In the United States, we proudly boast that if you are smart and work hard you will be successful. We call it a meritocracy. You can point to Musk, Gates, Obama, and many others to qualify our meritocracy. I agree. I’ve seen smart and hard-working friends succeed in school and work and rewarded for work-ethic and intellect. Similarly, I’ve seen friends that have been constantly disinterested, apathetic, and with excuses readily available fail to attain interesting, well-paying jobs. Those that don’t believe we live in a meritocracy would say that success is reserved and made easier for the privileged, (and) rich, (and) white (and) males. To this, I agree with as well. I’ve seen many friends attain lives that could be viewed as “successful” (i.e., well-paying and in nice locations) who seem to have landed in these lives with little effort, little self-direction, and little self-awareness. However, whether you believe success comes to those who will it or to those it’s reserved for, a deeper question exists. This being, should we simply default to the idea that the intelligent and hard-working deserve better lives than those who are less of either? I’m not so sure. This idea breaks down if we can conclude that work-ethic and intelligence aren’t chosen, but instead are naturally pronounced in some but some not others.
Our idealistic view of a meritocracy is that success is chosen. We can choose to work hard and behave intelligently and therefore determine our own success. But, what do we do when neither of these behaviors are chosen? Who, then, deserves the fruits of success?