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The Meritocracy Question
Could you stand objective criticism? Are you ready to die trying?
Never underestimate the intelligence of people in power. — Anon
Somebody asked me a question about meritocracy. They were convinced that America doesn’t really have one.
Q: Is it false to believe we live in a meritocracy?
A: First of all, as any parent should understand, you don’t have to have a perfect house and a perfect kid to have an excellent family life. So meritocracy is not something everybody needs. In fact, I would argue that meritocracy is only needed for overachievers. But let’s leave that aside for a moment.
I have something called the Peasant Theory. It works like this. There are only three classes of Americans. Rulers, Peasants and the Geniuses. 85% of all Americans are Peasants. The only thing they control is their own family, maybe.
The Rulers are those people in society who have the power and prestige to give you power and prestige. They are few. You do something for a Ruler because only they can give you something you cannot give yourself. They are the motivation of America. They are not all good, nor are they a club. Some of them are men like Steve Jobs. Some of them are women like Mylie Cyrus. The bottom line is people will run to be associated with them. These are the 3% (which means there are about 9 million of them)
The Geniuses are those people in society who make things work so that the Rulers can actually rule. In other words, they keep the electricity on. They build and arrange the lights and microphones so that you can actually see and hear Mylie. They design and build the batteries so that your iPhone actually works. These are the 12% who actually know WTF they are doing, all the time.
Now there’s an interesting dynamic between the the top edge of the Peasants and the bottom edge of the Genius Class. In that realm is the meritocracy. It’s not for everybody.
There is a highly competent realm in the American Peasantry. You know that brilliant computer programmer who refuses to work for Apple. You know that master mechanic whose hot rods can beat any supercar. You know that guy who grinds his own coffee and absolutely hates Starbucks. These people do not care about meritocracy. They’re not trying to sell out. They are not trying to appease or work for the ruling class. They therefore have not power nor prestige. They are amateurs. They are not professionals. Some of them are rebels. Some of them want revolutionary change and know they can never get it given the current ruling class. I call these people the ‘Alternative Geniuses’.
So let’s slice up the Genius Class for a moment. Right now, the man in the Oval Office, definitely part of the Rulers, has some broad choice of highly competent members of the GC to push the buttons, and pull the levers, for the power and prestige of working for the President of the United States of America. That means other members of the GC are sitting on the bench right now. And the second stringers have a third string too., and the Alternative GC knows just as much as all the rest.
So what is incredibly important about the US is that our GC is so large, and manifestly competent. We have a deep bench. One guy gets fired, there’s somebody else ready to go. Always. Why? Because we have a meritocracy. What did I just say?
We have a meritocracy.
If you are not a board certified gynecologist, the ladies of the ruling class in NYC’s Upper West Side are not going to give you a second look. They talk to each other. America has a Top Ten for every fricking thing under the sun. And the Rulers are always spending time and money to put those best things to use. Goods, Services, People. So when you get to be the private pilot for the CEO of Goldman Sachs, you know WTF you are doing, all the time. When you get to be the host of the Tonite Show, you’re at the top of a very large pyramid. Meritocracy.
Now of course, it is absolutely true that there are Rulers who don’t care about your competency, they just want your absolute loyalty. That’s the difference between a Leader and a Boss. It doesn’t matter. They still enable the Genius Class. So if I’m the scumbag lawyer for the Hollywood producer or the weed carrier for the decrepit aging rock star, dude, I’m still getting paid and on tour with the stars. Genius.
The overwhelming majority of Americans drink beers they don’t know how to brew, wear clothes they don’t know how to sew, eat vegetables they don’t know how to grow, watch crap movies that still look better than anything they could ever film themselves and consume news that literally makes them crazy, yet they are incapable of writing a rebuttal worthy of an editorial column. Most Americans live in the Comments Section. But. Who cares? It’s still a good life.
Here is what we do in America, and it is the right thing to do. We have leagues. We are all amateurs and Peasants, and none of us, EVER want to compete in basketball against LeBron. None of us want to get on stage in front of 20,000 people and have a dance off vs Mylie Cyrus. EVER. Few of us can even stand the humiliation that an average math teacher at an average high school can deal. Who among you would debate your minister? Most of us are mostly specialized in our little jobs and wish. But we get along fine, because we are not subject to capital M Meritocracy. We have leagues. We want to compete at our level.
