In The Australian newspaper is a report on revelations on CIA torture methods employed on “terrorism” suspects. It’s now fairly evident to most that the term “terrorist” is arbitrary and is usually taken to mean anyone who is unliked by a given regime, be it a Western democracy, a Fascist or Communist dictatorship, or whatever other flavor you prefer – sweet, sour, hot or spicy.
…the Justice Department memos released last month indicate the method involved forcing chained prisoners to stand, sometimes for days on end, the report said.
The prisoners had their feet shackled to the floor and their hands cuffed close to their chins the paper claimed.
Detainees were clad only in diapers and not allowed to feed themselves. A prisoner who started to drift off to sleep would tilt over and be caught by his chains, according to the report.
Once again, medical personnel were in attendance to try to prevent permanent injury to the prisoners. That this kind of news is no longer surprising is, in itself, a sign of how bad things have gotten. It’s also a stupid move by the US Government (and the CIA) to keep doing this to detainees. To the ancient Art of War:
Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. …The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. …
How can the Western world expect to have a victory over any perceived enemy when it reduces itself to the lowest moral level on what seems to be every aspect of social life? It would appear that modern statecraft does not take into account moral superiority over the enemy. That is a grave mistake, perhaps it will even prove to be a fatal one.
While in the short term it might look clever to strike pre-emptively, to grab land without pretext from a weaker foe, to impose one’s own cultural values on the conquered population (however debased and morally bankrupt one’s own culture may be), it is not ultimately sustainable. Each time a wrongful act is performed in this way, our own society is weakened,our people corrupted. With the fall in moral standards with respect to the treatment of the enemy comes the fall in discipline, loyalty and honesty. These are the foundations on which a civilization is built.
Obama’s regime may understand this, but its approach to the matter is not to purge the departments responsible for this moral bankruptcy, but to reclassify, rename, reword and resume the activity.
In this article we try to clarify the notion of meritocracy and show that it is indeed a valid concept which can be used to assess any proposed system of government or management.
Meritocracy is defined as the promotion of individuals on basis of talent, achievement or intellectual ability. It is a concept that to many would appear self evident, yet it is in competition with other methods of selection, such as wealth (plutocracy) or popularity (democracy), which frequently result in an inferior outcome. The origins of the term are said to be negative, but a gentle redefinition from the original sarcastic usage can make the idea very powerful and beneficial for society.
The argument is that, if individuals are promoted on the basis of merit to positions of leadership, then those organizations will run more effectively, since decisions made will likely be more logical and mistakes avoided. Society benefits as less harm is done and more good is achieved. The Meritocracy Party (UK) espouses these principles, more or less.
The strongest argument against a meritocratic system (of government, or anything else) is that the meritorious will quickly convert the system to an oligarchy run by a self appointed elite. It is clear that, from generation to generation, wild fluctuations in intellectual capacity of progeny occur, which serve to show how problematic an oligarchy can be. The Bush Family and the British Royal Family come to mind as examples. The Iraq war, the stagnation of British democracy and the current world economic crisis could all be attributed to a failure of social systems to establish or maintain a meritocratic process.
Meritocracy is not a system in itself, but an attribute of a system. This is a particularly important distinction. Once a system, as good as it may be, ceases to successfully promote individuals on basis of merit, it ceases to be meritocratic, no matter how much it is advertised to the contrary. The system becomes corrupt. Frequently, people will argue over what constitutes merit. Those in positions of power will seek to change and redefine merit to promote themselves. It is therefore important to define merit in an indisputable way and to establish mechanisms which protect and defend the idea of merit.
What is merit?
Defining merit depends on context. Merit consists of attributes which predict that an individual will be successful at a given task. A person who scores well in a mathematics exam at a graduation exam is likely to make a good mathematician, for example. In the field of academia, meritocracy is rightly an overriding principle for promoting and maintaining excellence.
The scientific process can be used to validate many meritorious attributes, by the use of objective measures and statistical analysis. Attributes can be weighted, and the probability of success estimated for each applicant for a given position or role. Some attributes, such as honesty or compassion, cannot be measured reliably, but can, nonetheless, be measured. Moral principles and moral integrity should feature in any system of promotion, either by looking for positive signs of these, or the absence of negative signs, as these traits are important in the perpetuation of the meritocratic ideal.
