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Meritocracy: The Progeny of Democracy


~ The Progeny of Democracy ~

Democracy is the fastest growing political system in the world today.  When considering the last few decades, the spread of democratic values has been astounding. Throughout the world, people are rising to the note of freedom. Indeed, the yearning to participate in community and governmental decisions has reached an historical crescendo. The walls of totalitarian control are crumbling everywhere, and this, due to the “urge to be free” inherent in the human soul itself. The rise of democratic ideals is simply a part of the unfolding realization of humanity’s higher purpose and potential. In examining the long history of human evolution, democracy was destined to emerge—the evolution of the human spirit demanded it be so. Yet, from the perennial philosophic perspective, democracy is not the ideal form of social governance, but only a necessary steppingstone toward it. For in the distant future, the social system of meritocracy will supersede our prized democratic way of life. Indeed, it is an inescapable form of governance destined to be woven into the fabric of human living. The only uncertainty is the question of time.

Meritocracy is similar to democracy, but with an important addition. While it recognizes the value of full participation within society, it also advocates the importance of including meritorious hierarchy into the social and political landscape. It is a system that states that society should be structured around human ability rather than by wealth or aristocratic privilege. Upon close examination it can be seen that money and wrongful use of power has historically been the force that has defined the various hierarchies found within democratic societies. For example, people who wield tremendous financial resources are given undue leverage in shaping public policy in support of their personal interests. This has led to class distinction based upon wealth rather than on knowledge and character. A meritocracy eliminates this flaw as it now demonstrates within the democracies of today. In addition, it allows for an end to human distinctions based upon religious orientation or racial heritage. In a meritocratic system, a person’s ability (and willingness to apply it) is the cornerstone that defines his/her influence. And, to insure that the best attributes of an individual are brought forth, meritocracy requires that all citizens be given the same educational opportunities.

More essentially, however, is the understanding that there are two philosophic orientations upon which a meritocracy can be based. The first (and most common) uses intellect and personality competence as the primary measure for determining one’s merit, and therefore social standing. This is essentially an ego driven form of meritocracy. It suggests that those who are most intelligent in their dealings have the right to stand with greater authority within society. In some sense, this view of meritocracy is rooted in the Darwinian model of evolution. It is to apply the motto of the “survival of the fittest” into a social and political context. This is meritocracy, but not the form that perennialism advocates.

The second (yet to be expressed in form) is a wisdom structured meritocracy which utilizes spiritual values and wisdom as the measure of merit, rather than intellect and personality ambition. While it still supports the idea that social influence must be earned, wisdom, and one’s commitment to the Good, are the cornerstones that define an individual’s place and authority within society. At the same time, a spiritually defined meritocracy acknowledges that at the deepest level, all people are equal. Given this, such a society must demonstrate a profound respect for the unique qualities of every citizen. Yet it also recognizes that there are vast differences in people when it comes to spiritual maturity and the development of consciousness.

When looked at in this way, it can be seen that human consciousness is hierarchical, as is everything else in nature. In other words, within any society there are people at varying stages in the development of their consciousness (understood within a multiple incarnational perspective). As such, meritocracy offers greater influence to those who have demonstrated the broadest and wisest consciousness in support of humanity’s betterment.

A major tenet of this form of meritocracy is that a society is a living system, and that all people within it need to find their rightful place within its strata. Importantly, the correct place also defines the functional contribution that a person can offer to society as a whole. In some sense, place and function are identical. In such a society, the greatest likelihood of happiness occurs when a person has found his/her rightful place within the larger living system, and this, based upon his/her demonstrated wisdom.

Taken to its logical conclusion, when all people within a meritocratic system find their place, such a society would be nearly flawless. Crime would greatly diminish (if not completely cease), for crime is most often due to a misalignment of person with place, as well inequalities related to education and social opportunity. These inequalities and misplacements would be largely remedied within a wisdom-defined meritocracy. Undoubtedly, it is this that will eventually push humanity to meritocracy’s doorstep.

The definition of a meritocracy states that elevated influence within a social system is inversely related to personal interest. In other words, the wiser one is, the less attention s/he will pay to personal needs. The needs of the whole become the preoccupation of life. As one rises in influence within a spiritual meritocracy, he or she will demonstrate increasing degrees of personal sacrifice, for the whole is seen as all that is. Wisdom can only emerge when one is increasingly able to sense the fundamental oneness underlying human society.

This inner sight is found in various degrees in the more enlightened of our human family. Unfortunately, it is not sensed by the many intelligent (though selfish) personalities that govern so much of the democratic processes today. Governance must be based upon an authentic vision of human unity. It is the gradual opening of the third eye (sometimes called the eye of vision) that makes such sight possible. When this is the case, decisions made will be guided by unitive vision, and will not be self-serving. This is foundational to the meritocracy of the future.

