Every year the sort of inspirational speakers who appeal to drab office schlubs come up with flashy new slogans to say the same things. For some time the theme they’ve had to address is how the marketplace has grown more competitive as the pond of opportunity shrinks for most people. They can’t say it like that of course because that would be “negative thinking.” You can’t make a living giving seminars at business hotels unless you make your clients feel good about themselves. So this year the fad phrase to say while wagging your finger in admonishment with a smug, fake smile is “Average is overrr!”
All this means is the job market and society itself continues to become more scalable. Instead of having musicians in every town, you have 1 musician who plays for 300 million. So it goes for increasingly more fields. You get your very best talent recorded to internet video or on a website and the guys 99.99% as good are out of business.
“Average is over” is an attitude of acceptance that only extreme excellence is of any worth from now on, the rest of us consigned to the dumpster. And so we must go out and strive to beat the lottery. If we make it then we are quadruply entitled to adopt sanctimonious airs and wag the finger at those below on “the ladder to success.”
This may well be the final form of that American strain of Puritanism before it finally implodes under the dire pressures it glorifies.
Hyper-individualist Americans love to hear stories about the very best meeting with stratospheric success. Striving to do one’s best is admirable, but this attitude is not compatible with successfully running a massive empire of 330 million souls who all get hungry and sick whether or not they are particularly useful to anyone.
Furthermore, as only a few can be successful in the scalable world, we ironically see a regression to mass mediocrity in everything from culture to services. This is because the best possible performers do not come from a vacuum but are incubated by thriving local subcultures filled with other competent enthusiasts. If only a few can succeed at something, the subculture that cultivated geniuses withers and ironically, the baseline for the elite performers declines.
The subculture of a field that contains relatively average people also supports the sort of refinement that can beget works of genius that stand the test of time. The very best talent has colleagues as a preliminary audience through whom the works of genius filter down to the populace. When we have a culture that worships “average is over” the elite .001% answer directly to the perfect democracy of the masses. The natural output is endless remakes and prequels calculated to reap x millions of dollars with y minimal % of risk. We are left with precisely calculated drivel churned out as if by a data-mining algorithm. This is the apotheosis of a market culture that tries to maximize popularity while eliminating all concept of selectiveness and loyalty.
One of the challenges a new society must overcome in the post-industrial age is to figure out how to cultivate subcultures, and eventually actual castes that concentrate human potential in self-reinforcing ways. The pathological individualism of “average is over” is ultimately the delusional idea that you can have a rose without the bush. A post-Western caste system asks: “what kind of bush might produce the best rose.”
This is achieved by thinking of culture or any other kind of excellence as we might think of politics and government. We can’t get the best performance or the best talent without having the right filters. Even the decadent United States governs through representatives rather than direct mob rule and retains certain filters of the unadulterated popular will such as two senators for every state, the electoral college, or the absence of voting rights for children.
The important concept is no human endeavor can be successful without selecting and filtering specialized groups within society. This is like the difference between a multicellular creature with organs and an undifferentiated primordial soup. Every one of the organs within the social body has its own bell curve of performance and in any healthy living thing, the average is not over, it is the backbone.