Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Brights

What have you heard about the brights? According to their 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
You may be a bright and not even know it. The brights movement is an effort to put a positive spin on atheism (or at least agnosticism), rationalism and science. The movement faces an uphill battle. These things are, unfortunately, not nearly as positively viewed or consistently connected as many people (myself included) would like. There are many who believe in science and reason but their rational world-view and critical faculties aren't applied to their religion. This means scientists who tie themselves in knots trying to explain why science and religion are in fact compatible. The other major stumbling block for the movement is the name. It's supposed to be light, fun, and positive but instead it comes off as somehow more self-congratulatory than Mensa. Who would have the gall to tell someone "I'm a bright."? Another problem facing the would-be leaders of the brights movement is that the people who fit the above description of brights actually constitute a few very distinct groups. There are scientific minds who are interested in finding truth through evidence, there are angry atheist former believers with a chip on their shoulders about God and their childhood, and there are debunkers who orient themselves against flimflammers, con-artists and true believers. These three groups have different constituencies, different attitudes towards the world, and different goals, but they all share the space in this broad tent, at times comfortably, at times less so.
The one thing they all have in common, and also the greatest threat to the brights movement and any similar movement likely to appear, is that they are the kinds of people who don't cotton to joining big groups. They are individualists who have formed their personalities being smart enough to see through the lies that everyone else believes. They are the absolute worst possible people to try to assemble into any kind of cohesive group. And that is the greatest challenge to taking the skeptical/rationalist/naturalist movement to the inevitable next level of organization that all putative movements tend unswervingly toward.


Jeff said...

I can't really see "taking the skeptical/rationalist/naturalist movement to the inevitable next level of organization" as a good thing. You're right, it's a belief system that does not lead to going to Summer Brights Camp. Do you think people should try to take it to that next level?

Joe Mondello said...

I think a group of connected ideas like the ones we're talking about can't hang together forever without building some sort of internal structure. I mean, kindness and philanthropy are great, but without a religion doctrinalizing those things I think they have a tendency to fall by the wayside. In my opinion we modern atheist Westerners have lost our perspective, thinking that these thoughts are self evident truths, when in fact they need community entrenchment and a certain degree of dogmatizing in order to really have legs, culturally. I'll blog a bit about it soon, it's kind of complicated.