The psychology of mediocrity

I’ve been reading Satre’s Anti-Semitism and Jew lately. It’s an essay that addresses the kind of psychological orientation that leads people to resent Jews. There’s a particular paragraph I consider worth reproducing here:

The anti‐Semite readily admits that the Jew is intelligent and hard‐working; he will even confess himself inferior in these respects. This concession costs him nothing, for he has, as it were, put those qualities in parentheses. Or rather they derive their value from the one who possesses them: the more virtues the Jew has the more dangerous he will be. The anti‐Semite has no illusions about what he is. He considers himself an average man, modestly average, basically mediocre. There is no example of an anti‐Semite’s claiming individual superiority over the Jews. But you must not think that he is ashamed of his mediocrity; he takes pleasure in it; I will even assert that he has chosen it.

This man fears every kind of solitariness, that of the genius as much as that of the murderer; he is the man of the crowd. However small his stature, he takes every precaution to make it smaller, lest he stand out from the herd and find himself face to face with himself. He has made himself an anti‐Semite because that is something one cannot be alone. The phrase, “I hate the Jews,” is one that is uttered in chorus; in pronouncing it, one attaches himself to a tradition and to a community — the tradition and community of the mediocre.

We must remember that a man is not necessarily humble or even modest because he has consented to mediocrity. On the contrary, there is a passionate pride among the  mediocre, and anti‐Semitism is an attempt to give value to mediocrity as such, to create an elite of the ordinary. To the anti‐Semite, intelligence is Jewish; he can thus disdain it in all tranquillity, like all the other virtues which the Jew possesses. They are so many ersatz attributes that the Jew cultivates in place of that balanced mediocrity which he will never have.

The true Frenchman, rooted in his province, in his country, borne along by a tradition twenty centuries old, benefiting from ancestral wisdom, guided bytried customs, does not need intelligence. His virtue depends upon the assimilation of the qualities which the work of a hundred generations has lent to the objects which surround him; it depends on property. It goes without saying that this is a matter of inherited property, not property one buys. The anti‐Semite has a fundamental incomprehension of the various forms of modern property: money, securities, etc. These are abstractions, entities of reason related to the abstract intelligence of the Semite. A security belongs to no one because it can belong to everyone; moreover, it is a sign of wealth, not a concrete possession. The anti‐Semite can conceive only of a type of primitive ownership of land based on a veritable magical rapport, in which the thing possessed and its possessor are united by a bond of mystical participation; he is the poet of real property. It transfigures the proprietor and endows him with a special and concrete sensibility. To be sure, this sensibility ignores eternal truths or universal values: the universal is Jewish, since it is an object of intelligence.

What his subtle sense seizes upon is precisely that which the intelligence cannot perceive. To put it another way, the principle underlying anti‐Semitism is that the concrete possession of a particular object gives as if by magic the meaning of that object. Maurras said the same thing when he declared a Jew to be forever incapable of understanding this line of Racine: Dans l’Orient désert, quel devint mon ennui.

But the way is open to me, mediocre me, to understand what the most subtle, the most cultivated intelligence has been unable to grasp. Why? Because I possess Racine ‐ Racine and my country and my soil. Perhaps the Jew speaks a purer French than I do, perhaps he knows syntax and grammar better, perhaps he is even a writer. No matter; he has spoken this language for only twenty years, and I for a thousand years. The correctness of his style is abstract, acquired; my faults of French are in conformity with the genius of the language. We recognize here the reasoning that Barrès used against the holders of scholarships. There is no occasion for surprise. Don’t the Jews have all the scholarships? All that intelligence, all that money can acquire — one leaves to them, but it is as empty as the wind. The only things that count are irrational values, and it is just these things which are denied the Jews forever. Thus the anti‐Semite takes his stand from the start on the ground of irrationalism. He is opposed to the Jew, just as sentiment is to intelligence, the particular to the universal, the past to the present, the concrete to the abstract, the owner of real property to the possessor of negotiable securities.

I think Sartre is correct, in that anti-semitism is an attempt by the mediocre man to assert himself, against people he considers better than himself. If you’re faced with a mediocre existence, if it seems unlikely you will ever accomplish anything that can be considered noteworthy, anti-semitism becomes appealing for this reason. The anti-semite takes pride in a mediocrity others can never have, he takes pride in something that took him no effort to attain but can not simply be attained by others. The anti-semite is a man who has essentially given up on the hope of ever accomplishing something noteworthy himself, so he clings onto whatever he inherited as a source of pride. To become part of the SS, you had to prove you had no Jewish ancestry as far back as 1750.

It shouldn’t be a shock that this appealed to people. Hitler said in one of his speeches that he has the strength to carry on due to two people, the German farmer and the German laborer. Here you are, a nobody, someone who never accomplished anything noteworthy, someone who has no distinguishable talents. But you have a leader, to whom you are intrinsically valuable. In contrast, during the Kristallnacht members of the Sturmabteilung slashed a portrait of Paul Ehrlich to pieces. It doesn’t matter if you accomplished anything noteworthy, accomplishments are a liability if anything.

