There are certain reactive buttons hit regularly by politicians and establishment figures most particularly in liberal democracies in The West, when they are on the stump or speaking publicly on communications media. ‘Equal opportunities’ is one; ‘nurturing diversity’ is another – you know the kind of thing.
‘Meritocracy’ is one of these signifiers, and it is used chiefly as a self-justification for the public standing of the establishment figures who use and advocate the concept.
The first question springs vividly to mind: Would you take the word of a chief executive of say Microsoft that Microsoft hardware and software are always the best available on the market? You might, but life-experience teaches you quite quickly that this sentiment is probably, in part at least, a sales pitch, a personal loyalty to a corporation, a partial and biased assessment of the field of electronic communications products.
Now the meritocracy are our leaders; and they would have to allow, our betters, since our democracy is a ‘meritocracy’ and they are the top people in it. And we are often awed into prima facie belief in what they say and lay claim to, simply because they are our leaders. Psychologically, the argument is circular.
Similarly their claims to their comprising the top people in a democratic meritocracy constitute a circular argument, but a logically circular one: they are the best because they are at the top and are at the top because they are the best.
They are though in the position of the Microsoft chief executive – what else would,should, could they say; what else should they lay claim to being? Their acquiescence in their common presumption is self-evident.
How should we approach unpacking this idea of meritocracy so as to see it and to show it for its substance and constitution? Where might we begin that is solid ground on which to weigh and consider?
Let us try this. A great besetting sin in many if not most of us at some time or another in our lives has been our sense of pride and our self-love. In states of mind like this we are most liable to attribute to ourselves qualities and successes which are in a cooler light of day, as much, if not more so, fortuitous, and the fruit of happenstance, than they are acquired or inherent.
Undoubtedly the most easy prey to these self-deceptions is the intelligent person. Every day the experience of one person scoffing at another, ridiculing another, is a commonplace, even in public life. It is one of the easiest routines is to ridicule and disdain a person, to impute him or her dim-witted is an epidemic and widespread below the belt blow.
‘I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.’
Yet what basis has a person to be impugned as a dimwit; and conversely, what basis is there for a smart guy to be lauded and made much of – for their brains or for their lack of them?
For the most part the brains we are equipped with we are dealt as our hand of cards by fate or chance or destiny. There is only so much you can do with house wine; it will never taste like Brut or Soave. So why is the dim-witted guy the butt of so many of our schadenfreude digs and jibes? Are we really superior when we are being superior in this way? Are we not denigrating ourselves in the face of honest incapacity? Should we not be a support, a helper to the person who finds brain work arduous and difficult? Rather than lord it over her/him or kick her when she’s down?
The guys who lay claim to the top places in the world are almost exclusively those whose work or occupation is carried out by the use of their minds. But why should these guys lay claim to that space as being the meritocracy, or a meritocracy, by virtue of their brainpower?
Undoubtedly many at the top do lay claim to their positions by way of extolling their own intellectual brilliance – this is evident again and again in their values and the airs they adopt. Yet can they lay claim to their intelligence as being a character attribute; something they have achieved or created by their own efforts? And besides, so many substitute in their apprehensions the character attribute of craftiness and skulduggery for intelligence without them realising they are doing so. Just look at our politicians.
No, there is no merit in being intelligent; nor no shame in being dim-witted. There is only misplaced self-pride in the one and a vulnerability to be shouldered in the other. And this is why The Lord places love at the centre of this world and of God’s creation; and does not concern himself at all in his teaching with brilliance of wit or with intellectual inability to grasp.
St Matthew tells of Jesus effusing a hymnal paean of praise to God about this dispensation:
“O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike’
The whole order of creation is turned over and reversed in this teaching: The last become the first; it is foolish to count oneself wise; and wise to be a fool for God; the humble shall be exalted and the exalted humbled; the least shall be the greatest; the Prince of Heaven becomes The Servant of all.
But chasing the dream of position and place, of consequence and consideration, is the delusion of the ambitious; their label of attainment through merit pinned to their lapel as a badge of honour is their Scarecrow diploma and their Lion medal. So why should we be obeisant and so recede to allow them gangway?
And what should be credited with merit, if it is not brains and intelligence? To whom do we do honour? We do honour to the man and woman of good character; she who has engaged, learned, regarded; and so instructed herself with the aim of better conducting herself as a human being among human beings. One who has foregone gains and the putting of oneself forward, who makes no self-recommendations and is indifferent to the prizes of pomp and ceremony. She who like her Master acknowledges that at bottom there are to be no respecters of persons other than for their behaviour, character and conduct before God and man.
‘Wherefore I say unto you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little’
There is a lot of illusion to the world. From the hype of TV drama and advertising, to the aura surrounding movie stars and sports personalities, and the lure of designer branding and products, precious metals, money and jewellery; faraway exotic places and art and artists, music, bands, magnates: all idols with feet of clay and hands of lead. In some sense, with regard to the people engaged in the meritocracy event, they are the victims of their own imaginations. They are those who lack and are in need of a sure foundation and secure place from which to see and weigh things as they are in truth, without the glamour of bewitchment coming before their eyes and prerforming shadow shows and lantern slides of antic absurdities before them.