Re: the solidarity of mediocrity

Gerold Firl (
1 Aug 1996 20:08:27 GMT

In article <>, Stephen Barnard <> writes:
|> Gerold Firl wrote:

|> > Another thought, related to more traditional anthropology: what about
|> > traditions of human sacrifice? In societies which did practice human
|> > sacrifice, how were the victims chosen? Early commentators often
|> > claimed that the best and brightest were favored as victims; could this
|> > be an example of a society-wide solidarity of mediocrity? Is it
|> > possible that such processes might be operating in our own society
|> > today?

|> At the great risk of indulging in stereotypes, I wonder whether cultures
|> that put more value on conformity have more solidarity of mediocrity.

I think you're right about that, and that's a good example of a
question I raised in a previous thread ("The mind of culture: tops down
or bottoms up?"). We often see the question of social pressures to
conform analyzed in terms of a power struggle between society and the
individual, where "society" is "trying" to coerce the individual into
conformity. This view misses some very important factors. Looked at
from the perspective of the solidarity of mediocrity, it's clear that
many ordinary people (and especially the sub-ordinary people) benefit
personally from society-wide social conformity.

Egalitarianism has both costs and benefits, plusses and minusses.
Minimizing variations in status, wealth, and power has the benefit of
promoting social cohesion and solidarity, which can be very important
during times of fierce competition between societies. The flip-side of
egalitarianism, from the big-picture perspective of inter-cultural
competition, is the lack of status/wealth/power-based incentives for
innovation and other extraordinary contributions.

The history of communistic/egalitarian social reactions would make for
a fascinating study. The anabaptists of northern europe and the
hussites of bohemia would make a wonderful test-case alongside the more
recent communist/socialist experiments. The french revolution is
another example, where the power of the church, the nobility, and the
monarchy was broken to create a flatter and more fluid social pyramid.

|> With respect to human sacrifice, I'll bet you'll find that it is usually
|> captives who are/were sacrificed (e.g., the practice of the Aztecs), so
|> I don't think that's a good example.

True, captives, prisoners of war, and slaves are obvious canidates for
sacrifice, if the gods require that sacrifice be human. The medieval
european practice of of public execution/torture of criminals might be
viewed as another variant, as indeed the witch burnings might be. But
there were societies where an innocent member of mainstream society
would be offered, though study of such customs is complicated by their
early ban by european colonial/missionary occupation. The little
information I have on these customs (mostly from campbell, _the masks
of god_) suggests that high-quality victims were preferred. That might
be ascribed to the sophisticated tastes of the gods (nothing but the
best for our dieties!) or perhaps to something akin to the solidarity
of mediocrity - don't stick up too much, or you might get hammered

This last bit is highly speculative, obviously, which is one of the
reasons I wanted to post it to sci.anthro. I was hoping to get further
information and alternative perspectives. I appreciate the reply,

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf