18 June 2012

The Mediocre Man

Joseph Wood Krutch, Human Nature and the Human Condition (New York: Random House, 1959), pp. 92-3:
The words we choose to define or suggest what we believe to be important facts exert a very powerful influence upon civilization. A mere name can persuade us to approve or disapprove, as it does, for example, when we describe certain attitudes as "cynical" on the one hand or "realistic" on the other. No one wants to be "unrealistic" and no one wants to be "snarling". Therefore his attitude toward the thing described may very well depend upon which designation is current among his contemporaries; and the less critical his mind, the more influential the most commonly used vocabulary will be. 
It is for this reason that, even as a mere verbal confusion, the use of "normal" to designate what ought to be called "average" is of tremendous importance and serves not only to indicate but actually to reinforce the belief that average ability, refinement, intellectuality, or even virtue is an ideal to be aimed at. Since we cannot do anything to the purpose until we think straight and since we cannot think straight without properly defined words it may be that the very first step toward an emancipation from the tyranny of "conformity" should be the attempt to substitute for "normal", as commonly used, a genuine synonym for "average". 
Fortunately, such a genuine and familiar synonym does exist. That which is "average" is also properly described as "mediocre". And if we were accustomed to call the average man, not "the common man" or still less "the normal man", but "the mediocre man" we should not be so easily hypnotized into believing that mediocrity is an ideal to be aimed at.