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HomeNewsTyranny of Merit in USA v. India

Tyranny of Merit in USA v. India


judicial system

By       Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan 

The sum and substance of the long running  debate that Meritocracy should trump race-based criteria for admissions of students into schools and colleges in USA , has triumphed, as being constitutionally valid, by the judgment of US Supreme Court on 29th June,2023 in the Students for Fair Admissions case. The cause was pursued by asian americans , which included Indians too.  

The final stamp of imprimatur from SCOTUS, twenty years in coming, since the 2003 verdict authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Conor, has not ignored the debate on the ‘other side’, which academicians say is the ‘right side’. One is startlingly surprised that an Indian professor had long advocated ‘this side’ in India too. 

Before one tucks into ‘that side’, which in India,  is a political hot potato and may never happen,truth to tell, in all fairness, one may first allude to the Harvard Professor of Justice, the iconic rockstar, as he is called, Michael Sandel from his landmark work in ‘Tyranny of Merit’, on this sensitive debate. He and his erudite findings meant little to the law lords before SCOTUS,in rudely reversing the vote for affirmative action in Grutter v. Bolinger (2003). 

Sandel argues that Meritocracy is not the same as justice. Meritocracy is the idea that people should be rewarded based on their talent and effort. However, Sandel argues that this does not necessarily lead to a just society. He points out that people’s talents and opportunities are not distributed equally, and that some people are born with advantages that others do not have. As a result, a meritocratic system can lead to inequality and injustice.

The focus on merit can lead to a sense of entitlement among the winners. The winners in a meritocratic system are often those who have been born into privilege. They may believe that they deserve their success because they are smarter, harder working, or more talented than others. This can lead to a sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy for those who have not been as successful.

The focus on merit can lead to a sense of humiliation among the losers. The losers in a meritocratic system are often those who have been born into disadvantage. They may feel like they are failures because they have not been able to achieve the same level of success as others. This can lead to a sense of humiliation and a lack of motivation.

Sandel argues that we need to find a way to balance merit with other values, such as equality and solidarity. This means finding ways to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to succeed, regardless of their background. It also means finding ways to create a society where everyone feels like they are valued and respected, regardless of their level of success.

We need to find a way to rebuild a sense of community in our society. Sandel argues that we need to find a way to rebuild a sense of community in our society. He believes that a sense of community is essential for a just and sustainable society. It is what allows us to care for one another and to work together to solve common problems.

Sandel’s book has been praised by some for its insights into the problems of meritocracy. However, it has also been criticized by others for being too idealistic and for not offering any concrete solutions to the problems it identifies. Nevertheless, the book has sparked a much-needed conversation about the future of meritocracy and the role of education in a just society.

What then of the ‘concrete solutions’, Sandel missed out on? That is where our own late, lamented IIT Professor  P V Indiresan (PVI),comes  in. His ‘view’ is now the new flavor  of the season in USA . Not in India,surely not yet. PVI suggested  that interventions should start as early as possible, in the early years of schooling. This could involve providing additional support in the form of tutoring, remedial classes, or enrichment programs.

He believed  that (Science,Technology, Engineering,Mathematics) STEM education is essential for children from these communities to be competitive in the job market. He suggested  that schools should offer more STEM courses and extracurricular activities, and that teachers should be trained in STEM pedagogy.

He argued  that it is important for children from these communities to see role models who have succeeded in STEM fields. He suggested  that schools should invite STEM professionals from oppressed and backward classes to speak to students, and that they should create mentorship programs for students.

Professor Indiresan believed  that this three-pronged approach could help to close the educational gap between children from oppressed and backward classes and those from forward classes. He argued  that by providing early intervention, focusing on STEM education, and creating role models, we can give children from these communities the skills and confidence they need to succeed in school and in the workforce.

In addition to these three prongs, Professor Indiresan also suggested  that the government should provide financial assistance to families from oppressed and backward classes so that they can afford to send their children to school and pay for extracurricular activities. He also believed  that the government should invest in infrastructure, such as schools and libraries, in these communities.

Professor Indiresan’s proposal was met with mixed reactions,  nay  skeptical to derision and disdain. Most argued that his solutions were imbued with a class construct and skewed social Justice. His suggestions got no traction whatever, despite  his honest, good and noble intentions, as  only a few   agreed  with his assessment of the problem and believed  that his proposed solutions were sound and pragmatic. 

After SCOTUS gutting  of affirmative action, which has popular appeal with two thirds of Americans, in the wake of Tyranny of Merit prognostications of Prof. Sandel, Prof. P V Indiresan’s solution is now the  flavor of the season, in the land of the free. Strange! 

(Writer is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court


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