Author Topic: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?  (Read 3918 times)

GuitarStv

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #50 on: September 29, 2017, 06:28:56 AM »
Would kids interested in art history listen to a career planner who tells them how good it would be to work in plumbing or nursing?

Art history, man.   Hipster professor.   International conferences every year.   Analyzing and critiquing ancient art works.   I dig it!

Versus changing bedpans or snaking drains?


I dunno about the experience of others, but I didn't really get jack shit for counselling or job planning when I was in high school.

I was interested in English, Music, Social Studies, Biology, Programming, Physics, Religion, and Philosophy.  My plan was originally to go to university for English . . . but in my last year of high school I had an English teacher who hated me and gave me the lowest grades I'd ever received on all of my papers (due to what she described as 'bad style' - she couldn't explain what it was that she didn't like about what I wrote, just that it was bad).  Because of that teacher I decided instead to sign up to do Computer Engineering (because marking would be based on verifiable results rather than amorphous opinions.

I had no idea what a Computer Engineer does.  My parents were both teachers at the time, and I hate kids so knew I didn't want to do that.
 I had no idea what you would do with an English degree.  My limited work experience included telemarketing, working in a steel mill on an assembly line, and working at a lumber yard.  I still have no idea if I'd be happier in another career.

It's interesting.   My family has a heavy STEM bias - graduate degrees in physics, engineering, microbiology, math, one university professor, 2 engineers, one physicist and so on.    I'm been wondering if my kids are doing their STEM degrees just because that's what we do.

And there isn't really time to explore more than a couple of career options given the training requirements.    If you want to work on computers, that requires what, at least a 3 year diploma?    And then you don't like it, so you want to try pharmaceutical research, which requires at least a MSc to be a lab tech.

Lots of people do have problems picking a career, so there's probably room for improvement.   What kind of career counselling would have helped you make a decision?

Not exactly sure to be honest.

I don't really know what a typical day entails for most jobs out there.  Starting there would give some idea what seems interesting . . . Then we would have to see what qualifications are necessary, and if my talents seem to match up with them.

sokoloff

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #51 on: September 29, 2017, 07:40:08 AM »
I don't really know what a typical day entails for most jobs out there.  Starting there would give some idea what seems interesting . . . Then we would have to see what qualifications are necessary, and if my talents seem to match up with them.
I did a "ride along" with an engineer for a power company for a day while I was in high school. From my 16 year-old perspective, he had a soul-crushing job, drove a Dodge K-car, wore a crappy suit, worked in a cubical, and pushed paper around most of the day. It probably isn't actually a bad career and I would have enjoyed it once I saw the intellectual stimulation and how what I did connected to the business outcome, but looking as an outside at the "typical day", my conclusion was "this job sucks" when in fact, the better conclusion was probably "most of the activities of most jobs suck". If you shadow a state police, that might seem awesome for a day. Two years in, I'm sure I'd rather have been the power engineer than highway patrol.

I like your second part-the qualifications and skills/temperment required for entrance or success in a given career and being more transparent and honest about how to match those up with young people who can then elect into a given path. I don't know how to do that without making it seem like there's a "dominant" career. (A career which, by virtue of the matrix of attributes [including salary ranges], appears to be the most desirable or way more desirable than the field. "Doctor", "Lawyer", "Computer Programmer", "CEO", etc.)

A Definite Beta Guy

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #52 on: September 29, 2017, 08:26:41 AM »
Given how much we all laughed at Office Space, I imagine 16 year old would be horrified that I am sitting in a cubicle worried about if I am going to get cake today. I imagine 16 year old me would have punched current-me right in the face when my last company non-ironically lectured us about our flare, and I did not immediately quit.

Still better than hanging doors and windows for a living, which is what my Dad had to do for decades. All I have to do is worry about people not sending out paper-work properly. Unfortunately, this means it's month-end and now there's $150,000 open because some fucking dumbass could not send over signed contracts to our supplier, so the supplier refused to pay new rates.

Man, I wish I had enough job security that I could just lose $150,000 for 2 months because I was too lazy to send over some paperwork.

