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September 02, 2003, by Léon Krijnen

Bright Feedback   

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It hasn't surprised me a bit: the commentary from Michael Schermer on the new meme 'Brights' has irritated a lot of people. Including me, though i'd like to point out it's only the word itself which causes irritation, and not the thoughts behind it. Declare yourself, or a movement, any movemenet, as 'Bright' and, for good reason, 'bloody arrogant' will be the first label that will be stapled on your back. Read on for feedback from Michael Shermer on his commentary from last week.

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BRIGHT FEEDBACK

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When I posted my brief commentary on the new meme "Brights" to represent atheists, nontheists, nonbelievers, agnostics, infidels, heretics, skeptics, free thinkers, humanists and secular humanists, etc., I had not intended to solicit feedback from e-Skeptic readers; nevertheless, feedback I received! In droves. I have not done a formal count, but I estimate roughly 50 people wrote me. Two were positive about the word "Bright," the rest were unequivocally negative, and all for the same reason (as stated in one letter reproduced below). I had originally suggested to Paul and Mynga that we solicit feedback from various sources, but they convinced me that sometimes social movements are best driven not by committee and excessive discussion (free thinkers, humanists, skeptics, et al. have been talking about the labeling problem for decades) but by simply moving forward with an idea to see if it sticks. In general I dislike labels altogether, but our language and culture depends on them to an extent that I can't see a way around it.

Our world view is naturalism. Thus, I like the word "naturalist," but I fear that this conjures up the image of someone like Alfred Russel Wallace traipsing around the rain forest with a butterfly net. Our magazine is simply called "Skeptic," and so I also like the label "skeptics," but this is also frought with pejorative connotations, the most common synonym being "cynic." Since no one has come up with a better name than "brights" I figured we might as well go for it and see what happens. Maybe the meme name will catch on in the lexicon, or maybe it will simply fall into disuse. We'll see.

In the mean time, if any of you would like to suggest some alternatives I would be happy to collect them all and print them in another e-Skeptic. Just e-mail me at skepticmag@aol.com

Here is a typical letter I received, which was also posted to the Bright web page.

Michael Shermer ----- Bright is a good word ?????????

I am a longtime reader of Michael Shermer's materials (from which I got your email address) and subscriber to SKEPTICAL INQUIRER nearly from its inception, etc. (that is to say, I'm a 55-year-old scientist/humanist/atheist since my early twenties and I've thought about these things for many years) and I am pained to tell you that your choice of the term "Bright" as the one to promote is a horrible one.

I agree entirely and enthusiastically with your enterprise and the reasoning that goes into it, but I am dumbfounded that you would choose a term that will do nothing more than expose us to ridicule and engender hostility in those who do not agree with our worldview.

"Those people think they're so damn smart . . . smarter than the rest of us. . . they're the bright ones . . . what does that make us?? FUCK THEM!!"

Never mind all that stuff about "bright" meaning "cheerful and lively" . . . "the light of science and reason" . . . "tolerance for all" . . . and so forth. Consider two facts: (1) In the popular lexicon, "bright" as applies to people means "smart." (2) Believers in God (and etc.) REALLY REALLY RESENT US ALREADY because we have the gall to reject their most cherished beliefs and to imply that people like them must be morons if they believe as they do. Put 1 and 2 together, please!!

I can't believe you folks are this out of touch. You are, despite your worthy intentions, doing all of us a great disservice and can only wind up setting our cause back, which we do not need.

I find the fact that a number of you have decided to label People Like Me "The Brights" to be EMBARRASSING. I haven't thought of a better term to use, but there have got to be many. Can't you instigate some kind of retraction and make an effort to get some kind of input from a large number of us? Perhaps go through the subscriber lists to Shermer's and CSICOP's magazines, and other relevant lists that must be available? Get a larger sampling of opinion on this???! It's too good an idea to screw up with that horrendous choice of a label.

Okay, Bright Boys??? (Ugh)

Sincerely, and Regretfully, Joseph Giandalone, Conway, MA

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This is the E-skeptic for september 1, 2003 © 2003 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, e-Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com and skepticmag@aol.com).
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Posted: September 2, 2003 04:28 PM (846 words).   

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