How much moral credit are we due for where we end up in life, and for who we end up?Conversely, how much responsibility or blame do we deserve? I don’t just mean Kylie Jenner or Donald Trump — all of us. Anyone.
How you answer these questions reveals a great deal about your moral worldview. To a first approximation, the more credit/responsibility you believe we are due, the more you will be inclined to accept default (often cruel and inequitable) social and economic outcomes. People basically get what they deserve.
The less credit/responsibility you believe we are due, the more you believe our trajectories are shaped by forces outside our control (and sheer chance), the more compassionate you will be toward failure and the more you will expect back from the fortunate. When luck is recognized, softening its harsh effects becomes the basic moral project.
Random selection embodies a very different conception of fairness to meritocracy. But if we accept that what we call meritocracy is predominantly a way for advantage to self-replicate, why not at least experiment with lotteries instead? Big graduate recruiters or Oxbridge courses could set “on paper” entry criteria, select candidates who meet them at random and test whether there are any differences with candidates selected by interview.
I am willing to bet that, as observed in Texas, they would do no worse. And that there would be other benefits: diversity of thought as well as diversity of demography. Quotas are often criticised for their potential to undermine those individuals who benefit from positive discrimination; everyone knows they are there not purely on merit, or so the argument goes. An element of random selection might engender a bit more humility on the part of white, middle-class men; it goes alongside being honest that meritocracy is a convenient mask for privilege.
This whole experience had given me a different perspective on my life.
I look back at the woman I was 5 years ago with a fondness and familiarity that will never go away. I loved who I was then, but I’m not the same person now.
Luck, coincidence, black swans events. They’ve played a huge part in my life, and in shaping who I am. There’s no way Abi and I could have predicted 25 years ago what our lives would be like now. We had privilege back then, but didn’t realize it. Over time, we’ve had even more fortune happen to us, and we’ve been able to take certain life gambles that happened to pay off (quitting and taking certain jobs, having kids, moving countries). We’ve been able to put ourselves in the way of good fortune, and we’ve capitalized on the opportunities that arose.
We have even more privilege now, and we do realize it. We try to use it for good. I try to make tiny changes to earth. I haven’t read Toni Morrison’a books, but there’s a quote of hers that resonates with me:
I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’