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The merit fallacy

Posted by pnbrown z6.5 MA (My Page) on
Sun, Nov 24, 13 at 9:09

I philosophize thus:

In a clan, a band, even a modern family, everyone is carried along more or less equally. This idea current in modern society - the "Meritocracy" - that some people are less able, less intelligent, less worthy generally does not hold water in the intimate context.

You don't abandon your sibling to whatever fate because their IQ is lower than yours, or they don't read as well, or they are less motivated. The clan or band doesn't leave someone behind because they are below average. They do leave the gravely ill behind, but that is as good as dead. If you can walk and make a contribution, however small, you stay in the group.

Power is not equal, but wealth is largely equal. If some of the band eats, everybody eats. Division of work by gender tends to be very strong in the traditional band, and family. Is there a connection between that and cohesiveness, inclusiveness?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: The merit fallacy

Wealth IS power, and it's certainly not equal. What clan or band did you say you live in?


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RE: The merit fallacy

Pat, you need to revisit your image and beliefs about solidarity and equality within nuclear human institutions, specifically modern examples, not archaic and quaint ones.


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RE: The merit fallacy

I don't agree J. Wealth can be power in our modern society, though it is not automatic. Conversely, power can be wielded independent from control over wealth.

Marshall, you don't think that in modern nuclear families, merit is typically, or at least often, a non-factor?


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RE: The merit fallacy

Within nuclear families, perhaps... but outside of those nuclei, we too often tend to forget that we're the species with supposed empathy, compassion, and we sure don't seem very inclusive or willing to accept.

The good news is... we haven't yet become so like other species that we literally drive the weak or old or helpless or genetically flawed out of the pack to go off and die alone and hungry... or have we?


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RE: The merit fallacy

It isn't just nuclear families where we all often apply non-merit thinking. I'm sure we all have friends who have annoying habits and tendencies that we find foolish or inferior, and yet we don't just blow them off, do we? Why?


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RE: The merit fallacy

A clan, by definition, is comprised of people who are biologically related or perceived to be biologically related. They have a vested, biological interest in each others' survival and well-being.

It's a biological imperative, much like the biological imperative to continue your genetic line, because, in a way, you do continue your genetic line either directly or by proxy (through a sibling, cousin, daughter, son, etc) by providing resources to related family members.

In ancient/primitive times, a severely handicapped member of your group could drain the family/clan of a lot of resources - resources that could be used to get healthy and fit offspring to independence/adulthood. Not only would it consume resources, but could certainly jeopardize the well-being of the rest of the clan.

I doubt that survival rates were high among among those who could not take care of themselves to some degree. Eventually you have to decide where to put valuable and scarce resources, and how many risks can be taken on behalf of the rest of the clan.

This would be particularly true in a hunter/gatherer culture. Hunting and gathering is a risky way of life and survival rates weren't very good. You have to move around a lot, you have to risk exposure to predators, elements, and injuries just to get a few days' worth of food, and you have to find or make shelter during nomadic periods.

Imagine the extreme hardship that would be placed on an entire clan if they had to feed and move a very handicapped person around during The Ice Age.


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RE: The merit fallacy

I'm confused here. Are we discussing equality in kinship situations or merit? That asked, I need to get to the Institute to lead a tour and discussion with Conejo Organic Gardening Club. Winter gardening the subject. I'll be back!


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RE: The merit fallacy

Call it a clan or extended family or a village - I'd tend to agree with the OP - everybody has a role to play. When you get to handicapped or mentally ill, they generally find something marginally beneficial, or at least not harmful, for them to do - I lived in one village where the mentally ill guy would slash grass with a machete. All day long, randomly, slashing grass. I'd hear him outside my window at night, slashing grass. Or someone with a physical handicap that can't walk will spend their time cleaning the sand out of the rice. When someone gets too old and starts to die, there is an unspoken way of letting this happen, until that person is gasping their last, and then everybody shows up and makes a big fuss, and its a big party for the funeral.

