“There are hundreds, thousands of youths who enter upon the hard calling of the arts with extravagant hopes; but for the most part they come to terms with their mediocrity and find somewhere in life a niche where they can escape starvation.” — W. Somerset Maugham (in “The Bum”)
Most people are mediocrities, for by the very definitions of the words “exceptional” and “genius” how could it be otherwise? So, to secure their survival mediocrities gravitate into filling the many slots in bureaucracies of waste enshrining hierarchies of incompetence. This allows them sufficient anonymity to avoid being held responsible for their actions, which in any case are bureaucratically diluted to near inconsequentiality, and so they are insulated from harsh judgements based on their individual value to society.
Being a bureaucrat offers the opportunity to be a gatekeeper at some trivial level, and that in turn offers the excuse to puff up with self-importance, which is a poor substitute for the self-esteem needed for psychological survival. Since most of us are mediocrities, the bureaucratic sheltering of our aggrageted societal weakness is a form of compassionate socialism we must be resigned to accept.
As I sit in my favorite bistro and listen to the stupid self-satisfied babble of the lunching shallow-minded mediocrities obsessed with their microscopic concerns, I remind myself of the unavoidable necessity of our societal inefficiencies, lack of vision and achievement. All our exchanged bureaucratic praises and our nationalistic forms of self congratulation are charitably allowable falsities.
It would be wonderful, even revolutionary, if we could move beyond this maintenance of illusion for the comfort of mass mediocrity, but sadly we can’t, at least not now nor in the forseeable future. In fact, it seems most likely we will never achieve a higher level of social evolution that make possible the fullest development of individual human potential, as well as ensuring our species-wide survival and well-being, by stopping our self-inflicted wounding by capitalism, war and climate change.
Manuel: I feel close to your views here and to your point that our pursuit of capitalism is harming us. But I don’t like W. Somerset’s capitalist take on the arts. In most poorer countries, beyond the great English-language market place, there’s little possibility of making a living from the arts. Artists produce and art lovers enjoy their work as one of the more civilized ways of getting through life. That seems to me as it should be. Maugham hit the jackpot, as it were, but why should the rest of humanity think in lottery terms?
The problem in the US (at least) is that music and art are depreciated (e.g., poorly/not funded in public schools) and forced to proceed in a jackpot idolizing culture: 1% rock stars versus 99% nearly-starving sometimes-performing local music teachers. It is difficult to make a “normal” decent living in the U.S. doing art or music all day long. Also, it is true that many people in the US enjoy making images and noise, and can practice art crafts and produce decorative items, but the really innovative and profound artists and composers are much fewer. In the U.S. it’s all about the money (sad to say), and the low appreciation for art and music of quality and of innovation by a very under-educated public (i.e., “consumers” of commercialized junk). Cuba has many fabulous musicians because socialism ensures they have both superior arts education and a guaranteed wage from the state. Also, the Cuban people are very invested in their musical heritage for the very reasons you state: it sustains the spirit during the many hardships and tragedies of life.