[...] 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
[...] The lineage of the control and ownership of land traced back invariably to violence. Behind possession of any sort: dispossession. Today's notion that wealth testified and attached to merit - to the quality of ideas and tenacity of labor - made an attractive but thin veneer on the true store of wealth accumulated in earlier dispossessions. It was this capital, after all, that invested in the good ideas and profited from the hard work of others. We held out hands to catch the crumbs falling from the master's table and called it meritocracy. [...]
[...] As union jobs have disappeared, participation in the labor force, the political system, and cultural affairs is increasingly regulated by professional guilds that require their members to spend the best years of life paying exorbitant tolls and kissing patrician rings. Whatever modest benefits accreditation offers in signaling attainment of skills, as a ranking mechanism it’s zero-sum: the result is to enrich the accreditors and to discredit those who lack equivalent credentials.
Jean Baudrillard once suggested an important correction to classical Marxism: exchange value is not, as Marx had it, a distortion of a commodity’s underlying use value; use value, instead, is a fiction created by exchange value. In the same way, systems of accreditation do not assess merit; merit is a fiction created by systems of accreditation. Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly —and very dimly —a system for imparting knowledge.
But we didn't have a term for "meritocracy" until the twentieth century, when the British sociologist and politician Michael Young wrote a book in 1958 warning of how dangerous the world's relatively new method of establishing status might be. In his novel The Rise of the Meritocracy, Young portrayed a dystopian Britain in which status based on birth and lineage was replaced by status based on education and achievement. Young wasn't advocating for a return to the old system, but he did see grave dangers in the new embrace of meritocracy, eerily predicting that in this new world, status would still be accessible only to a select few: those who had access to elite education. As a result, meritocracy would produce a new social stratification and a sense of moral exceptionalism.
Though Young's book was meant as a cautionary satire, the idea of meritocracy took off, all negative connotations forgotten, as the term for a new equality of opportunity [...]
That's when Young penned an op-ed for the Guardian in which he confessed he was "sadly disappointed" by his book's effect. "It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit," he wrote. "It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room it in it for others ... If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get. They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the benefitciares of neptosim. The newcomesr can actually believe they have morality on their side. As a result, general inequality has been becoming more grievous with every year that passes."