"The disposition of all power is to abuses, nor does it at all mend the matter that its possessors are a majority. Unrestrained political authority, though it be confided to masses, cannot be trusted without positive limitations, men in bodies being but an aggregation of the passions, weaknesses and interests of men as individuals." ~ James Fenimore Cooper
Finding Value in the Bright Movement
I first heard of the Bright movement a couple months ago when I attended the Atheist Alliance International annual convention. I was hesitant to adopt the term and have only recently done so. I was hesitant because (other than the silly sound of it) the movement did have political ambitions. Rob was right to point out the danger of this ambition in his article. A government controlled by atheists is still a government, an institution of violent coercion. However, I would urge caution in condemning the entire movement in one sweep.
I accepted the new label even though I disagree with the political rhetoric. Politics is only part of the movement. The main thrust of the movement is to freshen the philosophy of naturalism and to unify its diverse adherents. Many people have preconceived notions about atheists and agnostics. The very words often inspire fear and loathing. Many people have been taught that we (atheists) are inherently immoral people and that we should be kept clear of children, among other things. 'Bright' is a new, positive-sounding word free of the centuries-old negative connotations of 'atheist' and 'agnostic.'
The Bright movement will also (hopefully) unify many people that share the common view that the world obeys natural laws and that there is no hocus pocus, regardless of whatever other very different beliefs these people may hold. No progress can be made where divisiveness abounds; unity is a must. Anarchists and other libertarians can learn from this. Anarchists and minarchists share the common goal of liberty for all of us; we just differ about the nature of government. This difference is huge and cannot be overlooked, but can we not glean some advantage by friendship and alliance? We Brights have many differences in our ranks, philosophical and political, but we recognize the advantages of acknowledging our common bond.
It is difficult as an anarchist to associate with supporters of the state. I know this personally; I recently lost a long term friend because I could not abide her unwavering support for Bush's warmongering. Often it seems inexcusable that people actually condone and promote the initiation of violent force. It would be inexcusable if it were that simple. Government, like religion, does not go away as easily as other erroneous beliefs or opinions (few opinions go away without a good fight). Belief in the necessity of government is an intricately evolved, battle-hardened, viral meme that has held humanity in its thrall for ages. Most anarchists were not reared as anarchists, and it probably took a good deal of mental work and courage to break free of the idea. Such was the case for me, at least. I think people deserve better than flat condemnation because they believe what the vast majority of society believes to be common sense.
I know the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I think it is important to say the Bright movement has the best intentions in mind. The political Brights do not seek political power so that they can invade public schools and teach children that God does not exist. The Brights seek political power as a defensive maneuver. Brights really do have no advocates in government, and our rights really are threatened more than those in most ideological groups. Most Brights simply do not know any better. They have seen successes in the gay rights movement and the racial and sexual equality movements. And despite occasional steps over the line (e.g. affirmative action), these movements have effected much good within the commonly assumed axiom of government. This is all the Brights want: equality. They have simply not grasped the harmful nature of their chosen means.
Just as not all homosexuals who choose to label themselves as gays have participated in the gay political movement, and not all feminists have participated in the feminist political movement (Wendy McElroy is a good example), not all Brights have chosen or will choose to participate in politics. The nonpolitical Brights are still Brights because they have naturalistic worldviews. The movement is bigger than just politics. In fact, the creation of the Bright label is a good example of a nonviolent effort at social change, one anarchists could learn from (nothing inspires immediate disrespect like mentioning I am an anarchist).
Perhaps I have been too tolerant. Perhaps I made a mistake by signing up as a Bright so my name could be counted. But I do think the Brights have legitimate, nonpolitical goals that should not be dismissed out of hand by anarchists just because political goals are also mentioned. Anarchists and Brights could learn from each other. Both ideologies are fundamentally about human freedom. Anarchists crave freedom of the body; Brights crave freedom of the soul.