by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 6
October 2021

Do we discriminate against boring people?

This may be one form of prejudice that we're all overlooking
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

There’s good evidence that “Lookism” — i.e. discrimination on the basis of physical attractiveness — is a real thing (and not just in matters of the heart). As Tyler Cowen and David Brooks have both noted, the effects — for instance on lifetime earnings — appear to be non-trivial. 

But might there be other forms of prejudice we’ve been overlooking? Cowen quotes from an unnamed correspondent: 

I would like to suggest an even more subtle and intractable form of discrimination yet: interesting-ism. Have you ever considered how individuals and society discriminate against the boring and the mediocre? Have you ever considered that the more discriminating one’s taste, intelligence, and eye for talent is, the more one is apt to dismiss most people?
- Tyler Cowen

It’s an interesting idea (ironically) — but whether it’s true or not depends on one’s definition of ‘boring’. If it’s in the sense of ‘not entertaining’ then we certainly do discriminate against boring things and people. Or rather we just ignore them in favour of distraction and sensation. 

However, if one means boring in the sense of ‘typical’, then the opposite is true — we actively favour the norm. For a start there’s social media, a ruthless enforcer of conformity. Boring is also where the money is. In an era of mass production and mass markets it pays to cater to the people who are most like the greatest number of other people. And so a great deal of effort goes into identifying these individuals, finding out what they want and giving it to them.

It’s not just the boring consumer who’s sought after, but the boring worker too. The same digital revolution that allowed marketing experts to find out so much about us, has also allowed management experts to centralise decision-making power within large organisations. What is therefore required from the great bulk of employees is the willingness and ability to comply with centralised management systems. Local initiative is only valued as a filler of gaps. 

But what about the role of tech in facilitating niche products and producers? Well, yes, in some respects it does exactly that. For example, just compare the handful of media outlets that used to provide news and opinion to the countless sources available today. 

Still, I wonder if innovation doesn’t depend on a collision between the mainstream and the niche, the normal and the eccentric, the boring and the interesting. 

In catering for both sides of the human condition, but doing so separately, is the modern world killing progress?

Join the discussion

  • Although I can appear interesting and fun at first I soon disappoint. I see people’s eyes start to glaze over and their attention wander. Then, when I next see them they vere away, with a smile initially, but as time goes on, they ignore me completely as if we’d never met. I can sympathise as I feel this way about others at times. What are we supposed to do? Act as if we’re enthused when actually we couldn’t give a ****? Life in the putative non-discriminatory world will be hell: sleep with people we find rupugnant, socialise with those who bore us and make families with those we never loved.

  • The world is run by boring people (henceforth BPs). Being boring is the same as being predictable, which is the same as reliable. We rely on BPs, (say, accountants), not to be too experimental so that their figures can be trusted.
    I am an engineer and we are definitely BPs. We focus on old, proven ideas when we build things like bridges, instead of trying new ideas which could lead to disasters.
    We tend not to glue ourselves to motorways or have deep thoughts about the meaning of life. We hate new ideas and we know that men are men and women are women – how boring is that? We tend to believe that problems are solved by discussion and then hard work. Flair is not to be trusted. The Internet to us is a fairly useless tool, not a Social Medium.
    As I type this I am falling asleep.

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