Imagine that you were introduced to basketball by Michael Jordan. He teaches you how to dribble, to shoot, to block, to assist. You get pretty good. And then he starts playing. Every day you are playing against Michael Jordan; every day you are losing. After a while, the sport would cease to be appealing to you, unless you were Clyde Drexler or Dominique Wilkins.
My observation of meritocracy is that it must be tyrannical. There are technical, political and aesthetic tyrannies at work at the core of any contest. Sometimes we made our decision about sport vs activity based upon whether the score was determined by judges. Ice dancing, springboard diving, skateboard vert ramp. All of these require judges rather than timers or other measuring devices. But a winner must be determined no matter what. If it's not, then a game isn't fair. Fairness seems rather odd in this respect - if everybody plays by the same rules, you always produce proper winners and proper losers. We seem to forget that this is what fairness demands. Fairness demands that you create losers. Somehow we've perverted sportsmanship. It's true that it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. Right. If you play fair and lose, then it's a good game. But if you play so that there are no winners and no losers then you have destroyed the rules, and thus the meaning of sportsmanship and the integrity of the idea of fairness. Meritocracy is hardball. Rules are tyrannical. All of that is fair.
We all used to play a game of 'sport vs activity' which generally focused on the courtly games vs the roughneck games. Is golfing a sport? What about skiing? Well, not like football or boxing. As it turns out, every sport, every competitive activity has its requirements most of which at the pro level are far beyond us. I don't know about you, but I'm never going to dunk on Akeem. I'm never going to hit a 90mph fastball. I'm never going to pass a stock car on the high side at 190mph. I'm never going to drive a golf ball 350 yards. I'm never going to surf Mavericks. And yet these are the things the best of us do every day. Nevertheless, I should be able to enjoy auto racing, baseball, surfing and basketball not only as a spectator, but as a participant. I don't want to play one on one against Jordan, but what about fairness? A level playing field is a killing field. That's why we have leagues.
Here in America, we tend to be bastards. My definition of a bastard combines facts and observables. A bastard is always a heartless bastard and exerts his cruelty upon others because of the cruelty at the heart of his very existence. He was not loved by the man who made him. So bastards are unforgiving when it comes to the rules - they expect none and give no love or quarter. A gentleman may have his honor and with honor comes grace which is taken and given. Why should honor be sacrificed for a lack of excellence? A forgiving and gentlemanly father understands this, but such is the understanding only rarely received by bastards. So bastards stand as border guards, bayonets at the ready, following the only orders they get, surviving on the thin gruel of regulatory compliance.
I shouldn't say that we tend to be bastards, rather that our promise of meritocracy gives fine comfort to those who would be bastards. Here in the States, we don't go in for hereditary titles and the other trappings of royalty, peerage and primogeniture. We prefer SAT results, Body Mass Indices and FICO scores. We make sport scoreboards of our humanity, often to our detriment. But how can we avoid a discussion about who was the best rock guitarist of all time, or the top five romantic comedies or Mopar vs Ford vs GM? We cannot, because the bastards among us will not let us have history settled. America is the land that killed the gentleman's 'C'.
We may come to regret that, yeilding as we do all sorts of credits to all sorts of characters, ungentlemanly as they may be. You see in order to create the illusion that we are personally and institutionally in service to the ideal of equality, we must assert a 'level playing field'. It doesn't bother me much that I cannot hang with Michael Jordan, but I feel as though I am often surrounded by those who are bound and determined to level things out. To have he and I play by the same rules on the same court and call that equality is only something a heartless bastard would ask. It is quite enough for any sort of meritocracy I would respect that I can see and be inspired by Jordan, and play equitably amongst my peers, in my class, in my league, in my own neighborhood.
So who is really a bastard? The one who says we all must play on one playing field without any regard to our actual abilities. The one who won't let us group up into leagues. The one who, in service to the unreal ideal of a level playing field for everyone, makes the boys play against the girls, the rich play against the poor, the strong play against the weak, the young against the old, all without regard to their actual ability. The right way to do have fairness and meritocracy is to have a hierarchy of leagues and an open, unlimited class.
Sports people knew I was coming to this. America loves sports because we get to participate. We get to watch Tiger Woods; we watched him climb the leagues. We have leagues and classes and invitationals and opens and tournaments and qualifiers so that the tyranny of rules can apply where we can apply ourselves among our peers.
There's something I have called the Logarithmic Shadow. I have described it all kinds of ways. In one way I've described it in Cobb's Rule #7: Never trust a man whose shoes cost more than you're whole day's pay. The Logarithmic Shadow is how I describe how the poor survive at all given the power of the rich. Most of us don't know Michael Jordan. Most of us are even incompetent to be a high school basketball coach. So what keeps Jordan from messing all over our neighborhood basketball games? What keeps the CIA from bugging your PTA? What keeps Special Forces snipers from shooting schoolyard bullies? It's the same thing that keeps you standing outside of the club where Lady Gaga is hanging out tonight. It's the same thing that keeps you stuck in traffic on the freeway.
The big dogs have bigger fish to fry, and you ain't one of them. Be grateful.
So I will describe the Logarithmic Shadow as the respect for leagues, boundaries and capabilities. It's NOT fair if we all play on the same turf. That's a class violation, and class violations are what makes the small tyrannies of rulesets into big tyrannies of societies. See you didn't like me saying meritocracy is tyrannical did you? OK. The proper American meritocracy implicitly means multiple levels and hierarchy. We mean climbing the social ladder. We mean, if we're serious, we mean superior and inferior. We mean winners and losers. We mean brackets and championships. We mean win, place, show and also ran. We mean fair competition, not a free-for-all.
Now that we have that understanding, I'm going to point out some things I don't like which are consequential.
I don't like a President who doesn't act Presidential.
That means a President who hogs the spotlight and doesn't delegate authority is the man whose shoes cost more than your day's pay. When he's the big dog paying attention small fry that means three things. One. He's going to win with overwhelming force 95% of the time. Two. The bigger fish are getting away. Three. The 5% of the time he loses to the small fry, degrades the office. Stay in your lane.
I don't like all this rabble about 'income inequality'.
If you can walk all day barefoot, then that's your advantage over the man who can't. Ask the Viet Cong. If you can live without eating steak and lobster, without manicures and tummy tucks, without air conditioning and power windows, good! He who lives without luxury will not be a slave to fashion. But the girl who wears fake Prada sunglasses is both self-delusional and a fraud. The man who cannot save $100,000 cannot save the planet. Stay in your lane, people.