Thursday, 4 December 2014

The ubiquitous sub-mediocrity of modern highbrow, high status, elite culture

The official culture has always been somewhat second-rate, at best. So the biggest names, the most powerful, the most famous- at any given time generally turn-out to be mediocre in the longer term.

However, we are now in a situation when the biggest names, the most powerful and famous rulers, intellectuals, artists and the like are not even mediocre - they fail to rise to the level of mediocre: they are sub-mediocre - they are incapable, not even adequate.

This is what I see in the domains I know: religion, science, medicine, poetry... pretty much everywhere in public life. It seems to be the usual pattern.


Some examples of modern sub-mediocrity: the political leaders of the Western nations, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading figures of mainstream 'science' such as medical research and climate research, the leaders of major universities - such as the President of Harvard, the doctors who hold senior administrative positions, and 'major' writers such as the Poet Laureate.

This is not just a matter of people being qualitatively worse than before; these are people who lack basic competence, who cannot do their core jobs.


Admittedly, they are not even trying to do their core jobs - but redefining their proper role into political correctness (as when the US Military or NATO's prime mission was redefined as Diversity) - but the fact is that these modern leadership elite personnel could not do their jobs even if they wanted to - they are simply inadequate people. 


This astonishing ubiquity of sub-mediocrity cannot be accidental; therefore it is interesting and significant.

Chosen and enforced universal sub-mediocrity is further evidence (if that were needed) that modernity is not just lacking in survival instinct; but is actively and will-fully suicidal.

This, for me, is evidence that the ruling elite is not fundamentally ideological, nor self-interested, nor even short-termist - but is demonically-driven, almost-purely negative, essentially nihilistic in its wholesale destructiveness of whatever is true, beautiful and virtuous.



Gary Seven said...

If I were looking at our situation from outer space, I'd say Western Civilization shows every indication of having been infected by a virus. When every human institution is actively, not just accidentally, working against human interests, surely there must be a common cause for it all.

Augustina said...

I have what I call the 50 year test. Pick any area of culture: music, visual arts, literature, architecture. Now ask the question, who has produced content in any of these areas.

Music? Name a composer whose been alive within the past 50 years. Who did you come up with? Bernstein? Now compare him to any of the well known composers. And even Bernstein wrote West Side Story in the 50's, which is more than 50 years ago. If you consider that great music.

50 years is long enough that we can recognize ground breaking genius, but short enough to be within the lifetime of a middle aged person.

I am 52 years old and I can safely say that there has been no great artist, author, composer or poet of note who has lived within my lifetime. Except for Tolkein, who died 10 years after I was born, but who wrote his great works before I was born.

It's like living in a cultural desert.

You couldn't say that in 1800 or 1900 or even 1950.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

"Chosen and enforced universal sub-mediocrity is further evidence (if that were needed) that modernity is not just lacking in survival instinct; but is actively and will-fully suicidal."

Chosen and enforced sub-mediocrity is natural when the real ruling power operates through crypsis and has a hostile disregard for the interests of the host populations. For mere Judas goats to be chosen with a view to competence is useless. It would also create a dangerous situation if those who owned formal but not real power were up to exercising the stolen power themselves.

There is a parasite and a host. There is no suicide, except in the way that deceived hosts often act in self-destructive ways due to hostile parasitic influence.

Parasitic and destructive evil creates no evolutionary or religious problems, and it's consistent with what we see and what stays concealed.

"Suicide" on the scale of the destruction we see would be irrational. It has no place in a conception of the world that is reasonably coherent. There is no plausible view of evolution that says we should have evolved as a sub-species to destroy ourselves - and if we were to destroy ourselves, why with such prolonged self-degradation and self-immiseration? That would make no sense. And if you direct attention past the imperatives of speciation and collective self-preservation to the hands that form our inner natures and give us the "why" of it all, that makes even less sense. From Khnum forming mankind on his potter's wheel thousands of years before the Jews let alone the Christians got going, no conception of the creator-god ever accepted by sane men has been such that he would say, "this is what I formed you for and put in your heart from the beginning: foulness, despair, corruption and ultimate collective death." It makes no sense, because that is not what creation is about.

Anonymous said...

The New Republic is a perfect illustration of your post.

I won't assume you are familiar with 'TNR', since it mostly circulates among liberal Americans of the Palm Springs set (that is to say, the pleasantly bright).

The author laments its impending demolition. The new owner is a young turk with a Facebook fortune - and no, he is not the founder of that company, but one of the hangers-on - and designs of turning the magazine into... words which are better quarantined to corporate communiques.

But the Facebook-fiend knows his readership, and if not in an intelligent way, then in the way a beast knows its own. The lamentable thing is that TNR's standards *are not falling* relative to its traditional cohort.

Clickbait is the best our brightest can do.


Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT _ I explored the suicide idea in the Mouse Utopia postings- it is hypothesised as an evolved response to genetic damage (group-evolved). The idea comes from WD Hamilton.

Anonymous said...

I blame Immigration. HOW NOVEL! I hear you cry, but please hear me out. It is different this time.

Unsound fiscal policies has created bubbles in heretofore really difficult to enter markets (from a HR perspective). We need more and more skilled personnel for all manners of difficult tasks. This combined with immigration has created a situation where even the sub-mediocre can rise to fill these difficult positions as there is no pressure downwards to fill the not so glamorous but every bit as important positions that used to go the less worthy, plumbers, bakers, drivers, factory workers.

In essence it is a Peter Principle moment on a societal level. We are mining a nonrenewable resource (talent, social capital) and not giving it time to refill.

When I look at the Facebook profiles of my old classmates I see that even the least likely candidates to ever get a job (at all!) now have pretty interesting positions in public works. Any warm body with a degree can find any sort of position with a bit of good luck.

Combine all this with a declining rate of IQ levels in Western countries and we are looking at a global problem.

This will not last.

Best regards, Wrath of Gnon.

Anonymous said...


The best example of literary suicide has been the recent (past few years) descent of The Atlantic magazine.

They went from long interesting articles, to politically motivated click-bait talking about reparations and white privilege and girl power.

It's kind of humiliating to think I used to beg my father to keep resubscribing to that magazine.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wrath - Interesting angle - but the problems go deeper; in the sense that uncontrolled and very-obviously-damaging mass immigration is itself a symptom of the problem.

What you are describing is the generalized upward mobility which began with the industrial revolution circa 1800 and definitively documented by Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms.

The big question is what underpins this upward mobility. My belief is that it was multiple technological breakthroughs, which were made by a high concentration of (and social integration of) geniuses.

Now that geniuses have all-but dried up, and our culture is become anti-genius (and anti- the products of genius), we are merely using-up momentum - the underlying dynamic has reverse and real growth is negative.

Santoculto said...

''Now that geniuses have all-but dried up, and our culture is become anti-genius (and anti- the products of genius)''

But they continue using ''products of geniuses''. Look at tv or press.

Santoculto said...