When you win in a fair competition, at your level, you can be completely satisfied.
If you’re not satisfied, then you become an overachiever, and then you start asking yourself tough questions. Then you get aggressive because you want to dominate. You want not just competence, you want mastery. You want to know as much about that thing as anybody has ever known in the history of mankind, and you don’t give a crap what anybody thinks about it. To hell with them, I’m fricken doing this. Or die trying. If you’re very lucky, you might have decided this when you were 4 years old, or had parents that recognized your genius. You would be a prodigy.
These are the people who make the meritocracy. They always have been and they always will be. And the reason they play fair is because they want to KNOW, and the want to DO. Understand that this is completely different from the motivations of the people who want to RULE. Because when you want to be the Boss of Everyone, the ends justify the means. You don’t need to play fair. Playing fair is for little games like basketball and dance contests and college calculus. Rules are for followers. Rulers will break rules to become Ruler and make new rules. And life isn’t fair, and they want to rule in life. The unfair game of life.
Most people are not psychologically prepared to be Rulers, and they are not competent to be in the Genius Class. But there are many Peasants who take care of their own business, and a few whose desire to become ultra-competent puts them in contact with America’s deep bench.
Class & Change
What is the cost of corruption, and all other kinds of evils? What is the cost of racism? First of all, if you cannot whip the competition and make them like it, then you’re not trying hard enough to be in the GC. Do you want to be Ice Cube and be a superstar entertainer ultimately worth $150 million? Then you don’t walk around with picket signs or sign petitions against racism in Hollywood. You fight and risk everything to be Ice Cube. You want to complain about the deprivation of civil rights? Well, sister, you have to get that law degree, clerkship and become the best civil rights attorney in your state. Genius. Working for the Rulers in the capitol.
You want to fight against the current class system? Then you have to become more appealing in every way than the existing Ruling class. That means you have to steal the Genius Class away from them and get them to work for you. You want revolution? Are you ready to die? No of course you’re not. You don’t even want guns in your neighborhood. You just want things to be nice, maybe 20% nicer than they are. That’s a good Peasant ambition. Move up to Cadillac from Chevy. (Cadillacs designed by the GC).
At some point in everyone’s life, they have to figure out what it is that they expect the world to deliver to them and ask why they’re not getting it. Ultimately and for most of us, it is because we haven’t found anything worth fighting and dying for. The overwhelming majority of us are satisfied with a 20% raise, and we are not willing to break a lot of rules to get more.
So will a meritocracy be better for you? Are you really ready to overachieve and become ultracompetent? Are you ready to be judged in public every day for the rest of your life in the same way people are Twitter bombed and canceled for putting themselves out there? Well, guess what, there is a Meritocracy out there in America. It’s just not easy to get into it. Otherwise, be happy in your league. Your league is for you. Play fair. Have fun. Enjoy life. But if you can’t have fun and enjoy life because you know you deserve better, you know which way to go. Right up the side of that mountain. We sincerely wish you the best of luck.
In the meantime, we should never forget that we have a democracy. We’re not taking ours as seriously as we should because it is easy to be overwhelmed by the awesome powers of the Rulers and be awed by the fantastic talents of the Geniuses. Unfortunately, most of our public blather is full of contempt for the pitiful series of dramas of the Peasantry paraded in front of us by our shitshow media. Most of us Peasants eat this daily bread of being whipsawed between billionaires, pop stars, arrests cockups, mass shootings, natural and unnatural disasters, and puppies down a well. All that is magnified by the distance most of us refuse to travel through the smog and virus infested air that we try not to breathe in quarantine. We witness nothing but the mediocrity of our league, our neighborhood, ourselves.
This too should lead to a kind of sober frustration. We can’t have fun and enjoy life because we’re convinced somebody else is screwing things up for all of us. Well, we do have a right of redress. But that means we’re going to have to get the attention of the Geniuses who haven’t gone mercenary. We need to give them our attention and recognize what they do to keep our civilization running properly. (And stop calling me a ‘boomer’, dammit.) We have to support them when they blow the whistle, and patiently explain what really goes on. That’s the kind of democracy that requires our dedication, because believe me, Rulers and Geniuses can rest on their laurels and play us like suckers if we’re really not paying close attention.
So let’s use our meritocracy. Do better. Suck less.