Sunday, June 12, 2016

Meritocracy's asterix

I love the idea of a meritocracy, and I'm not alone in claiming that. But here's two off the cuff ways to formulate the idea.

* I believe that everyone should be judged according to their capabilities. The most capable, the most determined, the most reliable should be rewarded accordingly. There may be differences in outcomes across various metrics - sex, race, religion and more - but so long as the most capable are being fairly recognized and rewarded accordingly, we're all better off.

vs

* I believe that everyone should be judged according to their capabilities. We'll know the system is working properly when there is no difference in outcomes across various metrics - sex, race, religion and more. If this isn't the result we're getting, obviously the system is broken and merit isn't being rewarded.

I think most people who say they want a meritocracy will, when cornered, opt for meritocracy #2, or 'Not a meritocracy at all'. It's not just that they're intentionally bullshitting, though that happens. It's that they're scared of facing the possibility that a meritocracy would result in inequality. Forget, for a moment, that a meritocracy doesn't mean utter Social Darwinism. You can still help out, indirectly or directly, the less capable. But 'less capable' is exactly what they'll be known as, and it will be impossible to ignore, at least on an individual level - and, eventually, on a larger level than that.

I want to underline that point because it's easy to miss: the problem isn't that on a meritocracy, the less capable will be weeded out or obliterated or any other terrible scenario, though that's possible. It's that the less capable will be recognized as being exactly that. Not because they were treated unfairly or a million other excuses, but because that's just the way things are, and 'trying really hard' is only going to change things so much.

That's a possibility many people don't want to face. If the only alternative to facing it is burning the civilization to the ground, they'll ask to borrow some matches.

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