Quit Liking Mediocrity and Less!
Our ancestors were true settlers. They settled the Old World. They settled the New World. They were intrepid and tough. They were clever and inventive. They studied and admired great achievements and encouraged people to be their best. They were more focused and less distracted. Take a look sometime at a grade school exam from the 1800’s (bottom). Kids were expected to know much more at a younger age and they were able to do it too. That rigorous training led to the the explosive burst of innovation and growth of the 20th Century because smarter kids became smarter adults who had smarter kids. We’ve learned much more about education since then but at the same time we have tended to cater to the lowest common denominator so we’ve lost a few steps. We’re losing more steps each year.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” — Abraham Lincoln
Somewhere in the last 70 years or so, we became different, less impressive types of settlers—weak ones who settle for less in almost every area of endeavor, but most especially in our leadership. Unfortunately, we picked one of the worst areas to become used to and even expect mediocrity, the area that controls our governance and to a large degree, our lives. It’s as though we’ve outsourced our very thinking to others and those others have done the same and so in a doom spiral of social decay we become collectively dumber, less engaged and less capable day by day. Our leaders are failing us but more importantly, we are failing ourselves. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity.
With good leaders many great things can happen and move us ahead on the road of progress. Good leaders are energetic, charismatic, compassionate, engaged and well-informed. Good leaders are persuasive about the right things and they get things done, especially when working with other good leaders. Good leaders make thoughtful, forward-thinking decisions based on reality, facts and carefully considered needs. They are able to balance opposing views in a way that contemplates the consequences of each and then able to decide the best path to lead us down. Without this we are rudderless and adrift in a sea of uncertainty, chaos and danger. Too random.
The world is a dangerous place. There are countless paths toward demise from economic to social to biological. Each area of endeavor only has so much room for wrong decisions before reality catches up to us.
“Reality has a way of catching up to you” — Barack Obama
Given a long enough period of feckless bad choice-making, a society will necessarily begin to atrophy, become complacent and fade. Of course, there are always stellar individuals of monumental stature who defy the trends but I’m talking about the overall average measure of the society such as its level of understanding, critical thinking skills, collective memory, appreciation of history and the the arts and sciences, etc. When this collective dimness settles in, the momentum forward is broken and becomes very difficult to resume. The society is in jeopardy of entering a sort of perpetual Dark Age of willful ignorance and fear of new ideas. Such an age is self-perpetuating and can last for decades or even centuries until the right circumstances can bring about a Renaissance.
With today’s knowledge and technical capability, it shouldn’t be possible to slip into a Dark Age. After all, so much cleverness has led to myriad breakthroughs in electronics, software, medical technology and much more. We all pretty much carry the Library of Congress in our pockets these days with ready access to the full history of human knowledge. However, it seems our educational system can not keep up the pace and so this clever elite group that does all these amazing things (like putting the Library of Congress in our pocket) becomes ever more rarified and powerful and the general public becomes more passive, more confused and unable to comprehend the world and its wonders. How many of us truly understand what goes on inside our phones? How our bodies work? How things we use every day are made? All of these are slipping out of reach and the longer the incuriosity reigns, the more we will simply become blind, uninformed consumers easily led down any path by slightly more informed “leaders” and politicians and media personalities.
We live in the time of personalities, the two-dimensional figures that live on our screens as pundits, anchors, influencers and the like. Once we buy into a particular set of personalities, we let them into our tribe so to speak, we begin to identify with everything they say. There “truths” become our truths and we seldom look further than our own self-approved affirmations. What happens when these personalities are wrong or have ulterior motives such as boosted ratings or likes or advertising sponsorships? It doesn’t seem to matter because few bother to disprove or even investigate the facts behind the personality. The personalities are packaged so slickly now and so we are dazzled by the presentation with no attention to the substance of what is said. Presentation over substance is a hallmark of mediocrity.
There is nothing wrong with personalities. We all have one. However, the personalities we are most interested in are often out of sync with our best interests.
Facts must NEVER be ignored. You can’t substitute an opinion for a fact. If you really break your arm you can’t simply say, “It’s not broken” and it magically mends itself. No, it is ACTUALLY broken and you have to attend to it immediately in the real world. There are many such crucial facts that are every bit as real that are now routinely and delusionally ignored because mediocrity has taken over so many minds. If someone says the Sun is a hot ball of gas warming the Earth, you can’t say, “No, it’s a snowball” but there are many who act that way. If I tell you the Earth is a sphere, you don’t get to tell me, “No, the Earth is a disk” because I have EVIDENCE and you don’t. Evidence is as simple believing your own eyes. If you take a knife and cut yourself, you WILL bleed. 100% guaranteed. Yes, some facts can be in dispute but many others can’t.
1 + 1 = 2. This is called self-evident because our minds know it to be true, inherently and absolutely. Adding up facts creates a CASE. If enough facts are given in support, the case becomes clear. It is the job of leaders to make a case based on such evidence and facts, not on personal opinions. Opinion always plays a roll because not everything is black and white but even there we have something called an informed opinion. When deciding big and important things we only want to use informed opinions armed with facts and evidence.
Smart, non-mediocre leaders can make a huge difference because they are in a position to amplify their power of influence. For example, the could improve our educational system and fight back on the crushing ignorance by improving school curricula and hiring better teachers for better pay. However, we are in short supply and ignorant masses are attracted to ignorant leaders who don’t make them feel stupid, basically one of them. This puts us in an existential race to elevate our basic education before society is too dumb to care. Even worse, a dumbed down, ignorant public becomes adversarial to education and “elite” is used as a pejorative term which leads to a sort of intellectual purge.
A society that embraces mediocrity (and worse) becomes uncompetitive in the global market. They simply don’t have the intellectual firepower to sustain innovation, growth and a modern standard of living. Movies such as Don’t Look Up and Idiocracy, though meant to be satirical, have an element of truth to them and show what could happen if society became incapable of critical thinking or historical perspective. Skills of all kinds are lost and the masses become completely lost in dim ignorance.
Mediocrity is everywhere and is super amplified on social media and via technology (that fewer and fewer understand). Peruse the world of NFT for proof positive. Not only is 99% of the art completely lame, it’s almost the lamer it is, the more it is praised and purchased. Look at a simple picture of a garbage can that someone insanely paid $250,000 for and then proceeded to trade it to other purchasers until someone paid $95M for a JPEG of a garbage can! That’s not just dumb, it’s insane and it’s also dangerous because it takes money that could be getting put to good use and locks it up in literal garbage. That’s just 1 NFT!
The only way to break this in-virtuous cycle is to elevate education and to reform it to be much better in many more places, especially in grade school where young minds are ready and willing to absorb all sorts of knowledge. By focusing a laser on childhood education we can build a foundation of future excellence that will eventually lift the masses out of the hole we’ve dug into at the worst possible time—a time when we need to be at our very best.