“One of the problems with capitalism is that it produces mediocrity but also renders that mediocrity unsustainable: capitalism needs average workers, but capitalist ideology insists that only the exceptional deserve the rewards that would allow them to live a decent life. We see this in almost parodic form in Silicon Valley tech boosterism, where every half-assed Uber-for-pugs startup insists that its rockstar programmers are radically changing the world or in academia, where any continued employment is contingent on demonstrating exceptional talent (the UK’s “Research Excellence Framework” doesn’t even count any research that is less than “internationally excellent”; at many institutions, work is only deemed worthy of submission for funding applications if it is “world leading”).”

“We should ask, what would it mean to make a society that was good enough, rather than one which claims greatness and actually treats the majority of the population as disposable garbage.  Of course, it may be utopian to hope that we can give  “mediocrity” the kind of positive valence that would allow us to inscribe it on our banners, but other ways of talking about mediocrity have more purchase: the struggle for a good enough life, for freedom from worry and for free time, were components of the mass movements for post-war social democracy and the post-68 movements organised around social reproduction. We need to reclaim this often overlooked continuity between previous movements, and to do so, we should give up the seductive ideology of excellence.”

Two great passages above from a blog post by Voyou Désœuvré on why accelerationism is not boring enough.

The way Voyou describes the almost schizophrenic nature of capitalism above (demanding excellence but requiring mediocrity)is true to my own experience. Most places at which I have worked required performance reviews of some kind to be done yearly, and underlying these reviews is this ideology of excellence or perfection. Employees are expected to improve each year and mediocrity is simply not acceptable. This is hilarious for…well…two reasons: 1) If my job description doesn’t change from year to year, but yet I keep on improving myself (getting more education/learning new skills, outperforming myself, etc.), wouldn’t I eventually become overqualified for my job? But more importantly, 2) As Richard Beck has written, continuous improvement, or striving toward excellence, “presupposes a false anthropology as it assumes that we are gods and not human beings.”

I think what Beck hits on also gets at Voyou’s point above in regard to sustainability. Sure, we can attempt to avoid mediocrity all we want, but the plain truth of the matter is that we can’t get better and better at one thing without tapping into other areas of our lives (taking time away from family and friends to improve our job performance, for instance). Beck points out that the pursuit of excellence “assumes that we are not, in fact, finite creatures with finite resources of time and energy.” At some point one simply needs to say “good enough,” and I for one am absolutely fine with that.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *