To adjust gamma (which is a good substitute for adjusting contrast), you can write:
xgamma -gamma 0.3
on the command line (Terminal). You should see a very noticeable difference. Experiment with different values.
1.0 is the normal (uncorrected) gamma value. Setting a lower gamma (for example 0.7) will increase the contrast of bright luminances, which makes midtones darker and decreases white washing. Setting a higher gamma (for example 1.5) will make midtones brighter and increase the contrast of dark luminances, but also increases white washing.
For my inexpensive laptop, I use gamma 0.8 to compensate for the too bright factory setting for the LCD and I find that the gamma correction helps with color reproduction too, which is nice because so far I haven't managed to get any color calibration working on this LCD.