THE FLAWED MERITOCRACY THEORY

 

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In this world's modern culture, we allegedly live in a meritocracy. The word meritocracy means those who merit or deserve achievement rise to the top. On the surface of it, that may seem simple or obvious. However, the way this meritocracy operates is flawed, and here I shall examine some of the reasons why.

One of the first things we are told by our teachers and parents is that we must work hard at school and get as much education and as many qualifications as we are able to. The thinking behind this is that those with the most academic and extra-curricular achievements will obtain the best jobs. The people who get starred firsts at Oxbridge get rich pickings. The people who drop out without a single piece of paper to their name can be the ones who will clean the boardrooms after the former have gone home.

There are many reasons why this system doesn't necessarily work that way: a teacher or admissions tutor who failed to spot your potential or actively took a dislike to you, unfortunate home circumstances, poor health at a crucial time in one's education, an inability to do well on exams due to test anxiety, one's personal interests being widely different from the traditional curriculum, an unusual level of intellectual or creative ability that renders the school day a tedious chore at best, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It may not always be possible to catch up educationally later on. Once a person is on the treadmill of the working world, with bills and rent to pay, a family to support etc., even if financial assistance is made available, there just simply may not be enough time and energy to deal with classes and lectures on top of one's life commitments.

A further problem is the experience trap. Once a person has been doing a certain type of work, it can be very difficult to make the break away from it. Using an administrative model as an explanation, a person who has been doing audio typing for a living can find it very hard to secure a situation as a board level PA, even if she has acquired a management degree in the interim. This is because human resources officers and employment bureau staff are very strung out on candidates already having experience at the same level. Unless one knows whom to approach, or keeps their ear to the ground for openings within the same organisation, it can be very difficult to move on up.

The matter of exceptional ability deserves to be examined in more depth than the other factors: firstly, because it is the most obvious waste of talent, secondly, because surprisingly it is so very easy to miss, and most importantly, because it is so very easy to mishandle.

There are activities in life for which exceptional ability does not give the person any significant advantage. Consider an exceptionally creative person working in a supermarket, or a person with a vast capacity for complex thought working in a clerical role. True, they may be very good at their jobs, and they may be recognised as being good at what they do. But let's face it: no one is going to be such an outstanding checkout clerk on account of his unusual creative prowess that he will rise to fame and riches. It just isn't in the scope of the job. But these are the very same people, when interviewed by the careers officer, who are frequently told that their unusual ambitions and interests are suitable for hobbies only, and that they must get a "real" job. So often, that's what they do.

I am not suggesting hot-housing or pressurising youngsters who show an early aptitude, because abilities do not necessarily appear when the person is very young. It may take such a person until they are in middle or even old age before they find their muse, and young children are often put off when told that the activity they enjoyed is now to become an hours-long chore after school. What I am suggesting is somehow freeing the minds and spirits of our most able members of society.

The talented artist or musician, the intellectual, the person of deep philosophical or spiritual thought of whatever age, must somehow be freed of the grind of daily life to pursue activities of a higher order. I am not going to even begin to suggest how this could be done, only why. It may be completely politically incorrect to suggest it, but these people must somehow simply be allowed to follow their hearts. If we do not find a way to make this so, then the loss to the world of the fruits of unusual mind is the price we all pay.