In a perfect meritocratic society everyone would be where they deserve to be. They would be placed in the social and economic strata exactly by merit. What you give would be what you get and the amount of success would be proportional to the amount of work, time and energy invested. But the social is not an exact equation with a predictable solution, as a mathematical formula would be. Everything is connected to everything else and there are innumerable factors, cross influences and unexpected developments, unforeseen circumstance that might tip the illusion of balance in the equation. How do you solve something with infinite variables permanently or even temporarily, where not even the rules you’re solving by are clear and are changing all the time? You can’t and meritocracy is not viable. It’s a form of utopia that might seem dreamy at a glance but has a dark and cruel undertone.
Meritocracy says you are what you are loved, admired, accepted and valued just by your skill and accomplishment. It’s a conditional kind of love and respect. In meritocracy you’re more a set of skills than a person, you’re energy and potential which are to be used towards some purpose and you get to take credit for using them with an omitted taciturn consensus that your worth is associated with achievement. It means that if you fail you yourself are a failure as well. It means that if we all earn our success and it is our own doing so is our demise and that those who fail are not to be felt sorry for or helped. In all the previous eras those we now aptly call “losers” were people whose failure was called a misfortune and they were called unfortunates. Their predicament was, at least in part, a result of circumstance beyond their control and it didn’t mean they were necessarily lazy or incompetent. It meant exactly what the word denotes – it was an unfortunate unfolding of events and they were “not blessed by good fortune”. Now we live in a social climate where all eyes are not looking up into an ideal non-human thing, a deity or structure of some sort that represents the ideal so our destinies are not only the result of our own doing, but were meddled in by fortune, chance and the willingness or unwillingness of an ideal to help or not. Today we’re anthropocentric, we idealize ourselves as a species and for the first time ever are spreading the message that any one of us can be anything they desire at all possible times. The human is the new God. If you could have just decided to be successful and worked for it in one singe upward moving line, why didn’t you? Because you just can’t. It’s like the physics joke where the calculations to increase milk production on a farm work – but only for spherical cows in a vacuum.
Meritocracy is a dream flawed in its core because it presumes this vacuum in which everything is a fair exchange with no foul play, as a law of conservation of energy may be, and it denounces the meddling in of the darker parts of human nature as greed, deceit or malice or the occurrence of natural and personal disasters that we have no say in. It presumes the will to advance as our only primary driver of action. The system is just too large and the human condition and person too complicated to be reduced in such a way, simmered down to a single set of predictable and quantifiable variables which will stamp you forever with the singular bipolar label of a winner or a looser. Meritocracy can’t and should not be the norm as we’ll all sometimes get walloped by life. It is just what it is, no one’s fault or sin to bare. Sometimes we win by luck of the draw, sometimes we lose even when we try our best. And none of these make you a winner or a looser. They make you alive.