We attended the 2012 Reason Rally last Saturday on the mall in Washington, DC, where 20,000 skeptics, atheists, and free thinkers braved the rain to listen to a great lineup of speakers, including the Mythbusters’ Adam Savage. This is the full text of his speech, and you can watch the video below.
I have been wracking my brain for the past few weeks trying to think of ways to talk about reason and being reasonable. It turns out, it’s not a simple subject.
I am a very non-confrontational person. I am, most of the time, the very definition of a reasonable man. I don’t like telling people things they don’t want to hear. I want people to get along. I want people to like me. I want to find good things in people. I want to understand viewpoints that differ from mine. I want my tombstone to say “he was nice to work with.”
I have children. I want to raise them in a world they can add value to, that has value to them. I want for them to feel entitled only to working hard at doing what they love in order to be excellent at it, and to share their lives and the rewards with those that they love. Of course, I think that this all that anyone wants for their children or themselves. I try and inculcate them with a sense of logic about the world. Which means most of the time I’m pointing out things to them that are absurd and ridiculous as a counterpoint. And right now there is plenty to point to.
I console myself, however, with the thought that for anyone truly paying attention, for at least the last three hundred years, the world has always been chock-full of absurd contradictions, and has always seemed to be going downhill–and fast. I get this when I read Thomas Jefferson, when I read Camus, when I read Vonnegut. I console myself with the remarkable advances in the sciences. I play a scientist on TV; I am in awe of those that do it for real.
Testable, provable phenomena, and the predictions they allow, big and small, brought me here in front of you today, and they will take me back to my family when I am done. They allowed me to drive to DC on a bus, type my speech on screen, ride to this rally in a car, walk on shoes that support my feet, and wear clothes and a hat that protects my pale skin from the sun. To fly on a plane home.
That plane I will get on exists and stays in the air because of a million million large and tiny tested predictions about lift, drag, material performance, physics, electricity, radio waves, wear, tear, sheer, checklists, human error, machine error, and redundancy. It is a miracle of engineering. It is a result of an ancient and very human drive, a drive that makes us what we are in all of our unique specialization: a drive to solve problems.
Many tens of thousands of people combined their collective genius to make an impossibly fast and efficient thin, inflated bubble of aluminium, so stable and secure that you’d have to fly for several thousand years before the odds gave you an even chance of being in an accident. Everything we have that makes our lives possible exists because human beings have tested the things they found in their surroundings, made predictions based on those tests, and then improved upon them. This is reason: the human capacity to make sense of the world.
Here are some other things that, like the components of the airplane, have been tested and proven. I’m going to call them “facts.”
E equals MC-fucking-squared.
Force equals mass times acceleration.
The Earth is not the center of the universe.
Man landed on the Moon in 1969 and a few times thereafter.
Burning airplane fuel caused a tragic, catastrophic collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001.
The Earth is spherical (not precisely round round, it is officially slightly pear shaped).
Human industry is causing a significant overall rise in the Earth’s temperature.
The Earth is over 4 billion years old.
Evolution is literally a fact of life–as Neil deGrasse Tyson says, facts are true whether or not you believe them.
Now, here are some of my beliefs that are true to me.
You cannot teach kids about sex by telling them not to have it.
I believe that making drugs illegal is stupid and damaging to us as a people.
I believe that if we take care of our surroundings they will take care of us.
I believe that inside every tool is a hammer.
I believe that people have an inalienable right to choose what to do with their own bodies.
I believe that in a community it is our duty that we should take care of each other in times of need.
I believe that if you tell people the truth and let them make decisions based on that, much of the time they’ll make pretty good decisions (but not always).
I believe that that which is detestable to you you should not do to another.
I believe that while not all people are essentially good, most are trying.
I believe that rules do not make us moral, loving each other makes us moral.
And finally, I have concluded through careful empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I am capable of. I believe they know everything that I do and think, and they still love me. And I’ve concluded, after careful consideration, that this person keeping score is me.
Reason Magazine’s Matt Welch with Adam Savage in Las Vegas at The Amazing Meeting.