Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meritocracy round 1

So I hope this will be a broad overview of the content of the book Rise of the Meritocracy.  If you are going to read it and don't want any spoilers well now would be a good time to stop reading because I have every intention of talking about all the bits contained in this book.  That said, I do think people should read it as I've said before, because it is an interesting snapshot from an interesting period of time.  The reason that you've heard of Huxley, Orwell, Viktor Frankl, and dozens more is the era they lived through cast a very long shadow on mankind and the things that where also happening around the globe where great cause for concern.  Michael Young wrote to tell of a different type of dystopia.  In his world the idea of equal opportunity had been carried to it's logical extremes, and an unbiased measuring stick was being used in Britain to determine the haves and have nots of the future society.  The trouble was very real, and will ring true with people in the current #Occupy movement but that's for later.  For now the actual what Michael said in his book.

The most obvious and top level thing to point out here is that the book was written very specifically about Britain, and it's particular place in the world.  The author was genuinely concerned that his country would take the lessons of the great war, and try to model society after that.  His concern was not unfounded given the amazing sway socialism had over such a large part of the world during and following WWII.  The major role model countries during the time where Russia, and America and as such the author references them often as the extremes that Britain was somewhere in between.  He modeled out how the country would transition from it's current (1960)  model of a mimicked Aristocracy to socialist ideals, and finally to a Meritocracy where the most intelligent and most driven ran the country and reaped great benefits for doing so, while the rest filled posts suited to their lack of ability.

The introduction serves as setup for the book that follows but ultimately you are trying to understand a fictional series of future events that occur in 2033.  The author list names and dates, talks about various ideological factions that are semi-impenetrable, and honestly made me want to stop reading.  If you've ever tried to read naked lunch you will know what I'm talking about.  It really takes a few pages of things that for the most part you can dismiss as nonsense before we get to the point.  The author suggests that all the events that he has been talking about are a result of the social order of Britain and offers to compare the present (2034) situation with the time period of 1914-1968 in Britain's history in order for the reader to better understand the "populist movement".

The first chapter covers a broad range of motivators for the Meritocracy, and introduces the term as a successor the previous social orders of Oligarcy and Plutocracy a nuanced replacement following the inheritance model of a Monarchy.  Numerous times in the chapter he references how the Meritocracy is really the final evolution of Socialism, and given how socialism is interpreted in the United States I have a hard time not taking these as false complements used to criticize the model further.  It's hard to de-contextualize this so this bias is worth noting.  The overall history lesson was somewhat interesting in the way the author covered the good aspects of the inheritance model (by staying put, people really had to practice stewardship of the land they worked for instance).  Ultimately though the second son (and third for that matter) found themselves the have nots as a matter of birth and the first a have for nothing other than calendar date of birth, this lead to chaffing in the family unit and caused the other children to strike out to make a better lot.  Even as the country transitioned away from inheritance, it was determined that family was the best way to raise good people (flies in the face of Huxley's model no?) but their influence had to be muted so as to insure only the best carried on to complete educations.  It was what was best for the country, and it was needed to stave off the clever foreigner.

The clever foreigner is used as a specter to strike fear in the hearts of the British that would rather their dull children reaped the education better suited to the people that could compete for the country the best.  The fear of being eclipsed by another country was a strong motivator, but ultimately the families undoing was socialism.  Socialists sought in various ways to ensure that children of poor households had the opportunities of wealthy ones, and lobbied successfully for inheritance taxes and death taxes to prevent parents from passing wealth unfairly to their children or grandchildren.  These contributed greatly, but the socialists largest contribution was the push for better education.  The masses rallied around the cause to improve their collective lot at the expense of the most privileged.  A society based on merit was the will of the people.

Chapter 2 covers an interesting transition where the will of the people seems to have been usurped by the clever few, and how socialist ideals of equality where usurped by testing and merit.  Some people where more equal than others,intelligence was the yardstick rather than wealth or the family you where born into.  It effectively replaced one unfair system with a new one, and the author suggests that it's the nature of people to not really believe that people are truly equal.  This bias helped but socialist didn't go quietly into the dark.  They tried to introduce comprehensive schools modeled after American High Schools, the flaw in this the author notes in in America you have equal opportunity for education but you have to compete once you graduate (to get a job, or make a living ect)  Britain didn't have the same history of private enterprise that encouraged competition, instead they choose to compete in school via intelligence tests to pick the winners earlier and earlier.  Russia was mentioned as not having a private industry to separate the wheat from the chaff, but the very high standards of Russian Universities made sure that the primary education was rigorous and forced students to compete for entry.  Ultimately the urge to get the best education for their children caused the socialist movement to be divided in itself as supporters undermined themselves by not choosing the integrated schools they proposed as an alternative to the of open primary, and testing to get into secondary.

Well, call this the end of the first post as it's getting a touch long and I'm getting distracted.  I'm about a third done with my notes so there should only be three posts on what the book actually said, but keep in mind I'm skipping a ton of the content.

Continue to Part 2 >>>


  1. sounds an interesting book.

  2. I'm kinda busy with Sophie Kinsella's book now :D

  3. hmm, doesn't sound like something I'd read

  4. "It effectively replace one unfair system with a new one, and the author suggests that it's the nature of people to not really believe that people are truly equal."

    I think this is true. Hell, here in America we all have a fair vote on things, but really, should the vote of a man with an IQ of 150 vs the vote of Cletus the Hillbilly with an IQ of 75, who's borderline mentally retarded, both share the same value? I kinda don't think it does.

    1. It's an interesting thought I suppose, but given that overall low percentage of the country that does vote any way if either show up to the polls they are wielding a disproportionately high level of influence. In presidential cycles it's about 2:1, in non-presidential years it's closer to 3:1. They most certainly don't share the same value, or access to information, or even ability to decipher information that comes to them, or identify bias, or... well you get my point. I would argue that location and intelligence are not tightly coupled, but access to education and location are, so the location of Cletus doesn't by it's very nature insure that he is of low intelligence, but rather that his education likely is.


      Anyway, that will conclude our afternoon The more you know™ segment of the show.