Friday, January 4, 2008

Bright stuff

Today, society can appreciate retrospectively the revolutionary effects of the widespread use of the elegant adjective "gay", starting in the 1960s, to designate individuals who are attracted physically to people of the same sex. It was a great invention, for many reasons. First, it wasn't really an invention at all, since the old French word "gai", of Gothic etymology, had existed since the Middle Ages. The term "gay" has a positive ring, like describing somebody as lively, dynamic or simply happy with life in general. The adoption of this new old-fashioned adjective enabled people to abandon the antiquated derogatory terms that had been used too often to stigmatize gay folk, just as it did away with excessively clinical adjectives such as "homosexual". Above all, in its modern sense, "gay" has never been an insiders' code word... such as the silly adjective "camp", which gay men were accustomed to use in designating themselves back in Sydney when I was a teenager. So, all in all, I believe that the invention of this adjective has been a highly successful linguistic and sociological operation.

These days, individuals who have succeeded in moving intellectually and morally beyond the antiquated domains of religious belief systems (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc) are in dire need of a similar adjective, enabling them to perform publicly their "coming out" in a simple and elegant fashion. Well, a US philosopher named Daniel Dennett has recently provided us with exactly the word we need: bright.

For an easy-to-read introduction to all things bright and beautiful, I recommend Dennett's Breaking the Spell. Not surprisingly, Dennett is a disciple of Richard Dawkins, who seems to like the "bright" word. Admittedly, atheism is not exactly the same kind of phenomenon as homosexuality, and it would be silly to suggest that homosexuals and atheists of the world should join their hands in a big common combat against bigotry and intellectual intolerance. Having never been implicated in the struggles of homosexuals for ordinary human rights, I have no knowledge of gay attitudes towards religion and atheism... if ever we were to generalize in this manner.

After saying all this, I'm determined to conclude this article by means of a grandiloquent declaration that would have surely shocked my grandparents and parents if they were still alive. But, before that, a joke:

Mary, a pretty Irish girl, went across the waters to work in Liverpool. With her pockets full of money, she returned to Dublin and visited her Catholic aunt.

Aunt: And what have you been doing in Liverpool?

Mary: I can't tell lies, but I'm ashamed to answer you...

Aunt: Come on, Mary. Tell the truth. God alone will decide whether you've sinned.

Mary: In Liverpool, I became a pro..., a prosti... No, I'm to ashamed to pronounce the word.

Aunt: Mary, you must tell me.

Mary: I became a prostitute.

Aunt: Thank the Lord and the Blessed Virgin. For a terrible moment, Mary, I thought you were going to tell me you'd become a Protestant.

Well, here it is. My coming out. I'm bright!


  1. The image of the light bulb reminded me of a blog you might like:

  2. Marvelous stuff. We're surrounded by ingenious creators capable of transforming paper clips and scraps of anything whatsoever into artistic messages. To my mind, this is yet another manifestation of the necessity of our moving constantly from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary. I'm eternally sorry that nice folk who persist in seeing the world as an "ordinary place"—where we live and die—are simply mistaken.