GuitarStv

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #53 on: September 29, 2017, 08:53:55 AM »
I don't really know what a typical day entails for most jobs out there.  Starting there would give some idea what seems interesting . . . Then we would have to see what qualifications are necessary, and if my talents seem to match up with them.
I did a "ride along" with an engineer for a power company for a day while I was in high school. From my 16 year-old perspective, he had a soul-crushing job, drove a Dodge K-car, wore a crappy suit, worked in a cubical, and pushed paper around most of the day. It probably isn't actually a bad career and I would have enjoyed it once I saw the intellectual stimulation and how what I did connected to the business outcome, but looking as an outside at the "typical day", my conclusion was "this job sucks" when in fact, the better conclusion was probably "most of the activities of most jobs suck". If you shadow a state police, that might seem awesome for a day. Two years in, I'm sure I'd rather have been the power engineer than highway patrol.

I like your second part-the qualifications and skills/temperment required for entrance or success in a given career and being more transparent and honest about how to match those up with young people who can then elect into a given path. I don't know how to do that without making it seem like there's a "dominant" career. (A career which, by virtue of the matrix of attributes [including salary ranges], appears to be the most desirable or way more desirable than the field. "Doctor", "Lawyer", "Computer Programmer", "CEO", etc.)

I's a really tricky thing because there's good and bad stuff with every job.

I loved working outdoors with my hands while at a lumber yard but was frustrated that there really wasn't any thinking that ever needed to be done.  I worked as an pest control technician for several summers and really liked the freedom (they give you a route of businesses that you have inspect every day at your own pace and then you can choose to do special jobs if you want for extra cash), but didn't love working with dangerous chemicals and some of the job was kinda icky.  I currently enjoy the 'learning new stuff' and 'thinking up creative designs/solutions' part of being an computer engineer . . . but hate the staring at monitors and sitting all day (and the process and the meetings).




Given how much we all laughed at Office Space, I imagine 16 year old would be horrified that I am sitting in a cubicle worried about if I am going to get cake today. I imagine 16 year old me would have punched current-me right in the face when my last company non-ironically lectured us about our flare, and I did not immediately quit.

Still better than hanging doors and windows for a living, which is what my Dad had to do for decades. All I have to do is worry about people not sending out paper-work properly. Unfortunately, this means it's month-end and now there's $150,000 open because some fucking dumbass could not send over signed contracts to our supplier, so the supplier refused to pay new rates.

Man, I wish I had enough job security that I could just lose $150,000 for 2 months because I was too lazy to send over some paperwork.

Office space is one of the most accurate documentaries about the workplace I've ever seen.

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #54 on: October 03, 2017, 12:53:42 AM »
OP, you've successfully set up an arguments and knocked down an argument that no one here has made namely, that meritocracy is "fair".

When people say "meritocracy" all they mean is that the only constraints are the limits of mind and body - there are no (or at least as few as possible) artificial constraints imposed by other people.

I'm sorry you apparently believed that literally anyone could achieve "anything" for so long. Frankly, if this is a huge revelation that's breaking your worldview at 27.... You're way behind the curve. Most people have this figured out after their freshmen year.

I'm still thinking about this issue and trying to figure out why I have such strong feelings about it. Honestly, I'm not sure if "most people" have figured this out.

Think about all the class warfare going on in our society. I think the mistaken belief that "all men are created equal" causes tensions to flare on both sides of the issue. On one hand, unsuccessful people who believe this think that they have the same innate potential for success as successful people. Therefore, the unsuccessful become envious of the successful and even start blaming the successful people for their inability to achieve success (i.e. "the rich people stole the American Dream!!!"). On the other hand, successful people who believe this tend to make claims like "anyone can do what I did" and accuse the unsuccessful people of "not working hard enough" or being "lazy," when in fact many of them are working very hard and simply lack the natural talent to reach a high level of success.

If people understood that "all men are not created equal" and that we are all born with different potentials, maybe the above would be less of a problem.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2017, 01:21:14 AM by Herbert Derp »

madgeylou

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #55 on: October 03, 2017, 03:24:36 AM »

Think about all the class warfare going on in our society. I think the mistaken belief that "all men are created equal" causes tensions to flare on both sides of the issue. On one hand, unsuccessful people who believe this think that they have the same innate potential for success as successful people. Therefore, the unsuccessful become envious of the successful and even start blaming the successful people for their inability to achieve success (i.e. "the rich people stole the American Dream!!!"). On the other hand, successful people who believe this tend to make claims like "anyone can do what I did" and accuse the unsuccessful people of "not working hard enough" or being "lazy," when in fact many of them are working very hard and simply lack the natural talent to reach a high level of success.


