Two posts critiquing the concept of ‘merit’.
Of course appointments should be made purely on merit. But – especially in public life – they are frequently made on the basis of connections: social and cultural capital accrued via old-school ties, college dining societies, nepotism, networking, and biases subconscious or overt. Nevertheless, those at the top of politics, business, media and the arts hold fast – understandably – to the notion that they have got there through their own hard graft and dazzling talent: their “merit”.…To accept that society functions on a purely meritocratic basis requires the same blend of woolly optimism and wilful blindness that Reaganites invested in “trickle-down economics”. Curiously, champions of meritocracy are usually detractors of socialism, which gets dismissed as “a nice idea, sure, but it simply wouldn’t work in practice, what with human nature being just too venal, greedy and corrupt”. Yet the equally optimistic myth of meritocracy endures, even though in a country governed by an Etonian elite – the cream of society only in the sense that they’re rich, white and bad for your health – it seems as quaint as believing in the tooth fairy.
In theory, a meritocracy should be a good thing. It basically boils down to a society in which people reap the rewards of their skill and effort. But as countless advocates for women and minorities in the tech world have pointed out, meritocracies are a lot messier in real life. The tech industry isn’t still predominantly white and male because white men are better at their jobs than everyone else, it’s because many white men have had more opportunities to succeed than their minority and female counterparts.The false idea that the tech industry is a meritocracy hurts everyone.