Rise of the Middling

Though derided and despised, there is much to be said in favor of mediocrity. It is comfortable and unthreatening, unlike excellence; it makes no demands on us. Who can stand the strain of having to be brilliant all the time, or of having to be careful never to say a banal or obvious thing? Who, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or even from the mere passage of a large number of hours since he rose in the morning, wants to flog his brain into the maximum activity of which it is capable? One longs, then, for the anodyne, for the un-thought-provoking—in short, for the mediocre.

I once spent two weeks being served delicious, beautifully prepared, and elaborate meals twice a day. By the end of that time, I longed for a cheese sandwich or a boiled egg: no more tarragon handpicked by vestal virgins on the night of the first full moon after the summer equinox, etc., etc., descriptions of which now seem de rigueur before the philistines round the table are allowed to begin to tuck in.

Moreover, as Somerset Maugham said, only a mediocre writer is always at his best, to which one might add that mediocrity is necessary for us to know what the best actually is. Mediocrities, therefore, perform a valuable service; they also serve who only stand and act routinely.

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Some are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. I don’t want to boast, but whenever I have sat on a committee, which I have always tried to avoid, my mind suddenly runs to unaccustomed platitudes, and I hear myself saying the most obvious and self-evident things as if they were revelations. There is something about a committee that fosters mediocrity; on a committee, one becomes as individual as a lemming and as colorful as Pravda.

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