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Going North to Go South

Yesterday was devoted to the ReasonRally, a national (and slightly international) gathering of atheists/agnostics/others in DC.

The travel was fairly rough. Left my apartment at 2am on Saturday for train into Manhattan (Penn Station) to catch the initial 5 hour bus down there. Nothing like hanging out in the wee hours of the morning with a number of other already-tired people waiting to get on a long bus ride. Age composition was fairly young; mostly college folk, a few teenagers, and a handful of adults. The bus was reasonably comfortable, but had no outlets and was not well-designed enough to allow for decent sleep; spent the trip in near-sleep. Arrived at Union station around 9am, and once the bus driver found the place where we could actually deboard, we went in, eventually found some food, and started the hike to the National Mall. Afterwards was the same process in reverse; except we were all more tired. I wish I could've been dropped off in PHL though; it would've been great to spent the night in my rump apartment there, had a relaxing day in a teahouse, and then renting a UHaul van on monday to take the last of my stuff to NYC. Oh well.

I saw a number of friends and acquantenances while there; I hung out with Dubin a fair bit, was surprised to see Nicole (yes, that Nicole) and had a long conversation with her too. Chatted with Aug for awhile, briefly chatted with Lyz and Ashley, and also briefly saw some people from PHL's secular community (which I didn't quite manage to join) and a few other people I've met over the years. Managed to have near-misses with a few other people I know too, but there were a lot of people there. I also met some people from the NYC bus, which was nice. I suppose I could list some of the speakers as acquantences too, but it's not like I had the chance to actually say hi to PZ.

The music was mostly pretty good. Being a fan of Bad Religion, that was the highlight for me; Tim Minchin was also there, although he's more of a musical comic than a comic musician (like Tom Lehrer); Tom Lehrer would still be worth attending if silent, and Minchin would still be worth attending if he wasn't musical, but not vice-versa. BR played a good set; I may have been hoping they'd play 「American Jesus」 the whole time, but what they actually picked was probably better. The crowd was singing along for parts of it. I don't think I've seen them live before and it was worthwhile.

Some of the content was a bit uncomfortable. One of the earlier musicians sang a song about fellating jesus, and there was a really irritating comic who was mainly interested in joking about masturbation and stupid jokes smearing all Republicans as horrible people; the first is tasteless and the second is tactically really unwise. I'm not saying the event has to be family-friendly (although there were plenty of kids there), but I do expect some taste and sense (plus, while masturbation is a good thing, it's also not something we generally need to talk about publicly because it easily leads to squick). Some of the graphic verbal depictions of old republicans having sex was also something I really don't think we needed to have there, and there was a bit of othering/mysogyny/MaleGaze in various bits of content (Minchin's alternating in a single song between how much he likes breasts and how socially responsible he is was kinda funny, but I also felt it was kind of weird, and some of the other content did this moreso). I'm not trying to be fussy, and I really don't mind objectification so long as it's not systemically of a certain group (we all objectify each other often in life; looking to hire "a programmer"?), although maybe I am a little bit fussy regardless, and I'm more bothered by breaches between rules for things-we-talk-about-in-intimate-settings-if-at-all and public-discourse. Oh well.

Some of the content was rockin'. Dawkins was a pleasure, as always. I already mentioned liking Bad Religion. Greta Christina did a nice speech enumerating injustices we should be concerned about. Jesse Galef gave a speech about progress (and it turns out he's a friend of my friend Dubin). And there's a lot more that was probably wiped from the halls of my memory through the weird sleep situation.

There were also a few counterprotestors to argue with, some more crazy than others. I was making reasonable headway with my usual "you don't get morality by just having someone write it in a book; it's the product of philosophy and societal consensus" line; I like making it because I think it's particularly instructive for people listening in, and it's a front-on assault for a line of reasoning that most moral absolutists consider to be an automatic winning argument. Being able to paint law, societal consensus, and philosophy as part of a cohesive whole innoculates people against that otherwise-strong argument, and suggests the importance of each of these subjects. Then I had a somewhat more disturbing conversation with an older dude, where I made things super awkward for him in defending his reconstructed ancient christian morality against modern norms, using that for the implied conclusion that we have built a better perspective than the ancient Hebrews had. This started off with the topic of slavery in Torah; he first argued that "Judaistic slavery was different", but by pinning him on the essentials of it, he was left looking pretty awkward defending it (although he did stand his ground there). I decided to push him a lot further, and brought up the Shoah, eventually pinning him into asserting that Shoah was HaShem's punishment to the Jews for turning away from him and failing to accept Yeshua (Hebrew terms mine). The argument drew a bit of a crowd. I really didn't expect that argument to work; the typical counterthrust is that Shoah was the work of sinful humanity, not the will of the Creator, and that it was permitted because of free will, etc (there are weakness in that argument too and I have most branches of the conversation prepped for, but it's more morally palatable and generally preferred). Anyhow, eventually that conversation ended; having already had discussions that led some Tea Party counterprotestors to leave earlier (I am rather good at debating libertarians), I decided to get back to enjoying the rally; verbal sparring isn't fun forever.

Overall it was a rather good rally. The rain was kind of tiring and I was quite cold and wet from about halfway through onward (the bus ride back had the AC stuck on, making this even less fun). It was great seeing so many people there, and good getting out of town. If this is held again, I'll put more care into clothing and gear; the laptop was unnecessary (except as a large battery for my phone), and a pillow, umbrella, and folding chair would've made things a lot more comfortable. Bringing fig bars and not bringing a sign were definitely wise.