On the Meritocracy and How Far it Should Go

I believe in meritocracies, meaning that I believe that in general our society should function such that jobs and positions are filled on the basis of one’s skill in said job.

However, not everyone believes that merit alone should be the deciding factor in life, whether in terms of employment opportunities, college acceptances, or the amount of money one makes. I fully believe and accept that a pure meritocracy has severe limitations, but I also believe that in these cases merit should largely drive the decision. Before further discussing how I believe merit works (or should work) in general, I’d like to call attention to two issues up for discussion: affirmative action and equal pay.

Affirmative Action

Opinions on affirmative action (favoring those suffering from discrimination–in this case, I’ll specifically address affirmative action in the educational system) hit both sides of a vast spectrum, ranging from full support to labeling it as “reverse racism.” While the former opinion usually has a bit of bias and the latter goes much too far, both are, in some ways, valid. Affirmative action successfully provides educational opportunities for a number of minorities who would otherwise be denied opportunities, but in doing so it takes those same opportunities away from equally qualified whites.

In terms of merit, one might think that affirmative action is the opposite of a meritocratic policy, seeing as one’s race has nothing to do with one’s skill. However, I believe that affirmative action actually advances a meritocracy, though it does have a few flaws. Consider two people, A and B; A is very wealthy, and, as such, has been able to afford a number of remarkable opportunities and travels, experienced many aspects of the world, and went to an elite high school. B, on the other hand, has little money and a struggling family; they were able to afford little to none of the opportunities A had, and, because they spent much of their time attending to their home life and assisting their family, could not devote their full energy to their mediocre/poor high school and had a less stellar transcript as a result. However, now note that these sample people were exactly equally qualified, in terms of mental, leadership, and personal abilities, for a spot in the prestigious College of University School. The college, of course, would choose person A without a second glance; person B’s application could not compete.

This is how affirmative action achieves its most valuable purpose of upholding the meritocracy: it forces colleges to take on applicants who, due to situational circumstances, may not appear as qualified as applicants born into prosperous lives but in reality may be very qualified indeed. An application doesn’t always provide a whole picture of a person, and affirmative action takes this into account and causes colleges to grab the best of what appear to be lesser applications and thus gain students as qualified as any others who may have otherwise been passed over.

However, this also reveals affirmative action’s primary flaw: it is based on race, and while due to history trends certainly lean toward minorities on average living in poorer conditions than whites, there are plenty of qualified impoverished whites who are thus passed over by affirmative action and plenty of unqualified wealthy minority races who reap benefits that they do not need. Colleges should not even CONSIDER race in applications, even for the cause of “boosting diversity.” Diversity has nothing to do with the quality of students, the exception being that one’s race or ethnicity has had a transformative enough effect on a student that they offer a unique perspective and positive influence to the college. Colleges should not accept racially diverse students on the assumption that this exception applies to everyone; the only reason that race should be considered is that supplementary essays in the application reveal such an exceptional and positive trait that boosts worthiness of acceptance.

Thus, affirmative action should not be based on race.

The optimal alternative would be a measure more predictive of whether a person’s application is likely to understate their true abilities: something along the lines of income. Furthermore, low income people, particularly those who have experienced poverty and perhaps lived in less luxurious conditions, might be able to provide some other unique perceptions to colleges (similarly to the potential perspectives of minorities described above) that might help build an appreciation for one’s situation in some wealthier students. That said, affirmative action based on income, while perfect in an ideal world, would be difficult to implement; even if low income families can get into the colleges, they then might not be able to pay for them, and if schools were expected to fully fund all low income families brought in via income-based affirmative action, affirmative action programs might become less popular. Until a better system to use income-based affirmative action is devised, race-based affirmative action will have to stay.

It should also be noted that I do not support affirmative action past the undergraduate level. If someone was able to get into college, then they had plenty of opportunity to distinguish themselves in their undergraduate years, and applications to graduate/professional school should much more accurately reflect an undergrad’s skill level. We cannot risk that under-qualified candidates make it into these levels of education, furthermore; if an under-qualified doctor is treating me or an under-qualified lawyer is defending me or an under-qualified engineer has built the bridge on which I want, I do not care that they are a minority or low-income person who has received a fabulous opportunity; I care that I might not have been treated for my illness well, that I am not going to win this case, that this bridge might dump me into the river in a pile of rubble. Affirmative action has its limits, and those limits are the undergraduate experience. Beyond that, merit no longer has a place in the equation.

