The Hegemony of the Mediocre

December 31st, 2016

Welcome to Cortlandt Homes

I had an interesting experience last night. Someone complimented my work and asked why I wasn’t writing for The New York Times. I thought that was nice, and I explained, basically, that I had never been a team player. I have a certain amount of ability, and I produce on demand, but the world of the arts is no meritocracy. You have to have cronies and benefactors if you want to do well. That means you have to say what they want to hear. If I can’t say what I want to say, I don’t see the point in writing.

On a more fundamental level, the reason I didn’t get anywhere is that God held me back. If he had let me succeed, I would have been wealthy and full of myself (more than I am), and I would not have felt any need to turn back to him.

Anyway, in my response to the comment I mentioned something that happened to me many years ago. I was working in a bar, and I had written and produced some funny radio ads for the owner. I applied to various radio stations and ad agencies in the state, trying to get a copywriting job. I sent out a funny letter with a funny photo. A guy who worked at a radio station called me and gushed over my work. He called me in for an interview. He introduced me to people throughout the station. They had been very impressed by my application, and they wanted to meet me. They treated me like a celebrity.

The interview went great. They hired someone else. And that person turned out to be…drum roll…absolutely nobody. No, they didn’t hire a genius who later became famous. They probably promoted a guy who swept the floor and went for sandwiches.

After that, the man who interviewed me made a horrible sample commercial for the bar, using the same concept I had used for my ads. It could have been described as a cure for laughter. He asked if I could get the bar owner to buy ads from him.

Yes, you read that correctly. He hired someone else, wrote ads that copied mine, and then tried to get me to help him get my boss to dump me and hire him.

I had other experiences like that. Eventually someone told me that when you try to get work in that kind of job, they give the hiring task to someone low on the totem pole, and that person knows that if he hires someone talented, he will put his own job in danger. He will be hiring his own replacement. So it’s standard procedure to torpedo anyone who could pose a threat.

Writing is a strange business, because it draws people who are incapable of doing it, and somehow, they find employment. I would estimate that over 95% of writers have no talent whatsoever and nothing to say. In order for them to survive, they have to do whatever they can to sabotage the rest of us. They should give up and become car salesmen or something, but for some reason, they doggedly cling to jobs they can’t really do, at the expense of the qualified.

I don’t know why they do it. For untalented people, writing is not pleasant. It drains them to write short pieces. A 500-word job makes their knees shake; I can write 500 words while standing in line at the grocery. Untalented people don’t actually enjoy writing. But the world is full of people who want to be called “writer” so badly, they are willing to devote their lives to a job they hate doing.

Most writers, even good ones, hate to write. If you hate to do something, maybe it’s not for you.

If football was like writing, you would turn the TV on every Sunday and see fat little bald guys on the field, with bifocals under their helmets. Whenever a real athlete showed up, they would put laxatives and roofies in his Gatorade.

I’ve had a few books published. I’ve introduced people to an agent. I’ve worked with people on books. So far, no one but me has actually written anything. No one I hooked up produced a book. I have never seen a book I co-authored reach completion.

When I got opportunities, I produced tons of material. No problem. No excuses. No extensions needed. It’s what I was designed to do. When I dealt with other people, even if their intentions were good, they generated almost nothing. The only exceptions to this were a couple of group-authored websites (in other words, pointless hobby time sinks) I ran. Even then, I produced a disproportionate amount of material.

Most writers don’t write.

It’s fascinating the way the world works. Law practice is the closest thing to a meritocracy I have ever seen. Most jobs are not like that. People are hired and fired for every reason except competence.

The reason it’s easy for a good lawyer to get a job is that most lawyers aren’t very good. They’re afraid to trust their own work, so they look for people to take the anxiety off of them. An old lawyer who isn’t good will hire smart young lawyers, make them do his work, pay them a fifth of what he gets for it, and sign his name to it. This is what Supreme Court justices do, except for the pay part. Clerks who die in obscurity write their opinions.

Out of curiosity, I Googled the guy who tried to steal my ad concept. He’s still out there. He has a small-time talent agency that supplies speakers. The home page has photos of two people I have never heard of, plus Jay Leno. Somehow I doubt this guy represents Jay Leno. Maybe Leno appeared somewhere, and he was allowed to carry his luggage. My guess is that if Leno’s people saw the photo, they would send a letter and demand it be taken down.

“A sampling of our clients: Jay Leno! Randall Pulaski! Dolores M. Weinstein!”

The thing that really struck me was the phrase that appeared on the tab of the Firefox page. It said, “Team Player.” No kidding. How spooky is that? Ellsworth Toohey would approve!

Look him up. Ellsworth Toohey, I mean. If you don’t know who he is.

I have come to accept the fact that I am not going to be a professional writer. I write for fun, and because I think my testimony is helpful to some people. That’s about it. I can write a pretty good book in six weeks, and I can do it over and over. I can write a good column every day. Doesn’t matter. The fact that you have a gift doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do anything big with it.

Gifts aren’t that big a deal. God doesn’t need gifted people. His ability to use you is completely unrelated to your gifts. Everyone in heaven is more gifted than Leonardo Da Vinci. Ho hum. While you’re on earth, it’s better to be steady, responsible, and honest than gifted.

I’m not sure what talents are for. Sometimes I think God gave me mine just for my amusement. That would be a pretty good deal. Low stress. As soon as you use a gift for something bigger than that, someone will show up and try to turn you into a slave or a milk cow.

Don’t be surprised that I’m not getting paid. I’m not surprised at all.

3 Responses to “The Hegemony of the Mediocre”

  1. JPatterson Says:

    Do you read Larry Correia’s blog? Just curious because he doled out a fisking to a bonehead from HuffPo a few days ago that might be of interest (skip to the last part of his comments if the abuse of a snooty hack from HuffPo doesn’t interest you).

    I’ve read your writing on this blog for over 15 years now, and have paid for your writings several times. I would gladly do so again if you self-published. Except the stuff about mocking the Nigerian scammers. Worthy, but wasn’t my thing.

    Anyway, just a thought. Happy New Year!

  2. Steve H. Says:

    Thanks for the support, and Happy New Year! Why do we capitalize that?

    The blog post is interesting, so I wrote about it today.

  3. Barbara Says:

    Yep! Every word there is true, unfortunately. It’s the same with the art field. In fact, probably every field. Part of me wishes that my parents had been more honest, and told me that we *don’t* live in a meritocratic world; that, to borrow a quote from another of your posts, this isn’t a basically good place with pockets of evil, it’s an evil place with a few pockets of good; resistance workers in an occupied country. It’s Satan who’s the prince of this world! But if they told us that at 16, it’d probably be too bleak to deal with.

    I have experienced the plagiarism too. I once found that someone to whom I wrote about my spiritual insights was gathering them into a newsletter and sending it out to people, charging them for it! :oO
    A few years later, someone did a similar thing with my emails. Beggars belief!

    In Britain, they say: “Don’t bother trying to get a job with the local council: it will have been earmarked for Dave’s cousin Bob. They’ll advertise it, because they have to, but Bob will be given it.”
    It has nothing to do with talent or merit. I know this, because sometimes *I* have been offered jobs in which I’d be pitifully inadequate, just because the employer knew me! I hate it. 🙁
    Yes, you are right, God protects us against dangers which would lure us onto wrong paths. People often said to me: ‘You should use your talents more.’ I pointed out: ‘I do! I use them constantly.’ But what they really meant was: ‘Why aren’t you using your talents to become rich and famous?’
    In no way would I wish the horrible backstabbing literary world on you; it’s just that you’re SO funny, outstanding. 🙂