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Monday, 15 July 2019

The mediocrity principle (2)

The mediocrity principle is a philosophical notion, which is rooted in mathematics and/or statistics: "if an item is drawn at random from one of several sets or categories, it's likelier to come from the most numerous category than from any one of the less numerous categories" (Wiki). Hence, human life would be about Joe Average and Sixpack Annie.

However, if the mediocrity principle would indeed apply then how is it possible that an ever-expanding humanity keeps on making (technological) breakthroughs and progress?

Moreover, the mediocrity principle is a contradiction to other sayings, like: talent always beats hard work, talent always rises, and/or talent always wins. Clearly, these sayings feel more accurate when explaining (technological) breakthroughs and progress.

A part of the explanation lies in the speed of Change (my blogs). The faster the speed of Change, the more centrifugal force towards the extremes - similar to a centrifuge. At these fringes you will find people who regard themselves as "an extremely stable genius" - and actual geniuses.

In societies with little Change, the mediocrity principle should apply (eg, remote islands, remote rural villages). It's tempting to use the American Amish population as an example. However, in this case the belief system Religion is a filter for Change.

On the other hand, societies with (too) much Change may be tempted to elect someone who claims that he will restore traditional values and Make America Great Again (eg, Trump-2016).

Another part of the explanation lies in urbanisation (my blogs). In a tribal community, any eccentric or extreme behaviour by a minority is less likely to be tolerated by the majority. Such people literally become outcasts. Urbanisation removed the filter of supervision, and thus allowed for fringe behaviour.

Ancient history encyclopedia: "Urbanization began in ancient Mesopotamia in the Uruk Period (4300-3100 BCE) for reasons scholars have not yet agreed on. It is speculated, however, that a particularly prosperous and efficient village attracted the attention of other, less prosperous, tribes who then attached themselves to the successful settlement."

The last part of the explanation is hidden in the above excerpt. Urbanization requires specialization - or "the separation of tasks within a system" - which will bring (functional) talents to light.

A quote by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), French artist: "There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite."

Keep Mediocrity at Bay (2005) by Van Morrison

You gotta fight every day 


Note 1: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Note 2: for part 1, see my 2017 blog.

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