Equal Pay

Not as controversial as affirmative action, most people agree on the issue of equal pay: people should receive the same pay for the same work regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. The issue becomes the definition of what qualifies as “equal work”; does equal work mean equal hours spent? Does it mean the number of units made/processed? Does it mean length of tenure at the company?

The easiest way for me to describe how I believe equal pay should work (that is, actually equal) is to consider a hypothetical construction job.

The average man is stronger than the average woman. This is biological fact, and is due to the greater amount testosterone in men, causing them to grow taller, weigh more, and be stronger. Of course there is overlap, with some very strong woman and some very weak men, but the average remains. A construction job is one that often depends largely on strength, in the ability to carry wood and metal here and there efficiently, shift mounds with ease, etc. (apart from those jobs that rely entirely on machinery). Thus, if a construction company hires one man and woman, and each work eight-hour days, the man, on average, is likely to do more work than the woman because of his greater strength.

Thus, if both are paid by the hour, since the man creates more output for the construction company than the woman, he also deserves more pay than her.

Then, following this, it is completely rational that the average wages of men for construction jobs should exceed those of women for the same jobs. It makes sense for construction firms to try to hire more men and typically pay them more. That said, if a man is putting out less work than most women, or a woman is putting out more work than most men, they should be paid accordingly. The wages much adjust to fit the work output; to simply leave them as flat rates that assume greater strength for all men would reach sexism.

The point of this example is that equal pay should follow the example of the meritocracy: the most skilled workers get paid the most. This does mean that because of natural biological differences between men and women, there will be some jobs where the average pay for men is greater, and there will be some jobs where the average pay for women is greater. The existence of such jobs does not define “unequal pay.” Unequal pay occurs when a woman (for example) is paid less solely because she is a woman, regardless of her work ability; if she is actually working less and at the level of said pay, it is a different matter entirely and fits within a perfectly fair meritocracy.

Greater merit means greater pay, and there’s nothing unequal about that.

So when does the meritocracy become limited?

In my explanation of my beliefs on affirmative action, I touched on the fact that some people are lucky enough to be born into better situations than others, and how we must correct for that. In society, people often refer to forming impressions and preferences of people based on their looks alone as shallow, because looks say nothing about a person’s core. Both of these examples, situation and appearance, are simply luck of the draw aspects of a person that say little about who they really are, and we must adjust to consider more important aspects of character.

But what we often fail to forget is that one’s true character is luck of the draw as well.

True, we have free will, but the core of our personality was assigned to us without choice when we were born, and even those parts of our character gained through how we were raised in childhood we can’t claim our own–we don’t choose our parents or how they raise us. These more “significant” aspects of who we are–our intelligence, our passion, our work ethic, our humor–are as randomly handed out as the shallow ones described above. Some of us just get lucky.

Thus, just as we must correct for the shallow gifts gained through fortune, we have a responsibility to correct for the significant ones as well.

In a true meritocracy, those lucky enough to gain ideal personalities and minds would routinely come out on top and live prosperous lives, while those not so lucky ones would end up with much less. This does not paint a very nice picture; and so, we must change how we think of a meritocracy. We must consider our own gifts and, if we were given them, use them to help those not so lucky. Those who move forward thanks to their merit must remember to look back and help those behind. We cannot horde our gains to ourselves, when we owe them to almost completely luck.

After reading all of this meandering, long post, this is the one thing I’d like you take away. If you are successful, no doubt you worked hard for it, using every talent you possessed hour after hour to drag your way to where you are. But in your success, remember that the reason you were able to work so hard, that you had that strength, is pure luck, and that not everyone has such strength and work ethic, or the talents to make them useful, and lend just a bit of yourself to helping out those unlucky ones.

And, that said, not every job should be decided by merit; a position at McDonald’s doesn’t consider every single applicant until they’ve figured out who can flip a burger the best. Many of these base jobs must exist for those not so lucky, must exist as sources of money for those temporarily or permanently in need because they might not be able to climb their way to a better one. Maybe it’s their situation, or maybe it’s their natural talent, but no person is the same.

If the meritocracy existed at every level possible, then no, the world wouldn’t seem very equal, or very nice, and one’s position would be entirely devoted to luck. We as humans have control over our lives; we don’t have to look at someone and say, “Oh, bad luck, nothing to be done.” We can exert our own control to bring others up in the world, grant them opportunities they can’t grant themselves, and show them love that a cold, scientific meritocracy does not have.

