Tag: Enemies of Excellence
The whole ethos of asceticism, with its valorization of difficulty, can obscure the radically different motives for which ascetic practices might be adopted, and in the literature of these religious orders, one sometimes meets with a rhetorical excess, which, if we are not careful, threatens to undermine the philosophical foundations of our most basic thinking about goodness.
Christians sometimes think—or talk as though—any glorification of excellence signals a hostility toward everyone who has failed to achieve it, that genuine love for the least of these requires the denigration of excellence. The only issue with this line of thinking is its utter incoherence. The very idea of charity presupposes the goodness of that which is given and the badness of the recipient's condition.
A man who looks for excellence, it is thought, must surely be both proud and judgmental. In some circles, one gets the impression that the good news of the Gospel is that human beings will always and forever be terrible at everything they do, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief and stop trying. If some trouble-maker comes in and suggests that we can do better at this or that, such exhortation is interpreted as a case of 'human striving.'
It is no surprise that a whole self-help industry has sprung up centered around the notion that we have no real inadequacies or failures: You are perfect and beautiful just the way you are. After all, there is a large, highly-motivated, paying audience who desperately wants just this message.
No one likes to be left out of the club, but every club can only exist by making a distinction between those who are members and those who are not. If everyone is part of the club, then there is no club.
All discussion of excellence rests on a rejection of universal unqualified egalitarianism. Excellence in any field requires a scale of better and worse, and this scale of better and worse rests on the inequality of whatever things are on that scale.
Individual relativism can often come from both conflict avoidance and antipathy toward authority. We should acknowledge that both of these emotional reactions do give us some insights into the truth, but they do not give us any reason to think that excellence is not objective.
Apart from the cheap points we can score by pointing out the internal contradictions of cultural relativism, a much deeper critique can be leveled against the assumption that there is widespread cultural disagreement about core values.
Enemies of Excellence Part 2. Luxury beliefs are those beliefs that one can only afford to hold once sufficient material and cultural wealth guarantees that the implications of those beliefs need never be faced.
Enemies of Excellence - Intro
Introduction to the Enemies of Excellence series of posts. What are the mindsets that hold us back from excellence or from valuing a philosophy of excellence? Where do they come from and why do they sometimes have such a visceral force behind them?