In democracy, people are supposed to be roughly equal in ability and talent. People are not supposed to notice inborn differences between people that make for wildly different sets of capabilities and interests across the population. The thought is that, generally, emotional engagement or hard work at something can trump all other factors.
Despite this, even in the most democratic of settings, the compulsory school, we all know of students who never seemed to need to spend time studying to win excellent marks on tests. Part of this is due to the general lowering in educational standards, but it’s also partly because some people are intrinsically more intelligent than others. Some people need to put in hours of work to try to solve a problem and fail, whereas a more intelligent person might be able to solve it in seconds of thought.
Although the democrat praises hard work, the results of hard work over time tend to make them feel uncomfortable. Learning, high levels of skill, and wisdom are all concepts that make a democratic people uncomfortable. There is a general idea that, gaining too much knowledge about any area that might be outside their narrow job description is a suspicious activity.
Even among ‘knowledge workers,’ at least if they’re not technical, it’s common to find people who may only read a single book a year, if that, and otherwise spend the spare time watching television, listening to the radio, and scanning social media feeds. To depart from the culture of mainstream media consumers is to become socially awkward, and to be socially awkward is to be at a professional disadvantage in such an environment, which prefers conformity to virtuosity.
Rather than defining a person by their family name or where they come from, at contemporary parties, democratic people identify themselves by what they ‘do.’ In some cases, they may have ostentatious titles that rival those of the old nobility in length and incomprehensibility.
Democratic people tend to focus on building credentials which advance their ‘careers,’ accumulated in a text document, along with recommendations from their former bosses. They may or may not have real skills, but what matters is the long record of conformity that they have behind them. They appear reliable, even if it’s difficult to tell whether or not they are actually effective as individuals. Because of this, the most competitive careerists look to get some brand name companies on their record, which acts as a sort of magic dust that makes them stand out, at least as long as that name remains relevant.
What the democrat rarely seeks is excellence. Excellence is sometimes spoken of in hushed tones, because excellent men are not supposed to exist. The ancient Greeks sought areté, excellence, whereas the careerists seeks to merge their identity with a trust-worthy collective, which, although it may be excellent in its own way, will rarely phrase itself in terms of the excellence of a single man. There are, of course, sacred exceptions, that responsible people treat with an inverted awe, freely praising a particular that they would condemn in general.
Pre-democratic Europe preferred the artisan, whose excellence spanned generations — and still does in certain pockets. People joke about the ‘artisanal’ buzzword as if it’s a joke, but when artisanal products displace industrial ones, it has implications for public morality and philosophy as well. The industrial producer creates democratic products for a democratic people. As democracy fades into the past, slowly, so do its artifacts, and its characteristics of ordinary life.