The world should depend largely on merit, but at the end of the day, if you’re lucky enough to have much of it, don’t forget about those who don’t.

The Majority’s Right: Why I Won’t Use “They”

If your chosen pronoun is “they,” I will not use it.

I know it sounds rude and insensitive, but before you judge, hear me out.

The English language is a beautiful thing; tens of thousands of words, each with their own specific meaning and usage, able to paint any picture one wishes. Able to create messages that are to the point, messages that are precise, messages that are clear.

The pronoun “they” (and forms of it) is in its current usage a pronoun used to refer to plurals, groups of objects, animals, ideas, places, or, of course, people. And herein lies the problem of using it as a gender-neutral pronoun: when using it in this way, we are using a word meant for plurals to describe something singular. (Note that we do additionally use “they” to refer to an ambiguous person of unknown gender in writing, but once a person becomes unambiguous–and if I am talking to you, you are certainly unambiguous–we do not use “they.”) Consider these examples:

  • Bob and Dylan were walking to the store when Bob spotted a dog; he quickly ran up to it to pet it.
  • Bob and Dylan were walking to the store when Bob spotted a dog; she quickly ran up to it to pet it.
  • Bob and Dylan were walking to the store when Bob spotted a dog; ne quickly ran up to it to pet it.

In all of the above examples, regardless of Bob’s chosen pronoun, it is very clear that it is to Bob that the bolded pronoun refers. But what if Bob has chosen the pronoun “they”?

  • Bob and Dylan were walking to the store when Bob spotted a dog; they quickly ran up to it to pet it.

Did Bob run up to the dog, or did both Bob and Dylan run up to the dog? The statement is ambiguous, and our beautiful, clear language is no longer clear in the slightest.

In reading articles which refer to individual people as “they,” I have found this ambiguity constantly confusing and unsettling. Had a person chosen a pronoun besides what society might conventionally see as their gender–a “he” for a “she,” a “she” for a “he,” or even the gender-neutral “ne”–brief confusion might remain, but it would be just that: brief. The reader gets used to the unconventional use quickly and soon is unperturbed by it. However, with “they,” by its very definition there is constant ambiguity that will not and cannot go away.

I believe in clarity in language, and for this reason, I thus will not use the pronoun “they,” whether that is one’s chosen pronoun or not, even if it means avoiding pronouns entirely. “But oh,” you say, “how can you be so stubborn as to not just make a person feel accepted and comfortable by sucking it up and using their chosen pronoun?” While that point is valid, I ask in return: why should I, then, have to be the uncomfortable one, since as stated such unclarity in language is naturally disorienting and confusing? Furthermore, only a comparatively tiny segment of the population would want to use “they” in this way, so doesn’t this pronoun create discomfort for the vast majority of the world? Why should such a majority have to sacrifice comfort for such a small minority?

This is a much broader issue than “they,” and an altogether relative one in our world. Why should we put forth our effort to foster refugees (so few in number compared to the full population of the U.S.), why should we fight tirelessly for the rights of gays (only 2% or so of people), why should we pay money and give time to support the elderly? Would so many people not be happier if the majority had their way? Is our voting system not based upon that principle, of the majority getting their way?

Our ultimate goal is to maximize happiness in our nation; basic needs must be met (food, water, shelter), and then more complex ones (comfort, entertainment, relationships), and then still higher and higher levels of wants. At a glance, it may seem the best way to maximize happiness is to fulfill that desired by the majority each and every time, fulfilling the greatest number of people at each turn and bend. However, this leaves a great many without their needs met. The unfulfilled minorities pile up: refugees without homes, gays without acceptance, the elderly without love. And these issues are key to happiness; without them, these minorities are entirely unfulfilled.

And, as every human is part of some minority, if no minority is fulfilled, than the vast majority of people are going to be missing something. Furthermore, of course, we are humans, and cheesy as it sounds, we cannot simply leave our fellow humans behind and continue with life happily, only with a sad sort of survivor’s guilt.

The fact is that we cannot reasonably make every issue black and white, choosing the majority’s favored option each time. Compromise must take place so as to leave the minorities whole, even if that means a bit of effort, a bit of time, a bit of change in plan for the majority.

