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Seeing the Light

Who knows how many of these toxic, mercury-filled ampoules have already shattered in the homes and offices of this progressive cohort? The standard measure of five milligrams of mercury per CFL may not seem like much, but each gram will obliterate numberless brain cells and devastate whole dendritic forests. Axons curl up and die in the dusky corners of the brain. Is it farfetched to suggest, then, that the cerebral dimming we are now witnessing everywhere around us may be a direct consequence of this latest innovation in domestic and administrative lighting, whether from the nebulous properties of the light itself, which militate against reading and reflection, or the scattered contents of the bulb infecting the nodal pathways?

As the eyes grow weary with such precarious illumination and mercury vapors gradually but inexorably seep into the brain, it must become ever more difficult to see clearly and think lambently. And the symbol for an idea that kindles in the mind will also have been replaced by a much-reduced surrogate, devoid of the tungsten of revelation. Illustrators will now have to represent the igniting of an idea by drawing a device that resembles a whorl of soft ice cream, which is not very convincing. The deeper problem, however, is that this weird little emblem leaking its chilly drizzle into the cartoon bubble is an indication of precisely what has happened in reality. Is there any doubt that thought has become ever more gaseous, fugitive, and penumbral throughout the entire developed world? Further, are not the swirls and ripples of CFL design a reptilian corollary of those noxious fumes coiling into the medulla oblongata of the increasingly exposed, rendering its victims doltish and insensate? Whether as a mound of soft ice cream or a venomous serpent twining itself into the synapses, the actual configuration of the CFL should have long ago alerted us to the real dilemma which afflicts us.

But one way or another, either through mercury poisoning or ambient contamination or both, the crisis will persist. Once, the promise of thought, to quote Psalms 119, was experienced as “a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path”; now it has become, to quote Exodus 10, “a darkness which may be felt.” All thanks to the compact fluorescent lamp screwed into the mental sockets and serving the heraldic purposes of our faux glitterati — our media celebrities, intellectual gentility, and political elite — who know what is best for the people.

Alas, they shall soon have us groping in the shadows of rumination, as they themselves lurch and stagger in the cognitive brownout their CFL advocacy will bring upon us all. Shortly, we will all be observing the world through a swarm of floaters. For the laws are already on the books and a new dispensation awaits us of myopic incompetents, blinking in the conceptual fog, reading with difficulty, unable to see or think straight, and stumbling vaguely to the left. The only advantage one can discern is that an equality of performative outcome will have been assured as everyone will share in the same sensuous and intellectual debility that convulses our social champions. We will all be casualties of peripheral consciousness and mercurial dissipations. “Oh brave new world,” as Shakespeare presciently wrote, “that has such people in’t.”

Naturally, philosophers will debate whether the CFL is a cause or an effect. Some will argue that it is manifestly responsible for producing the darkening of the intellect since it works by a kind of retinal contagion that must ultimately affect the faculty of introspection, not to mention the creeping disintegration of grey matter. Others will contend that it is merely the product of fading mental capacity for only a people already partly or wholly stupefied could conceive of so sepulchral a technology. Or might it not be a question of both, a bad situation made worse by a cataract-inducing mutation shuttering the inner eye?

Whatever position we adopt, there is just no getting around it. The compact fluorescent lamp seems here to stay and the results are already evident. Outwardly or inwardly, vision will be obstructed and the triumph of the CFL-toting left is pretty well guaranteed. But what is surely most devastating is that the world we once took for granted is undergoing an eclipse of the mind, toggling from the glint of perception to the grime of occultation. We can find ourselves already slumping about in Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad, offspring of the goddess Dulness, “Daughter of Chaos and eternal Night,” and we the “fruits of dull Heat” emitting our little “sooterkins of wit.” This is especially so in today’s advanced societies where ideas simply, to coin a portmanteau, efflouresce into the environing bleakness as the light of thought progressively diminishes from one day to the next.

Also read: 'Let there be (incandescent) light!' at the Tatler.