Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

What’s wrong with a meritocracy?

with 33 comments

In a word – Everything!

In essence, a meritocracy is in conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and, I feel sure, it is not what the founding fathers of the USA had in mind when they formulated the United States Declaration of Independence (USDI).

Some will say that the UDHR was and is part of a global conspiracy to achieve worldwide socialism but, have you ever wondered why libertarians attack the UDHR for being a piece of Socialist propaganda? Well, if you haven’t worked it out, see if you can spot the difference between these two sentences:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” [USDI]; and
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” [UDHR].

Did you spot it? The difference is that the latter includes an important word – Justice.

In essence, the USDI asserts rights only, whereas the UDHR incorporates responsibilities as well.

Libertarians are all over rights like a rash, but will do anything to abdicate their responsibility for everything. As has been made clear by the recent disclosure of confidential documents from the Heartland Institute, this would appear to include seeking to abdicate responsibility for potentially making the Earth uninhabitable. Thanks to DeSmogBlog (DSB), line-by-line textual analysis has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the 2-page Strategy Document is genuine. The document itself purports to have only been circulated to certain Board Members and, as DSB says:

This would create a powerful incentive for the author to deny this document’s authenticity: the implied insult to Board members that Heartland treats as second-class could be more damaging to Heartland than the public embarrassment of its inflammatory subject matter.

The exposure of the Heartland Institute’s finance, motives, attitudes, and strategies; including the corruption of the minds of those who will bear the greatest burden of adverse consequences of inaction – namely the upcoming generation of children – deserves to be a game-changer for the public perception of the problem of anthropogenic climate disruption. But will it be so? I think that only time – and some expensive litigation – will tell.

Meanwhile, I am getting seriously off-message… What is wrong with a meritocracy; and with what should we seek to replace it? Well, in a nutshell, the battle cry of the French revolutionaries was correct (even if their methods were not) because it included liberty and justice – the threefold principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality. However, it seems that for many it is the principle of equality that is the problem. Whilst many might have no problem with granting to all equality of opportunity; they would balk at demanding – let alone – granting to all equality of reward.

I have some sympathy with this because I am not a Socialist. I do not demand Maoist uniformity (especially if it involves the majority being controlled by an autocratic elite). But I am, nonetheless, very discontented and disturbed by the meritocracy of globalised Capitalism – which grants to all the universal right to suffer if you can’t help yourself. No wonder people like the present UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, talks about a need for “Compassionate Conservatism”. I agree, this is what we need… in more ways than one: We need compassion and we need conservation. The idolisation of self-determination (i.e. selfishness and greed) leads to only one thing – Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons – the privatisation or over-exploitation and/or pollution of all resources. If privatised – equality of opportunity is denied. If not privatised – development is inevitably unsustainable (because restraint by some leads to advantage being taken by others).

So what is to be done? How do we cut this Gordian Knot? This is where Environmental Justice comes in – justice that is extended to all life – human and non-human; those that are alive now and those that are to follow after us. If we recognise these rights, we would be inevitably driven to stop the acquisitiveness that results in deprivation for others; and replace it with consensual restraint that will ensure the preservation of a habitable planet for future generations.

I think the time has come for humanity to decide which future it is going to embrace:
Use it up and wear it out; or
For what we have received may we be truly thankful.

33 Responses

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  1. One way or another we are screwed up.. It’s clear humans are not a bright kind…


    1 March 2012 at 00:15

  2. […] The Hijacking of Happiness, Capitalism and IntegrityBacon insists Ireland’s economic woes will worsen if property market isn’t stablised – BlogPursuit of Happiness Mind Map: 32 Keys to FulfillmentSinging – The Pursuit Of HappinessThe ENCDC Congress At Hawassa: A Determination To Succeed (P II)What’s wrong with a meritocracy […]

  3. Martin, If you don’t mind me making an introduction … perhaps it’s time you followed this link and met a great mum working for the future of her children; there is great justice in the things she has to say and I for one support her all the way ( so does pedantry and a few others)
    (cough, cough) You might even watch the very interesting video link I posted there:-)


    1 March 2012 at 07:08

  4. [N.B. Barry is a guest author on WUWT – ML]

    Sadly we disagree.. Realistically what ever you, I or anybody else says on any blog anywhere. will not stop China’s and Indias growth even IF (and that is a huge IF) the EU, USA, etc met their reduction targets, or went far beyond emission targets..

