Is America Doomed to a Future of Institutionalized Mediocrity?

“In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous.” –Robert Green Ingersoll

Recently I watched the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Though no ONE entity was singled out as the murderer, it was evident that the car companies, in collusion with the gas and oil industry were mostly to blame. GM designed and produced viable electric cars that were found to be extremely satisfactory to those few people who were lucky enough to be allowed to lease and drive them. They were called EV 1. If you haven’t seen this documentary, I recommend it. In a period of about five years, GM went from making a viable electric car for which demand was building to collecting them all and sending them to the scrap yards.

The Chevrolet EV 1

After watching this movie, my husband and I recalled two other movies, both of which were fiction, but told similar stories. Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and Flash of Genius (2008) were two films about inventors that were crushed by the automobile industry, sometimes with the help of government. In Tucker, a man reinvented the automobile with visionary safety features and a stylish design. Before he could even get the car on the market, the SEC shut him down, for all intents and purposes. Tucker was brought to trial and eventually found Not Guilty of charges of fraud and misuse of funds. In Flash, a man invents a motor that will allow windshield wipers to run intermittently and the invention is stolen by Ford Motor Company. After years of fighting Ford in court, the inventor, Bob Kearns, was finally vindicated and received a settlement. Both of these films were based on actual events.
Thinking about both of these stories also brought to mind the arrest of John DeLorean in 1982. DeLorean, in case you don’t know or recall, was an automobile engineer responsible for developing the Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac Firebird. He left GM to start his own car company in 1973. The DeLorean Motor Company produced a single vehicle, the DMC 12, before the company went bankrupt. Though DeLorean was struggling, the bankruptcy became fait accompli when the Federal Government entrapped John DeLorean in a drug sting in 1982. Though it took years, DeLorean cleared his name in the end.
All of this made me wonder if any new company can be successful in this sort of climate. Growing up I was taught that if you worked hard and applied yourself, our society would reward your ingenuity. It appears as though our corporations have gotten so powerful that they use governmental agencies to squash ingenuity and steal it. The case I make here is based on the automotive industry, but I wonder if there are other stories like this from other industries.
And I wonder if America is doomed to a future of institutionalized mediocrity enforced by governmental agencies to maintain the status quo for powerful corporate interests.
I also see mediocrity rewarded daily in businesses in this country. I have spoken with co-workers at length and everyone has a story of their own and many of their relatives have also spoken of how mediocrity is rewarded and ingenuity is crushed. I wonder how many of you here have your own stories? Perhaps we as Americans should start to compile these stories in order to get a better grip on the magnitude of the problem.

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Is America Doomed to a Future of Institutionalized Mediocrity?

  1. Pingback: AUTO WARRANTY BLOG | Is America Doomed to a Future of Institutionalized Mediocrity …

    • paulasayles

      ? Spam commenting??

      • It’s called a ‘ping’ or a track back, and indicates another blog has linked to your blog. It’s actually an indication that what you posted is of interest to others. I can not approve track backs if you prefer. Be sure to let me know! Follow the link and see how they used your blog post, and let me know whether you prefer it deleted.

      • Zippy

        In this instance, it’s basically a spam blog using pings to generate traffic.

        But I suppose they return the favor. 🙂

  2. indypendent

    I have long been worried about the dumbing down of America. Of course, Republicans would point to teachers unions as being the reason for this but is it really?

    When a Conservative Republican President George W. Bush rammed the No Child Left Behind Act down our throats – exactly what did we get for that?

    The states got saddled with the enormous cost to implement the dang thing and we got alot of lip service about how wonderful the NCLB was working. But ask any teacher and they will tell you thte NCLB was nothing but alot of B.S.

    But the sad fact is – the number of Americans that actually know the history of America and the number of Americans that can tell you the winner of each year on the American Idol will show just how much we value education in this country.

    We throw a bunch of memorizing for tests at the students but very little learning. And for creativity and ingenuity – both of those fly out the window.

