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Meritocratic hubris/ Who defines “meritocracy”

In Uncategorized on 09/01/2017 at 7:13 am

Michael J Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard University. He recently wrote something perceptive:

The relentless emphasis on seeking a fair meritocracy, in which social positions reflect effort and talent, has a morally corrosive effect on the way we interpret our success (or lack thereof). The belief that the system rewards talent and hard work encourages the winners to regard their success as their own doing, a measure of their virtue – and to look down upon the less fortunate.

Those who lose out may complain that the system is rigged or be demoralised by the belief that they alone are responsible for their failure. When combined, these sentiments yield a volatile brew of anger and resentment, which Trump, though a billionaire, understands and exploits. Where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speak constantly of opportunity, Trump offers blunt talk of winners and losers. Democrats such as Obama and Clinton have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate and the harsh judgment it renders on those without a college degree. This is why one of the deepest divides in American politics today is between those with and without post-secondary education.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/01/themes-of-2016-progressive-parties-address-peoples-anger-in-2017

He’s right but even he doesn’t get it (Heh, he’s from Harvard): merit is defined by those who “made it”. Is that “fair”?

The meritocratic elites define the attributes and qualifications that allows one into the magical citcle: in S’pore, the British or French civil service, Harvard or other leading universities, or investment banks. And it always means: People like us.

Lucy Kellaway, the FT’s court jester on management, once described what Charles Trevelyan, the permanent secretary to the UK Treasury 1840-59, had in mind when he proposed that meritocracy should be introduced into the civil service.

“He wanted young people to be chosen who had merit – the very best,” says Greenaway. “But he believed that the best were to be found in the gentry, in the professional classes. As the 19th Century went on, the education system mirrored the social system. The universities in Oxford and Cambridge and public schools became the preserve of the gentry and the professional classes – clergy and lawyers and so on.”

Education locked in what used to be patronage, replacing it in a way that was acceptable to the conservatives who had been fearing that these exams would undermine the social fabric of the country.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23376561

My posts on meritocracy the PAP way

Meritocracy? No leh Cosiness

Meritocracy’s feet of clay: Ong Ye Kung

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