Both sides of the argument you're laying out are partially correct. People are born with different innate abilities. AND a huge part of the success many people experience in America is due to societal and cultural privilege. Both are true. For an example, look at the current occupant of the White House. That guy would be lucky to be a used car salesman if he hadn't been born to a ruthless, rich father who was able to help him dodge the draft and get him into elite schools and give him a "small loan" to get started on ripping people off just like dear old dad.

The tragedy is that we conflate innate ability with financial success, without looking at the privilege piece. There are many intelligent and hard-working people in this world who have less opportunity to leverage their intelligent and hard-working natures to achieve financial success, because of societal privilege. We've made some progress on this issue for sure, but the playing field is still hella tilted. Class privilege, racial privilege, able-bodied privilege, gender privilege are all real. And they hold people back.

It's not just my bleeding heart liberal opinion, either -- there's tons of research on this that can be quickly turned up with a Google search. I suggest starting with Ta-Nehisi Coates to understand how wealth has been systematically denied to black people throughout the entirety of American history.

And I don't think that many "unsuccessful" people necessarily resent others' success or think they should be able to have the exact same thing. Most folks don't want to roll around in piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck. They simply want to eat, access healthcare when they need it, and live their damn lives. I happen to believe that even people who aren't especially smart or talented deserve no less than this.

I go back to my statement that we are counting the wrong metric in determining "success." Read Aldous Huxley's "Island" for a glimpse at what a culture could look like when it keeps score based on metrics other than money.

libertarian4321

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #56 on: October 03, 2017, 04:51:47 AM »
Meritocracy is terrible.

We should promote and celebrate those with the least ability and those who put in the least effort.

Those who work hard an achieve are terrible- the dregs of society. 

They clearly don't deserve anything they get.  Because white privilege, or socio-economic privilege, or intellectual privilege or whatever.

This country needs to turn over positions of money and power to the least-qualified among us.  Take the money away from kids who work hard, sacrifice, and save, and give it to those who screw off, spend profligately, and don't make any effort.

Only then can we achieve an ideal society.

And yes, I accept my invitation to join the  Democratic Party.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2017, 04:53:56 AM by libertarian4321 »

Bicycle_B

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #57 on: October 03, 2017, 05:09:21 AM »
Derp, great question.  So many replies, so few addressing the query "If talent that leads to merit is apportioned unevenly at birth, is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?"

Yes, meritocracy is an ideal worth pursuing, but not to the exclusion of other ideals that contribute to a healthy society.  I think a more balanced approach will handle the type of unfairness that you're worried about.

Have you read any John Rawls?  Like you, he pondered the fact that ability can be unevenly distributed at birth just like other privileges.   His conclusion was that a society is best if people, without knowing in advance which position and ability package they would get, would choose to be born into that society rather than any other.  I think such a society would tend to reward contributions, but also give benefits to people whose ability doesn't allow them to contribute as easily. 

Consider a broader approach, such as "a society that fulfills the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." UDHR contains meritocratic elements but also many others.  Despite its sexist wording and its opining on the family, it's a better guide IMHO than any of the four ideologies mentioned in this thread (pure meritocracy; aristocracy; Communism; libertarianism).  Though it contains clear libertarian statements too.

http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
« Last Edit: October 03, 2017, 05:18:08 AM by Bicycle_B »

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #58 on: October 03, 2017, 04:44:34 PM »
And I don't think that many "unsuccessful" people necessarily resent others' success or think they should be able to have the exact same thing. Most folks don't want to roll around in piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck. They simply want to eat, access healthcare when they need it, and live their damn lives. I happen to believe that even people who aren't especially smart or talented deserve no less than this.

Derp, great question.  So many replies, so few addressing the query "If talent that leads to merit is apportioned unevenly at birth, is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?"

Yes, meritocracy is an ideal worth pursuing, but not to the exclusion of other ideals that contribute to a healthy society.  I think a more balanced approach will handle the type of unfairness that you're worried about.

Have you read any John Rawls?  Like you, he pondered the fact that ability can be unevenly distributed at birth just like other privileges.   His conclusion was that a society is best if people, without knowing in advance which position and ability package they would get, would choose to be born into that society rather than any other.  I think such a society would tend to reward contributions, but also give benefits to people whose ability doesn't allow them to contribute as easily. 

