the solidarity of mediocrity

Gerold Firl (
29 Jul 1996 20:21:28 GMT

Sisial used the concept of "solidarity" to analyze the formation of
power blocs in society, and that led to an interesting thought: the
solidarity of mediocrity. Think about places where you have seen this
in action.

The first and most obvious example that comes to mind is one that most
of us have experienced first hand, related to competition for grades in
school. There is always a certain amount of pressure to not do *too*
well coming from the less capable students. This pressure is exerted in
different ways, and is most overt in the lower grades, but generally
takes the form of mockery or ostracism of higher achievers, trying to
cast them in the role of brown-nosers, uncle toms, teachers pet, nerd,
dweeb, uncool social misfit, etc. I see this as an attempt by the lower
achievers to ease competitive pressure; what is surprising is how
unconscious it seems to be. Very young children, 8 or 9 years old, are
able to use fairly sophisticated techniques to influence their fellow
students into compromising the quality of their education. where does
this skill come from?

Another example which comes to mind is the recent discussion on
standards of female beauty. There is a widely accepted premise that
current western standards of female beauty are a form of patriarchal
oppression, goading women and girls into striving for a look that is
unnatural, unhealthy, and psychologically damaging. Proponents of this
view hold that the female models and actresses who represent current
beauty standards are dangerously undernourished, leading to problems
with anorexia and bulemia among girls trying to reach a virtually
unattainible ideal. (See _the beauty myth_ by naomi wolf for examples)

To me, this position appears patently false. It looks much more like an
example of the solidarity of mediocrity than a concern for the health
of women and girls. Compare the physique of a female athlete to that of
a model; models tend to have higher body-fat levels than any endurance
athlete, and higher than most other athletes as well. It appears to me
that current western standards of female beauty are closely related to
the kind of body type which is associated with youth and physical

This is a fairly minor example, of course, and it is certainly
understandible why a woman might prefer to eat a bon bon over running a
few miles or lifting weights. Where such a tendancy gets to be
dangerous is when it interferes with something as vital as education,
politics, or the media presentation of public debate over issues of
critical importance.

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

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