Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © 1997 Brent C. Dickerson

   To a mediocre mind, everything is a mediocrity. A man who places himself on a flat plain, and keeps his eyes level with his surroundings his whole life, will have no sight of the eminences, except at a distance and without clarity, and the profundities and depths will be not only beyond his sight, but beyond his understanding as well.

   Should anyone of wider vision speak to him with all due excitement of golden inspirations or black dejections, the man who has lived in a mist of gray all his life will generally nod congenially—and change the subject. Unable to grasp the urgency or import of the matter, and flummoxed by his friend's intensity about it, he will, rather than to look upon this as a precious opportunity to gain some rare insight into a subject or indeed feeling which he has been too languid or complacent to approach himself, scamper away from marvels to rejoice in commonplaces, meanwhile making a mental note to avoid his excitable friend in the future.

   —Yes, "to avoid his friend." Because there is that in human nature which promotes security by, obviously first, timidly avoiding insecurity, and then by consciously or otherwise attempting to weaken and destroy the causes of insecurity. Human nature!—self-preservation—an instinct understandable enough when applied to true threats, but pernicious and retrograde to the progress of self and society when set indiscriminately against everything whcih is merely unfamiliar. Especially in these unheroic times, when simply helping someone in obvious need is looked on as a miracle of virtue rather than as the duty it is, who will challenge himself, let alone challenge the thoughtless commonplaces of society or their nervous, insecure protectors? No, the great over-riding imperative, the wonderful prime desideratum, which rules the day is to embrace the vague but warm complacency of commonalty and the shallow life that goes with it. This is an insidious impulse, innocent-seeming in its warm vagueness, but all the more sinister for that. The playwright Eugene Ionesco saw it well: "The supreme trick of mass insanity is that it persuades you that the only abnormal person is the one who refuses to join in the madness of others, the one who tries to resist. We will never understand totalitarianism if we do not understand that people rarely have the strength to be uncommon."

   But we have, within us, another instinct as well, one which has served to bring our curious species to higher levels of thought and accomplishment in those bracing times when complacency blinks for a moment, or when individuals are born who, by their very nature, are able to resist declining into this quicksand of lazy mediocrity which always lies just outside our doors. What this instinct is, and how it manifests itself in various ways and in various people, we will investigate in a future essay.

       "If there be nothing new, but that which is
       Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
       Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
       The second burden of a former child!"

—Shakespeare (from Sonnet 59).

Index of Past Essays.


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