Some thoughts I’ve had regarding “meritocracy”:
<Section 1: “pride”>
(1) Due to transparency and low corruption, higher-skilled jobs do tend to be matched with higher-skilled people. (I think this is the part of “meritocracy” we want to uphold.)
(2; also expressed by the post you shared) People neglect that our productive output highly depends on factors unrelated to effort. Such factors can be collectively labelled as “privilege”: e.g. the amount of resources that we started with, our genes, etc.
(3; many people seem to overlook this important aspect) People fail to distinguish between two kinds of pride: effort-pride (the good kind) vs status-pride (the bad kind). Well-explained in this article: https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2017/01/deadly-sin/
This Chinese dictionary entry is quite informative too lol.
Status-pride (haughtiness) is showing contempt for people simply because of their lower status. (Of course sometimes the contempt can be justified and has nothing to do with status.)
Effort-pride is showing appreciation for the effort exerted towards producing some pleasant result. It is good to appreciate the effort that went into producing good results (even better to do so while acknowledging the other non-effort factors that went into it: “privilege”).
<Section 2: “meritocracy”>
Meritocracy is meant to be a good thing. In fact, the meritocracy officially preached by the government seems to be the good kind.
I feel that to a large extent the term “meritocracy” has been unfairly scapegoated by people who are actually just dealing with problems generated by inequality and hierarchies of power / privilege.
In a non-meritocratic system, one’s position in the hierarchy is not indicative of one’s true ability. So weak people can easily blame the system for not acknowledging their high abilities, and go on living life pretending that they have superior abilities to those higher up in the hierarchy.
On the other hand, in a perfectly meritocratic system, such weak people are less able to live in their above-mentioned delusion, because they deserve to be exactly where they are in the hierarchy, based on their true ability. Hence they are robbed of a significant psychological coping mechanism (i.e. denial). Hence weak people are even more psychologically vulnerable in a perfect meritocracy.
<Section 3: Hierarchy>
Because Singapore is highly meritocratic, many weak people, from an early age, are forced to grapple with their mediocrity. Likewise high-performing adolescents are made aware of their superiority. Being children, they have not learnt to address this in a positive, constructive, morally respectable manner. Left unchecked / unresolved, such toxic mentalities create serious social problems. [This is probably the high-priority issue that is perhaps underappreciated by the government and Singapore society in general.]
Also, people forget that in reality, meritocracy is an ideal, so that while Singapore has attained meritocracy to a significant degree (more than most other countries), it is nonetheless an imperfect one. So there are still plenty of people (especially children) who deserve opportunities that the system has failed to give them (i.e. the deserving ones who fall through the cracks). [I think the government seems to be reasonably aware of this.]
<Section 4: “class”>
People tend to spend their time more productively with others similar to themselves. Hence some degree of social stratification, resulting in the emergence of somewhat distinct social classes, is a good thing. Given complete freedom, people will sort themselves into their own groups of similar individuals.
People with different preferences will tend to choose different things. Some people propose to reduce outward appearance of differences, by forcibly limiting people’s choices, so that different people are forced to choose the same thing. This seems rather silly.
<Section 5: religion>
One of the most potent forces capable of uniting people in spite of their differences, is religion. And the government is already doing much to encourage healthy religions in Singapore.
The post’s author complains about the official ban on discussion of “race, religion, class and sexuality” in the classroom. I think the author in his hubris fails to appreciate the controversy and complexity of those issues. How ironic that a self-proclaimed Raffles Institution alumnus would be stuck in such an elitist mindset, not realising that even if he himself were qualified to comment on such issues in the classroom, his fellow non-elite teachers may hold woefully misguided views and be ill-equipped to address them. So it is best that teachers stick to teaching what they are qualified to teach.
I agree with the author regarding the trivial observation that there are areas in the system which can be improved.
But he seems to be excessively attributing blame / responsibility to the government. The government has limited resources, and has to try to balance their use in an optimal manner. He hardly begins to make a case for why the government should dedicate more resources to his own pet peeve, instead of the myriad other problems waiting to be solved.