19 April 2007

"Fairness" just creates another kind of elite

One of the supposed aims of the socialist project is to replace "privilege" with "meritocracy". (Except that lately meritocracy has fallen out of favour with the Left — Anthony Giddens, for example, claims it is "socially destructive".)

But the original aim was seriously misconceived to begin with. As history has shown time and again, a system which claims to be against elitism merely ends up with a different elite. Or sometimes simply with the same elite, under a different name.

My colleague Dr Charles McCreery is completing a book on the subject of genius which makes this point rather well in relation to the exceptionally talented. Here is the draft chapter on "Qualifications and the Hereditary Principle". I like this bit in particular:

As selection procedures become more and more 'democratic' what happens is not that people are selected purely on their ability to do the job; instead the privilege of birth is replaced by a new sort of privilege, that of having the right psychological attitudes. The more those responsible for selecting people for advancement feel answerable to others for the suitability of their choice, the more likely it is that they will pick the 'safe' candidate, i.e. the one who will give offence to the least number of people by displaying the most acceptable psychology.
Safe; boring; perpetuating the status quo. Oh, and ideologically correct, of course. That description seems to fit, more or less, nearly everyone now working in the upper echelons of:
  • television
  • newspapers
  • academia
  • arts world
  • government
  • politics.