facebook, vilified with lies, distortions and profanity on YouTube. If you are unlucky enough to be employed in an institution of higher learning, you will probably end up being fired by weak and myopic administrators. Don’t believe this? Spend a little time on one of the social media outlets, especially Twitter and YouTube. See for yourself.

Look up the videos and Twitter streams about the disgraceful and probably criminal opposition to Ben Shapiro’s appearance at the University of California — on —. The university which should be a bedrock protector of freedom of speech and freedom of thought showed the world that it is exactly the opposite. This University is overwhelmingly liberal both in its student body politics and administration. Mr. Shapiro is a well known conservative. OK. Liberals. Conservatives. Different philosophies. Be interesting to compare and discuss these opposing views. No. Not going to happen, especially at a University for Christ’s sake. Mr. Shapiro might make someone uncomfortable, threaten their safe zone, become the object of aggressive opinion, maybe even have their ideas and cherished ideologies “attacked”. So, solution? Blockade the lecture hall. Assault anyone who might want to attend. Yell. Scream. Cry. Threaten. When that didn’t stop Mr. Shapiro from coming to talk, someone pulled the fire alarm in an unsuccessful attempt to stop him from speaking and empty the hall where he and his audience had gathered anyway. Didn’t work.

I do not agree with all of Mr. Shaprio’s politics or conclusions, but I listen to them first so that I can understand what they are. Then I decide. This is more than the regressive leftists can stand to do. They are offended. Perhaps I may be offended too. But I can handle that and discuss it, then perhaps still be offended. Even so I can still defend his right to express thhis opinions and his right to say them. As someone said recently, “Progressives self flagellate at the altar of non-offense.”  Substitute “self signaling” for “self flagellate” and I agree. One of the pathetic aspects of people shouting for their rights to free speech to drown out someone else’s right is that they are mostly signaling to their like-minded brethren (yes, I’m also including women in that category for purposes of non-turgid discourse) that they are members of that particular in-group. Look at me, I hate racists (facists, gays, white men, conservatives, etc.) too. I included gays because they really hate Milo Yiannopoulos who is openly gay, smart, funny and a conservative. The regressives may claim consistency, but they fail at this too.

As Mr. Shapiro noted, the left agenda appears to be stopping free speech. At Amherst, for example, students demanded that anyone who put up posters advertising “free speech” be prosecuted. I’m not sure how these people managed to qualify for a spot in higher education. At Mizzou the campus police wants a call from anyone whose “feelings are hurt.” Maybe this is part of a suicide prevention process. Or just stupid policy on the university’s part. Either way…

You may be a conservative or a liberal or an independent thinker and you may or may not like Mr. Shapiro’s opinions or politics, but you don’t have the right to stop him from saying them or anyone else from hearing them. That’s not being liberal, that’s being facist regressive babies. Go home. Come back when you are ready for an adult education.

It’s like working on Maggie’s Farm.

Not all groups who engage in this kind of social censorship are privileged youth attending expensive universities. Take Ferguson, for example.

The collection of memes tagging what happened at Ferguson as unfair, racist, as normal police brutality tactics still prevails on social media and in the minds of many who heard those memes but did not hear about, nor care to believe, the actual facts as they eventually emerged from that incident. (This is another attribute of the social justice police and social radicals: facts don’t matter. What they believe is all that counts.) The Ferguson facts are out there for those who would like to actually know. I won’t detail them here except to say that physical evidence and the testimonies from people who were actually there at the time show that the police acted within their rights and responsibilities and that the victim was not the gentle giant his supporters claimed. As they say, look it up. Have there been incidents of unacceptable police violence? Yes. Does racism still exist? Of course. But each incident must be evaluated on its actual merits and evidence otherwise we have the situation we are in today. Identity politics.

Freedom of thought? Forget it. Freedom of expression? Not a chance. Freedom of the press? Who needs it? Freedom of speech? Call the cops.

