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June 24, 2006

Sunday Sermonette: The Bright fight

vagina-lightbright, originally uploaded by petree.

Amanda and PZ discuss The Bright movement. Neither says anything inflammatory, but the endless secularist discussion about whether "Bright" is an appropriate appellation drives me nuts. I don't know why so many secularists keep harping on the suggestion. If you don't like the word, don't use it.

Here's the definition of a captial-"B" Bright from the group's official website.

  • A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview
  • A bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements
  • The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview

As I said in the comments at Pandagon, I really don't understand why people are still upset about the term "Bright." I mean, sure it's a slightly dopey brand name. Then again, people probably said the same thing when Peter's Xtian Church decided to brand itself as the Catholic Church. I mean, strictly speaking, the Catholic Church is only catholic in its own over-inflated view of itself. Still, the brand has thrived to the point where the term "Catholic" has outstripped "catholic" in most people's vocabularies.

Some people say that "Bright" is a offensive because it's put-down to religious believers. Frankly, I think some religious believers are just intellectually insecure. To say that we're Bright (or bright) shouldn't threaten anyone else. When you've got people like Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, and Gandhi on your side, do you really have to begrudge the atheists a little pun that evokes the values of The Enlightenment?

I don't self-identify as a Bright. Good old "atheist" is good enough for me. However, I don't understand why fellow secularists are still rehashing this debate, years after the original essay.

So, yeah, people who are uptight about the word "Bright" can bite me.


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» Thanks to Lindsay Beyerstein from Huperborea
Over at Pandagon, Lindsay commented (in part)... [Read More]


Hmmm, this seems a bit unfair. The issue isn't that people should call themselves (or not) what they like (or don't), such that "If you don't like the word, don't use it" is a reasonable reply. "Bright" was quite explicitly an attempt at re-branding atheists, so as to "sell" the notion a bit better. It was introduced with an eye towards its effect on the public discourse. Thus it seems to me that people ought to be able to criticize it on those grounds -- which is most of the criticism that I've heard of (and the criticism I myself have of it).

It was introduced to better frame the issues (to switch from marketing-speak to Lakoff-speak); many people -- who fit the intended definition -- think it is, in fact, a worse framing than the previous status quo. Why isn't this a relevant critique, from the point of view of the bright movement itself?

I'm all for critiquing the marketing logic behind the term "Bright." It's not what I would have picked, if someone had asked me to come up with a word to describe the full spectrum of secularish ethics from ardent atheist to agnostic to Deist, and points in between.

What drives me crazy is that secularists are still bitching about this, years after the term was coined and accusing the people who coined the term of putting down religious people simply by using the term "bright" as if brightness (or Brightness) were a zero-sum game.

When the term first came out, it was perfectly legitimate to raise these issues. In fact, the people with reservations ultimately carried the day. The term didn't catch on, at least in part because of the objections voiced early on. That's fine, however, I feel like ongoing complaints over a term that virtually nobody uses is doing the anti-secularists' work for them. It's a non-issue at this point. Use the term, don't use the term, but don't keep bashing the people who do in the very terms that anti-secularists love.

Good old "atheist" is good enough for me.

God, you're such a conservative!

BTW, nice vagina lightbright. You're so obsessed with sex these days, and yet no porno links. What gives?

PZ Myers has the right take on this. "Bright"? That's just fucking lame.

as my grandfather used to tell me:
it's not what you're called that counts
it's what you answer to.

Ran into this very problem recently when naming a 'secular' community centre in the city I live in.

My impression is that atheist types tend to be a pretty independent lot, which is, of course, how they end up atheists.

Personally, I think 'Bright' is kinda dumb... (I prefer Godless Heathen myself, atheist is my second choice.)

And after all, Bright exludes all those dimmmer atheists out there. Clearly there is more than a few or they wouldn't get so hung up on a name. If anyone wants to call me bright, well, its better than asshole, so I don't really care.

Truth is, people love to bitch and when it comes to something like a name, a matter of personal identity, people take it very personally, god or no god.

At the centre, some people thought 'atheist' was too negative, and others liked 'freethought', some decided that was too broad, some weren't sure what it meant, some liked secular, others thought that was too political. Some didn't want anything more than a street name, others thought including city name, or country name was appropriate. Someone mentioned bright, but that's as far as it went.

After much nashing of teeth, we settled on Secular Freethought Centre.... current project: committee for designing the logo(from hell)

Another thing I noticed, many atheists are left wingers... who love committees... I'm more middle of the road... sometimes a good strong dictator makes things much easier, as long as its me. :)

On the other hand, once you start dictating, its just work work work to keep those peasants down.

The term is loaded and that is why it could be offensive. Bright is often used to describe people who are more intelligent... "Oh my!.. she is so bright!" So the rest are... dim... dim witted... dull.. slinking around in the dark?

Then you have the notion that light is "wisdom"... in the religious sense..."let there be light!"

Perhaps it is an attempt to re frame... and atheist IS a term of "negativity" the "opposite" of a theist... which defines something by it's opposite. It would seem that brights and atheists really want to remove the "supernatural" from the discussion and finding a term which does not reference theism may be the motivation.

