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Manufacturing greatness

Read the first few paragraphs of this (New York Times) article. They relate a perfect anecdote about how people come to value meaningless crap.

[Here's the anecdote: This 19-year-old kid cooks up a list of meaningless aphorisms. He even prints them up and sells them in pamphlet form. They end up being misattributed to various folks commonly believed to be Great and Good (including Mother Teresa). Thirty years later the original author, hearing his words attributed to someone else, corrects the speaker and is met with disbelief: How could an ordinary shmoe like you possibly have written this?!?]

Good grief. How does this happen? I'll tell you. An ordinary shmoe, you see, having been told that one of the Great and Good invented certain largely meaningless utterances, inevitably thinks he finds in them something Great and True. He dupes himself into thinking the work is great, because, he thinks, it must be, coming from so Great an author. Suggest to him, then, that another (relatively) ordinary shmoe might have written it and he will think you mad. But it is his own, self-delusion he protects, not the work itself.

And thus is greatness manufactured out of drivel. In fact, I would submit that mediocrity is, if not essential, at least extremely advantageous — for it is the mediocre works that ordinary shmoes think they understand better than anything. It makes the self-duping that much easier for them.

Mix mediocrity with renowned authority and what do you get? $300,000 book advances. Why am I so poor? Hopefully, hopefully because I have neither.

March 9, 2002 1:25 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

It just goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun (now who should I attribute that to?).

Posted by Sean McCarthy on March 11, 2002 7:10 AM

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