    IT would not make a blind bit of difference. China’s per capita emission are ahead of a number of EU counties now and is on an ever upwards path. India will/is following..

    For China and India economic growth is all important and it will be on the back of Fossil Fuels. (Coal for electricity production)

    Fred Pearce – with a healthy dose of economic reality with respect to Energy Policy

    PS. I’ve asked Dr Mark Brandon to stop by to have a chat with you, as you seem to have a few misconceptions about PIG and Antartica.

    Barry Woods

    1 March 2012 at 10:12

    • Hey Barry, you wouldn’t be appealing to authority would you? I thought you guys did not believe in “experts”?

      But, how stupid of me, the only experts you won’t listen to are the vast majority. You, on the other hand, are quite content to find and follow the minority of “experts” that will tell you what you want to hear (or possibly tell you what they want you to hear). One thing they are almost certainly not telling you is the truth (i.e. very unlikely to be an accurate representation of what is actually happening).

      I therefore look forward to speaking with your chosen “expert”. Bring it on.

      Martin Lack

      1 March 2012 at 11:01

      • Where is Barry’s appeal to authority? He raises a practical problem with emissions mitigation citing facts. What to do about China and India? If they are destroying the planet, what do we do? Do we stop them with force?

        Is the appeal to authority the last sentence? Perhaps he is suggesting that you discuss the issue with a knowledgeable person so that you can better understand the science. Not just be dictated what the science is, but rather discuss and understand it for yourself. Of course, perhaps your discussion with Brandon might enlighten him, but neither is an appeal to authority..

        Sammy Osceola

        1 March 2012 at 12:46

        • Me fears you are indulging in semantics once more. Barry was threatening to set his big brother, Dr Mark Brandon, on me; and/or invoking the supposed wisdom of Fred Pearce. The opinions of individuals are irrelevant; what matters is the weight of scientific evidence and the settled opinion of the vast majority or relevant experts.

          As for China and India. Hell, yes, they are a problem. China realises that climate change is an existential threat to it’s survival and so it is doing what it can. India is not yet so forward-thinking. Unfortunately, however, this makes it all the more important that since developed nations are the ones that bear primary responsibility for having caused the problem, we should stop trying to blame everyone but ourselves and do what we can to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as fast as possible.

          However, I suspect this will cut no ice with you (no pun intended), because (so far as I can tell) you are still denying that we humans are causing the problem… As for me, I believe that all this makes it imperative that we kick our fossil fuel habit ASAP; we cannot afford to wait until they all run out to do so. Even if neither Lindzen (1 C) nor Hansen (6 C) is right about climate sensitivity – for the sake of argument let’s say the truth is somewhere in between (say 3 or 4 C) – such a crazy, short-sighted policy will spell disaster. Your doubting or denying it does not make it any less likely to happen. Surely, you must accept that none of us was born with such power?

          Martin Lack

          1 March 2012 at 13:53

      • “What to do about China and India? If they are destroying the planet, what do we do?”
        Well, I don’t know about you but here in Australia we are letting them open up so many coal mines it is beginning to approach 1% of out land mass, which is huge, we believe they need it in order to survive and have no qualms about them burning it in your there yonder part of the hemisphere. :-)


        1 March 2012 at 14:26

    • ‘China aren’t doing it, so neither am I! Miss! Miss! Johnny isn’t doing his sums, Miss, so neither am I –’ GROW UP.


      1 March 2012 at 14:19

  5. So, now that your country has developed, and you have a computer, a vehicle, and all of the wonders of modernism, we should stop development and be thankful for what WE have? What about all those living in mud huts with no electricity and no clean water? Do those people get to have environmental blogs also? What about “justice” for those people?

