06 November 2007

The meaning of mediocracy (part 3)

further to part 2

A mediocracy appears to be post-everything. Its citizens have seen it all and done it all. They know that everything is taped, that everything has been explained and reduced. There are no important mysteries left. There are no principles worth fighting for. All has been deconstructed and demystified.

This sense of total scepticism is however somewhat illusory. Mediocracy may appear to favour debunking, but it is a highly selective debunking. There are many things which the citizens of a mediocracy are not sceptical of, but dogmatically accept. They believe that science explains rather than merely predicts, and that it is the only thing that does; that state education is a good idea; that everyone is driven by sex; that less inequality is better than more; that redistribution is morally admirable; that belief in national superiority is bad.

On the other hand, there is a sense in which nothing is really important enough in a mediocracy to be taken seriously. Everything is flexible, contingent, subject to expediency. A moral injunction may seem unshakeable — e.g. one must never be rude about other races, or treat women like chattels — but one should not be surprised if blatant transgressions, in a suitable context, are tolerated with equanimity. It is all part of the mediocratic message: society is free to forbid or allow as arbitrarily as it pleases; the individual’s role is not to question but to obey.

The tolerance of double standards is crucial to mediocracy. Much of its ideology conflicts so blatantly with common sense that the mass cheerfully ignores it, or pays it no more than lip service. The fact that the mass does not take up the received wisdom with the ideal level of enthusiasm is accepted as unavoidable. Members of the intelligentsia, on the other hand, are required to (and do) take mediocratic ideology very seriously indeed. If they fail to, they are liable to find themselves ejected from their positions and their livelihoods threatened. This suggests that it is primarily the intelligentsia at whom the ideology is targeted.