The desire of the mediocre to hold back the skilled

The desire of the mediocre to hold back the skilled 1There has always been an incentive for the mediocre to hold back the skilful. The driven and competent make the others look half-baked. And this is not appreciated, better to regulate and restrain those who want too much. And there are many different traces of this in human history. Today we think of it as a left-wing phenomenon, but jealousy of the successful brother is as old as life itself. The concept can be illustrated by these quotes, for example:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

/Matthew 5:5

Or is it easier to imagine that the bold, enterprising (and perhaps even violent) are those who conquer or take over the world? Here the tables have been turned.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs

/Karl Marx et al.

A summary of the idea that in a communist society people contribute as much to production as they are capable of and receive as much of the fruits of their labour as they need. Thus, those who work more do not necessarily receive more pay for their labour than those who work less.

In today’s society, distribution policy via the tax system can be seen as an example of this. The original idea was to provide short-term assistance to those who have had accidents, become poor, etc. Today it is largely a matter of redistributing money from those who work to those who do not.

Affirmative action and quotas are also linked to the concept. The idea was that marginalised groups would gain access to important positions in society through legislation and regulation. It can also be seen as giving a free ride to low-productivity individuals at the expense of high-productivity ones, as the quota holders are not chosen on merit but for other reasons.

Excessive regulations, certificates and licences are also a way of holding people back. The basic idea, of course, is to use bureaucratic craftsmanship to ensure that things go right in society, that we avert dangers and risks. However, if these regulations become too extensive, there is a risk that development will stall, that enterprising people will not find it worthwhile to apply for all the licences and go through the bureaucratic processes. They will then move to other countries where they can more easily realise their projects, or their ideas will remain in the drawer.

Censorship and opinion control are certainly about filtering out stupidity, swearing, threats and so on. But it can also be used to remove what is inappropriate and challenging. Uncomfortable truths and revelations are swept under the carpet, and society as a whole ultimately suffers.

But isn’t it a good idea to restrain the unruly and wild a little? Maybe a few speed bumps are good for society?

It’s great for those who don’t like crazy new ideas, or don’t like to see enterprising individuals enjoy greater success than themselves.

And of course it is bad for the ambitious and hard-working, those who want to do things differently and break new ground. In the past, there were new frontiers and new countries for these people: they could cross the ocean to America, south to Africa or east to distant countries and regions. But now that the whole world has been discovered and gridded, these possibilities are limited.

Space became the great future goal. Many dreamed of one day discovering new distant planets and populating them, building new cities, starting new empires. The universe was endless, the possibilities inexhaustible. Plenty of science fiction novels and films appeared in the 20th century, contributing to hope and optimism.

But something happened. We perhaps realised that humanity is trapped in its little bubble of life at the edge of the Milky Way, that progress is not fast enough. That the world we live in is actually designed for the kind and docile – not the fast and enterprising. And this led to a great sadness inside. Not for everyone, of course, but enough people; and it affects our culture and our civilisation. For the kind and docile have always lived on the harvest of the works of the industrious, no matter how jealous and spiteful they have been. Perhaps the lazy – instead of spending time hindering the enterprising – should reflect on their own lives and actions? But why? We grudgingly recognise that the malicious strategy works, and reward the practitioner richly.