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kottke.org posts about Michael Sandel

The Tyranny of Meritocracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

In this quick animated excerpt of a longer talk, political philosopher Michael Sandel critiques the idea of the meritocracy, the notion that innate talent and hard work are the main drivers of personal success and “the smug conviction of those who land on top that they deserve their fate”.

A lively sense of the contingency of our lot conduces to a certain humility. The idea that ‘there but for the grace of God, or the accident of fortune, go I’. But a perfect meritocracy banishes all sense of gift or grace or luck; it diminishes our capacity to see ourselves as sharing a common fate. And so, it leaves little room for the solidarity that can arise when we reflect on the contingency of our talents and fortunes. This is what makes merit a kind of tyranny.

Sandel’s full talk, A New Politics of Hope, is available online here.

P.S. A reminder that the term “meritocracy” was originally a satirical term invented by writer Michael Young in 1958 to describe a dystopian society. He is disappointed to see how people now wear the term as a badge of honor.

The business meritocracy is in vogue. If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.

They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody’s son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.

(via open culture)