Oh the unused potential.
I love stereotyping. Stereotyping is good. An unfortunate stereotype that I see is of people with serious lack of resources and access to knowledge and information. These are unfortunate people and perhaps the only way for them to progress is by sheer luck. They can be very hardworking in offering human sacrifices to secure their crop but they will most certainly fail. They have an empty or perhaps regressive feedback loop which encourages them to sacrifice harder next year, contemplate on their sins more and create more rigorous rituals. Unless there is someone born with serious mental mutation to generate the idea of the century, or someone comes and teaches them from outside, they will not progress. Not for centuries.
I feel strongly for another, more seemingly ‘normal’ kind of stereotype. Those with complete access to information and resources yet having an internal mechanism to keep themselves away from it. I call this mediocrity. This stereotype lurks everywhere around us and is perhaps the most common to exist. Most term these people as mere ‘procrastinators’ or ‘off-putters’ or simply lazy. Some people external to this stereotype even suggest that they are inherently evil. I see it as no fault of this group. They simply don’t know any better. This group has a very strong root within society and is hard to weed out. I will call this group the ‘mediocrity’ group.
Humans are essentially social beings and time and again studies have shown that isolation leads to fatality. Humans also know how helpless they are in society and that gets reenforced every time we see a baby from birth to about mid teens, how helpless it is. Most would agree that a kid will not survive on its own. This fear of being singled out creates a mechanism in humans to automatically want to belong. The mediocrity group’s strongest feature is that it holds the whole community together strongly to support each other. If someone regresses and goes into a stage-1 or stage-2 life, they will help her get up again. There seemingly is no motivation but it comes up time and again (actually this feature is visible in other stereotypes too… Criminals actively persuade group members who start to suddenly abstain from ill-do to come back, and the intellectuals do the same if their brother-in-intellect falls off into mediocrity). This is a good thing. But since mother nature doesn’t take sides in grand scheme of things, the exact mechanism is applied when someone tries to jump from mediocrity to intellectual freedom. The community actively stops, persuades, pulls or otherwise ridicules any mediocre from pursuing the path of the intellectual.
This is a very dangerous effect. Perhaps this is the single most powerful effect that holds a mediocre from breaking out into creativity, imagination and intellectualism. They are ridiculed for almost anything that differentiates mediocres and intellectuals for example more conscious use of resources, budgeting, investing in self improvement, trying life hacks, reading books, taking responsibility, following the law (God forbid!) etc. The community as a whole, involuntarily (as a gene wanting to replicate and a meme wanting to spread, the society also has mechanisms to ensure its survival regardless of what is ‘good’ for it which itself is a relative term) stop all advances towards intellectualism.
From questioning philosophical authenticity of information using usual logical fallacies, to creating societal truth like ‘budgeting is useless’, ‘books spoil the kids’, it is an ever strengthening phenomenon. If all else fails, the society will resort to aggression and term these mediocre caterpillars on the verge of becoming intellectual butterflies traitors and deserters.
We have all experienced the effect in daily lives but this can be observed at community, city or national level too. From the legend of Joan of Arc to persecution of early scientists like Galileo etc. The islamic empire created schisms within itself by actively persecuting knowledge seekers that questioned strong held convictions. The county of Pakistan is engulfed by the mediocrity effect where all 2 nobel prize laureates in last 70 years are disowned by majority of population. Young men and women actively distancing themselves from reading books might seem counter-intuitive to a developed western nation where most people commute with a book in hand but in a community where there are actually derogatory words to callout a studios kid is normal. The society is actively resisting to change at individual and collective level.
The bad news is that Pakistan (which is in a far better situation than some other countries in the world, especially in Africa) is not the only nation to have gone thru this. Almost all nations and societies go thru it. Good news is that almost all of them survived and succeeded in the transition eventually – only that the time frame varies. Its unfortunate the you cannot sow this seed into a mediocre society and expect it to learn and give up its old ways. Chances are high that this blogpost could be ridiculed or rejected at first sight in such a society, too. Most would never make it to reading this line.
How do we then accelerate a society’s journey toward intellectualism and self-improvement? Perhaps a topic for another day.
But what about you? Are you mediocre? Are you improving? What is your excuse for not investing in learning? What is your excuse for not reading? What is your excuse for not cheering up your heroes?