Meritocracy & Capitalism

In an idealist world, people would be recognized solely for their achievements. People would get what they deserve—they would get into the colleges they wanted to because they simply deserved to, because they were the smartest, the best, and the most qualified. Similarly, people would be successful because they worked hard, not because of preexisting circumstances. A meritocracy is what every ideal educational institution, as well as many democratic countries are based on. Meritocracy, in theory, is just and fair, but given societal structures and the influences of capitalism, this is impossible. The manifestation of our version of meritocracy is inherently unfair and unjust. We may be better off without it. 

Despite our loftiest goals, many of the elements of daily life that are structured to work towards such an idealist system are in fact unfair. Standardized tests, a prime example of an academic differentiator, in theory are based on merit, but success can be bought through tutors, prep courses, and books, which in turn ties success to consumerism, and capitalism. It undermines the point of a standardized test: to differentiate yourself in comparison to your peers. So, these manifestations do not illustrate the intent: that there needs to be ways to create a system in which merit and recognition reign supreme. But, the execution of said ideals is inherently unjust and unfair because of the perpetual influences of capitalism. Everything is tied to your monetary success, and no value or merit in this so-called meritocracy is placed on relationships, emotions, or connections. Happiness is tied to money, and relationships have no place in this makeshift meritocracy.

People who are self-confident, self-believing, or find more value in relationships have no place in this world of external validation because success is measured in money and material wealth no matter who you talk to. When you die, people will not think of the things you did, instead, they will likely think of the things you owned or were able to do based on your material standing. Relationships do not have monetary meaning in this system, so there isn’t room for people with different values, who do not strive for endless institutional gratification. These people who believe instead in personal value and success inhibit us from achieving a complete capitalist-meritocracy because meritocracy is inextricably tied to capitalism, and they do not conform to monetary success. They simply just have a different measure of success, unrelated to material gain. 

Relationship-oriented people are self-confident, spiritual, and believe that having connections with a higher being or peer is more meaningful than any material measure of success. So, then, how do these people fit into this idea of meritocracy? The simple answer is, they don’t. They are the outliers to this perfect system of sizing people up based on intelligence or how much money they make every year. Instead, they represent what an “actual” merit based society would look like. They do so because they recognize that worth and merit come in many forms. By not succumbing to capitalist ideas, they have in essence created a way to recognize people on all types of merit, not just material wealth. It’s important to realize that institutional value is not the only form of merit, because we need to recognize more effectively what we deserve, and how our actions are more worthy than the money we make. These people who focus on relationships are an anomaly, something we should strive towards because they have escaped an exclusive definition of success and merit.     

In many ways, being able to escape such a constricting definition of value and of merit is a blessing. These people who value relationships,  spirituality, and happiness, and so many other emotions have been able to seep into a hierarchical society, and make people rethink their values. By finding fulfillment in their relationships, connections, and conversations with others, these people have undermined the value that we place in monetary success, and have also deprioritized the importance of money as a whole. They have created a way to honor those who deserve it, without placing undue importance on their monetary success. So, maybe a meritocracy should not be the goal. Maybe instead, merit and success should not be tied to institutional gratification, but to relationships. This is not to say that making gobs of money is not impressive, or having the best grades is not an astounding accomplishment, because it is. Instead, consider how the basis for merit allows us all to rethink what makes someone successful, or what the very foundation for our society truly is.