Departments

Mediocrity

Tyrants always first burn the books and bury the scholars. They have never got them all; but what the survivors have learned, whether alone with the hidden texts or forbidden books in their attics, or reciting them over and over to keep them straight in the attics of their brains; what they have learned while despised as wizards, witches, devil-traffickers, heretics, sentimentalists, reactionaries, pedants, or just as mad; what they have learned is that an age is not made dark or light by its luminaries, but by the lesser lights crowding around and beside them.

In an age of darkness an incandescent mind is an annoyance. At best it disorients, at worst it horrifies, those who live in darkness. Great lights are bearable only to those with eyes adapted to light, to those already aware, in themselves and in those around them, of the possibility and the worth of light. Those who have walked in darkness all their lives, who have given their whole trust and faith to one or another set of directions, committed to memory, that have kept them from falls and collisions without requiring them to be aware of where they are – they will hate light. They have been blind to the world, and worse, unmirrored, unknown to themselves. Light will pain them, and they will hide from it, shroud it, or put it out with slogans and proverbs, with laughter and mockery and shouting down; with exiling potshards, with crosses, with the auto-de-fé and the pyre, with the breaking wheel, with guns, with imprisonment, with transportation, with impoverishing lawsuits.

Greatness requires audient mediocrity not for contrast, but for support. The opposition the great meet from the mediocre is like the resistance of the water to the swimmer. What holds them back also holds them up.