Cultural Caviar

In Defense of Mediocrity

February 17, 2018

It was this subtle black art that the tutor in personal statements taught my friend’s son. It didn’t really matter if he lied to the medical school in his personal statement, even as to ascertainable fact, because nothing he said would be verified or refuted. If he claimed to have devoted his spare time since the age of 12 to helping old ladies across the road, assiduously seeking them out the livelong day, when he was not studying, the medical school to which he applied for admission would certainly not send out private detectives to establish whether or not this was true. It is the physical utterance of correct sentiments that counts, not whether they correspond to any truth, inner or outer. They are a sign of willingness to conform, more or less to anything that may be required, and conformity is the highest value of mediocrities; it makes them feel comfortable and, more important, safe.

Alas, habit becomes character; and if many times in your life it is necessary for career purposes for you to compromise your probity by saying things that you do not, or cannot possibly, believe or mean, you become cynical and incapable of probity. The constant resort to questionnaires or demands for opinion produces not information, if by information we mean statements that correspond in some way to truth, but rather lies. We have forgotten the old adage “Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies.”

Adherence to truth is, of course, of no importance to the ambitious mediocrities produced in ever-greater numbers by our educational system, for whom words are but levers to personal advancement or power. When someone says in an application for a job or a course at university that he is passionate about whatever it might be, he neither believes it himself nor expects anyone else to believe him; he is merely signaling his willingness to play the game, at the cost of his own integrity. Perhaps ’twas ever thus and I just didn’t notice it.

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