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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The dilemma between Meritocracy and Fairness

One of the most endearing concepts for our generation has been that of meritocracy. Upper caste Indians have immolated themselves whenever the government has acted in favor of the lower castes by increasing the scope of affirmative action. The cultural hegemony of meritocracy has firmly established itself and got entwined with the other obsession of most modern societies, that of fairness. In fact, in most liberal and democratic societies like the US and India, where educated classes swear by misplaced idealism based on skin-deep understanding of world formed upon watching evening news analysis, “meritocracy” and “fairness” are often regarded as being synonymous.

However, it is now widely accepted by the scientific community that Merit (intelligence, looks, strength etc.) is an outcome of both nature and nurture. And unless it can be ensured that everyone starts from the same starting point with respect to both nature and nurture, institutions based on meritocracy will end up being hugely unfair. Take the premium educational institutions such as IITs and IIMs for example. From an economic class perspective, the profile of the students in these institutions is strongly middle class, as far as it can be from India’s overall demographic profile. And if caste based reservations were not present, one can imagine how the social profile of these institutions would have looked like. Even though, it is trendy to laugh at “bleeding heart lefties” for their blaming of circumstances only for the misery of the underprivileged, it is hard to imagine the chances of a child selling flowers in Mumbai streets striving on his own to become a CEO. Even in more developed countries, social expectations and practices can lead to huge differences in child development. Girls in these societies have frequently fallen behind boys in subjects such as mathematics, especially when they are taught in co-educational schools.

Of course, one can imagine a world where income levels for most are sufficient to ensure a minimum spend on every child’s education so that she can have at least a shot at success. However, even at that point in time, nature (inheritance) would continue to have a measurable effect on Merit. But then one can argue that if one is born with the genes that to an extent provide him with the merit to claim success, is it fair to not endow the less meritorious just because he didn't have the right genes? So what is the solution? Of course it's all dependent on time and the research efforts in genetics, proteomics and neuroscience. Once it's known exactly how much genes are responsible for merit, one can impose a suitable Merit Tax on lines of the inheritance tax. The other option may be to endow every human being with the same genetic traits responsible for all forms of Merit - and that would be the next human species with uniformity all across.

But then, merit comes in different forms, primarily intelligence, physical appearance, strength, etc. (That good looking individuals are more successful is statistically proven). As such, “Fairness” can’t be ensured unless every child has the same genes that are expressed in the same way. May be an easier option for mankind is to suppress the genes that cause a craving for fairness in most human beings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good post. wrt last sentence, 95% of the world population will have to be eliminated to remove any wanting for equity. this sophisticated laissez faire system is indeed not any different from the eugenic survival to the fittest concept.