It is not fair of me to say that because I am a part of the majority on the issue of gender-neutral pronouns, your wants shall not be met, and you may not use gender-neutral pronouns because they make me feel muddled in my language. If I believe that, then I too will come to disappoint before long.

However, it is fair of me to ask that you compromise.

It is fair of me to ask why you choose a gender-neutral pronoun to begin with, and to suggest other options; it is fair of me to show you options such as the forms of “ne,” and say that I will go through the same discomfort of learning and becoming accustomed to them as you would, if you’d consider them as an alternative to “they,” seeing as they accomplish the same sentiment.

It is fair of me to ask that if there’s going to be discomfort, we share it together until it’s no longer uncomfortable.

It is fair of me to ask that I not carry the discomfort all myself, and for longer than it’s needed.

I do not ask that all minorities bow to the will of the majority; I do not ask that you use a cis-gender pronoun. I simply ask that you do not try to make me use the pronoun “they.”

About the Author: My Views in Short

Welcome to Fish Can Talk!

This post is an extremely broad summary of my political and social thoughts and is not intended to be a comprehensive explanation of how I view the universe. Do not take the words here as law. They will serve to summarize a number of my views on a number of social issues. Some of my thoughts, as listed here, may appear  inconsiderate, nonsensical, or downright rude; if you are in any way offended or confused by one of my views, please read the full explanation (which will be linked next to each point as I write them). I promise, I have reasons for everything listed here.

As I have more brief thoughts on less brief subjects, I will edit this post. Similarly, as I write longer explanations of the thoughts here, I will edit in the links. In short, check this post regularly for updates.

Thank you, and enjoy.

But first, an introduction to me…

In order for you to fully understand my views, you must understand the perspective from which they come. Thus, here’s a bit about me before we begin.

I live in America. I am a relatively young, white male. I am bisexual and at this time closeted, and so I consider myself to have the minimal license to be able to freely and loudly complain about “social justice warriors.” I am also a Christian.

What drives me in all that I do is the ocean (as shown by the name of the blog), and I intend to protect it in any way that I can–something desperately needed in this day and age.

And now, my thoughts on the world.

Social issues and my thoughts on them

Personal Rights

  • What should the consequences be for burning the American flag?
    • None. This is disrespectful but shouldn’t be illegal.
  • Should you be allowed to display a Confederate flag?
    • Yes, as stupid as you’ll look.
  • Should businesses have the right to refuse customers due to personal or religious reasons (e.g. refusing a gay customer for religious reasons)?
    • Yes.
  • Should abortion be legalized?
    • Yes, though there should be a cap (such as not allowed after first trimester).

Environmental Issues, Animal Rights, and Health

  • Should fish be wild-caught or farmed?
    • Farmed in sustainable ways.
  • Should animals be usable in experiments (even if it means death) for the sake of progressing human research?
    • Yes, provided the research is humane.
  • What are your thoughts on vegans?
    • Not everyone should be one, as good as it can be for the environment, and those are them should not try to convert everyone to them or act high and mighty about it.

Racial Issues

  • Should affirmative action exist?
  • Can black people be racist?
    • Yes.
  • Does cultural appropriation exist and how should it be dealt with?
    • It can exist, but nine out of ten “cultural appropriation” incidents today are overreactions (such as to dreadlocks, hoop earrings, etc.) to people simply sharing cultures and should be dealt with via honest discussion, not public call-outs.

LGBT and Gender Issues

  • Do you support gay marriage?
    • Yes.
  • Which bathrooms should transgender/non-cisgender people use?
    • I do not currently have enough information for a solid opinion. This is a case by case basis.
  • Do you support the use of alternative/gender-neutral pronouns?

Other Issues of the Modern Day

  • What are your thoughts on safe spaces and trigger warnings?
    • People should feel safe and in an accepted environment, but at the extent these exist in modern day, safe spaces are not a good thing. Trigger warnings should not exist, period.
  • Should women receive equal pay to men?
  • Do you support feminism?
    • The good honest sort? Yes. The sort that simply acts by hating men and complaining loudly? No.
  • Is it fat-shaming to be proud of losing weight or to openly advocate for general overweight people to try to slim down?
    • No. It is not fat-shaming to think that people should be healthy.
  • Should gun laws be more restrictive?
    • Absolutely. People should still be able to own guns, but they must be regulated much more strictly and thoroughly.