Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005 | 1:01 a.m.
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Capitalism & Meritocracy
I've always had a sense of something like a "meritocracy" in our society. For the longest time, it was in the sense of living up to it -- if I didn't have something it was because I (or my parents) didn't work hard enough or want it bad enough. If I failed in some way, it was the same -- I didn't want it badly enough or I didn't work hard enough. I believed the bootstrap theory -- that any American has the same opportunity to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and make something of themselves. That equal opportunity is there for the taking. That if you are gifted with "smarts" and work hard enough, you can have the American dream.
Recently, I started questioning this, though maybe not thinking of it in the sense of society's ills. For sure the word "meritocracy" really wasn't in my vocabulary until I took this class this summer. No, it was more my analysis of why I don't finish some things that I start that got me thinking. Why do I make plans and then not follow them through? Why do I start things and not finish them? Am I defective? Is this a shadow? Can I fix it? There were two whispers in the back of my mind that quietly persevered though the shouts of "You're lazy"" and "You are a flake!" and "Loser!" One said that I don't always fail to finish. I'm not a loser. And maybe some things don't get finished because it's not the right time and/or not the right thing. That sounds dangerously close to "you don't really want it," but the difference is what the second whisper kept repeating: the implication of discovering that something is not right for me at the time is quite different than the implication that I didn't try hard enough or that I quit too easily.
The jury is still out on the personal implications for me, but it's progress, I think, that rather than beating myself over the head with how I don't measure up, I'm considering that maybe the ruler is the wrong system.
Fast forward a little to the class, where we talked about this meritocracy in America -- again, the bootstrap theory. The problem is, it disregards realities about obstacles presented by differences in race, gender and class. Additionally, it sets up a system of winning/merit = having some thing to show for your work. I feel like there is a relationship, then, between this myth that everyone can have whatever they want if they only want it badly enough and work hard enough and the forces that drive capitalism, a system that more and more is being overtaken by consumer/materialism. What was intended to be a free market economy has become a consumer-driven ideology. Not only do we have to want badly enough and work hard enough, we have to have the right "things" to show for our work. How insane -- and when does it stop?
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