America is not a meritocracy

America is not a meritocracy

The American Dream may be alive and well in the sleeping heads of dreamers, but it is something almost unachievable for those in the waking world.  It frames America as a diamond in a world of rough, a place where investing bravery, skill, and hard work will bring you dividends.  

This America is a place of refuge, of opportunity.  It draws heavily from ideas that permeated the country during its foundation: ideological and economic freedom, limitless physical expansion, and succeeding based on merit. This America is a meritocracy, a system in which a “government or the holding of power by people [is] selected on the basis of their ability.”  

However, I have little confidence in the wisdom or governing ability of those who currently hold power in America’s government.  Alabama’s newly elected senator, Roy Moore, has been removed from office twice for failing to obey federal court rulings—unable to abide by the laws of the country to which he offers his services. President Trump fails to display even a ounce of sympathy for those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and has certainly not exercised the ability in his possession as the country’s leader to motivate or send aid their way. 

In many other current cases, power even works to hold back those with true ability.  Susan Fowler had the educational qualifications, ability, and desire to be an engineer for Uber.  It was overt discrimination and sexual harassment towards her from the company’s male management that affected her performance reviews and prevented her from moving up in the company.  

Repeated struggles in this vein finally drove her to quit her job there—along with enough others to drop the number of women in her organization from twenty-five to three percent. She now utilizes her abilities to help advance a different company.  A true meritocracy would not completely negate itself by holding back the most talented members of society.

In an America where these patterns are reality, hard work and skill are not enough for advancement or security; opportunities can be unavailable or selectively impossible.  Your hard work may or may not achieve what you set out to do, regardless of intention.  These deceptions obscure merit so that it no longer has a meaning in its own context, and sometimes ceases to have meaning at all.  The meritocracy of the American Dream remains just that—a dream—in the minds of many of those who seek it.  

The idea of meritocracy also blends into that of entitlement culture.  Younger generations are often portrayed as lazy, selfish, and needy, accused by their elders of degrading the past’s traditions and morals and contributing to a general decline in quality of life.  However, this is simply the result of a generational gap in understanding.  The younger generation’s knowledge of merit and entitlement is much different—and much more disillusioned—than it was when the idea was conceived and from what it was even a decade ago.   

Time has brought changes in technology, communications, and opportunity that must be approached differently now than they may have been in the past.  It takes a different strategy to seek happiness or the American Dream.  It often takes more, and a different kind, of hard work and new skills to earn a certain result.  In the end, it will take patience, engagement, understanding, and maybe a bit of daydreaming to help merit stand up firmly in its own definition and make the American Dream into a reality it has earned.

Sophie Williams is a senior majoring in biology and English. Her column runs biweekly. 

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