Franky I don't pay to much mind to the supernatural... I have enough of a time dealing with the natural right here on earth!

I hate 'bright. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. It is so bogus.

I really don't understand why people are still upset about the term "Bright."

Uhm, because it's incredibly stupid?

I've never heard the term before. Maybe I can hate it for at least a few minutes?

Anyway, I'll stick with naturalist or not superstitious. I'll throw in rationalist since rationalists really are the brightest. ;)

Bright is what you call a clever cat or horse, or Jeff Golsdstein that one day he did not eat the paste.

Is there something wrong with "Secular Humanist?" It's been demonized by the religious right, but any label is going to be demonized by them.

The problem with "atheist" is that it's too broad a category. It encompasses authoritarian nihilists, stalinists, and a whole host of unsavory characters. If I'm going to wear a label I want something that clearly indicates that my lack of faith is in no way a lack of moral compass. In fact, I want alabel that unambiguously states that I do have a strong moral compass, on grounded in respect for my fellow humans and their right to dignity and autonomy.

I like it. It won't survive as a meme, but I still like it.

Another good old-fashioned athiest.

I brought it up because a) reframing is interesting to me and b) I like distancing myself from people like Dawkins who are arrogant turds.

Those are better reasons than mine. I mostly wanted to show off the LiteBrite pic. There's nothing like a LiteBright for a BrightFight. Also, I wanted to vent about this issue because I feel like denouncing the word "bright" has long outlived its usefulness. It's like progressives who feel the need to distance themselves from Michael Moore at every opportunity because he's an unabashed polemicist.

What really bugs me is that this the Bright rebrand is a dead issue. Every time secularists start worrying out loud that "bright" is a putdown, they have to reinforce an ugly stereotype. In order to make the case against "Bright", you have to validate the popular perception that atheists are paradigmatically arrogant. Richard Dawkins is arrogant, but that's just him personally. I don't think freethinkers are any more characteristically arrogant as a group than any other segment of the population.

Some religious people want to frame doubt and questioning as forms of arrogance. It's an old form of social control: Who do you think you are? Do you think you have all the answers? Isn't it kind of presumptuous to cast off the metaphysics you've been taught and try to figure stuff out for yourself?

So, from a framing perspective, it just doesn't make sense to reinforce the old frame that we've been fighting since The Enlightenment in order to denounce a term that never really had any currency anyway.

It is amazing the energy people put into naming. I don't think it is about about choosing a good name for anything. It is choosing "a" name and then acting, from there people will tell you if its a good name for what you do or believe.

Lindsay, you're usually so grounded, rational, and insightful about everything that it was genuinely refreshing when you seemingly embraced the loopy "Bright" label on the Pandagon thread. But then you backed off. Meh.

If you're annoyed at the whole discussion, though, writing comments and putting up your own post on the topic would seem to be a bit of a counterintuitive response. (An observation, not a complaint.)

I tend to agree with Gary Sugar. I'd never heard the term "Bright" before, either — it does sound like something out of a Whitley Strieber book — and I'd like to enjoy my five minute hate before we move on. I like Gary's suggestion of "rationalist" as an alternative. I think "freethinker" is just a little too 19th century to catch on.

This is only the second time I've ever heard of this...and the first was earlier this morning, at Pandagon. It seems like about as non- as an issue can possibly get.

As one who was raised Protestant, however, I do find the Roman Church's use of the word 'catholic' thoroughly offensive.

The LiteBrite picture is very cool.

As a biologist, I am by definition a 'naturalist'. Back in Europe, where that was easy, I was also a 'naturist'. When asked, I say I am an 'atheist'. I also like 'rationalist' and 'freethinker'. 'Secularist' is too narrow - it is a political term - one who supports the wall between church and state. 'Agnostic' is too nya-nya. Any other name is just as fine - call me what you want. Bright? Fine with me as well. if one would be agnostic about unicorns or teeth fairies. Ugh.

The meaning of Bright, someone who has a naturalistic worldview, is most accurately and descriptively captured by the word naturalist, as opposed to supernaturalist. Philosophical, scientific naturalism and its adherents of course have a long history going back to the Greeks, and in modern times naturalists in this sense dominate in philosophy departments and in the sciences. It's only that this meaning of naturalist isn't that well known. If the Brights had thought twice, they might have chosen it to meme instead of what's proved to be a pretty divisive designation. C'est la vie,

Tom Clark
Center for Naturalism

My problem with "Bright" is just that it just sounds dopey. It is like having a furry in your baseball team - one embarrassing thing that colors the entire discussion.

Nice new photo, by the way. It's a big mug-shotish, but otherwise looks good.

Tell yuou what let's just use 'eloi' and 'morlock' instead. They're about as useful as descriptors as 'bright'.

After all, they're just words and you don't have to use them.

Tell you what let's just use 'eloi' and 'morlock' instead. They're about as useful as descriptors as 'bright'.

Hey, they're just words, you don't have to use them.

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