Thursday, September 22, 2005

Meritocracy

A comment from reliapundit on an excellent post I found in a routine link roundup at Feministe has finally spurred me to write down something I've been thinking for a while. Witness:
We believe that the USA should be a meritiocracy, not a commnd market which predetermines winners and losers based on race or ethnicity.
Consider two systems:
  1. One in which the smartest people get the most stuff.
  2. One in which the strongest people get the most stuff.
Completely different people get ahead in each system (with some overlap if you believe in scholarly body builders), but they're both meritocracies. They just are based on different merits.

In our society, in our system, some people get ahead. If you look hard enough, you can even find traits that they all have in common. Merits, you might call them. Are these people actually somehow better than those who do not get ahead? I don't think so.

The people who get ahead, and the qualities they have, are a reflection of the system at least as much as they're a reflection of the people. The rules of our society didn't come from nowhere, and the people they favor are not objectively more meritorious than the people who are not favored. The system we create is a reflection of our values as a society. I'm convinced that we have natural limits on what rules will work, but otherwise the systems we create are at our discretion.

I don't have a problem with meritocracies, by the way, but we have to be explicit about the merits. "Ability to swindle your fellow man" is not a merit. "Ability to win elections" is getting closer. Until we have a society and a system that genuinely rewards generosity, honesty, charity, and all those other teary-eyed virtues I could list, I think our meritocracy needs some work.
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