Literacy and knowledge

It is a fool  who believes that complex problems have simple solutions. They do not. Complex problems are difficult to resolve because they are complex. How to put men on the moon? Simple, send them in a rocket ship with enough fuel to get them back again. How to resolve the problems inherent in the solution? Very difficult. And complex. How do we free ourselves from dependence on petroleum? Simple: switch to another form of energy like solar or wind. How to resolve the problems inherent in that answer? Difficult, complex, costly in money and in global societal impact.

In order to understand and address complex issues one must be able to know what relevant information already exists, which always involves reading, and reading to a level greater than that of following one’s finger along the string of words on the page, reading with comprehension and understanding. Reading many different sources both pro and con. Being able to acquire, store and understand information stored in written form is an essential element of the intelligent human brain. It goes deeper of course. Remember the complex problem problem. One has to be able to tell knowledge and fact from bullshit. Education and critical thinking are essential tools but it appears that those two components are in danger today. Education is not friendly to information and opinion that trespasses those held to be good by many of our universities. Even worse, those contrary ideas are not attacked in an intellectually fair arena by using freedom of speech and press, but are blocked, vilified and hounded out of contention by their opponents.

Long ago someone noted that information is any difference that makes a difference. A thing that rises above the random noise of existence and gets noticed. Some of these things are good, and some are not. Good is a relative and social construct that changes through time and is mutated and nurtured, sometimes destroyed, by the cultures it inhabits. Are there any human universal goods? This is probably one of the foundational questions of philosophy and remains elusive and relational to this day. With the dominance of the internet, we are now awash in information. Much of this is information that does not rest on any objective standards or evidence but ebbs and flows with the prevailing cultural and political tides, and those tides now are enormous and come at increasingly frequent intervals. Trusting to the social media or web-based opinion storms to provide reasonable and factual information is a fool’s errand. Real information, objective fact and evidence is available there, but one has to be armed with reasonable criticism and skepticism and the time and energy to dig and research in order to find the truth, or the most reasonable positions. Who does this? Certainly not the Twitter warriors or social thought police that have taken control of many of these media.

There are a few dedicated souls who continue to stand for openness, reason and evidence based decision making and truly suffer the slings and arrows of the internet thought police and social and religious thugs who assail their enemies with distortions and outright lies. I salute them will continue to support them and their right to freedoms of speech, thought and press.

A Liberal Says Goodbye

I’ve been a liberal since I discovered the City Lights Books store and the beatniks whose works they published in the 1950s. I am a Viet Nam veteran who thinks now, and thought at the time, that the war was wrong, that we were on the wrong side, but, having been committed we should have fought it better with full support, gotten it done and then let the politicians sort it out. I supported the civil rights movement in the 60s and later on,  and think that everyone should have equal opportunities, free education, health care and that the government should take a leading role in making sure that the free market forces did not get the monopolistic upper hand and enforce profit over human values and health. I value free speech, freedom of the press, the real spirit and intent of all the Constitutional amendments including the second one and inherently don’t trust government to have the best interests of the citizens at heart, that it requires close supervision and transparency by the people.

Now, things have changed. Too many liberals have adopted a self-righteousness that I find to be unappealing and counter to actual liberal values. Many have shifted far to the left and become regressively imperialistic and dogmatic and bought into identity politics to an extreme degree. This is wrong and unhealthy. When differences of opinion and healthy debate, even necessary political compromises are decried, insulted and vilified, the game has changed. It’s become “us” or “them” and “them” are likened to monstrous criminals against whom unprincipled, unethical and even illegal acts are condoned. This is wrong whether one is a liberal or conservative.

Being able to listen to, engage and evaluate differences in ideas and information, politics and social philosophies is the mark of a balanced individual, whether conservative or liberal.

Until something changes and sanity reappears, I am done. I will seek out, listen to and engage anyone’s ideas then evaluate those ideas for myself based on reason and evidence. In today’s political and educational environments, that doesn’t make me a liberal or a conservative. I’m declaring myself an independent.

It has been a long time since the 1950 and it has taken a long time to say goodbye to my self identity as a liberal, but the time has come.

Goodbye.