Merit Debate I

During the last fortnight, at least two eminent professors and two international administrators ran into arguments with me on a specific subject: Merit.
Does the issue of ‘merit’ merit a discussion?
I guess so. At least when we consider the range of issues it brings forth.

Lets start with Merit-iocracy
Like bureaucracy, Merit-iocracy deserves to be loathed, hence less talked about. Who desires to loath? Only those who wish to get dirty in the process. And most of us are of course clean people and want to wear stain-free clothes. Hence no loathes please.
Especially not loath the people who have ‘merits’. Lets vaguely describes the m-cracy-Not to question the existing system, assuming that the system makes for unequal existence because not all people have the merits to live with equal dignity…

What does the school of m-cracy profess: All human beings are born equal but they do not deserve equally dignified life, because it’s a world of equal opportunities and those who can make it should make it, and those who fail to make it must perish.

Lets search for examples: the ones who excel in education (we mean the ones who secure the top ranks, etc) are the people with merits. Now these people have other traits too – to finish the homeworks in time, with precision, with knack for meticulous details and ability to compete.

Lets search for anti-examples: the rest of ’em, which is of course, most of us.

At the face of it, it sounds like the obvious. But of course we know that its not true. I am of the opinion that we are not born equal, and hence, we must strive to make it possible to live with equal dignity as we begin to live on our own (compromised) terms…

I can recollect the uncle of mine raised and still staying in my village-with-half-time-electricity, who can web oral poetry like nobody’s business; that friend of my school days who did not graduate the final exams with any distinction but made an extremely good webmaster, and teacher or those hundreds of faces that swarm in my mind’s eyes when I look for all the human beings who have made better differences in others’ lives than their own.
You have your own pictures by now too.

Yet we judge people by certain yardsticks of education or other categories (sports, entertainment, and all other forms of “cultural resonances”) assuming that to be the final parameter of merit. Why?

The question is not yet fine-tuned, but I was already offered answers. One forceful one was, no matter what one does, one needs to do it well. Sounds rational, doesn’t it?

But during my life of twenty seven years, one thing which I have learnt about life is that life is not rational anyway. Before we fly philosophical terrains, lets zero down on the examples here. And I guess the time has come for fine-tuning the questions:
a. How does one do well in any field?
b. Why does one need to excel?
c. What makes one feel that one is better than the others?
d. Which is the life’s biggest truth and is it surveyed often?
e. When does one make the leap, if at all?
f. Where does one stop and look back?

All the above questions have been answered in various ways. Again, I would say, not really answered, as they have been interpreted. Locate the answers in any religious texts and you wont be disappointed, or better still look for the new sacred texts through

I will attempt at them strictly and solely from the angle of meritocracy.

First question attempted: one can do well in any field. But not well enough. Its not a post-modern puzzlement I am hinting at. It’s the knowledge that one’s ignorance is the weapon to combat one’s claims. Its only through the awareness that one is vastly ignorant about the world that one will take the forward steps. Now, for hints that all of us have ignorance in vast measures, I can throw open a question: Do you know me?

In all possibility, no. Because I am sure no one in the world knows me entirely. Each one of you who have known some facets about me are unaware of some others. Counterpose would arise and question the need to know the insignificant me. Lets throw open the other question: Do you know yourself?

It does not take Freud to tell us that most moments in each of us germinate from the unconscious/subconscious. For example, do you know why you saw that dream which depicted you as dining with a man whom you never met and are unlikely to ever. We wont even go to the mystery of the flying saucers. Our ignorance is not a bliss or curse. It’s a reality.

Having said that, do we try to do well in any field? Sure. But one needs to name the fields. One needs to qualify which fields are better than the rest. And then only rank the competing people that we are. Here is the catch: The field often defined defy logic. For example, in India, the most “meritorious” are the ones who have become the administrative officers. The second most are those who are in foreign services, the third most could be in the revenue services, and then some in the field of engineering and some in nuclear physics. In the USA, one would be the president of the country followed by the rocket scientist. In the world order one needs to win the Nobel Prize nothing less, and if one does not beat that contest, Forbes and Fortune magazines will decide it for them.

In other words, the fields which have been less defined are not the ones which define high merit. For example, fields like cultivating farms or cleaning the roads and the loos.

But hold on. Are we getting surprised? Why is it that the high merit level fields seem like no fields at all, whereas the low merit-level fields are actually the areas.

Let me clarify. Getting into administrative services or becoming president is not a field. Its one of ‘becoming’. That is, these are posts which are conferred. Not areas where one works ‘well’. For example you don’t do president. You don’t do bureaucrat. And certainly you don’t do nobel prize. Whereas, you do farming and you do cleaning.

So are we looking at people who are politicking and writing, or who are becoming presidents and becoming prize winners? Are we looking at the “working-at-it fields” or are we looking at “winner-categories”? In more simplified terms, are we looking at only those people for whom there is a defined “winner category”? Which would imply that they are not the same thing as the fields, anyway. And doing well in any field has nothing to do with winning any rewards/awards. Any doubt and ask the one who regularly works at a lake everyday in a muddied Congo and does it damn well.

Second question attempted: Frankly the answer is no. No one needs to ‘excel’. Because excelling is not an intrinsic quality one is born with, rather is a recognition conferred by a particular society…


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