Its an interesting way of looking at things that I'm afraid we're losing. Much of what grew this country comes from the concept of communal good - public schools, roads, hospitals, fire and police departments, health and safety standards, etc. We're losing that now.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Merit and equality are closely related, are they not?

If everyone is seen as having merit, then the society will have high equality. When societies begin to travel down the road of Individualism, then inequality grows. As I see it, Individualism inexorably leads to difference, unequal distribution of wealth and power, primarily enabled by the vehicle of private property.

I find this subject so fascinating, because it captures the conflict that exists in everyone, at least in our kind of society. I love the concept of individualism, it's our bread-and-butter, so to speak. I don't need your help, by Golly, I'll tote my own water and bake my own bread. When I can't hopefully my kids will. If you're not good at that, it's your problem, right?

Except, in truth, this concept is a fantasy. It doesn't exist, it's merely a natural response to tyranny. Long since, in our society, the concept was cleverly co-opted by the elites and has been used against we peasants for long enough.


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RE: The merit fallacy

  • Posted by momj47 7A..was 6B (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 24, 13 at 11:37

I don't agree. Even a small family, clan, group or band has a leader, and that leader usually gets a bit more - power or food or respect, etc for being the leader.

No group is ever made up of equals, no matter how small, or large. And, historically, the leadership perks pass down through the leader's family. That's the family you wanted be part of.

And anyone who puts the group at risk, for any reason, has to be removed from the group, one way or another.

These days, it's not what you know its who you know that moves you ahead. And if you know the rich and powerful, you move ahead faster. If you are weak and poor, neither you, nor your family, stands much of a chance, now or in the future, of moving ahead. Sure, it happens, but not very often.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Anacyclosis?


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RE: The merit fallacy

No better place to see this than in the rural west, where, the myth has it, civilization was hewn from the wilderness by rugged individualists all doing it on their own. ~snort~.

The whole society is a built on a foundation of either informal or formal cooperatives. You don't brand your cattle by yourself, cut, bale, and put your hay up by yourself (well, these days you can), move your cattle by yourself, and so on. You need your neighbor's help - and then you go help them. During the Depression, what ever people had they shared - not open charity, but as an example, one of my neighbors now in his mid-80's grew and sold horseradish to all the neighbors - not that they needed the horseradish, but his family needed the money.

There is still a lot of resentment directed towards the very few families who bought out the other farms and ranches for taxes. Thats something thats going to take a few more generations to forget.

Irrigation companies are all non-profit coops. The water is a coop, so is the electricity, cemetery, hospital, mosquito district, then the schools, roads, and so on.

And into this history, here come the rugged neo-individualists, who think they don't need no stinkin' cooperation. Because the West if full of rugged individuals all minding their own business and so on.


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RE: The merit fallacy

"It isn't just nuclear families where we all often apply non-merit thinking. I'm sure we all have friends who have annoying habits and tendencies that we find foolish or inferior, and yet we don't just blow them off, do we? Why?"

We form friendships and alliances with people who have proximity and with whom we share some common experiences and other affinities. They are voluntary associations; you can choose to pursue them and choose to end them if the relationship becomes costly.

It does us no direct harm if our friends are foolish or "inferior" in some way because there is no cost involved. And, there is some reciprocity, if only in the form of good company and cheerful interactions.

If the friendship required that you give up your food, home, and family, the relationship would change rapidly. We would end the friendship. After all, no one is forced to continue a friendship that causes ongoing distress.

It's no longer a friendship dynamic at that point. If your "friend" requires ever-increasing amounts of emotional and financial support, then you have become their servant, not their friend.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Dave, case in point.

Mom, according to my readings, evidence is that leaders of bands tend to be weak in power. This was one of the major disconnects between european colonists and inhabitants of the new world.

I certainly agree, of course, in our society who one knows (IOW, what class one moves in) is a determinant factor in one's fortunes. However, in this thread I mean to philosophize from a macro-view, rather than micro.


