Hmm… so it looks like “meritocracy” got hinged on, when it is actually the least important part of the blog post (hence it’s relegated to the last real paragraph; seriously, CTRL-f “meritocracy”). The blog post is actually a critique of the governance structure of FreeBSD: the belief that it is an achieved meritocracy is just one (very) small part of it. In short: I find the reliance on their particular form of weak representative democracy cannot properly elucidate the actualities of the community-at-large, which ultimately misrepresents FreeBSD to the very groups which they likely want to most accurately present FreeBSD, e.g. news outlets (even if they are Phoronix) and potential and current corporate sponsors. The meritocracy line is merely denoting a symptom (a symptom that appears to have been remedied), not a cause.
I will say that kragen’s attempt to define my politics and class is amusing (since I most certainly cannot “claim to be part of [these marginalized groups my]self,” nor would it be ideal for me to do so). I’ll also point out that popularity contests are not the diametrical opposite of meritocracy: technically the opposite would be a system that claims the inability to judge merits of any kind. Popularity contests could well be a mechanism to discern merit.
I really wish Lobsters would implement user filtering.
Because reading things you disagree with has been known to stifle personal growth?
As I discussed in a previous blog post the idea of meritocracy succeeds only in seeing dominant voices rise to the top, while marginalized ones disappear.
This seems like an interesting speculation. Here are three pieces of evidence to the contrary:
Is there any evidence in favor of this surprising speculation that meritocracy merely reinforces existing hierarchies of exclusion? The blog post linked to doesn’t mention meritocracy, but says:
As Vanessa Au (2011) reminds us in her chapter My day of fame on digg.com: Race, representation, and resistance in Web 2.0 in the book Transgression 2.0: Media, Culture, and the Politics of a Digital Age, Web 2.0 technologies such as social media voting and ranking content simply reproduce the status quo. “And, as in real life, marginalized voices get pushed out as dominant voices support other dominant voices and they, both figuratively and literally, rise to the top” (210). We should not make that easier by denying that there are dominant and marginalized voices.
But of course Digg and Reddit are popularity contests — the diametrical opposite of meritocracy. Nobody has proposed, I hope, replacing the FreeBSD Core Team’s technical judgment or membership decisions with a Digg-style plebiscite twitch-voting system.
Here’s my alternative hypothesis about what’s going on: some of the people who are arguing against meritocracy in free software are upper-class people accustomed to their class privilege and so uncomfortable with social prestige hierarchies in which they are not at the top that they want to destroy them, and so they try to paint themselves as victims when their impeccable deportment and creative-writing degrees from a top school do not earn their opinions equal weight with the opinions of ill-groomed people with no degrees, poor manners, and deep technical expertise. Others just like to hurt and harass people and have discovered a socially acceptable way to do so: claim that you are doing so on behalf of marginalized groups, ideally groups you can claim to be part of yourself.
As Meredith Patterson powerfully explains:
My Russian coauthor Sergey Bratus points out that keeping works by “ideologically impure” persons out of public view was instrumental to Soviet systems of social control. And as @puellavulnerata acutely observes, a culture that encourages judging people unilaterally, rather than judging their actions in context, is one that allows socially-adept hierarchy climbers to decontextualise their own self-serving cruelties as “necessary for the cause” and stage witchcraft trials against the weirdoes on the margin.
I want to emphasize that we must be careful not to believe that we have achieved meritocracy — we are far from that ideal. And of course any -ocracy is a limitation on freedom, even if a necessary one to preserve other freedoms, and having freedom and equality is better than being merely well-governed, and free software exists to give us freedom and equality, limiting the damage any -ocracy can do when it goes wrong.
But the author is claiming that meritocracy is the problem, not that we need a lot more meritocracy.
I came across some interesting research called the paradox of meritocracy although it only used three small studies with a total of 445 participants.
The main finding is consistent across the three studies: when an organization is explicitly
presented as meritocratic, individuals in managerial positions favor a male employee over an
equally qualified female employee by awarding him a larger monetary reward. This finding
demonstrates that the pursuit of meritocracy at the workplace may be more difficult than it
first appears and that there may be unrecognized risks behind certain organizational efforts
used to reward merit.
The full article is here
That is a super-interesting article, thanks for the link! I look forward to reading it and looking for papers citing it, I’m really curious what they’ll attribute the discriminatory hiring to. Having only glanced at it and kragen’s links, I wonder if maybe the big difference is bureaucracy - the systems are fairly rigid, with little room for human judgement to sneak discrimination in; these studies were all about the human judgement. But if that’s the case, I would expect the college acceptance rate to stay flat rather than rise, because people and committees still judge the applicants. The music audtions, if done blind (eg. there is no “now that we’ve heard them all play, let’s look at their resumes…” step).
@kragen Do you happen to have any citations for the university entry testing and their effects on minority enrollment? I’ve also heard anecdotes that southeast asian minority groups are being discriminated against in Ivy Leauge enrollment (lower enrollment than merited by performance on standardized tests), so maybe there’s ongoing research here that’s worth exploring.
Depending on the enrollment stuff, maybe there’s a coherent theory for these different studies, something like: blind, formal criterea reverse discriminatory judgement, but the idea of “meritocracy” prompts more discrimination in human judgement. This is, of course, a wild guess on a topic that folks have probably studied to death. Have to dig into the literature. :)
Thank you! I will read it.
Meritocracy is like security, it’s great to work towards, but dangerous to believe that you have. I read the piece as more of a critique of the “we are a meritocracy” culture than a critique of meritocracy itself.
This is @bcallah’s post. He just didn’t want to be the one to post it. Kudos to @kusuriya.
This should probably also have the politics tag.
Probably both. If we weren’t arguing about it, I’d agree with you.
There’s no politics tag. There’s philosophy, which is not a fit, but culture very much so.