Consider a broader approach, such as "a society that fulfills the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." UDHR contains meritocratic elements but also many others.  Despite its sexist wording and its opining on the family, it's a better guide IMHO than any of the four ideologies mentioned in this thread (pure meritocracy; aristocracy; Communism; libertarianism).  Though it contains clear libertarian statements too.

http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Great points. I especially liked John Rawls' ideas about what kind of society we would want to be born into, if we didn't know what our privileges would be.

I think that in order for a society to be stable, it must be tolerable for everyone. If a basic form of success becomes unobtainable for enough people, that society is headed to a dark place which is bad for everyone. I can see our society heading this way due to technological advances and automation, and I believe that Universal Basic Income is a satisfactory solution which combines the benefits of meritocracy and socialism.

ender

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #59 on: October 03, 2017, 05:49:39 PM »
I think that what is confusing you is there are multiple factors influencing the meritness of meritocracies.

First, what you are getting at - unequal intellect. I will generalize this to "unequal intrinsic traits" -- I will never be a pro NBA player, for example, regardless of how much I want it. My height effectively prevents me from doing so. Some people need significantly less sleep than I do. I worked with someone once who needed ~4 hours a night and was well aware how much this benefited his career/life. He could spend literally 4 hours a day doing whatever he wanted that I cannot, do to me needing more normal sleep. However, my innate intellect does allow me to excel at both technical and people skills, meaning I, like you, am on pace to wildly succeed in my career, watching many struggle and ultimately not know why.

For me what is most interesting is a second factor: capitalizing on opportunity. There is a certain element of opportunity everyone receives, however some people are quite successful at taking advantage of it and others do not. Purely from a financial perspective, we all know coworkers who live similar enough lifestyles to us yet are destined to be broke at 65. They might make the same, live in similar houses, and have nickeled and dimed themselves into negative networth. Similar opportunity, different outcomes.

In many ways I think that the primary benefit my intellect has given me is the ability to capitalize on opportunity that I receive. Oftentimes this is cited as the reason for a more harsh and meritorious society, in that many people who "fail" do in fact have similar opportunities to those who "succeed" but just do not take advantage of them. I actually more or less agree with that sentiment, too, that people who "fail" often do so because they do not take advantage of their opportunities or worse do so poorly enough to make them negative overall.

The question I wrestle with is how much my ability to capitalize on opportunity is "my ability" (that I've nurtured/developed/grown over my lifetime) vs simply another unequal intrinsic trait.  The older I get the more I come to believe a large percentage of even this ability is purely based on my intrinsic personality type.

I'm not really sure of the implications. In some sense whether or lives are "deterministic" or not ultimately cannot matter: not knowing how much of our lives are in/out of our control means we can only live as if they are in our control.

Regardless, it should drive those of us who are "blessed" or "lucky" or "however you'd prefer to describe your innate abilities in a way that makes you feel superior to others who chose to be less innately good at things" to have compassion for those who do not.

Great points. I especially liked John Rawls' ideas about what kind of society we would want to be born into, if we didn't know what our privileges would be.

I think that in order for a society to be stable, it must be tolerable for everyone. If a basic form of success becomes unobtainable for enough people, that society is headed to a dark place which is bad for everyone. I can see our society heading this way due to technological advances and automation, and I believe that Universal Basic Income is a satisfactory solution which combines the benefits of meritocracy and socialism.

I actually think it is inevitable that either we invent tons of fake-work jobs (think Civilian Conservation Corps types of jobs, which in some sense only delays it) or end up with UBI.

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #60 on: October 06, 2017, 05:08:37 PM »
The original reasoning behind meritocracy was as a way to optimize educational spending. It's a fairly new term that I believed was coined in 1958. The idea was that educational resources should be concentrated on the people most likely to make effective use of them, specifically people with a high measurable IQ as determined by standardized testing, with the proviso that effort played a role in that person's success.

Since then, IQ as a predictor of economic or educational success has been mostly blown out of the water.

Definitely in a credential-centric industry or society streaming students into or out of a specific discipline would limit their career prospects, assuming career preparation was the goal of higher education.
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Leisured

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #61 on: October 07, 2017, 04:24:26 AM »
I can see the possibility of the lower class refusing the benefits of genetic enhancement, just as they refuse the benefits of education.
I live in Cambridge, MA and our kids attend public schools there. The city has "selective choice" which results in moderate integration of neighborhoods across schools (meaning there are not fully "rich" and "poor" schools).

