by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 6
October 2021
Response
08:00

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: 


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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?

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago

How idiotic! In the first place “the boring” are not some easily identified group “against which” people “discriminate” – they are whoever each individual happens to find uninteresting; and “discriminating against” them is an exercise of jugement – not prejudice, and personal judgement to boot. But the deeper issue is this: discrimination used to have good name; it meant fine, particular, intuitive insight, as in “a discriminating critic” and its shift towards some supposed injustice is a symptom of our decline, which sees taste, preference, choice and competition as wicked. This shift has obvious totalitarian implications. Even one’s decision to marry may one day be ascribed to state authorities, supposing it is insufficiently “undiscriminating”. Therefore, rather than complaining that we discriminate against bores you should be saying that our tastes, preferences and loyalties which are currently condemned as “prejudice” should once again be liberated, in the name of freedom – of association, of judgement, of conscience and of choice.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Quite so. A lack of discrimination is how we end up with people in the wrong jobs, work or products that are shoddy, people making stupid choices under the assumption that all options are equally valid, and so on. Discrimination is discernment, not ‘being a meany’!

Last edited 1 year ago by Sharon Overy
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Erm, I don’t think he is complaining about discrimination against bores, you seem to have completely missed the point of the article. This suggests we need a combination of mundane, possibly repetitious work, fitting into an overall system, plus some room for independence, creativity and initiative, for best effect.

But on your point, words can have a range of meaning, including practically through 180 degrees (“cleave”?). ‘Discrimination’ against people on grounds of colour or race does exist, and in that context doesn’t really have any positive connotation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago

Pretty sure I already have

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Congratulations, you can no longer be classified as boring ever again.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

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.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Yellow Pages entry. For Boring – see Civil Engineering

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
1 year ago

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.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Sorry I started reading, and I got distracted… What were you saying ?

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
1 year ago

I read this to reassure myself I am not boring and then realised reading articles like this means I’m not only boring but bored.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

Epicureans were advised to avoid political positions or seek fame as these upset one’s equanimity. Their motto was “Live unknown!”
If you wish to die contented after a calm life, perhaps ‘boring’ is a virtue?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

Isn’t there an inherent contradiction here? The first person to be defined as ‘boring’ by some criteria, is by definition ‘interesting’ – reducing the set of all boring people by one, and leaving someone else as the first ‘boring’ person, who is then by definition….

Last edited 1 year ago by Prashant Kotak
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

My wife works in HR. According to her, among those of equal ability, being tall and good-looking plays more of a role in who gets a job, rather than race, gender, or sexual preference.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
1 year ago

Sorry, can you repeat the question?

David Morley
David Morley
1 year ago

And just to complicate things, boring people do seem to find interesting people (and things) – well, boring.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago

Typical is not a synonym for boring, though constant repetition may become tedious. I would go on , but I just find this too……..

L Walker
L Walker
1 year ago

In my humble, probably boring, opinion, boring people never realize they are boring and spend their entire life boring people. I think I may be one of them. I apologize to all those bored people out there that took the time to read this. You will never get that time back.