Meritocracy : A Vicious Circle

In recent times, both Donald Trump and Theresa May have been trying to promote the benefits of meritocracy.

In the scheme of things, “meritocracy” is a relatively new word with its origins in the 1950s.  It used by Trump and May to describe a world where you can be anything you want to be, as long as you try hard enough.  The only limit to one’s success is hard work.

It sounds utopian.  It sounds perfect.  It sounds, well, the way things should be.

However, reality is very different.  When the word made its debut in 1956 in an essay by Alan Fox in journal Socialist Commentary, it was a term of abuse, the name given to a mechanism that simply increases inequality.

The thought is this.  For every example of council estate kid done good, there are many, many more of promotions already from positions of success.  If we view success as a ladder, the ladders are getting longer and the people who get to the top faster are the ones already quite a way up them who will pass the privilege to future generations.

Fox suggested a process of cross-grading, which would give underachievers more leisure time and a share of wealth.  This strikes me as completely the opposite to the modern meritocracy in giving people things they don’t deserve.

However, I actually have two problems with meritocracy.  It requires everybody to have an opportunity to do everything.  It requires opportunities that simply don’t exist for everybody.

If one takes an extreme example, I could say that I did a mighty good job cleaning my car, and therefore I deserve life to give me something back and I want to be Prime Minister.  Only one person can be Prime Minister, and the best person to do the job is not the person who can simply clean cars very well.

Take another example, of the guy that has a crush on a girl and does everything she asks and tries to make her life as comfortable as possible to show her how much he cares.  Unfortunately for him, she prefers to take a chance on someone she has only just met who appears on the surface to more of her type.

And then the third example, of two equally qualified applicants for the same job, but one applicant is from a minority group and the other isn’t.  Society, back by anti inequality policy and sentiment, would suggest picking the minority candidate.  The other does not get a meritocratic opportunity because there is only one position.

This is similar to Fox’s cross-grading.  Deciding factors for opportunities are not based simply on merit, and nor can they ever be, but I think it’s what we would all like.  We wouldn’t want to get an opportunity where the colour of our skin makes us the best candidate

Meritocracy is utopian and is ideal, but the implementation of such is not quite so easy.

Hey, I hear the voice of a preacher from the back room
Calling my name and I follow just to find you
I trace the faith to a broken down television and put on the weather
And I’ve trained myself to give up on the past ’cause
I froze in time between hearses and caskets
Lost control when I panicked at the acid test

I wanna get better

While my friends were getting high and chasing girls down parkway lines
I was losing my mind because the love, the love, the love, the love, the love
That I gave wasted on a nice face
In a blaze of fear I put a helmet on a helmet
Counting seconds through the night and got carried away
So now I’m standing on the overpass screaming at the cars,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

I go up to my room and there’s girls on the ceiling
Cut out their pictures and I chase that feeling
Of an eighteen year old who didn’t know what loss was

Now I’m a stranger

And I miss the days of a life still permanent
Mourn the years before I got carried away
So now I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

‘Cause I’m sleeping in the back of a taxi
I’m screaming from my bedroom window
Even if its gonna kill me

Woke up this morning early before my family
From this dream where she was trying to show me
How a life can move from the darkness
She said to get better

So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet
And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away
That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers

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