This year has not taught me anything new, but has rather brushed the dust off an old set of beliefs. A belief that life is much less a meritocratic endeavour than a succession of events in which luck plays a decisive role. In the past, this luck was often attributed to elements, gods, or God.
In our secular contemporary society even the word luck contained too many connotations of “magic thinking”. With “reason” and “logic” becoming the unshakeable foundations of our society, words that evoke too much vagueness or suggest a lack of human agency such as luck have been replaced with merit. Hence the claim that we live in a meritocracy. That those who have all the riches have achieved this status through the merit of their hard work, dedication, or “God-given” talent. I’m unsure whether those who utter these last words are aware of their inherent irony.
It follows this logic that those who are poor, destitute, or marginalised have only themselves to blame. Or in a even more cynical interpretation, they merit any suffering or hardship. I believe that that the cementation of the concept of merit is what enables capitalism and its exploitative nature to thrive and to expand across the globe. Those nations and individuals who own this wealth, at the detriment of other nations and the rest of the global population deserve to be there. Their status stems from their hard work, dedication, ruthlessness or savvy decision making, and to that alone. Luck is never uttered in the sentences that describe the achievements of these great nations or individuals, past and present.
Surely, we can all agree, as sentient beings whose daily experiences have been shaped by events and a combination of factors, that our highs and lows all hold a degree of luck in determining their outcome. We cannot say that we merit to be born into wealth — though many will argue against this—or that we merit to grow up with a clean bill of health. And if you disagree with this, explain to us how one merits to be born in poverty, or how a child merits to be born with a rare condition or form of cancer.
The element of luck has been interpreted in many ways, and one of its most influential interpretations has been the faith in a monolithic God. This God comes in many shapes, forms, and names, but the concept remains wildly universal. However secular our society becomes this old interpretation of luck can still be heard in modern events. How many great individuals have praised God when receiving an honour distinguishing them…