Controversial musings on meritocracies
So if choice could be an illusion (part 1), what does it mean for me to admire the rich and successful?
Let’s dig in!
- Many people make a distinction between luck vs talent vs hard work. This distinction is meaningless.
- Talent can be said to fall under the luck umbrella as it may be most closely related to the genetic lottery. Most people are open to this view.
- Hard work is different. People want to believe everyone can work equally hard. BUT there is no reason to think that everyone is created equal in their ability to work hard. Most likely, the ability to work hard follows a bell-curve just like any other observed ability. There is no reason to think that ability to work-hard is not genetically determined.
Illusion 2: Some people are more deserving of success & our admiration.
Let’s first understand society’s definition of success itself.
While each human has their own specific criteria of success, the underlying commonality is that it is about beating competition in order to monopolize scarce resources (the specific resources you think are “worth” fighting over may differ from person to person).
It is also acknowledged that there are three broad categories or wells from which success can spring up — luck, talent, and effort (and of course various permutations & combination of all three).
But within these three ingredients of success, there seems to be a hierarchy of admiration we deploy: hard work > natural talent > luck.
This hierarchy is bullshit — aren’t hard work & talent just different facets of luck?
We seem to want to separate luck from genius and effort; but in actuality there is precious little difference. Genius, effort and conditioning are all determined by luck of the draw.
If someone is able to monopolize resources through a stroke of luck (ranging from being born into a billionaire’s family to winning the lottery), we acknowledge them, but dismiss them as being “lucky” or “privileged”.
But what is the difference between being born brilliant or charming (natural talent) versus being born with more resources than others (luck). Both were handed to you through no actions performed at your end.
Surely hard work is different. No?
Societal views certainly glorify the average performer who becomes great through hard-work.
It gives hope to everyone that we too can become great (even if we weren’t born great).
But why are we so sure that everyone was born with the same ability to work hard.
Isn’t it just as likely that some people are genetically (or epi-genetically) capable of withstanding greater threshold of pain or effort to achieve a given goal? Or that the environments that we grew up in have had a huge impact on how hard we work?
This seems especially likely considering that most human attributes (physical, emotional, intellectual etc.) seem to lie on a bell curve range. Be it the color of your eyes, your ability to understand math or even innate charm.
It seems strange to assume that ability to work hard is the one human trait that doesn’t lie on a similar spectrum — but rather it is the ONLY human trait that everyone is born with in equal measure. The scientist in me wants to call bullshit on this theory.
Yet this is exactly what most of us believe. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can simply choose to work as hard as “successful” people, but the fact of the matter is that many of us will not be able to. It’s much easier to understand our limitations when it comes to looks, or intelligence, or height, or social mobility; but for some reason we refuse to acknowledge any limitations related to grit and perseverance.
To be so OK with nature’s variety in creating living beings in almost every characteristic other than ability to work hard seems delusional.
We want to believe that each human is capable of putting in the exact same amount of effort into something they want.
No one is denying that people work hard to achieve their goals. But we forget that these people are acting out of compulsion too. For them, the only option available is to persevere and not give up — many of them were either born or conditioned to think like this.
If we think its not socially acceptable to brag about how you were born into fantastic wealth or with great looks, why do we hold hard workers to a different standard.
You should either hate EVERYONE boasting about their success (rags to riches & trust-fund baby alike), or you should be fine with everyone boasting about the resources available to them (even if they did nothing but be born).
Why should we create differing standards for the same luck?
I know you’re probably feeling uncomfortable with that thought. You’ll also be much happier to dismiss this entire train of thought as outlandish without devoting more time to it.
I want you to ponder whether you’re exercising choice or simply doing what you’re programmed to do :)