Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Andrew Sabl's Reflections on Meritocracy

From one of my favorite blogs on the net, the always insightful Andrew Sabl writes:

We shall suppose that a creature, possessed of reason, but unacquainted with human nature, deliberates with himself what rules of justice or property would best promote public interest, and establish peace and security among mankind: His most obvious thought would be, to assign the largest possessions to the most extensive virtue, and give every one the power of doing good, proportioned to his inclination. In a perfect theocracy, where a being, infinitely intelligent, governs by particular volitions, this rule would certainly have place, and might serve to the wisest purposes: But were mankind to execute such a law; so great is the uncertainty of merit, both from its natural obscurity, and from the self-conceit of each individual, that no determinate rule of conduct would ever result from it; and the total dissolution of society must be the immediate consequence. Fanatics may suppose, that dominion is founded on grace, and that saints alone inherit the earth; but the civil magistrate very justly puts these sublime theorists on the same footing with common robbers, and teaches them by the severest discipline, that a rule, which, in speculation, may seem the most advantageous to society, may yet be found, in practice, totally pernicious and destructive.

—David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section III, Part II(emphasis in original).

In twenty-first century American, thus:If you think you're in favor of meritocracy, imagine that the person you regard as the world's biggest idiot gets to define what counts as merit.

...and note that half the country thought in 2004 that "never explain, never apologize" was a good rule of human conduct.

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