22 October 2007

The meaning of mediocracy

Recently Mencius Moldbug reviewed the Mediocracy book, and generated some interesting discussion. One issue raised concerned the question of what is meant by ‘mediocracy’? What is the common theme running through my criticisms of authoritarianism, jargonisation and postmodern vacuity? Is it the Orwellian one of redefining language? And what is the cure, if any, for mediocratic culture?

Big questions, and ones which I didn’t attempt to draw out in the book, because I wanted to keep it short and punchy. I shall try to answer some of them in future posts. Meanwhile, here is the first part of an unpublished section of the book which I thought at one point of using as an introduction. Further instalments to follow.

There is a new model of society. Let us call it mediocracy, as in: the rule of the mediocre, the triumph of style over substance.

In a mediocracy, real cultural progress is impossible because it requires conditions that are incompatible with a commitment to egalitarianism. There is no room for genuine cultural innovators, because one cannot permit any individual to think they are special. Nevertheless, mediocracy maintains a cultural elite, to validate its ersatz culture and to protect it from criticism.

A mediocracy lives off the cultural capital accumulated in the past, perpetually recycling the old products, though with increasing mockery. The illusion of cultural fitness is maintained by having institutions with the same names as the old ones (‘universities’, ‘philosophy’, ‘theatre’) and some resemblance to the originals.

Mediocracy is not concerned with the quality or content of culture, but it does care to some extent about appearances. It is not interested in having genuine art, or real education, but it wants to be able to say "we have art" and "there is lots of education". Its aim is to redefine existing activities to the point where it becomes impossible to complain that they no longer exist.

Mediocracy has two approaches to transforming culture. Dumbing down involves coarsening and trivialising output to the point where it becomes stupefying rather than enlightening. Sexing up involves wrapping up the trivial and vacuous in jargon and technique, in order to render it sufficiently opaque for its vacuity to be concealed. Often both qualities are combined, resulting in a low-grade product with a veneer of esoteric complexity.

The complete version of this article can be read here.