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RE: The merit fallacy

" I'm sure we all have friends who have annoying habits and tendencies that we find foolish or inferior, and yet we don't just blow them off, do we? Why?"

Yes, we do. We don't call them friends... we refer to them as acquaintances, and we don't hang out with them.

Friends, I think, is a term people use way too loosely.

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't surprise you to learn that I only count a very few people among my real friends... they are people whom I trust with my life, and can count on implicitly, day or night, regardless of issue, to drop everything and be there should I need them... and that works both ways, with myself willing to do exactly the same for them.

Acquaintances are many... friends are few.

But that doesn't really speak to the topic... I don't think.

Lionheart is correct... but I think that as we evolved as a species, and our populations grew and we learned that certain food sources were a sure thing in certain areas, we settled and became less nomadic, stronger in numbers...

I'm not up on my actual history, but it would seem that fishing, hunting, growing certain crops, or finding certain foods were a matter of logistics... and it was easier and better to remain near a solid source of food and shelter,etc...

However we evolved, it became easier to care for the elderly or injured...


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RE: The merit fallacy

The major social force in African life is the extended family. Its the power unit, its what/where you owe your allegiance. Its what put you through elementary and middle school, your cousin moved into your bedroom and helped you study for the exams that got you into university. Its what housed and fed you for 4 years until you graduated. Its what adopts, without question, the AIDS orphans from your uncle and his wife who are now dead. Its your insurance policy - they come up with the $4000 when you need surgery.

And in return, they expect you to contribute as well. If you're in the village, you send a truck full of cassava to your relatives in town. When some cousin shows up at your doorstep needing a place to stay, he stays - even if its years.

Its pretty amazing to watch. The downside, of course, is nepotism - when you get into a position to hire people, you hire your relatives. That doesn't go over too well in, say, the civil service.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Family is important... to us, it's everything... and family to us is not necessarily created or bound by a genetic connection. We can be adopted, extended by marriage, or become family through a close bond of friendship, etc. But the idea is that we're there for each other... through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

However, not all families are close knit, nor would all be willing to share their incomes, their homes, or do so much for each other... as do families like David describes.

I think, at least it would appear to me, as though the less a family has, the more willing they are to bond together to share the load of life, so to speak.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Dave, my BIL's Jamaican family is very much as per your description. Family connections are sacrosanct.


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RE: The merit fallacy

I think Dave's family-importance description fits just about every traditional family that isn't jaded yet by the rampant materialism we know so well. My dh is from India and that blood is thicker than thick.


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RE: The merit fallacy

  • Posted by bboy USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 24, 13 at 21:39

You'd think the heat would thin it out.


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RE: The merit fallacy

The glue-fuel that holds clans and extended families together is reciprocity, rules that define the groups obligations to the individuals and the individuals obligations to the larger social unit. I don't believe that materialism per se is the cause of breakdown in this system.

On another thread, David Cain's blog posting exposed in some detail the deliberative forces that drive us apart in the interest of controlling political and economic lives of people. Elsewhere I also posted part of an interview of Noam Chomsky who cited advertising, PR, and propaganda as principle weapons used against less desirable social organizing, including unions and coops and environmentalists.


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RE: The merit fallacy

"The glue-fuel that holds clans and extended families together is reciprocity, rules that define the groups obligations to the individuals and the individuals obligations to the larger social unit. I don't believe that materialism per se is the cause of breakdown in this system."

Keep it simple; stupid (not you, marshall). Yes! I agree; reciprocity is key.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Reciprocity is the dominating factor, I agree, but not the only one. Members who are a mild net negative are still typically tolerated and often cared for. The "village idiot" and etc.

In our society, such people without unusually willing family are forced into the bands of homeless that live on the margins of urban areas that we all know about, because villages no longer tolerate them.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Good topic, pnbrown.


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RE: The merit fallacy

"I don't believe that materialism per se is the cause of breakdown in this system."

