Mediocratopia: 1

This entry is part 1 of 9 in the series Mediocratopia

I’m fascinated by mediocrity as an aspiration, understood as optimization resistance and withheld reserves. Mediocrity is slouching towards survival. Mediocrity is pragmatic resistance to totalizing thought. Mediocrity is fat in the system. Mediocrity is playful, foxy improvisation.

If premature optimization is the root of all evil, mediocrity is  slightly evil.

Mediocrity is the courage to be ordinary.

The increasingly mediocrity-hostile zeitgeist — witness this schwag t-shirt, ht Andy Raskin — has only made me double down.

Mediocrity has been a keynote theme for me for a decade, central to bookend viral hits nearly a decade apart: The Gervais Principle (2009) and The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial (2017).

In the former, I argued that Losers are self-aware minimum-effort slackers, while Sociopaths get to the top by avoiding the lure of excellence and practicing strategic incompetence on the way up.  “Excellence” is for the Clueless middle.

In the latter, I argued that much apparent excellence is just signaling in an economy wired to reward mediocrity with a veneer of excellence, and that this is a good thing (many perversely missed that latter point).

Mediocrity makes an appearance in many personal favorites: The Return of the Barbarian, The Gollum Effect, and The Calculus of Grit (2011), Fat Thinking and Economies of Variety (2016), and the posts collected in Crash Early, Crash Often (written 2014-2017) In 2018, I began exploring it explicitly, in Survival of the Mediocre Mediocre,  and Why We Slouch.

Sadly, Hugh MacLeod, whose Company Hierarchy inspired The Gervais Principle, has gone dark-side with an allergic-to-mediocrity 2018 cartoon.

Et tu Hugh? 😢

It’s lonely where I stand, but I will continue to thought-leader humanity as we slouch towards a mediocracy utopia: a mediocratopia. A long-lived world built out of good-enough parts, including, and especially, human ones.

Can we get there? Yes we can, if we stop hustling so damn much.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. That cartoon looks pretty darn mediocre. This might be a Straussian thing.

  2. There are no low hanging fruits any more. Everything worth aspiring to (and any paid employment that offers dignity) is for 99th percentile talents. The rest of us have to settle for infantilizing servant-sector jobs, and perform gratitude for those. Challenge at the 110% level would be uplifting, “in the zone” as the trendy thought leader types like to say. Instead there are only challenges at the 1000% level under which most of us will simply be crushed.

    • Hmm, this is a different reading than mine. I think everything worth aspiring to is worth aspiring to with significant slack. It’s the 100%+ stuff that’s not really worth it. If being in a <100% societal role feels like "infantalizing servant sector jobs" to you it means you're looking to others to give you a reason to live. Otoh, with a playful imagination, there's plenty to do for everybody. Play is never "efficient" in a percentage/percentile status ranking sense. It is <100% because it requires slack to function as play.

  3. Yo fam I fuck with the vision, lets link, I’m tryna build.

  4. Have you thought about how individual mediocrity interacts with institutions or society in general? I would be afraid that in absence of a mediocrity-friendly society the individual choice might lead to discrimination. Mediocrity could become a “luxury good” – available only to those who can afford it – or simply provide an excuse for excluding an entire group of people from any sort of influence. I guess it goes back to the nature of the game, mediocrity doesn’t fit well the finite types, but shouldn’t we try to make most games infinite (at least those that matter)?.

  5. Markus Hornum-Stenz says

    It’s lonely where I stand, but I will continue to thought-leader humanity as we slouch towards a mediocracy utopia

    I think you’re not quite so lonely as you might think – it’s just a challenge to sell mediocrity as identity (The American Dream and The Consumer Society is really more of a aristocratic ambition, when you examine it closer for emotional content)

    However looking up normcore on Google Trends provide hope for Scandinavia and South Korea :-)