The Condition of Mediocrity: Part II

by Daniel Hartley

The condition of mediocrity is not a material tragedy (or, rather, tragic-comedy), it’s a spiritual one. To a certain extent, it goes hand in hand with the class which gave rise to it: the bourgeoisie. Effectively, it entails the vast majority of the world’s population slaving away in absolute misery to provide a privileged few with enough free time to develop neuroses.

Now, as I’ve written before on this blog, part of the problem today is the demise in the West of the two great communal traditions: the Church and Communism. Not only did these institutions provide structures of meaning through which one could actively make sense of one’s life within a given community, but they also provided transformative outlets for mediocrity. Of course, they produced their share of Bonhoeffers and Barths, of Lenins and Gramscis – the outstanding individuals – but they also made being average redeemable. To be mediocre in the Church is something less of a burden when God himself instructs the world that those who are first are last. Likewise, those unheroic, everyday tasks of political organisation are somehow ennobled within the context of realistically bringing about social revolution.

The downfall of these pillars of communal activity, however, did not necessarily result in the withering away of the desires they created. The condition of mediocrity, such as I described it in yesterday’s post, might be said to be the effect of the ghost of Community wandering lost through the tended gardens and the (obsessive-compulsively) shiny cars of suburbia. The danger of such a condition is that the lack of outlets, the lack of redemption for one’s middling contributions to the world, might begin to warp the more honourable desires into an egotistical lust for ‘greatness’ at all costs (hence the dubious tone of yesterday’s post). This then generates those middle-class ‘radicals’ who are radical only in the sense that they long to be the centre of a dramatic revolutionary scene (Romanticisers of the Barricades, we should perhaps call them). It also generates snobs, since snobbery in this context is a sort of internal yanking of the soul such that it can hoist itself above the mire of mundanity.

Those who need meaningful communal life but who are trapped in rows of identical detached houses and work in separate offices; those who long to overthrow the capitalist system in all its brutality (whilst maintaining its benefits) but who live in positively reactionary times; those who want to commit to everyday life, but not to compromise themselves by a life of occasional dinner parties, admiring friends’ new kitchens, discussing decor, idolizing one’s children, relying on alcohol, indulging in a ‘little sport’ and so on: this, too, is the middle-class condition of mediocrity.

Perhaps the only radical response is to keep on keeping on.