The Meritocracy Fallacy

In an alarming article in The Atlantic by Daniel Markovits, professor at Yale Law School and author of The Meritocracy Trap, Daniel makes a strong case against meritocracy because of how it prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable.

“A person who extracts income and status from his own human capital places himself, quite literally, at the disposal of others—he uses himself up. Elite students desperately fear failure and crave the conventional markers of success, even as they see through and publicly deride mere “gold stars” and “shiny things.” Elite workers, for their part, find it harder and harder to pursue genuine passions or gain meaning through their work. Meritocracy traps entire generations inside demeaning fears and inauthentic ambitions: always hungry but never finding, or even knowing, the right food.”

As mentioned by Peter Thiel during his interview for The Portal, most universities veto any aspiration students or lecturers may have towards polymathy – one reason being is that by preparing monomaths for specialist positions keeps the institute afloat while the demand for talented hyper specialists is irrefutable.

Markovits describes how ‘striving for excellence’ has created a new meritocratic order, however, still based on descent rather than talent: “Where aristocratic children once reveled in their privilege, meritocratic children now calculate their future—they plan and they scheme, through rituals of stage-managed self-presentation, in familiar rhythms of ambition, hope, and worry”.

Depression and anxiety amongst these students are alarming: “54 percent of students displayed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.”

What I find really disturbing is that “Meritocracy has created a competition that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.” Income and wealth inequality is ever-growing. Combined with the challenges of global competition and digitalization, which are expected to be most detrimental to middle class families, the fallacy of meritocracy becomes distinct.

However, meritocracy isn’t merely about growing inequality. It also causes increased siloization, while being deprived of any breadth of knowledge or expertise leads to tunnel vision, with limited capabilities to solve problems that grow beyond their narrow scopes.

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Edwin Korver

Architect of ROUNDMAP™ - Advancing Grandmastership of Business™ ✪ Business Model Matrix™ ✪ Polymath ✪ Generalist ✪ Systems Thinker ✪ Board Member, CEO CROSS-SILO BV

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