July 14, 2003

The "Brights:" Smug, Self-satisfied and Stupid

One of the problems with smart people is they can be idea hamsters. Like little hyper-active rodents with too much wheel and not enough time, they compulsivley whip up one misbegotten notion after another. Notions that contain about the same level of inate common sense as a hamster confronted with a cotter pin in the lock of his cage.

Less than two weeks ago I came across an article by Richard Dawkins in the Guardian touting the hot new group description, "the brights." The Guardian gave a web address for this dubious new group, but wasn't bright enough to post the URL without spaces. Hence it was useless.

A brief correspondence with Dawkins assured me that the item was fixed. It was, in a small way, not too bright and Dawkins is a very bright man. But not bright enough to detect the smarm in the whole notion. Still, seeing that it was safely ensconced in Britain, that loves this sort of blather, I let it slide since it posed no clear and present danger to the United States.

But there's no keeping a stupid idea down in this confused age, and this morning, Whomp, there it was in the dreaded and dreadful New York Times. Yes, a full-on Times OP-ED blatheration entitled.... wait for it... "The Bright Stuff." (God, can we just please lose the punning headlines in the Times? Please? )

In this article by one Daniel C. Dennett ( Identified as "a professor of philosophy at Tufts University,"...and author of the wetly named, "Freedom Evolves.'') is a virtual fornication festival of the terminally unclued. It begins (with my interjections):

The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet.

No the time is at hand for you to shut up and stay in the closet to rewrite "Freedom Evolves" until it can be printed on a bumper strip.

What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny - or God.

Not very bright if you hope to hold elective office, but once you've got tenure you can run your mouth at any level of RPM and in any direction you wish.

We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic - and life after death.

Okay, advanced Goth dating for you is out.

The term "bright" is a recent coinage by two brights in Sacramento, Calif., who thought our social group - which has a history stretching back to the Enlightenment, if not before - could stand an image-buffing and that a fresh name might help.

"Back to the Enlightenment, if not before... What a noble lineage! And to think, they're still here. Bring me the ducking stool, the stocks, and a sharpened pike for these wise guys. And as for the image-buff and the fresh name, well, who among us could not use a detailing and a rebranding?

Don't confuse the noun with the adjective: "I'm a bright" is not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive world view.

Say it loud, "I'm bright and I'm proud!" Not at all that superstitious sort who woud confuse a noun with an adjective.

You may well be a bright.

The moment that the author, Dennett, seeks to get you down in the hole that he's in. 'Come, let us revel together in our shared superiority. Hand me the Unabridged Oxford Dictonary and the tub of Vaseline, you little minx.

If not, you certainly deal with brights daily.

Translation: "We're smarm, no harm, get used to it."

That's because we are all around you: we're doctors, nurses, police officers, schoolteachers, crossing guards and men and women serving in the military. We are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters.

I think at this point that the entire Rainbow coalition should sue to prevent this wholesale theft of their schtick.

Our colleges and universities teem with brights.

Our colleges and universities teem with the homeless, the useless, the hard-core unemployed, and schizophrenics on early release too, that doesn't mean they are places that at the top of our vacation list. Otherwise, the students wouldn't run screaming from the campus for Spring break.

Among scientists, we are a commanding majority.

Ah, the hidden lust to command. Isn't a shame that all the people who really know how to run the country and, dare I say it, the world, are stuck in labs and lecture halls?

Wanting to preserve and transmit a great culture, we even teach Sunday school and Hebrew classes.

Translation: "We transmit what we do not believe." Yup, that's a plan for world domination right there.

Many of the nation's clergy members are closet brights, I suspect.

The last few years have established that many of the nation's clergy are in the closet for many things, but inate intelligence was left out until today. However, if there's one thing the clergy of this nation needs it is more hypocrisy.

We are, in fact, the moral backbone of the nation: brights take their civic duties seriously precisely because they don't trust God to save humanity from its follies.

Sigh. What is one to do with such manifest detritus? Dennett goes on ad nauseum about his little club of closet Mensa addicts, but he never, for one iota of a scintilla of a jot, acknowledges what most really smart people know, i.e. deep down we are all stupid.

We're too stupid to get the world right after thousands of years. We're too stupid to follow the major religious instruction of the ages: Love each other as yourself. We're too stupid to quit driving SUVs, we're too stupid to earn enough money to buy an SUV. We are all of us just plain stupid, stupid, stupid.

At best, we're the "smart" monkey. And how smart can a monkey be, really?

Smart people know that. They also know enough, if they are also decent people, that running around proclaiming you are bright for some half-baked notion that you aren't getting your props as a group is just plain dumb. If you've got it, you don't flaunt it.

And as for the "brights" being "...the moral backbone of the nation: brights take their civic duties seriously precisely because they don't trust God to save humanity from its follies" ....

Jesus wept.

