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Step 21: Tyranny of Merit (pt.2)

Michael J. Sandel, a Harvard philosophy professor, questions the assumption that by working hard and playing by the rules, and getting a degree, you deserve what you earn. This “meritocratic” notion of justice is observably increasing inequality and fostering a winner/loser culture that led to the populist backlash of Trump and Brexit.

This is PART 2 of 2.

introduction by Mistah Lisa [link]
music courtesy of Feslyian Studios [link]

Tyranny of Merit, Michael J. Sandel, 2020

Part I

Returning to Michael J. Sandel’s “The Tyranny of Merit” to tackle how the college system establishes a sorting machine based on credentials. Sandel shows how the attempt at equal opportunity through education and standardized testing has allowed the wealthy to, once again, rise to the top and form a hereditary aristocracy.  However, the winners feel that they deserve their success due to the  struggles and challenges to achieve,  lending them little pity and much hubris and disdain as they look down on those less fortunate. 

The emphasis on “credentialization” has produced the “diploma divide” that has manifested as the resentful populist backlash against the elites.

You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.

~ Goodwill Hunting

Part II

We look at college entrance scandals, and how the process of getting into “the right college” is traumatic for the winners, and humiliating for the losers of this increasingly expensive credentialization.
We discuss the genesis of the SAT as a means to sort for intelligence and bypass the “artificial aristocracy” of inherited wealth, but we now realize it has set up another trap and has been gamed by the wealthy. This enhances the problems of a meritocracy, where because the privileged actually worked hard to get into school, they believe in their specialness (that they earned by their own efforts their success) giving little credence to their familial benefits, which in turn produces a type of disdain for the less educated at odds with the humility and gratitude of recognizing your blessings.

Part III

Even those from less-fortunate backgrounds who do manage to rise, though statistically small, must deform themselves and their values to gain the dignity offered through a diploma. Ryder does a reading of the parable “The tale of the stairs.”

Part IV

In Part IV, after looking at the cost of tuition and how success is increasingly difficult to attain, we look at Sandel’s suggestions to balance out the tyranny of merit coupled with wealth by reintroducing luck, or chance, to humble the winners while taking pressure off of them to play the soul crushing game of resume stuffing. He also looks at alternatives to education for knowledge, civic, and moral discourse, while asking us to reconsider how we value labor. 

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Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Meritocracy [link] (2020)

Michael J. Sandel, The public philosopher [link]

Hillary Clinton “basket of deplorables” [link]

Price of College vs. Wages [link]

Inflation vs. Tuition [link]

Tom Brady [link]

Nolan Ryan [link]

Tale of the Stairs [link]

Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukainoff “Coddling of the American Mind” [link]


Hidden Brain “Between Two Worlds” [link]

Movie/TV References


Goodwill Hunting clip [link]

Elysium [link]


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