Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017


I don't have a lot of time to jot down all my thoughts on it, but I like this post on meritocracy.  In particular, I like three points:

First, that our concept of meritocracy motivates people to work frantically but not always thoughtfully, constantly striving for tokens of success.  The most creative advances are often risky, but insecure meritocracy affords less risk tolerance than aristocracy.

Second, she notes that if we completely demolish the idea of meritocracy we motivate even more short-term behavior (in the absence of aristocracy):
What Helen calls "the meritocratic delusion most in need of smashing" - the belief that hard work pays off - is actually a basic corrective for democracy's worst tendencies. Without it, we get not aristocracy, but only a more radical democracy - more short-sighted, impulsive, petty, demanding of immediate gratification (from the state). When the long-term fruits of hard work and achievement are shown to be "delusions," why not just grab what you can while you can, from whoever has it? So, we get got populism. This was not an improvement.

Third, I've noted before that the problem with meritocracy is not that the Ivy League uses SAT scores or whatever, but that we risk moving toward elite monoculture by having only a few ways to get a seat at the table of power.  As the blogger says:
We would never even need to worry about whether meritocrats "represent the country" if it weren't for centralization. Meritocracy was never a principle of representation in the first place. It was a way of determining who is qualified for what task. There is no connection between, say, the work of engineering or medicine, and the task of representing America. It's a recent lefty idea that every institution, profession, and small social gathering ought to be a microcosm of the intersectional identity distribution of the entire country in order to be legitimate. But it's a crazy goal, mathematically impossible to attain, and foolish to pursue. It's only possible to pursue it when there are so few routes to status and affluence that a handful of institutional gatekeepers can collude to very precisely regulate the in-flows, by imposing whatever standards of "merit" they choose. But that is the result of a centralization that co-opted meritocracy, not meritocracy.

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