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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On the Reason Rally

This piece in The Washington Post is not super-illuminating, but it's something.

I continue to encourage people who attended the Reason Rally to post their impressions in the comments. Yes, if you were there ... this means you!

Daniel Fincke is also asking for impressions from his readers.

Edit: If you hadn't noticed it, Dave Ricks has a longish report on one of the earlier threads. I'll actually copy and paste it into the comments here (I'm presuming that's okay with you, Dave?).

8 comments:

Eamon Knight said...

Why are cowardly cryptic trolls always anonymous?

This Canuck made the trek and had a great time. Ed Brayton has a good summary of the content. The crowd was enthusiastic despite the mediocre weather, and we managed to fill the subway train comparably to what the previous evening's hocky game did. A few cellphone pix are posted at http://cfiottawa.com/reason-rally-images/

Russell Blackford said...

Don't worry, Eamon - I have somehow gained this anonymous troll who turns up just to say "I disagree" or not much more. There's nothing much I can do about it, given Blogger's relatively low functionality, unless I want to moderate the whole blog. But I'm now deleting such comments as a waste of everyone's time. Just ignore them if you see some.

Russell Blackford said...

Dave Ricks wrote, on the earlier thread:

First impressions: A wonderful time! Estimates of 10,000-20,000 people. Sometimes raining with wind, and temperatures down to 60°F/16°C, but the crowd stayed strong to the end.

At the end, I talked with Lauren Becker (CFI VP for Outreach), and she was very happy with the audience, especially to see so many young people. She told me that in her work at CFI, she mainly expects to see people who look like me (e.g., an upper middle class white male, professional with graduate degrees, age 52, etc.). The choice of speakers showed a diverse audience that this movement can look like them, too.

The intensity of performances was great, too. I had a front-row seat, so I saw after Jamie Kilstein delivered a hilarious standup rant at fever pitch, he spent what seemed like an endless moment collapsed on Tim Minchin's shoulder offstage to come down from it.

I also think it was genius: 1) To somehow get Cristina Rad here from Romania, and 2) To put her on right after Richard Dawkins. That put terrible pressure on her, but it guaranteed her an introduction to a new audience. After she worked through her nerves and got into her talk, then all her great qualities translated straight from YouTube to this other medium. And maybe 20 or 30 minutes after she finished, a woman sitting behind me remarked thoughtfully, "That Romanian woman was good."

Damn - I just wasted an hour or two failing to express how great that remark was - I'll just say I'm delighted and speechless. And maybe next weekend I'll be able to write some comments about the rally in a bigger context of society and politics.

Russell Blackford said...

The problem, anonymous, is that I'm sick of you writing non-comments like "I disagree strongly" - or whatever. You've had a spate of them. They're just a waste of everyone's time.

If you have something substantial and genuine to say about why you disagree with some point that someone has made, then take the trouble to say it ... and particularly to identify what you're disagreeing with. Otherwise, you appear to be trolling.

Better still, establish an identity so we know who we're dealing with (signing your posts is sufficient if you don't want to create an account). I discourage people commenting merely as "Anonymous", which causes confusion, though no comment has ever been deleted solely for that.

Robert Oerter said...

Wish you could have been there, Russell! I posted this on my blog:

I made it down in the drizzle to the great atheistic coming-out. I was surprised by the gender balance; a Washington Post article said at least half the attenders were women. Ethnically, it was overwhelmingly white, though black atheists were there and visible (there was a Black Atheist booth in the tent).

The highlights for me were: Tim Minchin, consistently funny and incisive. How he can cram a complex philosophical idea into two lines of poetry I don't know. And Nate Phelps, son of Westboro Baptist preacher and hate-mongerer Fred Phelps. To me, this was the emotional core of the meeting. Nate talked about his pain growing up in that environment, and the struggles he had breaking free of it, and his sadness to see his family there and the gulf between them.

Dawkins gave a good speech, as usual, but ended with a disturbing call for atheists to ridicule religion. Ridicule can certainly be an effective rhetorical technique, and I enjoy me some PZ as much as the next atheist. But ridicule is no part of rationalism. At a Reason Rally, we should have been talking about how to use reason more effectively, not how to circumvent it with cheap rhetorical tricks.

I live near DC but have been avoiding big rallies like this for many years: they seem to bring out the worst in people. This one was different. It had (for the most part) a very positive feel; a celebration of reason and science, and an opportunity to be surrounded by people who draw their wonder and joy from the real world.

pierrejc2 said...

All the coverage makes clear that the writers left the Rally long before it ended. As someone who was amazed at the size of the crowd at 11 am, I can assure you that it grew considerably as the day wore on (large patches of grass to the side of the event that were empty in the morning were crowded by mid-afternoon), so it's safe to assume that most media accounts will underestimate the crowd.

I climbed on a metal electrical box off the to the side to get a decent elevated view. I attended the 2002 Godless Americans March on Washington, which had drawn about 2,500 people, so I had a metric by which I could judge the size of the Reason Rally crowd. The Reason Rally eventually drew a peak crowd nearly 20 times as large.

There were no fewer than 40,000 people there.

It was a hell of a sight!

At least half that number stayed to the end.

Laurence said...

I was there, and it was a whole lot of fun. It was an incredibly well-run event with barely any downtime. I was really impressed with how smoothly it ran. The highlights for me were the comedic acts like Tim Minchin, Jamie Kilstein, and Eddie Izzard. I thought that Nate Phelps, Todd Steifel, and Christina Rad were great. Dawkins and PZ were okay, but I like most of the other speakers a lot more. Herb Silverman of the Secular Coalition for America is a terrible public speaker, and Dan Barkers songs were really awkward. I thought the event had a good mix of speakers with a positive and negative message though.

The crowd was very diverse. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of women that were there especially since you don't see as many at the smaller group meetups. It was a ton of fun, and I would go again if they have another one.

Russell Blackford said...

One thing that pleased me at the (very small) gig I did yesterday at Macquarie University was the high proportion of women. Just another straw in the wind, but there's really no reason why women should not be as enthusiastic as men about reason and secularism. Indeed, women tend to be harmed more than men when secularism breaks down. The traditional religious moralities tend to be anti-sex (which affects both men and women) but they also tend to be patriarchal (putting burdens disproportionately on women).

Even if women tend to be more religious than men, as survueys suggest, their religiosity is often not a terribly traditional one, and even women who are religious to a degree (which was not the audience at the Macquarie Uni Atheist League yesterday, though!!) they have good reason to support secularism.