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On “merit” – part 2

In my last piece I found myself stuck in a certain voice. I’m not ultimately sure if that voice worked, but I went with it.  Hopefully some of the points I was trying to get across made it through the obtuseness.

I admit I’d rather in many ways just spell it out. So I will so here a bit:

The problem with the “aristocracy” wasn’t just the fact that they got their positions through lack of merit. Certainly it was part of the problem, but another huge part of the problem was there were those that had and those who did not and ultimately the difference was arbitrary. This is still true with a meritocracy – while it isn’t arbitrary by lineage or birth, it’s arbitrary by the luck of circumstance and god given talent (or rather, genetics).

In the end there are still suffering classes – those who through no fault of their own don’t belong to the “in” class. In the 1700’s this was because they didn’t get born in the right family, in the new millennium it’s because they aren’t born with the virtues we find meritorious (or those traits, as I tried to point out, that those ruling us, the meritorious by definition, define as being of merit). Again, in many ways it’s still just the arbitrary luck of the gods smiling on one versus another.

One might expect that I wouldn’t be writing this. Certainly I have benefited greatly from a merit system in my career and it would be likely that I have much to gain by the status quo (or conversely, lose by the end of it).

However, I’m keenly aware of what keeps me apart from where I am now and the unwashed masses is simply a bad downturn and an unforeseen layoff. The difference between myself and all of the so-called losers sucking off the dole is this increasingly tenuous thing we call a “job”. I cannot pretend that something special really divides me and them.

Moreover, even if by some chance I truly have more “merit” than those lazy oafs crowding the food stamp rolls, morally I can’t simply write them off like so many others are willing to. Sure it was easier (and I make this as a confession, not glibly as it might sound) when the targets of right wing angst were not WASPs such as myself.  However we’re all “negroes” now – that is, it’s no longer just a war against the colored, but a war against the powerless and all who don’t “have”.

In short, now that the convenient trappings (and wedge issue) of color are falling away, it is becoming the more simple and time honored form of  generic “class war”.

As implied in my prior post, a meritocracy is in many ways better than an aristocracy (that is, in theory – provided the right merits are rewarded and that the basic system isn’t a sham, the later point not being clear at all today). However even if the system is better run by more meritorious (and thus assumably, competent, intelligent, and wise individuals), if there are masses of “have nots” it would seem to miss the point.

In the end the game is to produce a society that most widely spreads prosperity, happiness, and general well being. It doesn’t matter if the leaders are the “best” if the outcome isn’t (and no I cannot use the twisted logic of “perfect markets” where “best” is whatever result the market provides)(you will note that “perfect market” logic is remarkably similar to the idea that whatever fate brings us must be best because it is “God’s plan”).

Of course if you’re paying at all attention it’s pretty clear that if the meritocracy is supposed to be working, well it isn’t. Have you looked at who’s running things (not to mention how things are running)? Aren’t there many “winners” today that are, well, losers? Or are we once again in “perfect market” territory – where if they’re  on top well, they must be because they have merit. They wouldn’t be there, while you’re not, if they weren’t better than you (more meritorious).

But even so, if we are to take “meritocracy” at face value, where does that leave the little people, the ones who can’t buck up and be innovators and entrepreneurs?

Do we just discard them, let them suffer?

It would seem a definition of “meritorious” people would not include ones who could easily ignore the plight of even those who can’t fit our definition of merit. In fact I can think of a stream of societies before us who did such that and were considered evil.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pay for a loafer as much as the next guy, but first I think the number of “loafers” have been greatly overestimated (for propaganda reasons if nothing else) and second, I have enough compassion to not even want the so-called losers to suffer.

But call me (and from what I read, Jesus) a sucker.

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