August 7, 2003

Moron Brights

(Or, "More On Brights")

Greg's take on the "Brights Movement" has prompted me to write further on the subject. And I'm sure this won't be the last.

People don't take well to different belief systems, especially ones they see as in conflict with their own. So some flack is expected, and some of it will be thinly veiled reactions to the group itself. I know Greg well enough to know that this is not behind his comments, but it's out there in the discussion of some others.

Coining the name "Brights" has already accomplished something. It's spurred discussion. Opinions will vary on whether that discussion needed to take place, or whether the discussion is framed right. But I'm nearly always for more discussion where there was none or little previously. So it's a plus in my book so far. And that it has brought some of the negative feelings to the fore is just like shining a light out there.

Greg hit on a lot of intriguing points, and things I've thought about before, so it makes an excellent jumping-off point for further discussion.

Groups name themselves, or they get named by others. But once the name is coined, it's there. It may catch on, or it may fade away, but it only takes a few people to use it for it to stick around for a while. In this case, it's sticking. And there are various complaints about it - among them the connotation that in comparison everyone else is "a dull." Frankly, I find that a superficial complaint. Does the existence of the term "gay" imply that heterosexual folks are sad? If taken literally it does, as much as the new noun use of "Bright" implies dull. But apparently people have gotten over it. "Bright" as a noun has a clear definition:

A Bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a Bright are based on a naturalistic worldview.
To me it seems that the connotations are merely temporary until people get used to the new usage. Religions use all sorts of terms to refer to themselves and their activities. "We're saved." "We're the chosen people." "We're born again." In these, the meaning is not implied - it is explicit. If you are not saved, you're not saved -- period.

Is the name self-congratulatory? The Brights have said they don't want it used as an adjective. We could take them at their word, or not.
What about getting hung up on naming in general? Greg makes an accurate observation that when a name sticks people see the name and not the thing. People put things into a box and stop considering them. That's exactly the reason coming up with a new name shakes things up (and it is difficult to deny this has happened). When people go back to sleepwalking, the Brights would like a positive name to be in place of the negative term. But in the meantime, people have an opportunity to look at the worldview itself. I say "opportunity" because you can only lead a horse to water.
This effect of sleepwalking has little to do with naming, however. It can be seen in any pattern. The drive to work, for example, becomes monotonous, and you fail to notice things until you take a new route and break the pattern. Does this happen because you have named it "my drive to work?" No - it's because the repetition lulls your brain to sleep. It is your personal responsibility to wake your own brain up, not by avoiding names, labels and patterns (which are all inevitable) but by using them in a conscious way. Whatever you are doing, do it consciously. Using an inadequate name out of practicality should be an opportunity for you to think about where the name's usefulness has its boundaries.

I don't feel I can help people be more conscious of the world by refusing to name or use names. But I can use care in the labels I choose, and use labels that I feel suit me. And I can hop on a bandwagon that tickles or upsets people enough that it gets them thinking about something they had previously dismissed out of hand.

The only way to make one's own motivations more clear is to spell things out. I can't speak for other people and tell you whether they are over-compensating with the positive term "Brights." I can tell you that I didn't feel particularly oppressed because my beliefs are somewhat personal and I didn't feel the need to share them much in any case. I also don't feel the need to join a group for validation purposes. I'm not much of a joiner. If I wanted validation, and the need to be part of a group, I'd start going to church again. I can tell you that part of the

What I do want is a term that at least means something. Skeptic doesn't work well because it already had too many meanings. Skeptical of what? "Bright" as a noun doesn't have an existing meaning. Therefore it elicits a question: "what is 'a bright?'" Either you're asking that question of the speaker, or you're doing a web search to find out. Sounds awake to me.

My advice to those who don't like the word "Brights" is you already know what it means. There is nothing more you need do. At least you'll know what I mean when I use the term.

Posted by James at August 7, 2003 4:39 PM
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Ah - several "bright" responses - which is what I would expect ;-)

The part I like the best is the advice about being conscious. I am not advocating the abolishment of names and naming. They have practical uses. We could not write sentence without such conventions. Just trying to get people to behave consciously. And yes, in the end only you can wake up your brain - as Smokey the Synapse is fond of saying.

You're right when you imply that I have no problem with different belief systems. My own is in a state of permanent and intentional inconstancy, so how could I object to others?

No - that isn' true. I guess in another sense I object to all belief systems. I want them all to be under a constant state of challenge and it is the very nature of a "belief system" to become inert. Unless, of course, the belief is to constantly question - but then, to be internally consistent we would have to question the belief that we should constantly question.

Hmmm...maybe its time I go watch a baseball game or something.

