Friday, June 6, 2008

In Praise of Mediocrity

Majority has always taken precedence in the topmost policy making body all over the world. It means to say that the larger mass and their opinion in general should be respected. Majority is the single most deciding factor to elect the ruling class in almost all parts of the world barring few exceptions. The root of democracy is a belief that millions of people cannot be wrong over a single issue at a single time. Complete belief in the working of human’s mind is the reason behind proclamation of democracy as the noblest approach to decide the people’s mandate. Belonging to the world’s largest democracy, I was always taught that democracy is the noblest way that can be adopted to form a fair governing body. Having been brought up in this environment, my mind has always given utmost respect to the opinion formed by majority or public in general.

Communism, Socialism, Democracy, fascism and many others have a common factor. Does it strike the mind? Yes. They are all relevant only in a collective set up. Democracy doesn’t make any sense to an individual as such. So do the others. But the men who propounded such concepts were heralded as geniuses. They were considered to be living on a higher pedestal from the rest of us. But if we analyze this scenario rationally, we can observe a strange phenomenon. These concepts were meant for the mass. But the fathers of such concepts were individuals. So, if the relevancy of these concepts relies on the collective obedience, then why is it that the very founders are exempted from it?
It is in the background of the mediocre that the abnormal get extra credit. A flower looks more beautiful in a green background. Candle light looks elegant in the dark room only because of its contrasting back ground. Similarly, any deviation from the collective thinking will get credit only because such an individual will stand out of the crowd. The background being mediocrity, the individual gets the limelight. Just imagine that there were no people leading normal lives and possessing normal intelligence just enough to live. Imagine a society filled with Newtons and Einsteins and Ramanujans and Gandhi s. Would they achieve what they have achieved whilst being amongst the mediocre? To whom would Gandhi preach non violence? Who would have applied Newton’s laws in daily lives to reduce their efforts? Who would benefit from such profound truths? But the irony is all these great personalities contributed more to the benefit of mankind as a whole, rather to benefit the Common Man or the mediocre. Gandhi vowed his life for his people, Nelson Mandela followed him. Einstein feared misuse of nuclear energy for destruction and played a pivotal role in nuclear non proliferation treaty. All such great people were directly or indirectly concerned about the mass or the commoners. But would they be inspired to do so if everyone amongst them were pursuing truth and science. Well, it’s a hypothetical situation and I cannot even imagine what would have happened in such a situation. Ironically, there is a strange mutual admiration between the elite few and the mediocre. The elite vow their life to the benefit of a society filled with mediocres and these mediocres almost worship such people for what they are.
The biggest epics and the holiest texts addresses to a common man. It is not for the intellectuals who think that their accepting or following the gospels is derogatory to their ability to think. Gita teaches us how to lead a normal life, Bible and Quran is no exception. Deeds were considered noble only if they had a positive impact on the society at large.

Coming to the concept of common man. Who is a common man? Who is a mediocre? What constitutes a mediocre? What separates the so called genius from the mediocre?
Too many questions to ponder. Some should be pondered and others should be left to wonder. The brain of a human being is a product evolved over a period of billions of years polished by time and nurtured by nature. So, all humans almost have a similar brain biologically with a few variations based on the genetics of the individual’s ancestral race.
The ability to think is a common factor to all living beings with a brain as present in humans.
With such a level ground, how is it that some are considered special and separated from the crowd? Isn’t it ironical that all these so called special people worked and spent all their lives for the improvement of these very collection of people.
Let us take an analogy. All of us have almost the same life span. So, how is it possible for some to achieve more than others? I do agree that we can achieve something BIG only if we compromise on other mundane stuff like leading a life normally. But, if we take the holistic view of the total tasks carried out by man in his/her lifetime cumulatively, disregarding the repetition of the task, then we end up with almost the same number for every one of us. The only difference would be that few would skip some tasks to pursue a task of their choice which gives them joy and a strange feeling of accomplishment which is a mirage in whose influence many have lived a life of ignorance. Doesn’t this imply that mankind has only one kind of species and they all are equal?
I would say the world has only mediocres. Some pursue studies and forsake other mundane tasks, others live their life like they are supposed to. I feel it is this kind of people to whom we should be grateful if mankind is still surviving.
Newton, of course propounded wonderful mind boggling theories. He taught us that the force causing the fall of apple on our head and the force keeping the moon from falling on earth is the same. Its undoubtedly an insightful discovery and we give him due credit for letting us know the truth. But he remained a virgin till his death. Now, can the world afford a society of Newtons? Just a food for thought, in such a situation, who is more important for survival of mankind? Newton or a bunch of commoners who lived their lives as nature taught them to. I would like to contend that nature likes diversity and hence it has made small differences in us. It could be good or bad. Its based on our perception. But such a diversity should be accepted and glorification is uncalled for.

I strongly feel that no event that has occurred so far is as significant as we deem it to be. Also, no accomplishment by mankind has ever been so important as to be a saviour of mankind. Man is just another species evolved from more primordial forms. Evolution is a process where neither its origin nor its end is known. I do not know if it is a limitation of human mind or the eternal truth. But empirically we can understand and deduce that evolution is still active and human is still evolving. So, there comes a day when the entire species of mankind might get extinct or evolve further into a different species. Inspite of being cognitive of such a truth, we tend to place a few on a higher pedestal in the name of recognition and appreciation. But all this looks so trivial and immature. Of what importance is our laws if we are not capable to change the way our universe works? How does it matter whether stars are made of hydrogen or helium when we cannot change its composition? Who cares what is Newton’s law if we perish due to a catastrophe akin to dinosaurs?
The very concept that man has a purpose in his life is a pretext to develop the brain. The more we tend to look for purpose, the more we exercise our brain and the better it gets over time owing to the theory of evolution.
In short, we are just aiding ourselves to improve our brains and thus the ability to think.
In reality, there is no purpose in life, but to live. Since we have the brain and it needs a function to do, we think.
What different can the purpose of life be for humans from other species? Man is after all made of the same elementary particles of matter as a log of wood. Atleast let us not accuse nature of favoritism for a particular species.

If I made any of you think, then thank me if your posterity is born with a higher IQ.
But let me confess, the maximum impact of this article is on me, it has definitely increased the entropy of my mind.

To be yourself requires extraordinary intelligence. You are blessed with that intelligence; nobody need give it to you; nobody can take it away from you. He who lets that express itself in its own way is a 'Natural Man'.

- UG Krishnamurthy

Thirumal Rao R