Slouching towards a mediocracy utopia.

Mediocratopia: 11

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Mediocratopia

Under stress, there are those who try harder, and there are those who lower their standards. Until very recently, the first response was considered a virtue, the second was considered a vice. The ongoing wave of burnout and people quitting or cutting back on work when they can afford to suggests this societal norm is shifting. I want to propose an inversion of the valences here, and argue that under many conditions, lowering your standards is in fact the virtuous thing to do.

A mediocritizing mindset typically doesn’t bother with such ethical justification, however. It typically rejects the idealism inherent in treating this as a matter of virtue vs. vice altogether. Instead we mediocrats try to approach the matter from a place of sardonic self-awareness and skepticism of high standards as a motivational crutch. This tweet says it well enough:

This is less cynical than it seems. Motivation, discipline, and energy are complex personality traits. While they are not immutable functions of nature or nurture, they do form fairly entrenched equilibria. Shifting these equilibria to superficially more socially desirable ones isn’t merely a matter of consuming enough hustle-porn fortune cookies or suddenly becoming a true believer in a suitably ass-kicking philosophy like stoicism or startup doerism. Life is messier than that.

You can’t exhort or philosophize your way into a new regime of personal biophysics where you magically try harder or behave with greater discipline than you ever have in your life. Gritty, driven people tend to have been that way all their lives. Easy-going slackers tend to have been that way all their lives too. People do change their hustle equilibria, but it is rare (and pretty dramatic when it happens). And the chances of backsliding into your natural energy mode are high. Driven people will find it tough to stay chilled out, and vice versa.

Emergencies and life crises can trigger both temporary and permanent changes. Type A strivers might let themselves relax for a few months after a heart attack, or make permanent changes. A slacker might find themselves in a particularly exciting project and turn into driven people for a while, and occasionally for the rest of their lives.

But the stickiness of these equilibria means the response to stressors is typically something other than behavior change, and that’s a good thing. Typically it is lowering standards while retaining behaviors.

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Mediocratopia: 12

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Mediocratopia

A key insight recently struck me, and it is one that I should have worked out and written up earlier, but I didn’t think of — one of the biggest reasons mediocrity gets a bad rap is conflation with what I call Somebody Else’s Optimality, or SEO (the rest of this post is just me attempting to manufacture justification for this joke 😆).

Situations and conditions that suck, and attract the label “mediocre” (as in “why is service so mediocre?”) usually aren’t mediocre at all, but designed to optimize Something Else for Someone Else; some aspect that is less visible than whatever aspect you’re responding to.

It’s usually not even particularly disguised or denied. You just have to stop to think for a second. Quite often, the “something else” is cost to owners of the assets involved. Aggressively driving cost efficiency by cutting corners in services is obviously not mediocritization, it is optimization of something other than service quality for somebody other than customers. Actual mediocritization creates slack and mediocrity along all dimensions. The point of mediocrity is slack and reserves for dealing with uncertainty, as I’ve argued elsewhere in this series several times.

SEO is an important phenomenon in its own right, but in this post, I mainly want to untangle it from mediocrity.

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