Ecce Homo

by Abiola Lapite | 10/28/96 6:00am

It has recently come to my attention that some students at Dartmouth feel that my columns have not been of benefit to the public. While it is a policy of mine not to dignify bilious attacks by responding to them, I nevertheless feel that it is important that I deal with some misconceptions that seem to lie behind these recent outbursts of venom. Following Nietzsche's lead in his wonderful book, "Ecce Homo" (for the Latin challenged, this means "Behold the Man") I wish to lay out the philosophy behind all of my essays.

People write columns for all sorts of reasons. Some write out of a desire for recognition, others because they have nothing to do to fill their free time, and still others because it helps pad their resumes. I write for none of those reasons. I do not write to entertain anyone, nor do I write to make people feel good about themselves. I do not write for this paper to win popularity, or to curry favor with any members of the readership.

I choose to write for one, and one reason only: because I believe that the pursuit and recognition of excellence, in all aspects of life, is the most important goal there is. Nothing, nothing whatsoever, comes before this.

My message takes on particular importance because of the mindset of many at this college. For there is a cult at Dartmouth, a cult which undermines everything that I, and all right thinking persons, value. The cult of which I speak is the Cult of Mediocrity.

It seems strange to me that at a school with such an elitist mission, so many should cling so tenaciously to the pursuit of the third rate. Dartmouth has been very successful at producing a certain type of individual: the future assistant bank vice president or under-secretary. Dartmouth has been good, in fact too good, at producing organization men, apparatchiks, functionaries. At the same time, this college has managed to produce precious few visionaries in any field. How many Dartmouth graduates have made contributions in the arenas of literature, music, the sciences, or even business? Precious few, and for good reason.

The reason why there has been such a paucity of Great Men at Dartmouth is because the environment at this college has never been conducive to the production of these types of men. The blame for this situation lies, not with the administration, or the faculty, both groups of whom it must in all honesty be said do quite a good job. The blame must lie entirely with the students themselves.

The symptoms of third-ratism manifest themselves in daily life at this college in several ways. One can see this mentality at work in the disdain some people show for those of their fellows who take their work seriously, or who seem to be motivated in their studies by anything other than immediate material aims, such as getting a good job with Goldman Sachs. One can see the worship of mediocrity at work in the visible resentment, hatred even, shown by many when they encounter others who seem to know more than they do. These individuals would like to believe that they are the measure of all things, that anything they do not know cannot be worth knowing, and must be mere pretension.

Let me not mince words -- I feel nothing but contempt towards such people. It has always been important to me to associate with those who show excellence, and to learn from such individuals. I feel admiration towards those who are more competent than I am, not resentment: resentment is the mark of the small man, the individual who is condemned to be third rate and who knows it. The history of the world, whatever one would wish to believe, really is mostly the words and deeds of a few great men. People talk about social currents and technological revolutions, yet how are these forces set off except through the agency of a few giants? There would have been no Industrial Age without Newton's genius.

It seems obvious then that it is every man's duty to himself to strive for excellence in his life. I cannot bring myself to respect a man who refuses to be anything more than a herds-man, a perpetual follower of opinion. I refuse to consider as an equal anyone who, out of a fear of failure, settles for a life of comfortable mediocrity. Such an individual is no better than a well kept animal.

I am under no illusions about the kind of reception my words will receive, for men do not enjoy being reminded of their shortcomings. No matter -- as long as I draw breath, I shall never cease to preach my beliefs, regardless of the number of also-rans whose teeth I may set on edge.

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