Mediocre On Purpose

Winnie Lim had some thoughts on labels and value, whether it’s “predefined ideas of what constitutes as valuable work” or even just categorizing things by one’s sense of their relative “use”.

Citing an Ankur Sethi post which briefly talks about feeling like one’s cultural consumption needs to have artistic merit, Lim expands upon the thought.

I think it is similar to how I label all the things I do into so-called useless and useful. I can understand the sentiment that life is short and we should optimise for time, but we our selves are works-in-progress and therefore we can’t really be the best judge of what is the best use of time. And sometimes the best use of time is to waste it.

By having very fixed ideas on what should be done and consumed, we’re setting unnecessary limits to where we can expand our selves. Who knows where inspiration may come from? And not everything needs to have a purpose. We can watch rom coms simply because we enjoy it.

Responding in the comments, Lim links to another post on leading a purposeless life.

I think it is beautiful if people have a purpose. But it should be valid to lead a purposeless life too. We may start seeing potentialities when we’re not fixated or something. Maybe it is okay to not pursue potential and just be okay with being. Why must there be a reason for everything?

This is the trap that our extractive system sets for all of us: everything and everyone must be “of use”. All of our actions and behaviors must aim to be both productive and optimized. Except that we are more than just an assemblage of mechanical processes. To hell with the wonky, wellness, woo-woo of “optimization”.

In recent years I’ve referred to both my life and my autism as “mediocre”. The latter because it doesn’t match the normative picture that vacillates between extremes of “savant polymath” and “high-support-needs child”; the former because I don’t have any normative sense of purpose and I’m certainly not contributing any kind of economic value to the world.

I’m not entirely sure how people read that usage, but I’m not ashamed of being mediocre by the normative standards of success or utility. To be clear, I am not dropping the term on Lin’s head; I’m bringing it up because it’s how I make sense of things.

“[W]e our selves are works-in-progress,” writes Lim, “and therefore we can’t really be the best judge of what is the best use of time.” I’d quibble and add that there’s also no real “best use of time”. At least, even when seeking use it’s extraordinarily difficult to separate out what might truly be of use from what normative standards are telling us is of use.

What’s more: something deemed of no use still can have tremendous value—and that goes not just for how we spend our time but also for us in and of ourselves.