Thoughts About The Rally To Restore Sanity: Part I

It’s been a busy weekend, so I haven’t had a chance to update the blog in a while, and unfortunately, I’ll also be busy for the next day or two getting caught up from the weekend. But what a weekend it was. I had a wonderful time at the rally, and I really wanted to share it with you all.

So I’ve come up with a compromise: in the aftermath of the rally I posted a few thoughts on Facebook, but they were a little buried to I suspect they didn’t get much attention. Therefore, I’m reposting them here in a slightly modified form. It will have to satiate your curiosity about it until I have time to see if I have anything else to say ;-).

Anyway,  after the rally a lot of my more conservative-leaning friends were teasing me about going to the rally, with several of them dismissing it (perhaps just in jest to provoke me) as Stewart and Colbert just trying to imitate Glenn Beck’s celebrity and power.

I was sorely tempted to tease them all back, of course, but after having spent all day at a rally whose theme was “take it down a notch, America!”  it didn’t seem right.  Most days I’m up for a little good-natured political teasing, and in fact I often feel a little chagrined by some of the people who carry the same ideological banner as me, but on Saturday, I was entirely proud to have been part of a very, very large group of people who just wanted to say “You can’t get our vote by telling us ‘Bush is a war criminal’ or ‘Obama’s a Nazi.’ You get our vote by having good ideas and a commitment to improving our country. Also, we think ironic signs and goofy costumes are funny, and we appreciate that people need to laugh every once and a while.”

I’m sure the crowd tended to be more left-leaning, reflecting Stewart and Colbert’s viewership. But we saw folks who represented a whole spectrum of ideologies, and I was proud of that, too. A lot of people, especially my age, feel like we can’t strongly identify with any political party, because we feel like both parties’ spokesmen will say anything and do anything to whip us into a frenzy and get our votes. But we don’t like to be manipulated like that, and more importantly we don’t like the fact that the news media are more than happy to just see the volume level increase as the intelligence level goes down. We don’t like to see tea-party activists represented on MSNBC by a random deranged racist guy just because he makes for the most sensational news, just as we didn’t like to see anti-war activists lumped together with Cindy Sheehan on Fox. And as far as I can tell, the vast majority of the people who were at the rally today weren’t there to support some covert left-wing agenda of Stewart’s, but to get the attention of politicians and media figures alike and say, “Look: look how many of us would still tune in and pay attention if you tried taking the rhetoric down a notch and talking to us like adults.”

So I hope, I really, really hope, that even though they wouldn’t be caught dead admitting it,  deep down some of the folks who who were teasing me actually agree with some of the ideas behind the rally even if they don’t particularly like the hosts. For what it’s worth, I’ve always said I support the ideas of adherence to the constitution and restrained government spending and have been glad to see attention called to them recently, even though I don’t in general like Glenn Beck or some of his associates. You don’t have to agree with every policy position held by the organizers of a rally to see that there is some good in it. In fact, if you insist on writing off entire political movements because you don’t have complete agreement with them, then you’re just furthering the polarity that has makes the political atmosphere so toxic. Really, what are the odds that a given group is wrong about absolutely everything? I think it’s worth a little effort to try to pick out the moments of agreement, because heaven knows the conflict-hungry news media aren’t going to do it for you.

Heck; to the extent that Beck’s rallies have called for the preservation of individual liberties and a return to fiscal conservatism, I hope it’s message was heard by both parties. Now there is a long, long list of things I don’t like about the way Beck and his friends have gone about advocating that agenda, or even the way they’ve interpreted it. But there are plenty, plenty of people making that point every day, and what good has it done? So maybe for a change it might not hurt if I try to find the good parts of what they’re saying.

I guess I hope that people whose knee-jerk reaction to the Stewart/Colbert rallies can try the same tactic. Surely you’re not exactly opposed to sanity, are you? You may think you have a different idea of which elements of the population represent the “insanity,” but I bet if we looked hard enough we could both agree on some of the people who belong on that list. We could probably agree on a few of the political advertisements that crossed the line in the last few months, and I bet we could name a few aspects of the current 24 hour news cycle that we collectively think are unproductive.

For me, practicing this kind of moderated political thought is a bit like exercising or eating right. It’s not actually much fun to do at first, because we are used to the cheap thrill  and emotional rush of demonizing out opponents and trying to land the most pointed blows possible whenever we get the chance. It’s like eating a cheeseburger: easy, incredibly satisfying in the short term, and not much good for anyone in the long run. But after a couple of weeks of ignoring the hamburger stand and hitting the gym instead, your new habits start to feel rewarding. And sure, you’ll probably still eat a deep-fried chimichanga from time to time. But at least you’ll have an appreciation for the benefits you can reap by going for a nice jog afterwards.

Like Stewart said on Saturday, “when you amplify everything, you hear nothing,” and I think it would be great if we all could try, just every once and a while, to resist the urge to counter loudness with loudness. The world won’t end if you don’t immediately shout down your opponent as soon as he starts to make his point. Maybe just let him finish the sentence first. If you still don’t agree, you can go back to shouting. But maybe he’ll say something interesting, and then there’s a small chance you might have a shot at making some real progress. Who knows, we might just uncover a hidden little issue that we can tackle collectively. Or at the very least, we can all brainstorm some ironic signs or goofy costume ideas, for the next time a comedian-sponsored rally comes to town.

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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