Posted by Vanderleun at July 14, 2003 3:56 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

You suck. (We'll see how stupid stupid stupid our species is after your bout with prostate cancer. That's not JC inside the bottle.)

Posted by: Ian Speigel at July 14, 2003 9:24 PM

Wow. You do suck.

Posted by: A at July 15, 2003 4:33 AM

I am not a bright. I do believe in God and I do follow the tenets of Christianity.

However, I will admit to being something of an idea hamster. Ouch. Thanks. I needed that.


Posted by: Roderick Coates at July 15, 2003 8:17 AM

Ian, please relax, you'll need your strength continue to suffer the slings and arrows as you inevitably grow older.

Posted by: Van der Leun at July 15, 2003 11:17 AM

Excellent post! Puncturing liberal, elitest smugness is truly god's work. Amen, Brother Ian.

Posted by: Spart at July 15, 2003 11:58 AM

Oops! I meant Amen, brother Van der Leun. My apologies.

Posted by: Spart at July 15, 2003 12:00 PM

"...one Daniel C. Dennett (Identified as "a professor of philosophy at Tufts University,..."

That's a bit like saying "...one Patrick Stewart, identified as a movie actor..."

I think you've missed the gentle satire of Dennett's piece.

Posted by: Mike at July 15, 2003 1:26 PM

Cool! We've already got detractors.

Posted by: Robert at July 16, 2003 6:38 AM

I see nothing that you wrote that is any less "smug, self-satisfied and stupid" than this idea of "brights". Apparently, the idea that people can be equally moral, ethical and generally socially acceptable without a belief if fairies and other invisible friends is offensive to you. Sorry.....but get used to it. One thing that you are correct about, though, is that to hold elective office, you have to espouse the belief in these things. Kind of a sad statement on the reality of Christianity in the U.S. - espouse tolerance but don't live it.

Posted by: Tim at July 17, 2003 8:52 AM

Why do discussions about religion tend to devolve into us vs. them arguments? It’s not enough for the ‘brights’ to define their own beliefs – territory has to be marked. The world has to be divided into people who believe what we do and people who don’t.

Even supposedly tolerant religions are opposed to ‘them’ – don’t get a Unitarian started on the subject of Catholicism, he’ll be spitting nails. An atheist will defend his beliefs with the fervor as a fundamentalist. Now we have the brights, who say that anyone who doesn’t agree with them isn’t. Don’t get them started on the subject of American Christianity…

This is not what the world needs - another group saying my beliefs are right and yours are not. If the brights really were, they would say 'Love each other as yourself', admit that they are like the rest of us, just a bunch of idea hamsters, and drop this whole campaign. That would be the tolerant thing to do.

Posted by: mary at July 17, 2003 12:50 PM

I don't think you could be more wrong.
The Brights don't seem to be creating another belief system to contrast with others. They're trying to spread acceptance and tolerance-
They're attempting to create a new term for those who don't believe in God. If you think about it, why is one worldview socially accepted while the other is chastized by God-believers in the media? Why can't national politicians be openly agnostic? I think it's a good idea for Brights to be more socially accepted. And if this movement can cause a dozen people to re-think their views of atheists, rationalists, or whoever, then it's probably worth the effort.

Posted by: John at July 21, 2003 5:56 PM

"Sigh. What is one to do with such manifest detritus? Dennett goes on ad nauseum about his little club of closet Mensa addicts, but he never, for one iota of a scintilla of a jot, acknowledges what most really smart people know, i.e. deep down we are all stupid. "

Absolutely apt, humorous criticism of the Brights movement. While I question whether you actually read Dennett's books, it's irrelevant to appreciating the subject at hand.

I am not a Bright, either.

Posted by: metaph0r at July 22, 2003 5:13 PM

Here are my communications with Mynga Futrell -

Mynga Emails

She is one of the founders of the term "Brights". After hearing a bit about the movement on Wisconsin public radio, I thought it was, in fact, a good idea for us non-religious to stand up and be counted. God knows (hehe) that the religious have no problem spouting their beliefs.

Although I consider myself a "freethinker" and "Agnostic", I have been informed by Mynga that I cannot be a bright because I, as an agnostic, leave open the possibility that certain supernatural occurences could be real... and this from personal experience... therefore, I am a bit too magical of an agnostic even for them...

Then she dissed me for holding magical beliefs out of desparation... that, in her experience, people retain these notions because they can't deal with the fact that existence consists of 80 years, then nothing, and is pointless. (see comments in story - she apparently visited my site as well).

I suspect that the "Brights" of Columbus's day would have told him he is crazy because it was not scientifically proven that the world was round, therefore it wasn't true. yikes. Everything has to be scientifically verifiable to be true for a Bright? I asked her about certain mysteries in quantum physics where separate particles seem to communicate with each other... an unexplained phenomena... she didn't touch that.

Well, I say F the Brights. I am going to start "The Brighters". Anybody in?


