The Pursuit of Mediocrity

"Today, even critical books about ideas are expected to be prescriptive, to conclude with simple, step-by-step solutions to whatever crisis they discuss. Reading itself is becoming a way out of thinking."

William Henry wrote this in 1994 in his book, “In Defense of Elitism”. I have to report that he was accurate but may have miscalculated how quickly and, to what extent, this has taken hold in society. One only has to see the headlines in once-respected newspapers and magazines or take in the astonishing range of poorly written blogs or view scrolling tweets of perpetuating nonsense to conclude that we are losing the ability to search for, develop, and discover knowledge. This morning I was greeted with the following on my computer from various sources:

7 Things You Need to Know About …

13 Do’s and Don’ts of …

The 12 Most Common …

Top 10 Tips for …

5 Ways to …

Life and its complexities cannot be aggregated into bite-size, trite bits or distilled into platitudes lacking context, relevance, and practicality. Most of us have lost the ability or patience to research, dissect, debate, weigh, and absorb new information and process it into knowledge. Instead we wait to be handed checklists and how-to’s.

Equally shocking is how we do not validate the source. In a world where everyone is sharing more and more, we are not questioning authenticity and credibility from those espousing their opinions and views.

Henry identified almost twenty years ago that “People like small, manageable worlds - hence our enduring fascination with doll houses, our addiction to epigrammatic best-sellers, our attachment to slogans and buzzwords that address complexity without unraveling it.” Magazines and newspapers I grew up with were once detailed and dense with the richness needed to understand an issue and begin to base an opinion. Now so many are slim and fanciful along with duplicative in subject matter and editorial direction.

We are all being fed the same information from many sources then we share it with the social media tools at our disposal perpetuating without questioning the value. Henry identified that such a world and culture “leaves no place for the nooks and pinnacles of genius or morality, the audience gets what it wants and wants what it gets.” The result is homogeneity and mediocrity in mass amounts.

We have to take responsibility for the pursuit and attainment of knowledge. We should be pushing ourselves and from those we seek content to simply get better at its development. We have to stop accepting what is promoted as intelligence and question if we are truly learning.

John Locke said, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” Thinking, critical thought, and the democracy of debate will ensure that at least a fraction of society will eschew mediocrity in the pursuit of intellectual elitism.