Great Spirits and Mediocre Minds

AtlasMojo has had the less-than-delightful experience, probably two or three times in the past year or so, to sit on the sidelines and witness someone get totally FED UP with the Cro-Magnons they are forced to deal with, and opt to grab up all their toys and QUIT whatever joint project they are working on with the group and go home. I say "quit", but that is really an inadequate word for the bridge-burning, soap operatic drama that ensues. The quitter's ire has never been directed at me, thus far, so I have merely leaned back with a bowl of popcorn and watched the fireworks. And oh, what fireworks they are! Truly a glorious spectacle!

Each situation has had its differences, but the gist of things remains the same: So-and-so, the unheralded and unappreciated Geen-yus, is finally handed the proverbial Last Straw. We've all been there--I don't think there's a more frustrating and thankless job than volunteer committee work--but I maintain there is a certain type of person who turns this rather banal situation into High Art.

Essentially there is a bombastic blow-out that could probably be measured on the Richter scale. As the rest of us sit around the conference table in dumbfounded silence, So-and-so seizes the opportunity to produce their ever-growing laundry list of real and imagined faults and slights, passes around spreadsheets that inventory all their wasted time and lost sleep, blames everyone else in the group of gross incompetence, complete and utter lack of cooperation, back-stabbing conspiracy, etc. They finish up by bemoaning the general failure of ANYONE sitting at the table to hang the toilet paper the right way in the bathroom.

All of this builds and culminates into the dramatic crescendo wherein So-and-so FINALLY announces they will NO LONGER be any part of such horrid mismanagement, and furthermore (there is almost ALWAYS a furthermore, huh?) they're going to make sure that all of our mutual friends, business acquaintances and gas station attendants are made aware of the REAL STORY behind this sad, sorry Miscarriage of Justice. All the while So-and-so is rather violently picking up their stuff off the table and shoving it into their briefcase or purse, practically spewing froth along with their indignation. It looks like they are waiting for someone in the group to beg them to stay and beg for forgiveness, since evidently in their tiny little world the project cannot possibly exist without their continual support.

Each time *I* have watched this scene, I am proud to say, the rest of the group have not bothered with the whole begging part. Each So-and-so has been allowed to huff off, perhaps making a final point of slamming the door behind them. And once the echoes die, inevitably one of the first things expressed after the shock wears off has been, "Eh. Good riddance."

Because while true Geen-yuses like Mojo are few and far between, there are a shocking number of people who have an inordinately inflated opinion of their worth to the group and indeed society at large, and they are not shy about expressing this worth. Over and over again, to ensure that people like Mojo (who are notorious for not paying attention) WILL, in fact, be paying attention this time. Evidently they enjoy keeping their lit candles under a large, protective bushel, for Mojo usually can't see the utter Geen-yus that THEY see. All Mojo sees is a sad little dreamer who blames others for their own miserable failures at worst, or--at best--some poor deluded person so taken in by the self-help industry's mantra of "Yes! YOU are SPECIAL! YOU deserve this! YOU ARE NATURE'S GREATEST MIRACLE!!!" that they are willing to jump on the I-Am-Special bandwagon and look down on those of us who are foolish enough to remain on foot.

This appears to be the general plot of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, as I recall it, for I haven't actually read it in some ten years or so. Being fantasy fiction, when the main characters snatch up their toys and stomp away the world comes grinding to a slow, inexorable halt, and the back-stabbing bureaucratic non-Geen-yuses are left gnashing their teeth and crying for forgiveness while the striking Geen-yuses are skipping merrily about the Colorado mountains, living their über-productive lives while not giving a tinker's cuss for the sobbing victims of Tribulation By Stupidity. It is fundamentalism at its finest, with the Chosen Ones enjoying the schadenfreude of watching the world crumble without them.