I'll have to think more about the "gay" comparison though. I wonder what the origin of the word "gay" is? Did homosexuals apply it to themselves, or did others apply it to them? Was it first used as a derogatory term? That's the case with "Quaker." The group called themselves "The Society of Friends." Others called them, "Quakers" and meant it derisively. Eventually the name just took and Quakers shrugged. So I'm not sure the "gay" comparison holds up. They may have decided to just make the best of it and over time its meaning changed as our culture's attitude towards gays changed.

And I have to admit thatthe origin of "gay," the term "bright" still annoys me. It's taking a word that has a very favorable meaning and attempting to coopt that meaning and apply it to a group. Sort of like "Democrats" and "Republicans" - but not quite. Those names are meant to be descriptive. If the name "Bright" is meant to be descriptive, then it still just feels self-congratulatory - like old-fashioned intellectual snobbery.

So if the intention is to irritate, it has succeeded, at least in my case. And I would argue that irritation doesn't make me think - its a negative emotional response. The name thus becomes a barrier I have to overcome before I can fairly evaluate what the people using it are really saying. So that's a negative.

"Skeptic," on the other hand, suggests one who questions. It doesn't suggest that the questions are particularly good or bad, or that the question is bright or dull. It does suggest the lack of a fixed belief system - except the belief in questioning. We been there, huh?

BTW - I tlove the title of your post. Maybe I should have just stopped reading there. I readily admit my brain gets mushy at this hour. ;-)

Posted by: Greg at August 7, 2003 6:22 PM

hmm, I'm not entirely sure of gay, but I do know that the word queer was a derisive term that homosexuals now use to describe themselves. I hear more people using the term queer pride these days than gay pride.

I don't think it's a stretch to think that gay was derisively used since it is what 'straight' people call them. The conotation is clear: a 'gay' person is flamboyant and silly, and poofy, and not to be taken seriously. I highly doubt that straight people, read the majority, would be polite enough to use the terms that the minority define itself by anyway.

I do have to wonder why you seem to be upset that the word 'gay' now means 'homosexual?' Why? Words do change meaning, and they also grow to envelope new meanings. Live with it.

If you're wondering why I am writing this, well, my current girlfriend is bisexual and considers herself queer. I have come to know many gays and lesbians through her, so I have developed a sensitvity to these things. it happens when you get queer bashed for walking down the street with your friends.


Posted by: Rui Campos at August 7, 2003 9:05 PM

I can't actually speak for Greg, but I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to say he was annoyed with the evolution of the word "gay." It looks to me like an editing mistake.

Posted by: JP at August 7, 2003 9:43 PM

Thanks James. No, I am not the least bit upset at the change in the meaning of the term "gay." And I think the attitides of society towards gays has improved, but still has a long way to go.

I assume the confusion comes out of this garbled sentence in my post:

And I have to admit thatthe origin of "gay," the term "bright" still annoys me.

That should have read:

And I have to admit that whatever the origin of "gay," the term "bright" still annoys me.
I screwed up editing it and didn't catch the mistake. Sorry for the confusion. The subject here is the word "bright."

BTW - my favorite nephew is gay and has lived with another man for many years. I have no problem with this. I only wish their union had the same protection under the law that is afforded heterosexual couples. In my particular Quaker Meeting we are in the process of preparing for the marriage of a gay couple. Bottom line - this doesn't bother me on a religious, civil, or personal level.

Posted by: Greg at August 7, 2003 10:24 PM

BTW - looking into the origin of "gay" it did not appear to evolve from a negative term (like "queer" or "Quaker" for the Society of Friends) but neither was it adopted suddenly like "Brights" as a noun. Like "the Brights" it was used by homosexuals to refer to themselves, but it appears to have evolved from other terms. Possibly from the hobo term "gaycat" or from a term meaning "promiscuous."

Posted by: JP at August 8, 2003 12:04 AM

I have to admit, when I first heard the name "brights" I said to myself, with some distaste, "that sounds elitist."

The "bright" movement probably would be better suited by choosing a word that really *is* a noun, and one that doesn't seek (or seem to seek) to elevate the movement over others, such as "logician", "gnomon", or "toast". Either that or simply create a new word that didn't exist before and therefore theoretically has no connotations, such as "curidian", "inwistic", or "toastician".

Posted by: Chuck S. at August 8, 2003 10:18 AM

"Curidian" sounds like something from Star Trek. ;-)

Posted by: JP at August 8, 2003 10:34 AM

If the Curidians were bright, then we have a winner. ;-)

Posted by: julie at August 8, 2003 1:28 PM

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