Some systems naturally lend themselves to meritocratic principles, such as sporting events, where performance is easily quantified. Yet within a sporting team, for example, determining who should be given a leadership position is less clear. There are, of course, systems which are used to guide the selection of leaders among a group, many of which are more or less scientifically validated, but the process is frequently not transparent and is easily corrupted. Thus, meritocracy is a thing which exists only when it lives in the minds of those who have the power to deliver it.
Social Aspects of Meritocracy
There are those who question the justice of a merit based system in terms of wealth distribution and so forth. This can only be because of a distorted view of who might merit the privilege of having wealth. The distribution of wealth needs to be divided into needs and wants. All individuals, families and groups ought to be given what they need to survive, without discrimination. This is a basic duty of any society. The concept of wealth should be considered in a narrower sense. If wealth is defined as things, over and above basic needs, that can be had for the greater enjoyment of life, it would be safe to state that merit based wealth distribution can be nothing other than fair.
There are those who would say that democracy is not a form of meritocracy, yet anything other than democracy is a lesser form of government. This kind of thinking misses the point of meritocracy, which, like the love of truth, or the rule of law, is an underlying principle to guide higher order actions. A democracy is a meritocracy if the candidates are meritorious and the populace recognizes merit and votes accordingly. Western democracies today are far from being meritocratic, because they have become overly populist and have not been scaled appropriately with growing populations. For example, it is too easy for privately owned mass media outlets to influence the outcomes of elections, and the presence of political parties places an excessive bias on the selection of candidates.
There are those who say that meritocracy denies equal opportunity. Yet the ideal of free participation in society at any level regardless of immutable traits (which in many cases define one’s abilities and therefore merits) is impractical and false. Furthermore, equal opportunity is generally not applied in such absurd ways. A dumb person cannot be an orator, for example, so a dumb person should not be employed as an orator. Of course, the immutable trait of having no voice can potentially be overcome by technology, at which point the trait is no longer immutable. Meritocracy therefore has no adverse effect in terms of fairness, in reality.
There are many other arguments against meritocracy which can be discovered on the Internet. By and large, these arguments are defeated simply by defining meritocracy appropriately. In other cases, comparisons with meritocracy serve to show up the alternatives as lacking in fairness, integrity and merit.
Promoting and Maintaining Meritocracy
To reiterate, meritocracy should itself be seen as an attribute of a system and not the definition of a system. There can really be no use for a term such as “meritocrat“, as this is a truism, even a Socratic Virtue. The question is not about whether there should be merit, but what constitutes merit. Thus, meritocracy can well be promoted as a universal concept, a universal truth.
The concept of meritocracy needs to be introduced and engendered in culture for it to flourish. If people feel that they have a right to experience meritocracy, and the duty to practice it, they will notice its absence and hopefully do something to change their situation. Without the culture of merit, there can only be corruption.
Once someone is promoted on the basis of merit, there should be periodic assessment to determine whether the selection of the individual was a correct one. Audits and a process of ‘dethronement’ should be inherent to any meritocratic system. This needn’t be done in a threatening manner, since it should always be assumed that, provided proper process was followed, a promotion was appropriate, but nonetheless this is something which is frequently lacking in many organizations.
Enemies of Merit
Certain forms of government and systems of management systematically prevent meritocratic principles from being followed. Despotism is an extreme example, where unchecked power is let loose, frequently with catastrophic results.
All power needs accountability. Even a Pope can (and occasionally should) be toppled, owing to heresy, provided that the faithful are astute enough to recognize that he has abrogated his authority.
All power is, ultimately, accountable. Despite how complete a grip on power some may appear to have, it is never absolute, and provided that the culture of merit is able to permeate a population, no despot, no oligarchy and no elite group should be considered to be above the will of the populace. Indeed, any system can be reformed to permit the promotion of individuals on the basis of merit alone.
