20 May 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The beauty of mediocrity

Dear friends,

This Sunday we get to discuss the topic: The beauty of mediocrity.

But don't let the syntax get in the way of the semantics. There might be
more to the subject than we can imagine:

The beauty of mediocrity

In a fit of irrational thinking I held the opinion that evolution can,
and is, sometimes unfair because those who do well do not necessary do
so because of their efforts but maybe because of the misfortune of
others. And even more serious due to random events that are completely
outside the control of those who benefit (or don't benefit).

Don't be mistaken here, winning the lottery (or not winning) is not a
random event, for a start your decision to buy or not to buy a lottery
ticket determines the probability of whether you win or not.

By random event I mean something like the effects of an earthquake, a
strike by a meteorite, our parents getting together and so on. As far a
evolution is concerned it does not care how we get to survive what
matters is that we do.

But when I came back to my senses I remembered that evolution, and if
you must, nature, is amoral. The concept of fairness does not make sense
in the big picture of evolution and nature. Fairness only makes sense in
the small picture of rational cooperative living amongst human beings.

Under the rules of rational cooperative living we are not supposed to
cheat (although it is still profitable for those who can do
successfully) and anyone who is caught cheating is, one way or another,
ostracised from the community.

And here is the value and beauty of mediocrity. Those who are mediocre
or embrace mediocrity with both hands are in effect giving a legitimate
advantage to their competitors. And the real beauty is that it all seems
legitimate and fair.

In effect this is the message Liz Ryan gives in her article Five Ways to
Ensure Mediocrity in Your Organization which appears in the May 7, 2010
edition of BuisnessWeek

Although Ryan is writing in the context of companies being mediocre,
there are enough lessons in this article to keep us busy. Consider, for
example the first way:

1. If you desire a mediocre workforce, make sure your employees know you
don't trust them.

Isn't trust a basic principle of rational cooperative behaviour?

But if the beauty of mediocrity is in giving others a fair advantage, is
trust a means for us to receive a fair (or unfair) advantage from
others? In other words, knowing that I can trust you, wouldn't this be
me taking advantage of your good nature? Of course, the way round this
dilemma is for us to have a good nature so that others can trust us.
This makes sense in the small world of rational cooperative living.

This leads me to two issues. In terms of evolutionary complexity, is
mediocrity a sign of something going wrong with a survival strategy? And
the second issue, from the context of rational cooperative living, how
fair it is for one to take advantage of someone who is mediocre? Or to
put it in another way, is it fair to frequent the company of the
mediocre people because they are easy to take advantage of?

Take care



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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The beauty of

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