This is not a Meritocracy.

One of the most damaging ideas in society today is that of meritocracy. This myth has lead to the cult of the CEO, countless self help books and public acceptance, or at least tolerance, of every increasing inequality. The concept that if you work hard enough and are smart enough, you will be a “winner”, is not in isolation a bad one. The reverse however, that not reaching the top, is somehow directly correlated with your abilities and the amount of effort exerted, can be. With rates of depression up 450% since 1987, though not directly linked to “success” society needs to look at all potential causes and solutions.

The definition of success is not something to explore here, suffice to say we are using the concept of money and prestige as the definition. As a society we are transfixed by wealth, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are household names, their careers and working practises are studied and emulated by thousands of aspiring entrepreneur and investors. One thing lacking from the majority of this analysis however is the concept of luck. Not to take anything away from the work and talent of these two men. But both their successes have to a degree, been down to luck. Disregarding any good fortune in their professional careers (which I’m sure both would have to attest too), they hit the jackpot at birth by being white, straight, males, born in the USA, during the 20th century. This is not a personal attack on these two individuals, but an extreme example used to demonstrate that we are not all born equal and hence the idea of a meritocratic society is not applicable.

For politicians, universities, employers or anyone else to promote the concept of a meritocracy, is nothing more then a way of promoting the status quo. In the Victorian period in England, the poor were often referred to as “unfortunates”, one hundred years on, the lexicon has changed to “loser”. As a society we look for ways to understand the world around us, the idea that the amount of effort put in, will be equal to the reward achieved is certainly a simple and appealing one. Sadly though today still; a persons, gender, heritage and sexuality to varying degrees can predict their probable level of success. As a society we need to recognise the dangers present in promoting simple narratives, like that of meritocracy and instead seek first to create true equality, where everyone at least starts the race from the same point.