Of course, once you get past the endless proselytizing, Atlas Shrugged the book leaves you with only a thin plot of purple-hued attempts to convey real human relationships: empurpled not only in the prosaic sense, but in the black-and-blue sense of having to slog through the flotsam and jetsam of wooden dialog and other rickety structures that await the reader's feet, hidden under all the muck. For, interesting political philosophies aside, Ayn Rand is a pretty terrible writer. (Is it any wonder that Rand fans are thus so socially inept, or perhaps so swayed by awkward dialog, that they require their own special dating site? It made CNN a few weeks ago.) 

What I find most amusing about Rand's followers is, many of them appear to be hopelessly mediocre non-producers who would NEVER in a million years be invited to become one of the Chosen Ones in Galt's Utopian Drainage Ditch. Yet THEY seem to be utterly convinced that they WOULD be, and spend a great deal of needless time and energy insisting that YOU believe they would be, too. I don't know why they feel this need. At least religious fundamentalists can pretend they don't want to see you slowly roasting in Hell, even though deep down that appears to be an essential part of the entertainment. There is nothing they would like better, in their wildest fantasies, to storm off and have the world grind slowly to a halt. They probably also long for the distinctly soap opera plot device of falling into a coma every three or four years, so that everyone who knows them suddenly realize just how horribly they miss So-and-so's sparkling, charismatic presence, and rush to their bedside to gasp hysterical, choking pleas of forgiveness over So-and-so's inert form. Then So-and-so's eyes can flutter open, and everyone around the bed can bask in the glory of another chance at Redemption. (*sob!*)

It's a harmless fun fantasy, I suppose, but most people would not actually care for what would REALLY happen. So-and-so might have fantasies of crying remorse and gnashing teeth, but my impression of the general reaction is more along the lines of the "Eh, good riddance" mentioned above. Hardly anyone is as important as they like to think they are. Of course, that doesn't make for a good book, not when people WANT to be told they are special and creative and the world will stop should they ever interrupt blessing us with their mere presence and withdraw, along with other Superior Beings, to dig into a bowl of popcorn and watch society crumble from the sidelines.

It is perhaps delightfully ironic, then, that the recent film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged has gotten terrible, terrible reviews--so utterly atrocious reviews (my personal favorite from the link below: "Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said the movie 'sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal.'"), in fact, that the producer/money guy behind the project has rather dramatically suggested that he might, in fact, deprive the unappreciative hoi polloi of Parts Two and Three. In short, like the glorious Geen-yus John Galt himself, he's gonna stomp off in a huff and leave us bemoaning our film-less, Atlas-enshrugged state. What will we do without Parts Two and Three committed to celluloid? Actually have to sit down and read the BOOK again? Heaven forfend! What have we ever done to deserve such a horrible fate? Aside from laughing at our social, financial and intellectual superiors, that is.

As Seth Godin once somewhat famously said, "Defending mediocrity is exhausting." To which mediocre people will no doubt counter with Einstein's more-famous observation, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." Duelling mediocrities! I love it! Clearly mediocrity is in the mind of the beholder, but I must say I haven't seen too many great spirits--at least how *I* would define the beast--expending any energy telling me over and over what great spirits they are. Unless they've read one too many self-help books, that is. THEN, of course, they are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like them. Yup. Repeat that often enough, and So-and-so might actually believe it.

Just too bad it's probably not true. Go ahead and storm out, and fantasize about how the world will grind to a halt without your continual meddling. As Eliza Doolittle sang in the Lerner and Lowe musical,

"There'll be spring every year without you
England still will be here without you
There'll be fruit on the tree
And a shore by the sea
There'll be crumpets and tea without you

"Art and music will thrive without you

Somehow Keats will survive without you
And there still will be rain on that plain down in Spain
Even that will remain without you
I can do without you."

Or, if you don't like Broadway musicals, just think of Mojo, stuffing more popcorn in her face, and grunting, "Eh. Good riddance." It might not be as poetic, or aesthetically pleasing to contemplate, but hey, there's less words. THAT's gotta count for something.