We see this in the modern anti-semites still. If Jews earn a lot of Nobel prizes, the Nobel prize is a Jewish get-together. If a lot of Jews graduate Harvard, it’s evidence of Jewish nepotism. So why do we have a lot of Jewish chess grandmasters? The anti-semite tends to come up with a convoluted response, the idea that Jews may be intelligent, but they have inherited a distinct perverse form of intelligence, an intellect that can only destroy and prey upon the average mediocre man, who needs to be protected from the Jews. The accomplishment of a Jew is a product of nepotism, but when nepotism is hard to demonstrate his accomplishment becomes a symptom of his intelligence, which is not a virtue but a vice.

The reason anti-semitism is taboo today is not because bigotry against successful people is taboo, but because racism became taboo. I think the motive underlying anti-semitism is far more dangerous however. It is the insurrection of the mediocre people, who get together in a mob and go out and destroy the people who accomplished something. We’ve seen this numerous times. What happened in Cambodia? A bunch of mediocre people got together, created an absurd ideology for themselves and sought out the intellectuals. If you had glasses you would be shot. The same thing happened in Russia, as well as in Spain. Here the mediocre people called themselves “communists” or “anarchists”. They sought out the clergy and tortured them.

If there’s any characteristic that distinguishes the anti-Semite, it is his mediocrity. We witness the phenomenon among all sorts of diverse groups of people, but they are unified in their mediocrity. It could be a Catholic Traditionalist, upset about Vaticanum II and priests who hold mass without the fancy rituals he grew attached to. It could be a paranoid Sandy Hook truther who posts ALL CAPS videos on youtube, videotaping his television with his cell phone, pointing out that politicians are shape-shifting into reptoids on TV. It could be a reactionary monarchist, a Young Earth Creationist, a jihadist in the Middle East, a black Hebrew preaching on the streets of New York. Their beliefs are as diverse as the colors of the rainbow, they seem united only in their mediocrity. They cling onto a variety of ideas that belong in the dustbin of history and will never influence the trajectory of society to any significant degree beyond an occasional bloodbath, but it is their mediocrity that distinguishes them.

Mediocrity seems to lead to a form of collectivism. Successful people are just not attracted to collectivism. However, to form a mob we do not just need mediocrity, we also need resentment. The mob of angry people doesn’t want to be judged on the basis of their own accomplishments. The man who thinks he’s not given a fair chance doesn’t become an anti-semite. We don’t see Asian American libertarians upset about affirmative action turn to anti-semitism. It’s the people who would never get into Harvard either way, who are angry that it’s full of Jews. The anti-semites are the men afraid of being given a fair chance. They want to be praised for something that took them no effort to attain.

They insist on having ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, they insist on having no Jews in their bloodline. Most of us are afraid of being judged on the basis of characteristics we have no influence on. These men are afraid of being judged on the basis of traits they do have influence on, because they can not reconcile their own accomplishments with the importance they attribute to themselves. They have a list of angry Youtube videos to their name, a number of comments in obscure subreddits, a series of jobs for sketchy companies they held onto for a year or two. To embark on something significant involves a risk of failure.  There are men who keep trying and eventually achieve something. W. W. Jacobs wrote dozens of short stories. All of them have been forgotten except one, the Monkey’s Paw. Other men are afraid of failure. If your own innate mediocrity becomes a source of pride, you cannot possibly fail.

They are also evangelical. They want you to name the Jew. They don’t want to be left alone, they don’t want to be allowed to pursue their own passions. They need their own worldview imposed on everyone else. They browse whatever obscure corner of the Internet they inhabit, where Siri was the last true pope, where crisis actors talk on TV about fake school shootings, where the Earth is 6000 years old and the energy shortage can be solved through cold fusion, to find people who seemingly don’t wish to join their mob. You join us, or you must somehow be working for the Jews. And if you do not wish to join them, they have reserved for you the same rage as they harbor towards the Jews themselves.

They are the biggest and the most dangerous mob in Western society. It’s not just that they kill people, it’s the fact that their mediocrity is contagious. You don’t see people who join their cult accomplish something noteworthy. Occasionally you see people who are intelligent and made great achievements, who join their cult. More often than not it is the end of whatever qualities they might have had. They’ll start a podcast, with poor jokes, theories with gaping holes in them, or imitations of stereotypical nasal Jewish accents. When they die, their families will be reluctant to mention what they spent most of their lives doing.

They’re not the only mob. The dangerous combination of mediocrity and resentment can be found in other corners of society too. The anarchists, the communists, the modern radical left have a similar mentality of mob rule. You can tell when people are dangerous, because they make no attempt on an individual basis to rise out above their own mediocrity. They don’t exercise, they don’t learn foreign languages, they don’t paint, they don’t develop any new skills or acquire any new knowledge that might genuinely be laudable. It’s harder to build than to destroy, but every second spent building yourself up is infinitely more valuable than a year spent tearing others down.

The Chinese diaspora in Southeastern Asia sometimes faces similar persecution, the Armenians have undergone a similar treatment in the Middle East. I don’t live in the Middle East or Southeastern Asia however. I live in Western Europe, where the mediocre people insist on rallying underneath the same banner that led to massive bloodshed in the past. My suggestion is to stay away from them, not because of what I fear might happen to others but because I fear how it might sully your own soul. I’ve seen it happen to friends and I’ve never seen anything good come out of it. Do not let their mediocrity infect you.

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