Posted by: Jim Senderhauf at July 23, 2003 7:42 AM

Whole paragraph quote:
"I suspect that the "Brights" of Columbus's day would have told him he is crazy because it was not scientifically proven that the world was round, therefore it wasn't true. yikes. Everything has to be scientifically verifiable to be true for a Bright? I asked her about certain mysteries in quantum physics where separate particles seem to communicate with each other... an unexplained phenomena... she didn't touch that."

First sentence: Actually it was well known to brights in the classical greek era that the earth was round, but that knowledge was popularly lost due to christian dogma (http://www.zum.de/whkmla/period/disc/flatearth.html)
, and you might have found yourself on fire for saying so.
Second Sentence: key word: 'verifiABLE', better word: 'falsifiable', and actually yes :)
Third sentence: quantum entanglement is falsifiable, a 6000 year old Earth is 'falsified'.

Posted by: Jason Sackett at August 22, 2003 1:34 PM

I just read Jims suggestion about the "brighters"

Also..looks as if there is no room anywhere for an agnostic if what he says Mynga told him is accurate. Also...why not respond to the quantum physics question..I do not know the answere there...can science explain that? I just hate to see you go to the absolute insistence that you must be absolutely correct. 80 years?bev wilson

Posted by: bev at August 23, 2003 12:16 PM

The term 'agnostic' carries much baggage, that is one of the reasons why the term 'brights' came about. Clearly, the term 'brights' is not meant to be wishy-washy. The definition is fairly clear. Of course anyone can create neologisms, i.e. 'brighters'. When you say "...there is no room anywhere for an agnostic...", I do not really follow what you are trying to say. There is room for the agnostic as an agnostic, whatever that means. The term 'brights' is for, to use the negative, non-supernaturalists.
I did respond to the QM question, but I can elaborate. The question for 'brights' is not to explain quantum entanglement, but to put questions like this into a framework that seeks an explanation that does not rely on magic or divine forces. Physicists come up with mathematical models to explain and predict other physicists' experimental outcomes. Are you trying to charge with your question that if Mygna cannot explain so you 'understand' quantum entanglement, then 'science' should be abandoned for mysticism? I think the "...absolute insistence that you must be absolutely correct..." comes not from science, but from elsewhere. Science is ever-changing, self correcting with new experiments, seeking more general and more precise models of things found in the world (universe).
Eighty years is probably some average lifespan estimation.
I am quite happy to be excluded from the astrologers 'club' because my beliefs conflict with theirs. Where do you draw the line? Well, I draw it in the only place that makes sense to me, no supernatural.
I do think the term 'brights' is a little unfortunate partly because there are many bright people who believe in the supernatural, and there are probably 'brights' who are not that bright. I do understand this is a new word, but the confusion is inherent in the new term.
There is also arrogance on both sides.

Posted by: Jason Sackett at August 27, 2003 10:20 AM

Dear Creepo... I read your blog, and it wasn't worth the click.
With Mynga you decided, in your pseudo-intellectual "style", to personify the unexplained behavior of particles (both real and only as yet imagined - such as the graviton in string theory) and then call your fantastical interpretation {or more likely that of others more scholarly but equally irrational as yourself} an atempt on the part of the paticles to "communicate with eachother". This is what left Mynga Futrell unable to meaningfully communicate with you on this or any other topic. You're a mystic. The mystery here, though unrelated to the term Bright, is how you or any other rational person can posit something irrational as an explanation for a confusing observation, and at the same time beg for an explaination of your newly invented "phenomena"... and expecting others to presuppos your make-believe interpretation.

Futrell was more than gracious with you, but I'll spare you the consideration... you're a f-ing jerk. Be it an act you impose upon on others for the sake of you web site or merely a sad personailty defect, you need help.

BTW, I personally have hope for a GUT or some form of superstring theory to answer a lot of questions, but WHY must so many consistantly fall back on mysticism when the empirical is lacking. Just grow up and admit the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist and that you don't know all the answers yet.

Posted by: K R H at November 19, 2003 10:50 PM


I deplore the term "Brights" to designate myself and people like me. How dare they try to coin a term and make it stick. I am an Atheist, for over twenty years---end of discussion. The term Bright has a snotty elitist, snobby leftist, white ivory tower feel to it. I won't join, fund, support, or associate with Brights.

Posted by: G. Tryk at December 22, 2003 9:10 AM

I am both a bright and a Christian, and I commend Dennet's and others' work. The above article would be the one to make Jesus weep, not Dennet's. Sure, Jesus believed in God, but he also believed that truly believing in God meant that you were to work for the oppressed, the scandalized, the outcast (and a whole host of "others")--even (perhaps especially) those with whom you have no reason to ally yourself with. I see the "bright" term as an attempt at liberation and affirmation, and am compelled both by my Christianity and my naturalism to support it. Kudos to those with enough courage to love.

Posted by: Christian at December 26, 2003 9:45 AM