In a spiritually-defined meritocracy, equal education becomes far more central than it is today, for only in this way will the abilities of every citizen be recognized and brought forth. Education will also shift in such a way that all issues will be understood as relative and contextual. Society will come to understand that polarized views represent an expression of both truth and falsity, and can only be rightly understood within the context of the larger whole. It is from this more balanced perspective that wisdom will emerge, rather than the narrow and partisan perspectives so strongly favored today. The day will come when people will no longer say, “I have found the truth,” but instead say “I have found a truth.”

In addition, religious differences will be honored rather than feared. Because education supports diversity, respect for differing religious views is heightened. As a meritocracy evolves, it will become increasingly evident to its citizenry that religious differences are largely a matter of birth and cultural upbringing, and that each religion has something to contribute to the good of the whole. From this understanding, the distinction between a meritocracy and theocracy becomes apparent.

A theocracy is a social order governed by one particular religion. Its leaders are exponents of that religion and are relatively intolerant of contrary spiritual or secular views. However, a spiritual meritocracy is not religious. It holds the view that all avenues of human expression have the potential of being spiritual (something quite different from religious). In other words, spirituality is not exclusive to religion. Education, government, science and the arts (to name just a few of humanity’s modes of creative expression) are all products of human consciousness, and are therefore spiritual.

Meritocracy will one day emerge as humanity gradually rises above the problems inherent in democracy. One of the obvious difficulties found in democratic systems is that everyone is given equal vote even though most are not properly educated on the issues for which they cast their vote. In today’s democratic society, a well-informed voter is a rare thing indeed. And, because a democracy makes decisions based upon the majority opinion, it is the uninformed masses that are steering society’s course.

This problem, inherent in democracy, has been acknowledged for centuries. Many of the great minds in history have expressed concern over this democratic shortcoming. Aristotle himself had grave reservations about democracy for similar reasons. However, much of this would be solved in a meritocratic system. Because equal education is its central function, a meritocracy would far better educate its citizenry on the nature of the issues at stake. All issues will be examined in a balanced way (because education will have encouraged balanced thought). As a result, people will be far less prone to decisions based upon partisan attitudes and thirty-second sound bytes.

In many ways, it was a meritocracy that Plato advocated in his most famous work, The Republic. He saw the dangers evident when people of power rise to positions of authority without the needs of the whole governing their motives. As a result, selfishly intelligent people make decisions that are contrary to the good of the whole, though usually personally beneficial. He believed that this is one of the greatest problems facing civilization and democracy. Plato was therefore convinced that society should be structured so that enlightened leadership will naturally emerge by drawing out the best qualities evident in everyone’s nature.

For Plato, the merits that constitute enlightenment are not much different than what has been already discussed in this writing. He believed that wisdom, and an inclusive point of view, were essential. He felt that inclusive reason (a prerogative of the soul) must rise above one’s passions. In addition, virtue and impeccable character were qualities seen as indispensable. Interestingly, he also felt that those at the highest levels of governance should be without wealth or private property. Though this was to be legislatively mandated, people of such lofty levels of consciousness would normally find such renunciation to be quite natural. Quite the opposite of what we see in our Western democratic systems today. This was his solution to the subtle corrupting influence that power has over people. It involved a proven sacrificial element when serving society. And, from the perennial perspective, sacrifice (rightly understood) is one of the strongest indicators that the soul is influencing a person’s life.

In this discussion, we have seen that a wisdom-defined meritocracy holds the promise of a much better and safer civilization. Over the last several decades, democracy has been spreading throughout the world, indicating that the desire for freedom and social participation is on the rise. This is certainly a positive development and will lay the foundation for the emergence of meritocracy sometime in the future. As such, meritocracy is the progeny of democracy. Democracy is slowly replacing the tyranny and totalitarian abuse that has controlled world affairs over the last several centuries. The establishment of freedom and democratic ideals is an essential prerequisite for a wisdom-defined meritocracy to come forth.

Whilst the world has been painfully immersed in various crises in recent years, the seeds of meritocracy are simultaneously being planted. Anti-discrimination legislation, efforts to widen educational opportunities for more people (who in the past had little chance of higher education), and the development of effective aptitude assessments, represent a few of the many seeds that support the emergence of meritocracy. Admittedly, much still needs to be done. Yet, we must always remember that understanding the evolution of civilization requires a long view. It is only when we look at the changing nature of culture and civilization over the course of many centuries that we see its progress. And, it is this same longer view (cast into the future) that is required in order to see the inevitability of a meritocratic world. Such a time will surely come, and each of us has the ability to till the soil in support of this promising future.

©  Jan. 2017  (Revised) William Meader