The Excellence Conspiracy

Mediocrity is decay; the less-than-great pave the road to the end of human civilization.

Smug propagators of excellence as the goal of the living.

The economy and society’s mechanisms of survival of the fittest-style natural selection have become tautological. Being the stack-ranked best is cast as the only way forward, with only the strong surviving to send their children to violin lessons on Mars, so they get into Harvard’s satellite campus on Phobos (though the space polo coach may prove susceptible to inducements). The problem with this lens for looking at the world is that it rarely applies, even in nature. Daniel S. Milo goes into gruesome detail to show how Darwin’s most famous concept gets driven orders of magnitude more miles than its annual limit in Good Enough: The Tolerance for Mediocrity in Nature and Society.

Inspired by Venkatesh Rao’s Mediocratopia blogchain, mental models for and against mediocrity are showing up like yellow cars. Neil Irwin’s How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World argues that a failure-laden path of half-starts is the Pareto-optimal method for being the most excellent when all the chips get counted at the end (mediocrity as strategy). In Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith paint a picture of a tortured, unsuccessful man who was only producing valuable works in the last three years of his very short life. Range, Rebel Talent, and Dark Horse each argue that those that aren’t the best eventually can become the best (and be recognized as such within their own lifetimes). What if they aren’t taking the gospel of messy, winding journeying far enough? If a life was a mess the whole time and never became legible enough for society to rank it, was it good enough?