    Johnny Z

    1 March 2012 at 11:43

    • We who live comfortably in the developed countries of the World are primarily responsible for creating the ACD problem; whereas it is the World’s poorest people who are suffering first – and will therefore suffer the longest – as a consequence of our failure to take proper responsibility for our actions. So, Johnny, your remarks suggest to me that you are lost in a world where black is white and white is black – I call it a reality inversion!

      It is the concept of environmental justice – the belief that nature itself has intrinsic value (not just inherent or instrumental value) – and the belief that future generations have a legitimate right to inherit what we inherited – that is the reason why the Green Party of Germany in the 1980’s said “Greens are neither left nor right; they are out in front”. I think it is time you caught up!

      Martin Lack

      1 March 2012 at 12:01

  6. It would be a good idea if when writing an article like this you first defined what you mean by “meritocracy.” Then when you make statements about it being in conflict with the UDHR, tell us how you think it is. And how did the founders not have it in mind?
    Then I am not sure what your Heartland tangent has to do with your article at all.
    Then you get to the equality of reward section. Are you advocating such a system? If so, how do you see it working?
    Or, is your issue that capitalism doesn’t have a safety net for those that can’t take care of themselves? If that is it, do you propose a capitalistic system with a safety net?
    I think Johnny was getting at your points in the last two sentences in that the developed countries, perhaps, have the opportunity to be thankful, but many countries have not yet achieved what we have. How do they get to be thankful too? Where is the “reality inversion” in that question?
    Then you say that “acquisitiveness” deprives others. How is that? Isn’t the opposite true? If someone is greedy and wants to accumulate “stuff” doesn’t someone else benefit in making and servicing that “stuff?” So perhaps tell us how acquisitiveness deprives others.
    This article just seems to be a list of statements without any reasoning. I am not taking a position on any of those statements, just that unless you reason and explain, you won’t be persuading anyone of anything, just appealing to those that happen to concur.

    Sammy Osceola

    1 March 2012 at 12:39

    • Good point Sammy. However, in order not to distract most readers, I trust a link to ‘Meritocracy’ on Wikipedia will be sufficient.

      Personally, I think my point about the differences between the USDI and UDHR is perfectly well made.

      With regard to the Heartland Institute, please consider it as a good current example of all the special interest, advocacy, and lobbying groups that do so much to make the USA the deeply undemocratic country that it is today: Modern America is an extremely long way from being where I think the Founding Fathers hoped they were going. I know that some US citizens may well take offence at hearing this from a Brit but, despite us having a supposedly communist-style socialised medicare system, I am not seeking to hold up British society as being a paragon of virtue.

      On the contrary, we are all in this global mess together; and if we wish to get out of it, we are all going to have to agree to restrain our tendency to indulge in unsustainable development and excessively-damaging pollution. We can no longer afford (as if we ever could) to treat the Earth with contempt. That was – and is – my point.

      I do not have all the answers; but I am absolutely confident that, unlike you I suspect, I have correctly identified the cause of the problem(s); and I am willing to admit it.

      Martin Lack

      1 March 2012 at 13:26

      • This issue is not necessarily your conclusion, but rather your lack of any reasoning or explanation as to why readers should come to it. So they won’t. It is that simple.
        In any basic persuasive argument, you must present the issue, the rule, the argument with facts and examples, and the conclusion. You just present the conclusion. That is much more about faith than it is reason.
        Others have tried to explain this to you on the other site, but you just respond with hostility.
        I ask what you mean by meritocracy, because without it your appeal to authority might fail miserably.

        Sammy Osceola

        1 March 2012 at 13:45

    • It depends how far you take acquisitiveness. You only have to look at the 19th Century to see that, unregulated, it can damage others. The poverty and wretchedness of factory workers and miners; wealth created from slavery. Regulated capitalism leads to many benefits, I am using one of them now. Unregulated capitalism leads to misery. I think we have reached a time for more regulation to prevent what the Americans so aptly call “moral hazard”.

