MEDIOCRITY AND THE STUDY OF HISTORY
The English Disease, which we hear so much about, is mediocrity and in the last thirty years, it has spread like a cancer throughout the fabric of our society.
What makes the disease particularly serious is that we have grown to like it , so much so that we have come to regard anything that is not mediocre as suspicious if not immoral.
Thus the few remaining beautiful buildings in our cities are increasingly regarded as offensive. They stand impudently among the grey cement blocks that so faithfully reflect the grey mediocrity of our industrial society with an intolerable air of pre-industrial superiority.
Some young men in a bar in Walsall, during the recent by-election, told us that they were ashamed of their city — a truly tragic admission — but what other sentiment could they have for a wilderness of cement blocks, polluted motorways, and shabby soulless housing estates? Can they feel nostalgia for it? Pride in belonging to it? A desire to serve and perpetuate it? No, shame is the only sentiment i f can induce — shame for being a member of a society that can consider such a place as a suitable habitat for man — an illusion, what is more, that it is not prepared to shed, judging by the fact that the few remaining buildings of quality in Walsall all appear to have been struck with demolition orders issued by the grey faceless mediocrities at the Town Hall.
The mediocrity of our society is also well reflected in the food we eat. How people can survive on a diet of fish-fingers, potato chips fried in cheap oil and white bread spread with margarine and chemical jam, is truly amazing. The fact that only thirty per cent of our citizens are entirely toothless, that only twenty five per cent of them will die of cancer and that only forty per cent of them will succumb to heart-disease simply bears testimony to the extraordinary resilience of the human organism.
It is perhaps in the field of gastronomy, that any departure from the greyest mediocrity is most resented. I remember seeing an outraged article in some daily paper accusing the late Mr. Anthony Crosland of having eaten an entrecote steak and a 'poire Helene' in a Bournmouth Hotel before addressing a political meeting. To those who regard it as
immoral to eat a good meal, let me point out that the 'rubbish food' we eat is the product of our industrial mass society. In pre-industrial times, particularly among tribal societies, people on the whole, ate highquality fresh and nutritious food. I doubt if, even today, we could persuade an Italian peasant, let alone an African tribesman, to eat the shoe-leather entrecote steak and the tinned pear doused with synthetic cream which Mr. Crosland had the audacity to indulge himself in.
However, it is to the perpetuation of human mediocrity that our society appears most totally committed. By interning our children for a considerable proportion of their lives in vast grey anonymous factory-like compounds in which they are systematically imbued with the values of our mass society and bombarded with increasing quantities of unrelated and largely irrelevant data, we are doing little more than mass-produce human-mediocrity.
Not surprisingly, a gifted child, rather than being rejoiced in, is today regarded as a problem. He does not constitute suitable raw material for the educational production-process. He might prevent the smoothrunning of the conveyor belt, or impede the workings of the assembly line. Worse still, he might grow up with some talent, and what then would we do with him?
Our resentment of any sort of intellectual excellence could not be better illustrated than by the Sunday Times's recent poll to determine who are the most overrated writers of the last decades. Predictably, the critics conceded the place of honour to Arnold Toynbee, whose Study of History was described by A.J.P. Taylor as 'neither a Study nor History.' In this trite little aphorism he thus dismissed one of the most fascinating historical masterpieces ever written.
Why? The answer must surely be obvious. Just as fine eighteenth century buildings show up the mediocrity of the cement blocks that today surround them, just as a properly cooked meal shows up the mediocrity of industrially-produced food, so does A Study of History show up the shattering mediocrity of the social and political thinking of A.J.P. Taylor and others of his like, which serves but to provide a wishywashy apologia for the destructive trends of the latter part of the Industrial Age which are leading us ever Ecologist Vol . 7. No. 3.