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.

    Not Saussure said...

    A couple of points; first, it's by no means clear that Anthony Giddens has ever read The Rise of the Meritocracy (a lot of people who use the term haven't) and failed to understand that 'meritocracy' is a pejorative term ; the author, the late Michael Young, explained in 2001,

    'I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

    The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.'

    On a more general point, I wonder if your colleague will be considering the point that's sometimes occurred to me that a reliance on psychometric tests isn't only a matter of choosing the candidate 'who will give offence to the least number of people by displaying the most acceptable psychology' but also of covering your back; if the appointment turns out to be a mistake, it must be useful to be able to say, 'Well, according to the tests he seemed ideal' rather than just, 'Sorry, I picked a wrong 'un'.

    Parham said...

    Fabian, do you think this infection has passed into the sciences and engineering faculties of academia? I find it hard for this to happen especially in sciences. If you have some more evidence of this other than your physics post please post, I would love to read about it, but I find it very implausible.

    TDK said...

    Let me reinforce the comments above. Meritocracy has not been a left wing objective for many years. Witness the fact that grammar schools, which were intended to support a meritocracy were early targets for Labour.

    Wolfie said...

    It explains why the elusive "leadership quality" has in reality disappeared from corporate middle-management.

    Notice also the sharp rise in suicide amongst adolescent males, they know that once you start failing as secondary school or university your lot in life is severely hampered. Your card is effectively marked my the time your are 20.

    We call this a meritocracy?

    I don't believe this is an accident, its a deliberate attempt to neuter.

    Roger Thornhill said...

    Meritocracy can never sit well with socialism, as those who rise up will automatically seek to gain advantage for their offspring, thus putting it at odds with the dogma.

    I feel this causes much angst in the offspring if they are of a socialist bent. I have also seen this in those who have gone to Grammar schools but want them abolished - you can detect their internal conflict that suggests they feel they did not deserve the advantage, but it was from their family's efforts or environment.

    From such people can spring a fountain of self-loathing that seeks the destruction of so many good things.