Where Have All the Moderates Disappeared?


Where Have All the Moderates Disappeared?

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tries hard to build a case for taking the mystery out of the genius and the super successful, self-made or otherwise. He brings out facts that prove that behind even the most “self-made” successes, lie a series of historical or other benign, unique advantages and opportunities that have been accorded to that successful person. In a way, he’s basically trying to take away the excessive veneration of our narrative of success or the excessive flagellations of the unsuccessful and the “mediocre”.

In another book, by celebrity self-help blogger Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a very compelling argument is made about the pitfalls of letting one’s life be measured by the modern-day narrative of what entails “living life to the fullest”. More often than not, extreme viewpoints – be it conservative or liberal – are the noisiest. They get the most attention in today’s hyper-social world, irrespective of whether they have any material benefit when looked at through the wisdom of hindsight.

These narratives have started working on the collective as well as individual consciousness and have come to define our times. So abbreviations like #YOLO are commonplace. Statements like “what’s life without doing something crazy”, or achieving something really big or “leaving a big legacy” or making yourself heard loud and clear (irrespective of the quality of your opinion), have become the new normal. And to make this happen, the outlandish, the bizarre, the freakish, the crass, become purveyors of influence and symbols of our times. Symbolism takes over substance. And in the process, everyone who’s not “visible enough” becomes part of the vast majority of people leading “uneventful” lives, many of them questioning themselves as to how it all went so wrong?

This is where the confusion about mediocrity being equated with being moderate begins.

The Kardashians. Rakhi Sawant. Karni Sena. Sambhaji Brigade. Donald Trump. Nirav Modi. Kanhaiya Kumar. Jignesh Mevani. Vijay Mallya. Folks from the far right or the far left, conservative or liberal, have all overshadowed many a moderate soul and have occupied majority of the media narrative, be it social media, television, and to an extent, even print.

Does one really judge a teacher by how “visible” he or she was in your school or what she did for your understanding of a subject and helped shape your worldview?

Is being “moderate” equal to being “mediocre”? To answer this question one must ask oneself: How does one measure contribution? Within a family, friend circle, neighbourhood, school, organisation, governance, or even global politics.

Does one really judge a teacher by how “visible” he or she was in your school or what she did for your understanding of a subject and helped shape your worldview? Do you bank on your most visible friend with the maximum number of followers or do you bank on someone who has been there when you needed him, and has gone beyond his remit to help you when you needed it the most? Did the boss, who was most popular in the company you worked at, impact you more than the quiet one who encouraged you to take ownership and knew when to withdraw and when to front? Whose opinion do you really value?

Think hard about that last question, and the answer, more often than not will be the understated guy in your group of friends. The quiet sibling. The supportive mother. In the army, the boss who leads by example and from the front – rather than the one who pulls his rank – is the person who is regarded as a leader.

In corporate India, some of the most visible CEOs and promoters have turned out to the biggest duds. Need I name Mallya? Turns out, it is the boring, predictable Warren Buffet, whose ambition is to get “average” returns on equity over an extended period (read five decades), is the most consistent. He has stayed in the same house for four decades and stayed married to the same wife for an equal duration.

Is being “moderate” equal to being “mediocre”?

Whose value system are you most likely to look up to? A moderate like Gandhi or an extremist like Hitler? (Even though Gandhi was both visible and a moderate, a rarity in today’s time.)

Another example of changing times is the lack of premium we now place on consistency. The mercurial person who throws in shades of brilliance but mostly doesn’t follow through on her ideas, is still considered worthy of our veneration. The consistent, understated leader, who plods and pushes his team from the shadows, is a disappearing breed in the modern-day narrative.

We need to look no further than the state of world politics today. An Angela Merkel gets re-elected multiple times only in super-modern, and should I say understated, Germany. Several other nations today have one leader or the other at the helm, be it Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Rodrigo Duterte, Shinzo Abe, or our very own Narendra Modi.

History will truly judge what impact these folks have had, but until then, we’ll perhaps have to live with the hype.

The question is, how can we prevent the complete disappearance of the moderate individual or opinion from our discourse? It’s not just for own sanity – we’ve lived long enough with some form of madness. Our children, though, could do with some moderate role models.