Meritocracy Essay

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Many issues were raised by Dr. Leonel Lim pertaining to the concept of meritocracy such as the tension between its elements of egalitarianism and elitism, which has in turn scrutinized the discursive potency and relevance of meritocracy’s egalitarian promises (Lim, 2013) and the continued legitimacy of elitism in the society. (Wong, 2013) With this in mind, how do we reconcile the apparent contradictions between meritocracy’s egalitarian and elitist strands, on the need for re-working the ideology in schools and society?

Besides being a contradicting and unstable ideological discourse (Lim, 2013), ontologically, meritocracy is a dualistic construct (Robinson, 2012), and with problems. Its two elements of elitism and egalitarianism are, in my view, independent and competitive. With one being more than likely to dominate over the other, and in this case - the elitist one. Meritocracy is rooted in the ideas of Darwinism (Wong, 2013) which coining the term – “Survival of the Fittest” (Darwin, 1869, p.92), with those who are more talented or stronger gaining dominance over the rest in competitions (Darwin, 1869), and for their self-interest. (Hayek, 1948) Historically human society has evolved and organized along this linear pattern of having the best or the strongest to be at the top of a pyramidal hierarchy through competition. If this is the premise for meritocracy, then, elitism and not egalitarianism is the dominant strand in the ideological discourse of meritocracy. Meritocracy then merely provides a more humanistic packaging for this human evolutionary theory. If this is so, egalitarianism could not be looked upon to correct the excesses of meritocracy, with elitism being the dominant strand. I would think that in ...

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...for individual progression but for the greater good. (Bell, 2006) A virtuous and talented individual will have little honor and respect unless the strength are utilized for the people. (Doh, 2013)

In sum, this short discussion attempts to unpack the contradictions within the ideology of meritocracy and propose some ideas on reworking the discourse. Instead of “material pragmatism” (Wong, 2013, p. 308) the ideology of meritocracy could be revitalized with a moral legitimacy, which Dr. Benjamin Wong has rightfully noted as being “more elitist” since it aspires towards a noble human ideal of governance by the “wise and virtuous” (Wong, 2013, p. 309). More importantly, the moral role model set by the political elites would cascade a different ethos of leadership into our schools - that what is considered “merit” also includes the public spirit to serve the people.

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