I was reminded recently of the old joke about a certain recent US President who was quite astonished to be told that half of all Americans were of below average intelligence. Which then gave me pause to recall the slow twisting of the English language whereby the word ‘average’ has now come to mean “significantly sub-standard” or some similar thing.
This is a sad reflection upon what might be called the “cult of excellence” whereby nothing but the best will do; anything else is unacceptable.
But if that’s true, and everyone plans to position themselves in the upper 20 per cent (for instance), we are left with a very skewed distribution with a tall, narrow head and a very long tail; which is of course a very unlikely animal.
Of course, none of this deters the money-making ventures of that slew of “rah-rah-rev-‘em-up” cowboys who sell seminars and courses and videos and late-night infomercials that will help you to be the best you can possibly be.
If this crowd are to be believed, it would be the failures in society who are fulfilling the 80 per cent of jobs deemed ‘boring.’
Of course the “rah-rahs” are still convinced that there’s plenty of room in the top 20 per cent for at least 50 per cent of the population because adding more people to the list clearly maintains the exclusivity of the group!
Although similar, this illusory superiority” is not the same as the Dunning-Kruger Effect as I wrote about previously, instead it is an overt desire to seek and to be ‘excellent’ without all the hard work Never mind that ‘excellent’ is never actually defined, it’s just some nebulous concept we should strive for.
And of course once we are all well-trained to think and be excellent, that excellence easily translates to our wider lives. We are all in the top 20 per cent and will congratulate ourselves on our ability to spot a fraud and are convinced that our computers are fully protected from every imaginable threat posed by scammer, virus or root kit.
Suddenly, we realise the Nigerian scammers aren’t going to send us the promised $21 million and a flicker of confusion crosses our faces, just as it does when the link sent by a good buddy throws the AV software into a conniption.
But you know what? We’re still too smart for them and we’re straight back doing exactly what we did before. Lightning never strikes twice, does it? Surely the world wouldn’t be that unfair.