Advanced Reading Course | Meritocracy

For and Against LELB Society

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Advanced Reading Course | Meritocracy

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Unit 22: “People should be rewarded according to ability, not according to age and experience”

Young men and women today are finding it more and more necessary to protest against what is known as the ‘Establishment’: that is, the people who wield power in our society. Clashes with the authorities are reported almost daily in the press. The tension that exists between old and young could certainly be lessened if some of the most obvious causes were removed. In particular, the Establishment should adopt different attitudes to work and the rewards it brings. Today’s young people are ambitious. Many are equipped with fine educations and are understandably impatient to succeed as quickly as possible. They want to be able to have their share of the good things in life while they are still young enough to enjoy them. The Establishment, however, has traditionally believed that people should be rewarded according to their age and experience. Ability counts for less. As the Establishment controls the purse-strings, its views are inevitably imposed on society. Employers pay the smallest sum consistent with keeping you in a job. You join the hierarchy and take your place in the queue. If you are young, you go to the very end of the queue and stay there no matter how brilliant you are. What you know is much less important than whom you know and how old you are. If you are able, your abilities will be acknowledged and rewarded in due course – that is, after twenty or thirty years have passed. By that time you will be considered old enough to join the Establishment and you will be expected to adopt its ideals. God help you if you don’t.

There seems to be a gigantic conspiracy against young people. While on the one hand society provides them with better educational facilities, on the other it does its best to exclude them from the jobs that really matter. There are exceptions, of course. Some young people do manage to break through the barrier despite the restrictions, but the great majority have to wait patiently for years before they can really give full rein to their abilities. This means that, in most fields, the views of young people are never heard because there is no one to represent them. All important decisions about how society is to be run are made by people who are too old to remember what it was like to be young. President Kennedy was one of the notable exceptions. One of the most tragic aspects of his assassination is that mankind was deprived of a youthful leader.

Resentment is the cause of a great deal of bitterness. The young resent the old because they feel deprived of the good things life has to offer. The old resent the young because they are afraid of losing what they have. A man of fifty or so might say, ‘Why should a young rascal straight out of school earn more than I do?’ But if the young rascal is more able, more determined, harder-working than his middle-aged critic, why shouldn’t he? Employers should recognise ability and reward it justly. This would remove one of the biggest causes of friction between old and young and ultimately it would lead to a better society.

Advanced Reading Course | Meritocracy

Advanced Reading Course | Meritocracy

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