[...] The institutionalized meritocratic system helps a few to gain access to positions they merit and from which they might otherwise be barred. But it allows many more to gain access to positions on the basis of ascribed status under the cover of having gained this access by achievement.
probably my fave take on meritocracy as ideology
There is a passage in the work of the contemporary novelist Dorothy Allison which may help explain what I have in mind. Towards the beginning of a remarkable essay called 'Believing in Literature', Allison says that 'literature, and my own dream of writing, has shaped my own system of belief - a kind of atheist's religion ... the backbone of my convictions has been a belief in the progress of human society as demonstrated in its fiction'. She ends the essay as follows:
There is a place where we are always alone with our own mortality, where we must simply have something greater than ourselves to hold onto - God or history or politics or literature or a belief in the healing power of love, or even righteous anger. Sometimes I think they are all the same. A reason to believe, a way to take the world by the throat and insist that there is more to this life than we have ever imagined.
What I like best about this passage is Allison's suggestion that all these may be the same, that it does not greatly matter whether we state our reason to believe - our insistence that some or all finite, mortal humans can be far more than they have yet become - in religious, political, philosophical, literary, sexual or familial terms. What matters is the insistence itself - the romance, the ability to experience overpowering hope, or faith, or love (or, sometimes, rage).
What is distinctive about this state is that it carries us beyond argument, because beyond presendy used language. It thereby carries us beyond the imagination of the present age of the world. [...]
In past ages of the world, things were so bad that 'a reason to believe, a way to take the world by the throat' was hard to get except by looking to a power not ourselves. In those days, there was little choice but to sacrifice the intellect in order to grasp hold of the premises of practical syllogisms - premises concerning the after-death consequences of baptism, pilgrimage or participation in holy wars. To be imaginative and to be religious, in those dark times, came to almost the same thing - for this world was too wretched to lift up the heart. But things are different now, because of human beings' gradual success in making their lives, and their world, less wretched. Nonreligious forms of romance have flourished - if only in those lucky parts of the world where wealth, leisure, literacy and democracy have worked together to prolong our lives and fill our libraries. Now the things of this world are, for some lucky people, so welcome that they do not have to look beyond nature to the supernatural, and beyond life to an afterlife, but only beyond the human past to the human future.
this whole passage is so good
This essay on the loss of grace in tennis speaks then to the passing of a writer's first ecstatic access to creation. Wallace mourns the loss and maps a paradox that would become the seed idea of later work. The paradox is that although we need to live in peaks, these hypostatic highs of sex, success, religion, love, creation, conception, childbirth, or yes sports, we can only fully appreciate the peaks when they are passed and passing. Why? Because ecstasy's power lies in its wordlessness, its ability to make of us a happy holy blank. Because appreciation is a branch of thought, it is only in falling, in coming down from ecstasy, that we can know that we have briefly touched the ultimate. It is only in the falling too that we try to find words for the sublime [...]
[...] George Eliot, in her essay on German realism, put it like this: 'The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies ... Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellowman beyond the bounds of our personal lot.'
And in our own reading lives, every day, we come across that blue river of truth, curling somewhere; we encounter scenes and moments and perfectly placed words in fiction and poetry, in film and drama, which strike us with their truth, which move and sustain us, which shake habit's house to its foundations [...]
this makes me melt
[...] the darkness does not lift but becomes yet heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, at it were, draining itself in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on. [...]
Anthropologists tell us that when the structure of a core myth begins to change, everything else about society changes around it, and fresh new possibilities open up that weren't even thinkable before. When myths fall apart, revolutions happen.
I absolutely love the last sentence
The Indian famines of the late 19th century were not a natural disaster, as the British insisted at the time. They were the predictable consequence of imposing a foreign market logic that saw fit to eliminate basic human food security and sacrifice tens of millions of people in the service of profit. The famines had nothing to do with endogenous economic problems; rather, they were caused by India's incorporation into the emerging capitalist world system. As the historian Mike Davis puts it:
We are not dealing, in other words, with 'lands of famine' becalmed in stagnant backwaters of world history, but with the fate of tropical humanity at the precise moment (1870-1914) when its labour and products were being dynamically conscripted into a London-centred world economy. Millions died, not outside the 'modern world system', but in the very process of being forcibly incorporated into its economic and political structures. They died in the golden age of Liberal Capitalism.
We are told that free trade would create an international division of labour, and thereby give to each country the production which is in harmony with its natural advantage. You believe, perhaps, gentlemen, that the production of coffee and sugar is the natural destiny of the West Indies. Two centuries ago, nature, which does not trouble herself about commerce, had planted neither sugar-cane nor coffee trees there.
predates the Heckscher–Ohlin model (which asserts that inequalities in wealth emerge from inequalities in factors of production, and thus implies that they are "natural") but offers a nice criticism of it anyway
Hickel goes on to say that the capital/labour inequalities between North and South are due to political reasons (differences in labour laws, unequal trade, colonialism, structural adjustment)