The Merit doesn’t exist or The desire to see donkey races
When you have an idea, you should commit to it, until the end.The merit is dead, long live the merit. Or maybe I should say that the merit never existed to begin with.
Reader, you are the product of your social environment. Your talents are either inherited (hence you are not at the origin of them) or it’s your social environment (I mean here the broad social environment, your family, the people you met etc…) who helped you to develop them.The work and the labor you did are nothing but the result of your immersion in your social stratum. Thus there is no fundamental difference between (in terms of merit) between you, who cultivated your talents, and the one who didn’t succeed because he simply didn’t have the right social class and the right inherited talents; so then why do you have more if you don’t deserve more? And underlining your merit would as well underline the lack of merit of those who failed, and it would be nasty right? To commit to it until the end, I think that people who support this idea should campaign for donkey races instead of horse races because those pure bred horses who have been fed and trained with care have no merit and it’s finally time to let those who have been disadvantaged at birth : the donkeys. Hence we must support donkey races at Longchamps and, while we are at it, support donkeys to be in Harvard and Yale.
I watch quite regularly french debates (yes, I confess, I am a froggy). The theme of the debate was “meritocracy” or the dictature of merit. Someone claimed the exact thesis you just read. We can notice that we had a nice one hour long debate about merit and the school system without once talking about the work the students should provide nor the intellectual precocity.
What is merit ?
The first logical thought to have is to define merit. It comes from the latin meritum, the reward / your share of the loot.
Merit : the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.
To merit : deserve or be worthy of (reward, punishment, or attention).
We see that merit as an adjective is not a quality in itself, it comes from the appreciation of the others, their esteem while to merit means something completely different. To Merit is to have a value AND have the right to possess something. Thus without merit, do we have the right to enjoy these things we unfairly received? Thus, all these things are not due to us and should not belong to us? Beware reader, one more step and we enter the communist abyss!
One question which should be asked is : how does our society evaluates merit? Diplomas? Money? Rewards? Jobs? But this is not the purpose of this article.
The thesis : Merit does not exist.
Today the french meritocracy (but it applies to the US even harder because there the “social mobility”, aka the ability to move from one social class to another, is even lower) and the “privileges” are back. Back in the day in old Europe, the nobility had privileges for accessing schools, positions, army ranks etc… the meritocracy was created to tackle that and establish more equality. But today, and everyone knows that, the kids from higher social classes have much higher chances to succeed at school and the ranks of Yale and Harvard are filled with the heirs of rich families. In today’s society (less in America than France I must admit) the scholarship determines your career. This social reproduction is a problem I do not deny it. But there is a difference between highlighting a problem and implying that merit does not exist even if you use it as tool to develop solutions to social reproduction.
During this debate a few other ideas were claimed. Here is a few of them :
Chantal Jacquet tells us that merit rewards qualities and that these qualities are appreciated by the society hence could be illusionary. We could ask her if merit is not rewarding achievements which are here tangible. She continues quoting Saint Paul in order to prove that the qualities we receive are not a source of merit because they are received. She adds as well that accomplishing something is a reward in itself, hence we shouldn’t look for something else to reward it, it would be greedy wouldn’t it?
To deny merit — The consequences
Of course the social environment is inherited and some talents are possessed from birth. Of course it lessens the merit the person deserves, but does it nullify it? I invite you to the following experience of thought with me : let’s take two intelligent monozygotic twins Luc and Louis, both have the same social environment then and let’s suppose too that they are from a very wealthy family. Luc is a hard worker and Louis lazy. Following the thesis above, if Louis fails it’s his fault, because he would not have worked enough and the responsibility is his. But if Luc succeeds then he is not worthy of anything nor responsible because he has no merit.
My idea is that, even though the social environment and the talents have a role in our merit, the hard work of a student, of a business owner, of an artist or of a worker have to be highlighted and their abnegation has to be praised.
To suppress the idea of merit has a lot of consequences.
The first one is the ideology it induces. It is a total socialism, here socialism means “the behavior of someone is completely determined/explained by its social environment”. Hence some kind of determinism.
Merit is essential to the human psyche, for two main reasons. One reason before the challenge which would generate merit and one after.
The reason before the challenge is the following. Merit is part of a human dynamic. Saying that merit does not exist suppresses an essential engine of the human heart : the carrot. Indeed, merit is a reward, even intangible. The efforts made to overcome the difficulty are made (in a lot of cases) for the reward whether it is a moral or physical reward. To suppress merit is to destroy this dynamic.
The reason after the challenge is that it is a denial of someone’s sensibility, it is to ignore their hardships and efforts they made. Hence the hard work and the suffering.
Hence the idea of a total determinism, whether it’s false or true, is harmful to mankind because contrary to its psychic mechanisms. Merit has to exist, for the sake of mankind.
But, beyond the philosophy, we can simply say that someone who works his gifts, makes an effort and exceeds himself has merit. Even if parts of it belong to his family or to luck itself. But he can have a piece of the cake.
Nobles Objectives — Degenerated conclusions
I do not doubt that the people in this debate are highly educated and want the good of society (like Comrade Stalin did for instance). They are probably fight for equality of opportunity and for the right for everyone to accomplish themselves. But they came with a harmful conclusion for mankind, I will start to believe that it’s the fate of leftism…
Is it possible to make a society in which, no matter your social origin, we would have equality of opportunity? This is the anarchist dream of Marx. To accomplish it, there should be in each job category (blue collars, white collars etc…), or at least in the jobs that require higher studies, that each social stratum is represented in the proportion they have in society. 60 % of the engineers should be sons of proles if the proles are 60 % of the population. I will make a little detour to answer a question which is asked here: it supposes that there is the same proportion of intelligent people (because it’s mostly the intelligent people who succeed in studies) in each social class. But the most basic logic tells us that intelligent people tend to be more successful, hence they tend to climb the social ladder. Thus there should be more intelligent people among the rich people. I am talking about IQ here. Even if there is a part of genetical inheritance in IQ a part of it is also random hence we can assume that the proportion of intelligent people is the same through the social classes.
What should be modified is the evaluation methods and teaching methods (to teach both teachers and kids) which should be modified to encourage kids to study, create interest and help detection of some qualities which might be useful in their future life. These reforms should keep in mind two things : first the objective to evaluate correctly the intelligence of the kid, its strength and its domains of application and second where to put this being in the society because each individual has to find or determine its place in our society.