See also – Distributionism and the Crisis
The prosperity of criminals represents an abject failure of current systems of democracy.
“I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad,” said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.
Who said crime does not pay? It was the title of a short film from 1935 about an embezzler who planned to get to his loot after doing his time in prison. He deceived his jailers by telling him that the proceeds of his crimes had been gambled away. It is a typical plot, both in fiction and reality. Yet generation after generation of the public will swallow this pathetic ploy used by swindlers everywhere to hide their stolen money, be it obtained by means of fraud or direct theft.
The fraud of Charles Ponzi was quite simple. Promise an irresistible return on one’s investment, deliver it to the first few to make it believable, and go from there. The trick, as subsequent schemers learned, was to disappear with the money before the authorities discovered you. Safer still, make sure that so many important people are implicated with you that they will all do their best to make sure you get off lightly.
Bernie Madoff did practically the same thing as Ponzi, except on a larger scale (more than US$50 billion) and from wealthier people. Naturally, the history of a fraud of this magnitude and duration will be difficult to ascertain. He says he told his sons of the fraud only this year and that he had kept everyone else in the dark about it. This is the kind of lame excuse one would expect from a child and not a university graduate, former chairman of NASDAQ and former treasurer of the American Jewish Congress. To get to these prestigious positions (and others) one has to have some capacity for sophisticated thought.
He is awaiting trial, but it is very likely that he has used some of the proceeds from his scheme to help those who he would later need to help him in return, yet he will have been extremely careful to cover his tracks in this regard. It is known that he was a financial supporter of the Democrats. Who knows how big that particular iceberg is. If it is as big as everything else that we have been seeing, then there truly is no hope left for justice to prevail in America, except through lynching.
But greater than all of these has been the extent of the massive fraud in Iraq, being at least US$125 billion. It involves money paid for construction and other projects that disappeared into the mists of the chaos that remains there. Many of the projects for which money was paid have never even been commenced.
The reason this corruption is so common at this time is that governments have been more or less completely corrupted. Democracy as it currently stands is a failed system of government, because a subset of society has outsmarted it. My reasoning is as follows:
The old system of separating judicial from legislative powers is no longer real. Common Law, which gives courts the ability to distort or even circumvent statutory law and change its interpretation in all subsequent cases, gives unreasonable power to judges. Small groups in society have, over many years, managed to get enough of their people into the judgment seat to take away its independence. As a result, Common Law can be twisted to reflect the ideological slant of those groups.
Politicians are called on to be the representatives of ever larger constituencies. This makes representation less meaningful. Politicians are also incapable of managing their workload, and rely heavily on staffers. Staffers in governments are frequently mentored and groomed for their positions by the same small groups which attempt to influence the makeup of the judiciary.
The media, if it happens to be also controlled by the same groups, can be used to cover up the manipulation of the democratic system by explaining away inconsistencies and diverting attention to other issues.
The end result is that Democracy can be overrun by a minority. It can be any minority group, so long as it has money and is organized enough to apply the above approach to both “sides” of politics. As it happens, criminal elements have taken over Democracy. As a result, financial fraud is rife. It’s gotten so big that it threatens to destroy the hand that feeds it.
Democracy, then, is like a game of Monopoly. It’s no longer fair or interesting once the game has been going on too long and someone has, a monopoly.
Yet Democracy is the “least worst thing” we have, but it is due for a revamp. It’s time for some proper thinkers to get to work and think up an improved system, which could possibly include:
- The abolition of political parties
- Smaller, population limited constituencies making up a larger parliamentary system
- Direct representation on major changes to legislation by the public, like mini-referenda, whereby the public is given veto powers through voluntary voting down of legislation. Essentially, the public should have an active seat in parliament.
- Direct election of all major leaders, be they presidents, prime ministers or premiers/governors
- Contracts for government administrative staff to coincide with the ministerial election period, with no protections beyond that period, such that these staff can be removed and replaced without difficulty or delay. Their make-up should then be readily influenced by the democratic process.
There’s more to it, of course, and this is an unashamed pipe dream. But perhaps if the general public was given some of its powers back, the criminals would not have the upper hand any longer.