June 23, 2014

Why we ought to be mediocre

I've been a great believer in embracing boring things, things that are completely mundane and unmemorable - the majority of your life will actually be these things, no matter if you're poised for greatness or mediocrity. Today, however, I feel that there's a huge aversion to contentment in mediocrity - it's seen as settling with our lot, being too comfortable, and being utterly against the idea of hard work and greatness that our country was built upon... right?

But in some sense, mediocrity is exactly what we need today. We've gone on too long with the idea of the Protestant Work Ethic: it's uncritical hard work and high achievement that, ironically, makes us complacent in today's society and even less free within our democracy. It's what makes progress completely stall toward shorter work weeks, mandated vacation time, and empathizing with struggles with working class citizens in the US, simply because we perceive them as not 'working hard enough' for 'great things.' It's what justifies why one person can leech off of the backs of thousands underneath them and be okay with buying islands and yachts, while the folks below them are working 60-70 hour work weeks for naught.

There's also the smaller things as well: if we're not doing something exciting or novel every single day, then we're living a boring life. I disagree. I think we'll be just fine if we embrace every day things, get into a rhythm, and allow ourselves space to really think about what's going on once we're content with our boring day to day things - we relegate philosophy and literature to the backwaters of this mythical "free time" that none of us seem to have, and so I say we bring it back to the forefront by allowing more space for us to think about these problems. After all, they're simply the foundations of our duties as citizens.

This thought is still very much a work in progress. The whole slacker ethic very much appeals to me - it's a subversive, political ethic that I feel is somewhat unique to the US as a counterpoint to the Protestant Ethic that's been the underpinning for nearly all of our social and business policies. Much smarter folks have explored this to its logical end, calling for the end of work - I think some work is to be expected, but more work even in the face of more automation, along with the notion that we need to work in order to stake our claims in the economy is what I am wholly against. I think this is another post altogether, envisioning what it would be like for folks to not work and building automation and machinery to generate the goods that we live off of. Some of that is rooted in the Basic Income movement, which I'd love to see come to fruition.