From what I see firsthand there, it's much less that people are "refusing the benefits of education" so much as "unable to practically extract the same value of education" as other families in different circumstances. Kids who are chronically hungry can't focus on learning as much. Kids who don't have strong adult connection and hear thousands of words per week of adult conversation don't have the same language and critical thinking skills. Kids who are babysat by TV instead of more social methods lack patience and cooperation. These deficits are evident by 1st grade.

Late reply. To cut a long story short, I was born into a middle class family, which then sank to lower middle class, due largely to the actions of my father. I became aware from the age of 14 that I would have to live a better life than he did, and I do not mean better as in better educational level. The idea is to be aspirational, as they say nowadays. In the US, most children from poor families are not hungry, but they are likely to have poor nutrition. The goal is to live better then your parents, and is as much about avoiding dysfunctional behavior and attitudes as anything else. There are similarities in Mustachian thinking, where the emphasis is living a sensible, disciplined life, and avoiding dysfunctional behavior. In principle any teenager could have these goals.

I do not know how old you are, sokoloff, but I have been watching the huge social effort to improve the understanding and attitudes of the lower class, in all rich countries, for fifty years. Dysfunctional people have been nursed along for all that time. Eventually, dysfunctional people will have to at least be ashamed of being nursed along all their lives, otherwise, in the long term, they will be left behind. The move to automated economies suggests that rich countries will eventually separate into Advanced and Natural groups, these groups being largely autonomous political and economic entities. Like the movie Elysium, except that Elysium will be on Earth, in walled communities on a regional scale.

Not the most attractive solution, but what is the long term alternative? Elysium, of course, refers to the ancient Roman afterlife, or the good part of it.





PhilB

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #62 on: October 19, 2017, 03:56:22 PM »
The man who invented the term certainly didn't think it was worth pursuing - he intended it as a pejorative.  Meritocracy has some potentially very scary consequences if you accept that there is an inheritable genetic component to intelligence.  As people tend to marry others from a similar social strata, if that social strata becomes determined primarily on intelligence rather than accident of birth then you run a big risk of ending up with a genetically stratified society where the people at the top have significant genetic advantages over those lower down the chain - making social mobility massively harder than it is now.  Another case of the law of unintended consequences.
What's really worrying is that it's very hard to come up with any system other than Meritocracy that would be as economically efficient or appear to be as 'fair' to begin with. 

sokoloff

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #63 on: October 19, 2017, 04:10:40 PM »
As people tend to marry others from a similar social strata, if that social strata becomes determined primarily on intelligence rather than accident of birth then you run a big risk of ending up with a genetically stratified society where the people at the top have significant genetic advantages over those lower down the chain
I think people already tend to marry people with similar traits all around (physical beauty, religion, ethnicity, geography, economic class, educational background).

This applies to intellectual capability as well. As someone who is objectively a substantial outlier, I would have been very unhappy marrying someone who wasn't at least "much smarter than average". I have to think that is fairly common and that we're already seeing a stratification across many dimensions and that it's far from randomly distributed.

PhilB

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #64 on: October 20, 2017, 12:30:47 AM »
As people tend to marry others from a similar social strata, if that social strata becomes determined primarily on intelligence rather than accident of birth then you run a big risk of ending up with a genetically stratified society where the people at the top have significant genetic advantages over those lower down the chain
I think people already tend to marry people with similar traits all around (physical beauty, religion, ethnicity, geography, economic class, educational background).

This applies to intellectual capability as well. As someone who is objectively a substantial outlier, I would have been very unhappy marrying someone who wasn't at least "much smarter than average". I have to think that is fairly common and that we're already seeing a stratification across many dimensions and that it's far from randomly distributed.
The problems start when society becomes geared to hand all the trappings of success to a section of society based on an inheritable characteristic.  A society that does that based on something like skin colour is rightly seen as appallingly unjust.  Allowing it to happen based on intelligence seems fairer, but is potentially just as bad.
I'm in the same position as you and have 2 exceptionally bright kids as a result.  My background is working class - brought up on a council estate - but I was given the opportunity, because of my intelligence, to climb the ladder.  With the combination on their good genes, a middle class upbringing and, ultimately, inheriting my stash it is very unlikely that my kids will slip back down the ladder.  Their genes and money will stay within the privileged meritocracy.  The corollary is that, over the generations, intelligent genes will become more and more rare in the lower class as those who carry them get co-opted to the meritocracy.