  3. Written back in 2007, this article describes the antiscientific governance of the bush administration. For me this is THE explanation of America’s march to mediocrity.

    Scientists have been ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues. Policies have gone forward repeatedly without adequate scientific input and sometimes in spite of it, and have subsequently backfired.

    Under George W. Bush—the man who pronounced climate science “incomplete,” who misled the nation in his first major address about the availability of embryonic stem cells for research, who claimed that Iraq was collaborating with Al Qaida—America’s relationship with reality itself has reached a nadir.

    At the same time—and perhaps not coincidentally—the fortunes of the nation have suffered and the prospects of many Americans, of the American Dream itself, have diminished. From bridge collapses to the failure to protect New Orleans (both before and after Katrina), these days the country can’t even seem to deliver upon the most basic of promises to its citizens—to ensure their safety. Along with the neglect of science has come a broader neglect of expertise, competence, and even functional government. These are, perhaps, matters not so disparate. For science doesn’t merely provide a way of expanding knowledge of the world. It doesn’t just provide answers to pressing questions; it changes the conversation itself. Science—and the broader way of thinking that comes with it—trains its adherents and practitioners to relish the very act of questioning for its own sake, of figuring out what’s true and false, of determining what works and what fails.

    continue reading here —
    http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/dr._president/

    • I was just having this conversation with someone the other day on the subject of climate change. The right first demonized the lawyers and then the began demonizing the scientists.

      Whenever I have a conversation with a conservative about climate change, I have to literally define the terms scientific fact and scientific theory. They don’t grasp that scientific thought is a completely different kind of thought. We have moved away from science as a nation and I agree with you, fnord, that it is the heart of what drives us to mediocrity.

      And the kind of situation that I described in my post, if it happens often enough, will drive good minds to stop attempting innovation, or at least to stop sharing it when they find it.

    • prairie pond

      I guess I should have read here before posting on the GOP thread about the war on education working.

      The worst part?

      “From bridge collapses to the failure to protect New Orleans (both before and after Katrina), these days the country can’t even seem to deliver upon the most basic of promises to its citizens—to ensure their safety.”

      We accept this as the new normal. They give bush a pass on Katrina and we give obama a pass on the BP disaster, both camps saying “well, whatever can we or they do?”

      Well, CHRIST, for one thing, everyone can admit when they phuck up! As long as someone provides government, and our other institutions, with cover by refusing to admit when a bad job was done, NOTHING will improve.

      The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem… something American is wholly unwilling to do. What 617 said. Until there is a change in “us” nothing about our institutions will change.

      • Until there is a change in “us” nothing about our institutions will change.

        I agree wholeheartedly. I am just stuck on where to begin to change “us.”

        Of course, like any good twelve step program will tell you, you have to start with yourself. But, then what? How do we spread a new way of thinking, of acting, of seeing the world across a group of people with such diverse ways of looking at things?

        I’m stuck.

  4. Now as to a story, I have no specific story, just an acknowledgment that every appliance, car, lawnmower… we buy seems to have obsolescence built in. Things used to last longer. At our house we don’t buy cheap stuff because we know we get what we pay for, we take care of what we buy and we used to get more value than we do today.

  5. Of course I couldn’t read this thread header without being reminded of these words: “Good job, Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” What was it you said about rewarding mediocrity?

  6. Yes, unless there are radical changes in us.

  7. Zippy

    For many people, facts are not considered superior to opinion these days.

    That’s surreal, but it’s reality.

    • Zippy,
      many don’t seem to know the difference between fact and opinion anymore. I just had to point out to someone yesterday that they were reading an Op Ed, which is different than a news article, so it was okay for Leonard Pitts to mix opinion with fact.

  8. John

    Just want to add a correction – Tucker wasn’t fiction. Preston Tucker was a real person, and the Tucker Car Corporation produced 51 cars in 1948.

    Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Tucker_Sedan