      Pacific Weatherman

      2 March 2012 at 07:33

  7. Martin – I’m sure Mark will be surprised to be considered to be in the ‘minority of experts’.
    Presumably you think, because I mentioned him, he was some sort of “sceptic”?

    I bet you didn’t look him up… in your prejudice?

    However, as it happens, Antartica is in his area of expertise…

    Dr Mark Brandon:
    “I am currently working on the data collected on an extensive research cruise to the floating ice shelves of west Antarctica. I wrote about this research cruise in my blog. One aspect of my current research was reported by the BBC in 2010 as Giant icebergs head to watery end at island graveyard here – and for a couple of days the story was one of the most popular on the BBC website.”

    He was also the PRINCIPAL advisor to the BBC’s Frozen Planet!

    So who better to talk to you about your thoughts on the PIG and Anatartica!!

    Barry Woods

    1 March 2012 at 13:23

    • I live here in Australia and although I don’t profess to have an intimate knowledge of the place, myself and many of my colleagues here have always wondered why it is that scientists from all over the world always come here in the summer, do whatever research they are meant to do and then go home telling the world the entire place is melting when we happen to know … it isn’t. And don’t get me wrong I happen to believe in Global Warming but I also believe that if the South Pole is going to be affected by AGW then I am fairly sure it will most likely be the last place on Earth to do so.

      I don’t mean nothing by it, as I said, I know very little about the place …. but just as an example right now there is talk of a huge iceberg splitting from the Pine Island Glacier in the west Antarctic which everybody says is evidence of Global Warming but as many of us here know for a fact … it is in reality just a tiny ice cube in comparison to some of the enormous chunks that normally break off the shelf some of which sometimes come very close to mainland Australia. It is in fact a very normal part of the South Pole way of being.

      Hopefully Mr Brandon can come and fill in some of the gaps missing in my own knowledge of the place :-)


      1 March 2012 at 14:18

      • Donald,

        The South Pole/Antarctica is already being affected by AGW. Ice shelves have collapsed. Wildlife, to the extent their is wildlife is being affected as well. There are claims, mainly by ACD skeptics, that the Antarctic is not being affected. And they largely get away with such claims because 1) there has not been much monitoring in the extremely hostile climate of the Antarctic and 2) real scientists are much more circumspect in making claims about the Antarctic that they cannot back up with real data. But recent data tells us that the Antarctic is being affected.

        Peter Goodman

        2 March 2012 at 05:30

      • Thanks Peter. I would concur with that view, citing a certain (Sir) David Attenborough. However, given his involvement with the production of the BBC’s Frozen Planet, I am genuinely keen to hear what (Dr) Mark Brandon has to say about this, given his alleged first-hand experience (presumably of more than the VTR editing suite)…

        Martin Lack

        2 March 2012 at 07:13

    • OK Barry, sorry. You are right, I leapt to judgement. Where is he, when is he coming to talk to me? He does sound like a genuinely interesting guy. What did he think of Sir David Attenborough’s remarks in the final episode and/or on the Andrew Marr Show recently?

      Martin Lack

      1 March 2012 at 14:24

      • Pls remember he under no obligation to talk to you about anything. I just tweeted him and he said he would try to stop by today.

        I saved him a ticket for the HoC event, and he came along out of interest, I’ve only met the guy once for coffee beforehand (been on twitter haveing a chat for a few months)

        Barry Woods

        1 March 2012 at 14:34

        • Understood. I wasn’t demanding he speak to me anyway.

          Martin Lack

          1 March 2012 at 14:38

  8. “We would be inevitably driven to stop the acquisitiveness that results in deprivation for others” – good stuff. Yes, everyone is too concerned with what they own and what they want to think about what is the best for everyone.


    1 March 2012 at 14:18

  9. Although I do not want to deprive others of the advantages that I enjoy (many of which I would be willing to sacrifice if it meant a more stable climate and healthier environment), I think that it is too simple of an argument to say that economic growth in countries like China and India will help the poor. I have read too many reports of the polluted water, air and soil and the incredible cancer rates that afflict the Chinese due to industrial pollution. Whether in developing or developed countries, economic policies should be made to adapt to environmental policies – not the other way around.

