‘Facts, nuance and intellectual debate’

Nov. 9, 2010, 1:01 a.m.

'Facts, nuance and intellectual debate'
Stephen Colbert excites the crowd in a wacky superhero costume (Courtesy of Adam Adler)

Stanford students partake in rally held by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in Washington, D.C.

“I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

“I prefer facts, nuance and intellectual debate.”

“One of us, or perhaps neither of us, may be right.”

“Death to nobody.”

These were a few signs waved at the Rally to Restore Sanity and March to Keep Fear Alive, attended by at least a handful of Stanford students on Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C.

Any event that claims to be like “Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement,” is bound to be different than your average gathering. Television satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert took on this challenge. Stewart, well known for political satire on “The Daily Show,” dared America to join him in Washington, D.C., to promote rationality. Attendance topped 215,000, according to some estimates.

Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report,” immediately opposed this, announcing the March to Keep Fear Alive. The day of, he tried to scare the audience with a false attack by killer bees. The amusing tête-à-tête between Colbert and Stewart involved arguments about who is “more American” and whether or not citizens should cower in fear. Guest performers also stole the stage, from Sheryl Crowe to the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters.

Students from Stanford in Washington had a special section reserved nearer to the stage. Adam Adler ’12, who interns at the Capitol, made his way there six hours before the event. After small talk and mingling, he said everyone was genuinely thrilled to participate.

“Since we came as fans of ‘The Daily Show,’ we shared the same moderate approach to rallying,” Adler said.

'Facts, nuance and intellectual debate'
Adam Adler '12, who is interning in Washington, D.C., holds a comical sign at the event on Oct. 30 (Courtesy of Adam Adler)

The attendees were diverse, with members of different political parties and ethnicities.

“Talking to people from all over kept conversation interesting,” Adler noted.

Adler contributed by making a sign prioritizing fears, with bears and girls listed as severe threats.

“Leading up to rally, I worried that Stewart would be controversial,” he said. “He did a good job of not attacking specific political figures or views.”

What began as a mockery of Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor this summer actually shed light on how individuals go about political movements, according to Adler. The rally showed how humor is funniest when it contains truth, and humor reveals societal assumptions that seem ludicrous when we stop to think, he said.

Joshua Khani ’11 flew to D.C. from Stanford to see Stewart and Colbert in action. He explained that he pursues reason in political discourse by encouraging open-mindedness. In his opinion, individuals must judge a situation by its context, not by personal preconceptions, he said.

“It seems silly to blame-shift,” Khani said. “The paradox of selfishness is that when we justify harming others, we excuse others to harm us.”

He pointed to the media’s role in propagating radicalism.

“The media targets groups of people and creates a fear that wasn’t there before, but we’re all using some sort of reason to get where we are,” Khani said. “Issues arise when everyone acts as if others don’t have good intentions at heart.”

A concluding speech by Stewart was a call to action, using the analogy of a busy highway for worldwide teamwork.

“Yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel,” he said, highlighting that society is based on compromise. “And they do it, concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go.”

The final words struck a chord with Khani, who believes that this mutual understanding is continually achievable.

“It’s only when you cause all this shouting that there’s aggression towards one another,” he said. “We already have this ability to interact peacefully, so just work with it.”

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