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #65 on: October 20, 2017, 07:26:33 AM »
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Carol Dweck's book "Mindset". It is basically a review of all the research about how talent is NOT innate, but can be learned. There are some striking examples in it - for example a study following two sets of math teachers over one year. One set believed that kids have a basic innate mathematical ability, and the other set believed that mathematical ability can be learned. The result was, after just one year, that *all* kids from the second teachers' group were getting very good grades, while only the "good" kids (as determined at the start of the school year) received good grades with the first group of teachers. The difference seemed to be that teachers from the second group thought that if some kids didn't grasp a mathematical concept it represented a failing of the teacher - and they tried one method after another to teach that kid until one of those led to understanding. 

As somebody who also thought that some abilities are just genetic, this book has taught me a lot. But my ingrained belief that intellectual abilities especially are predetermined is very ingrained and I very often catch myself thinking that way, even though I'm quite convinced by that book.

And of course nowadays there is also genetics research that shows your experiences and learnings get coded into your genes, which is even more proof that you can't clearly differentiate between biology and environment.

For those of you who have kids: really, REALLY closely watch your and others' interaction with your kids. It is extremely easy to just encourage the kid in whatever thing they happened to have shown some natural ability, and focus on that alone. This will lead the kid to practice that more due to positive reinforcement, and pretty soon you will say "Oh, John has always been good at drawing." (this is based on gender roles as well of course - if you have a baby or toddler, try dressing them as the opposite gender for a few days and observe the reactions/interactions with your child. I guarantee they will be vastly different from what you're used to).

So, while kids are certainly born with some abilities and not others, the underdeveloped abilities can, under the right circumstances, be improved at least until the "very good" level. This to me ties back into meritocracy (as defined by the OP). Not everybody can achieve everything they imagine, but everybody can get very good at something - if we help them. This implies providing a lot of kids with a better environment than their parents can, get much better at providing teenagers with realistic perspectives on the workforce (yes that advice will often be outdated, but let's not have the great be the enemy of the good please. There is a LOT to be improved in that respect), and so forth. Then we can have a (moderate) meritocracy in which people are selected for their jobs based on their skills.


madgeylou

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #66 on: October 20, 2017, 04:25:50 PM »
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Carol Dweck's book "Mindset". It is basically a review of all the research about how talent is NOT innate, but can be learned. There are some striking examples in it - for example a study following two sets of math teachers over one year. One set believed that kids have a basic innate mathematical ability, and the other set believed that mathematical ability can be learned. The result was, after just one year, that *all* kids from the second teachers' group were getting very good grades, while only the "good" kids (as determined at the start of the school year) received good grades with the first group of teachers. The difference seemed to be that teachers from the second group thought that if some kids didn't grasp a mathematical concept it represented a failing of the teacher - and they tried one method after another to teach that kid until one of those led to understanding. 

As somebody who also thought that some abilities are just genetic, this book has taught me a lot. But my ingrained belief that intellectual abilities especially are predetermined is very ingrained and I very often catch myself thinking that way, even though I'm quite convinced by that book.

And of course nowadays there is also genetics research that shows your experiences and learnings get coded into your genes, which is even more proof that you can't clearly differentiate between biology and environment.

For those of you who have kids: really, REALLY closely watch your and others' interaction with your kids. It is extremely easy to just encourage the kid in whatever thing they happened to have shown some natural ability, and focus on that alone. This will lead the kid to practice that more due to positive reinforcement, and pretty soon you will say "Oh, John has always been good at drawing." (this is based on gender roles as well of course - if you have a baby or toddler, try dressing them as the opposite gender for a few days and observe the reactions/interactions with your child. I guarantee they will be vastly different from what you're used to).

So, while kids are certainly born with some abilities and not others, the underdeveloped abilities can, under the right circumstances, be improved at least until the "very good" level. This to me ties back into meritocracy (as defined by the OP). Not everybody can achieve everything they imagine, but everybody can get very good at something - if we help them. This implies providing a lot of kids with a better environment than their parents can, get much better at providing teenagers with realistic perspectives on the workforce (yes that advice will often be outdated, but let's not have the great be the enemy of the good please. There is a LOT to be improved in that respect), and so forth. Then we can have a (moderate) meritocracy in which people are selected for their jobs based on their skills.

Great post, Alps!