    Lack of drinkable water is a much more dangerous problem than lack of economic growth.


    2 March 2012 at 02:22

    • Thanks JP. Since I think you might appreciate it, I will email you a PDF of one of my MA written assignments (regarding the “problematisation of” water resources in the Yellow River basin of northern China). My tutor at Keele for the ‘Environmental Politics and Policy in India and China’ module (a former UK science and technology counsellor at the British Embassy in Beijing) said it was one of the best pieces of written work by a student he had ever seen (although I was very fortunate to have access to rare documents I was able to borrow from the Geological Society of London). If you are interested, one fascinating book anybody should be able to get hold of fairly easily is The State of China Atlas
      Mapping the world’s fastest growing economy
      (2009), by Robert Benewick and Stephanie Hemelyk Donald, California University Press
      . It is beautifully presented and very powerful.

      Do let me know what you think of my essay when you have read it.

      Martin Lack

      2 March 2012 at 06:44

    • China is like 19th Century Britain on a massive scale. It would be good if they would learn from the mistakes we make but human nature does not work like that. The Chinese Government believes they need unregulated capitalism to bring their standard of living up to Western standards. By controlling what goods we buy and under what conditions of manufacture we will buy them we can provide a degree of regulation. To do that effectively we need transparency and the compliance of Western design companies like Apple computers. If I had known how the workers were treated who make iPads I would not have bought one.

      Pacific Weatherman

      2 March 2012 at 07:51

      • “By controlling what goods we buy and under what conditions of manufacture we will buy them we can provide a degree of regulation.”

        I completely agree. During the Durban Climate Conference, it was so frustrating to here my (Canadian) government arguing about how there is not point in the Kyoto Protocol because the largest emitters aren’t included. Not only is that an incredible immature response (“why should I clean my room, my brother didn’t”), but also it ignores the fact that China’s emissions are, in part, caused by our irresponsible level of consumption.


        2 March 2012 at 09:16

  10. The founding fathers were exceptional people who fought for power, won it, and then gave it up willingly. Their main concern was tyranny and oppression and so the DoI concentrates on rights of the individual. Post two massive world wars the UDHR is concerned that human rights promote peace and you cannot have peace without justice.

    On a controversial note: I now see from whence your Christianity is derived Martin. I confess to being a Christian Atheist. I know what that contradiction means. I somehow think that you might too.

    Pacific Weatherman

    2 March 2012 at 08:07

    • Thanks. I really do hope that – just as I am not attacking climate change “sceptics” personally – all Americans (i.e. citizens of the USA) will accept that I am not attacking them either. My purpose – as it always is – is to appeal to people to have the courage to be intellectually honest about where the human species now finds itself. Meritocracy in the USA is just symptomatic of a global phenomenon – one that Garrett Hardin warned us about nearly 45 years ago.

      Why is it that we have spent nearly all of that time arguing about whether problems exist; rather than trying to solve them? We may well live in a post-Christian world but, by God, have we screwed-up in throwing the baby out with the bathwater: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Nice concept. Shame about the execution…

      I regret not being able to look my ex-wife in the eye and say “I believe all the smae things as you” (I felt a bit like Charles Darwin married to Emma (nee) Wedgewood). Theologically, we were never on the same page and, unfortunately, it took me 15 years to realise our marriage wasn’t working. But who do I blame? I can’t blame her; and I can’t blame God. It would have been nice though if she had not chosen to criticise everything I ever did: I don’t see why I have to accept the blame for taking 25 years to realise what is important to me. However, sometime mantras are good; and one thing I cannot change is the past, so… I invite all readers to say it with me (and then act accordingly):

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

      Martin Lack

      2 March 2012 at 09:41

  11. […] been abused and misused to justify all sorts of bad ideas from Marxism to Fascism; and from the Meritocracy of modern-day USA to global laissez-faire Capitalism. But, are any of these things the greatest lie […]

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