The press is much occupied these days with the foibles of the rich and famous. To judge by the content of the press and the blogs, and the tidal wave of so-called reality TV, we, the anonymous public, take great delight in being reminded that power and privilege do not make a man wise or save him from ridicule. Remember all the fun we had watching a political bully and egocentric hit man named Wiener deny his own penis - and one he must have been so proud of too.
What was he thinking, everyone asked? Well, I will tell you. In the act of exposing his private parts, he was also acting out one of the most profound of human impulses - the need to reconnect with ordinary men and women. He had flown so high that his wings melted and he must come back to earth or lose all semblance of his true self. America in particular is the land of such dreams and high flying ambition. But men were not meant to fly, and therefore they must occasionally come back down from the heavens to feel the earth beneath their feet. This is why the man who might have been President of France, Mr. Strauss Kahn, worked so hard to destroy his future, before it could ensnare him, and found his opportunity in a New York hotel room.
But this is only half the story. The other half is that we, the non famous, relish the chance to aid the high and mighty in their descent. The Japanese have a saying, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." And when a high flying politician or celebrity begins to give off black smoke and their orbital path wobbles, we pick up our hammers and cheer them on. For as much as the rich and powerful must touch their essential humanity, the rest of us -- especially in America, that land of equality -- need to know that we are not less than others. We want to look then in the eye, and so they must come down to our altitude to accommodate us. While our talents and virtues may be unknown to the world, we are no worse than Anthony Weiner - however nice a penis he may have -- and in many ways, we are much better. And who isn't smarter than Kim Kardashian? Add the IQs of the entire cast of Jersey Shore and you have one pretty smart moron. Sure, people of this ilk have money and fame, but everyone knows that they are bonafide idiots.
But all this prefatory matter leads me to the more general and more important proposition that democracy - that political system of intricate leveling rules serving the proposition that every man is equal -- has its risks. Elitists refer to this as "dumbing down," and they see democracy's main effect as making the world safe for those who stand on the top step of ladders and would try to make toast in the bathtub unless they are physically restrained. Thank God, I say, for government warning labels!
But I wish here to disagree with these elitists. Leveling is not necessarily a matter of dumbing down. Progressives see the abolition of the most pernicious differences between us as the culmination of the democratic program. When we have abolished all such differences - and everyone supports everyone else and all discrimination is rooted out - that is, in the older, archaic sense of the word, which means to see differences - there will be no excuse for greed or conflict. This is why I do not fret when the press agonizes over the lack of educational achievement in American schools. Of course, I want to say! Modern education is not about permitting some individuals to excel and achieve more than others. The old "honor" programs were a tool of the old class system and Phi Beta Kappa is now correctly seen as nothing more than a symbol of the ruling class. Today education is about creating a standardized, democratic man who is the equal of everyone else and I am happy to say that this program is well underway. The evidence for this is not only in the test scores of students which resist every attempt to elevate them, but also in the composition of the teaching cadre, who on average know very little about anything, and hopefully nothing at all about the content of the courses they teach. This enables them to maintain their focus on the social goals of education , which is and as it should be.
In conclusion, let me say it plainly, although some may find it needlessly provocative. We need to finally shed our wings of wax and embrace the middle path. Flight is too uncertain and dangerous and not everyone can soar. Let us aim instead for what every man can achieve without inspiring envy if he puts his mind to it. I say let us not denigrate mediocrity, but set it out openly as our goal and celebrate every victory along the way.