September 2013

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"Premium Mediocre."

I've been hearing this phrase a lot in the past couple of days. Some dude (okay, it was Venkatesh Rao) posted his rant about premium mediocrity, the way every experience included "just one more thing" that would somehow make it "premium," while the experience itself occurred on a manufactured platform, with manufactured items, while the staff followed manufactured scripts and wore manufactured uniforms.

Rao ends his take on premium mediocre with a startling claim: premium mediocre, he says, is about "a deep and essential kindness." That we who live the premium mediocre life are playing a game where "sometimes you have to buy your own bullshit" as you willy-nilly try new things, listen to new ideas, and embrace new people. It's something you do "in the spirit of learning about your part in the emerging theatre."

I have to call bullshit on this. Recognizing the reality of premium mediocre is something entirely different. Premium mediocre is the outcome of a civilization that delivers everything. I mean, seriously: Every single one of us eats better than Napoleon! Every single one of us has more horsepower idling in our driveways than fucking King George III! Every single one of us has a glass rectangle in our pockets that delivers us the world, keeps us in touch with beloveds in every country and every continent. Every single one of us has access to more music than the fucking Beatles could ever hear.

The premium mediocre experience is a recognition that we have all this. We have luxury beyond our great-grandparents' wildest dreams. Sure, it's not uniformly distributed. It isn't fully-automated queer space communism. But it is crazy luxurious for a lot of us.

There is exactly one feature missing from premium mediocre. Can you guess what it is?

The ones who have to endure premium mediocre can't sneer at others in the same condition. They can't exclude others.

The essential activity of the rich today is the building of walls – walls of concrete, of electronic surveillance, of missile barrages, minefields, frontier controls, and opaque media screens. That's what is missing. Recognizing your state as one of premium mediocrity is recognizing that you're not good enough to get into the rarified air of flight lounges, concierge services at Burning man, and Mar-A-Largo. Some of it is handwringing that you're not Walter White or Scarface, you're not callous enough, and to call it "mediocre" is to recognize that you will always be mired in the tiny little shreds of humanity that bind you together.

Rao's call to kindness is to say that the Clueless and Losers outnumber the Psychopaths, and we may as well enjoy our kindness, because we're never gonna get anywhere else. We're never gonna be able to enjoy the envy of others. Premium mediocre, for all its luxury, is the best you're gonna get.