CULT OF MEDIOCRITY

Posted in Rants on April 13th, 2017 by Ed

Being raised in a country that pretends it is a meritocracy sends most of us toward adulthood with some questionable expectations about how life is going to work. It doesn't take long for the national myth of "Work hard, be the best, and you will succeed!" to reveal itself for what it is. At some point you realize that there are an awful lot of people at The Top who only meet the "success" part of that formula…too many to be a coincidence. Often there is an urge to lie to ourselves, because we don't want to give up on the idea that we might someday Make It. But by the time one enters the workforce permanently, all of the illusions are gone. Most of the people at The Top are mediocre at best, idiots at worst, and they achieved thanks to an extraordinary array of advantages that almost none of them are willing to admit they had.

Damon Young – the always, always worth reading Damon Young – has a great, blistering take on Sean Spicer as perhaps the most relevant current example of what happens when people (almost inevitably, as in Spicer's case, white men) rise to the top in politics without having any actual talents or qualifications for the positions they're given. They're in completely over their heads, having been given a tremendous amount of responsibility they have no idea how to handle; really, honestly, literally no idea whatsoever. People like (all of the) Trump(s), Kushner, Spicer, Bannon, and the like are where they are because they're rich, white, and male in a country in which a disturbing number of people seem to think that those are the REAL important characteristics to look for in a leader. None of this education or experience or competence nonsense like we had with O'Bummer and his fancy law degrees or Killary and her decades of public service. Just give a rich white guy the keys and everything will be fine. If he's not a great person, well then how did he get so rich, HUH?

White men like me often read these takes and get defensive; "I'm a white male, and *I* certainly haven't been given a job in the White House or as a CEO because of it!" True. Absolutely true. But the point is not that all white men are hugely successful without having earned it. Instead it is that the vast majority of people who are hugely successful without having done much to deserve it are white men. In a society where so much boils down to connections and "pedigree" – going to the right schools, having the right last name, being in the right social circles – it is entirely logical that after two centuries of limiting those necessary forms of social currency to white men, most of the people who manage to benefit from them will be, well, us.

We've all seen how this works at the smaller scale – when a 23 year old is put in charge of your workplace because he has a fancy degree, or when the boss puts his idiot kids in charge of adult employees with decades of experience. Now we're getting a chance to see how well it works when we scale it up to the national level. Spoiler alert: It works just as well.