Thursday, 5 February 2015

What’s Wrong With Mediocrity?

I read that the Conservatives are promising to make children learn their times tables (up to 12 at least please, 15 would be better) by the time they are eleven, and also to stamp out mediocrity in schools. I’m all for children learning their tables, but mediocrity gets an undeserved rap.

What’s wrong with mediocrity? It means average, not very good. Which is what most people are at most of the things they do, including me. By definition, excellence can only be for the few (although one generation’s excellence can be another generation’s passing grade, as has happened in the music world. Once upon a time, very few orchestras could play the Rite of Spring, and now student orchestras knock out technically flawless performances as a matter of routine.)

(Not polished, but not out of tune and missing stuff either.)

Being good at X means you have to give up the time needed to become even competent at a whole bunch of Y’s. Being professional at X means you will be unable to do most of the Y’s in the world.

But that’s not the point. The point is that Capitalism needs mediocrity. You and I need the next guy and gal walking past us to be mediocre. We need them to be average and content with a mediocre lot (actually I don’t care if they are content, just as long as they don’t organise and revolt) because our lives depend on the provision of services and products that can only be made by processes that need to be run by people prepared to do routine and often entirely ceremonial jobs that only make sense in the context of a large organisation. We don’t want people to be creative, we need them to be able to tolerate huge amounts of boredom.

Specifically, I don’t want people choosing quality culture, I want them at home watching junk, so I can get a ticket when I want to without too much forward planning. I don’t want exceptional people, I need most of them to be concerned with their own personal and family affairs, with raising their children and with doing their jobs.

Mediocrity is like marriage: it’s something other people should definitely do. Sadly, just as I am far too shallow, self-absorbed, narcissistic, selfish and Peter Pan-ish to be worthy of marriage, I am also socially inept, introverted, pretentious, don’t know how to relax and have fun, and just plain too intellectual, vain and with a little OCD, and so I want to be better than 97.5% of the human race at whatever it is I choose to do. Of course I’m not and I’m delusional, but I have a better chance of being so if the other 39 people can’t even hold a camera steady and couldn’t sweat an onion without burning it.

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