Per se', it's not... but those are key words to include, I think.

It seems to me that when a family unit has a tougher time surviving financially, they tend to bond together in support, more closely.

However, at the other end of that spectrum, there seems to be a different bond in place intent upon maintaining that higher amount of materialism or financial security.


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RE: The merit fallacy

"Reciprocity is the dominating factor, I agree, but not the only one. Members who are a mild net negative are still typically tolerated and often cared for. The "village idiot" and etc."

Yes; compassion is a human trait, a good one. How many "village idiots" will the members tolerate, though?


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RE: The merit fallacy

Yes; compassion is a human trait, a good one. How many "village idiots" will the members tolerate, though?

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Not many, especially when they're faking.


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RE: The merit fallacy

"Not many, especially when they're faking."

I assume you're referring to the incredible (by that I do mean "not credible") rise in disability claims & awards. It is alarming. I don't know why the requirements have become so lax; not enough qualified personnel to evaluate the claims, perhaps. There sure are a lot of folks with bad backs!


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RE: The merit fallacy

Posted by elvis 4 (My Page) on
Mon, Nov 25, 13 at 14:16

"Not many, especially when they're faking."

I assume you're referring to the incredible (by that I do mean "not credible") rise in disability claims & awards. It is alarming. I don't know why the requirements have become so lax; not enough qualified personnel to evaluate the claims, perhaps. There sure are a lot of folks with bad backs!

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You assume correctly, elvis.

Yes, so many people with perfectly good minds and "bad backs" on social security disability.

I know a family and both parents are on social security disability and have been for years. He is very smart, but they just get by on government money and charity from churches and people. Both in their 40s and perfectly capable of doing a lot of jobs.

I wonder if they didn't get that government money and it was a hundred years ago what they would be doing for food and shelter and electricity, and cell phones, etc.

No doubt something they now complain they can't do.


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RE: The merit fallacy

Reading this and related OPs on the evils of takers and losers versus the evils of super rich and takers, I couldn't resist posting the following from Sullivan's blog:

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Democracy’s Discontents

Nov 27 2013 @ 7:34am

Noting that our current political angst has a long pedigree, David Runciman argues that lamenting “the failings of democracy is a permanent feature of democratic life, one that persists through governmental crises and successes alike.” Unsurprisingly, Tocqueville got there first:

"The history of modern democracy is a tale of steady success accompanied by the constant drumbeat of anticipated failure. The intellectual commentator who first spotted this distinctive feature of democratic life (and who did most to explain it) was Alexis de Tocque­ville. When he traveled to America, in 1831, Tocqueville was immediately struck by the frenetic and mindless quality of democratic politics. Citizens were always complaining, and their politicians were endlessly throwing mud at one another. The grumbling discontent was frequently interrupted by bursts of outright panic as resentments spilled over. Yet Tocqueville noticed something else about American democracy: that underneath the chaotic surface, it was quite stable. Citizens’ discontent coincided with an underlying faith that democratic politics would see them right in the end."

Runciman goes on to note that intellectuals are particularly prone to hand-wringing. The reasons why:

"First, and most obviously, democratic politics entails free speech, which must include the freedom to say that democracy doesn’t work. Second, democracy is, as Tocqueville put it, an “untimely” form of government. Its strengths are revealed only in the long run, once its restless energy produces the adaptability that allows it to correct its own mistakes. At any given moment, democracy tends to look a mess: shallow, petty, and vituperative. Democracies are bad at rising to the occasion. What they are good at is chopping and changing course so that no occasion is too much for them. Finally, rationalist modern intellectuals are inherently suspicious of blind political faith. It is unnerving to encounter a political system that works only because ordinary people believe that it works. Ordinary citizens get frustrated with the workings of democracy but rarely, if ever, give up on it. The people who tend to lose faith are intellectuals who can’t reconcile themselves to the mismatch between the glorious promise of democratic life and its grubby reality."

Here is a link that might be useful: Democracy's Discontents


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