Just your average Joe? Nothing wrong with that

Personally, I have always thought that mediocrity is undervalued. This is especially true in the biological science. No two living things are ever exactly alike. It’s almost eerie that way. I mean, two hydrogen atoms are just alike, and a volt is always a volt. But two Culex mosquitoes aren’t identical. How can anyone make sense of that?

The way we make sense of variation is to look at averages. An average is, of course, the central tendency of a set of data. To get the average, we add up all the values and divide by the number of values. For example, if we add all the test scores and divide by the number of tests given, we get the average test score. You can see at a glance that the average is decidedly mediocre.

There is a reason for all that variation, you know. If all things were alike, and the environment was to change in a way that is harmful, then all identical things would be harmed equally. Variation helps to assure that some living things survive to make more living things.

In order to talk about a category of variable things, we calculate the midpoint of their characteristics and call that midpoint the average. We all know that in human talk that average means mediocre.

Were all humans just alike, it would be difficult to have a decent conversation. Because we are all different, we can talk about the other humans that aren’t there. OK, but what if we want to discuss humans as a category? Well, then we must look to the mediocre, and that is no small thing, as you will see.

The mediocre is the elusive average, the theoretical mean, the standard upon which all men rely for comparison. Think about it. Without mediocrity there would be no upper class to tax. There would be no tired, poor and huddled masses to receive charity or government assistance. In fact, what would government even do without those below-average incomes to supplement?

Without the mediocre, there would be no poverty level from which to claim privilege, no superior Olympians or Rhodes scholars, no maniacs who drive faster than I do, and no idiots who drive slower than I do. I couldn’t be considered overweight. Why, we couldn’t even have grade inflation without the average student. To give credit where credit is due, the silent and enduring mediocre should be hailed as the true, new elite.

If we take away mediocrity, morality and ethics would no longer be debatable issues. I mean, after all, most people are, by definition, just average. Being mediocre is as close to being humble as you can get without actually being it. We don’t have to worry about pride when we are mediocre. Being average is especially great, because since you aren’t truly humble you don’t have to worry about the inheritance taxes the meek are going to eventually have to deal with. (Whoo boy, now there’s a problem I wouldn’t want.)

Not many people want to admit to mediocrity. No one really thinks they are less than average, in spite of the fact that by definition half of everyone is below average.  So being average makes everyone around you feel good thinking they are superior to you. The way I see it, by being mediocre, I am actually in the service of building up other people’s self-esteem. Is there any higher calling than being in the service of your fellow man?

Obviously mediocrity is the focal point upon which all understanding revolves. Those who wish to be prosperous, healthy or good looking are simply being presumptuous. Why should they be any better than the mediocre on whom they depend for their very identity? No, it is in that magical mode of mediocrity where normalcy lies. The world rests upon the broad shoulders of the average.

The mean is the Atlas of our modern world. 

Gary McCallister is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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