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Analysis of and commentary on South African politics from a liberal perspective. Winner: Best Political Blog 2012.

Tag: Mediocrity

On specialness


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. I am currently overseas until the end of this week, so please forgive the limited posting. Here is this week’s column, on specialness and how the idea is often misused, certainly over-used – to the extent that everything (and hence nothing) is actually special at all.

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Zero Worship


FEATURE: The manic adulation heaped unthinkingly on all our Olympians seems to have died down somewhat. And the events at Lonmin Mine adjusted our reaction to the endlessly repeated refrain that the Olympics ‘united’ us as a nation. So, perhaps now is as good a time as any to ask: did we really do that well at the Olympics? Is six medals the epitome of excellence or have we settled for mediocrity? In the article below, I argue South Africans seriously needs to readjust their expectations if we want to succeed and stop celebrating the average.

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An essay on mediocrity


SERIES: One from the archives. What follows below is a 2009 essay I wrote on the nature and effect of mediocrity on a society. How does what is set out in the essay apply to South Africa? Are we a society caught in its warm embrace? There can be little doubt that its influence is powerful, the question is: is it so well-entrenched its effect cannot be reversed? Perhaps if we understood it a little better, we would be better equipped to counter the pervasive way in which it seeps into public life.

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On excellence


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Today, a brief look at the idea of excellence. In particular, how identifying excellence is often confused with its pursuit. In other words, how a description is conflated with an attitude, why the distinction is important and what role each – being able to identify what is excellent and being able to pursue it – plays in a society.

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The eternal battle between outcomes and processes


ARTICLE: What is more important – an outcome or the process designed to achieve it? How you answer that question will say a lot about you. Those primarily concerned with outcomes are usually responsible for change and, with it, progress. Those overly concerned with processes usually stifle progress, unable as they are to understand its purpose in the first place (to generate an outcome) – or to adapt when it fails. South Africa today places far too much emphasis on process. Indeed, in politics we have a process for everything (a tribunal, a committee, a review, a commission, an investigation, etc) but when it comes to outcomes – and with that accoutability – well, they are far harder to find. So it is worth exploring the relationship between these two things, to try and better understand the role each plays.

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What would a society mired in mediocrity look like?


ARTICLE: Mediocrity is a devilish thing – pervasive and insidious and yet so ill-defined. It is relatively easy to understand what excellence is, much harder though to define its nemesis. What I have tried to do in the article below is describe what a society firmly in mediocrity’s grip might look like. It is a helpful exercise, if only because it makes it easier to understand the important role excellence plays and its general effect.

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Excellence as an antidote


ARTICLE: In the piece below Wilmot James makes a fairly profound point: that excellence and its pursuit can be a mechanism through which reconciliation can be achieved. That is, to my mind, an entirely original approach. And quite true too: for a country that suffers low self esteem and over which victimhood has such a strong hold, what can be a better anecdote than setting high standards and then achieving them? Something to think about.

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The emperor has no clothes


FEATURE: Recently it has been argued by a number of commentators that Preisdent Jacob Zuma’s dull and dreary speeches are not the product of ineptitude, but just, well, the way things are done in the ANC. This article responds to that argument by focusing on one of its advocates and a particular piece from the Daily Maverick.

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