Herbert Derp

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #67 on: October 21, 2017, 12:14:23 AM »
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Carol Dweck's book "Mindset". It is basically a review of all the research about how talent is NOT innate, but can be learned. There are some striking examples in it - for example a study following two sets of math teachers over one year. One set believed that kids have a basic innate mathematical ability, and the other set believed that mathematical ability can be learned. The result was, after just one year, that *all* kids from the second teachers' group were getting very good grades, while only the "good" kids (as determined at the start of the school year) received good grades with the first group of teachers. The difference seemed to be that teachers from the second group thought that if some kids didn't grasp a mathematical concept it represented a failing of the teacher - and they tried one method after another to teach that kid until one of those led to understanding. 

As somebody who also thought that some abilities are just genetic, this book has taught me a lot. But my ingrained belief that intellectual abilities especially are predetermined is very ingrained and I very often catch myself thinking that way, even though I'm quite convinced by that book.

I think you are confusing talent and skill. Talent can't be learned, skill can. I don't think anyone denies that even talentless individuals can become highly skilled if given sufficient instruction, practice, and experience. While skill and talent are different, it is certainly possible to succeed on the back of a honed skill. After all, you can train a goldfish to play soccer.

But I do believe that one does require talent in order to rapidly acquire new skills and respond to dynamic, fast-paced scenarios. The innate ability to rapidly figure things out on the fly can make all the difference when it comes time to sink or swim in a fast-paced, competitive environment.

Looking back on my experiences with math in school, I don't believe that I have an "innate mathematical ability." Rather, I believe that I have an above-average ability to comprehend and manipulate complex systems of logic. Math was just one of those systems. Figuring out how to best exploit promotional offers based on reading the fine print is another.

When they taught me math in elementary school, I thought the "carrying" algorithm they used to add numbers was stupid. I preferred to add numbers in my head using my own system, which mainly involved splitting numbers apart in arbitrary ways to "make 10." After watching some recent videos about Common Core, I was surprised to see that "my" system was now being taught in schools. I figured it out myself in first grade and have been using it ever since--and that's the difference between talent and skill. When my teacher was teaching math to the class, I was daydreaming and doodling in my notebook. While my classmates were blindly fumbling with the algorithms they were trained to follow, I had moved on and invented my own system. I had no passion for math, no mindset for success or desire to learn. I thought math was boring and stupid--but in the end, my raw talent allowed me to consistently score at the top of my class.

In a true meritocracy, the reality is that one needs both talent and honed skill in order to make it to the top. Since we only have a finite amount of time to hone our skills before the effects of aging kick in, it's only natural that those who have the talent to hone their skills the fastest reach the top.

Additionally, in order to master certain skills, one must meet a threshold of talent such as a base level of visual acuity, reaction time, or cognitive ability. This even holds true for highschool calculus, the mastery of which may simply be out of reach for certain intellectually disabled people. Similarly, the ability to develop revolutionary theories of theoretical physics may simply be out of reach for the average person.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2017, 04:56:49 AM by Herbert Derp »

human

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #68 on: October 21, 2017, 05:33:55 AM »
There is no such thing as a true meritocracy, true capitalism, true communism etc. I also think that a couple of posters and the op are a little full of themselves. Chill, we don't need benevolent philosopher kings. I think it would be pretty patronizing no matter how well intentioned and I would want to start a revolt if society went down that road.

waltworks

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #69 on: October 22, 2017, 09:45:02 PM »
We're probably about as close to a meritocracy (in the US/Europe) as anywhere has ever been.

The really interesting question is what you do when only the top 1/10 of 1% are enough better than a machine to be worth hiring - because the writing is pretty much on the wall on that one. The end result of a meritocracy featuring robots and AI (and ugly bags of mostly water that screw stuff up all the time) will be interesting to witness.

-W

Bicycle_B

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Re: Is meritocracy an ideal worth pursuing?
« Reply #70 on: October 23, 2017, 02:32:04 PM »
We're probably about as close to a meritocracy (in the US/Europe) as anywhere has ever been.

The really interesting question is what you do when only the top 1/10 of 1% are enough better than a machine to be worth hiring - because the writing is pretty much on the wall on that one. The end result of a meritocracy featuring robots and AI (and ugly bags of mostly water that screw stuff up all the time) will be interesting to witness.

-W

You think you will witness it before being eliminated in favor of Skynet, GoogleBot 2.0, Roomba the Great, and the other Peers of the Digital Realm while they create the Digital Republic?  Bwahahahaha...