Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Meden agan: nothing too much

I've noticed a recurring theme in several of my recent posts:

Rejecting one side of a spectrum of possibilities doesn't justify accepting the other extreme.

Just because statistics can be deceptive doesn't mean they are worthless. Just because too much planning can be bad doesn't mean you should use none. Just because victim mentality exists doesn't mean people shouldn't have safeguards.

The Apollonian "golden mean", in Greek, was expressed "meden agan": "nothing too much". It applies in so many cases and situations. Another one I run into a lot: if everyone is extra special, then no one is; what is grand takes its grandeur from comparison to what isn't. So many people can't differentiate between raising the baseline and raising some point on the curve -- for instance, the difference between making everyone's standard of living a little better, and making your standard of living better.

I wish I could find a really complete but concise way to express how all these are the same thing, the same element missing from the thinking of so many people.


litlfrog said...

I do take some exception to this part:
"if everyone is extra special, then no one is; what is grand takes its grandeur from comparison to what isn't."

Everyone being special need not mean that they are brilliant or strong or above average in the Lake Wobegone sense. It means, to me and others who hold this tent, that everyone is valuable and different. An average suburbanite working at JC Penney will likely not change the world in large ways, but she still affects the people around her. Sorry to get all 70s Mr. Rogers on you, but that's who I am.

HawthornThistleberry said...

I guess I failed even worse than I thought I had to express what I was talking about. Nothing in what I wrote was intended to have the slightest to do with making value judgments about people's importance and impact on the world around them.

I'd try to clarify what it was about, but right now I'm feeling a lot more inadequate than usual, and that's saying something, so I think I'll give it a miss.

litlfrog said...

Oh, I'm all for the Golden Mean (and I'm glad to have learned the Greek for it). Sorry to have misunderstood that aspect of your post.

HawthornThistleberry said...

Might as well elaborate now what I didn't last time.

Every person I know is special in some particular way... and perfectly ordinary in dozens of other ways. In terms of any single particular "axis", most people are normal.

Consider, for example, eulogies. For various reasons (I don't care to go into here), nearly everyone is described, at their eulogies, as "an especially warm and caring person". This is a polite white lie, of course; if everyone were really "an especially warm and caring person", then no one would really be *especially* warm and caring.

But that doesn't mean that the guy who was actually a heartless son of a bitch wasn't also special in some other way -- perhaps, for instance, his unfeeling ambition is what caused his exhausted, frazzled team to help discover a cure for something, or gave his children the opportunities they needed to become better people, or just served as a bad example that inspired others. Or perhaps he just happened to be a good painter.

There are enough ways to be special that everyone gets a moment to shine; but that moment only matters because everyone else isn't shining at that particular moment.