when we start thinking in terms of deserve we are already up to our collective testicles in fallacious thinking.
the first mistake is to believe we live in a meritocracy. if you still suffer from that delusion i invite you to graduate from high school. worse still is to believe that merit itself is some sort of driving force that permeates and binds the social world together. merit is only an abstract idea, it has no agency of its own. at best merit can be imagined as a form of consensus, at worst a benevolent authority actively reordering causality in our favour.
an illustrative example of this reordering is the just-turned-sixteen-year old stomping their feet in an empty driveway. why hasnt an automobile materialised on their big day? they took all the right steps, namely surviving a hundred and ninety-two months. even though there is no actual causal relationship between age and vehicle ownership, if you believe that once you turn sixteen you deserve a car, you are inferring there is. and you probably also suck. by saying ‘i deserve’ you are appealing to merit as though it was a concrete authority with the ability to intercede in your life and rectify the perceived misallotments. merit has no existence outside of those who have the ability to bestow it. now, your initial response to this might be that the kid just doesnt deserve it. he’s done nothing for it, hasn’t earned it, doesnt need it. its my argument that none of these factors matter.
it is seductive to see merit as an objective, impartial, and consistent agent of equality. wouldnt it be nice if there was some nurturing force out there making sure everyone played nice? but your mom just isnt here bro, stop looking for her. we fool ourselves into thinking that merit operates under fixed and, even more delusional, discernible laws. in other words, we not only believe that life is a fair game but that we have figured out the rules. this perspective is particularly flawed because it fuels the belief that, in order to get what you want, you merely need to design your life in accordance to these laws.
underlying this approach to life is a latent belief that merit behaves like a natural force such as those explained by physics. as the laws of physics binds the physical world together so we believe merit binds the social world. then like an engineer who designs a bridge in compliance with the laws of physics, we plan our own lives guided by our unfounded belief in the laws of merit. as though we ourselves were building a bridge, we approach success as merely a series of necessary steps performed in an prescribed order. we believe that if we live in accordance with the laws of merit our bridge will stand. and then this happens …
the difference is that unlike physics there are no real laws to merit. again, the closest we come is consensus, which by its very nature is in a state of flux, therefore, impossible to codify. the only thing keeping that bridge up is how well its construction obeys the laws of physics. when a bridge collapses it’s not because someone changed the laws of physics when nobody was watching.
yet when some aspect of our own life collapses isnt that how we often respond? as if some immutable law had somehow been transgressed? if we view merit as having the same character as physical laws of nature we react one of two ways. we continue to believe that the world is a fair place and we simply didn’t deserve happiness. we are probably being punished for that time we stole the fat kids three musketeers bar in grade three. how many times do we have to apologize for that? or conversely, we straight up lose our shit. when something unfair happens, we act as baffled as if a steel bridge had spontaneously dissembled and rearranged itself into a giant spire bearing a resemblance to an outstretched middle finger. we act as if the physical laws of nature have been broken. the apple has floated back up to the tree. it defies belief.
or we realise that opinion without power is nothing but a fart in the wind and thats all believing you ‘deserve’ anything is.