Noah Millman rounds up all the links to the Saletan and McWhorter back and forth over the racial achievement gap. Millman interjects:
I want to ask a question with more complex ramifications. How committed should we be, as a society, to the identification of fairness with meritocracy? “Fairness” is a bedrock principle for a healthy society; a society that abandons any pretense at treating members fairly won’t be a society at all for very long. But “meritocracy” means much more than this: it specifies how rulers are to be chosen, and how goods are to be distributed, and, in our society, says that it is right and fair for rulers to be chosen and goods to be distributed according to a scale in which talent, and particularly talent at passing tests, predominates.
And there are social systems that work differently that distribute goods and power based on seniority, or brute strength, or social position, or deeds of honor, or demonstrated piety, or, for that matter, from each according to his ability to each according to his need. I’m not arguing here for any of these alternatives, or for any other one that I haven’t mentioned. I’m merely pointing out that both McWhorter and Saletan implicitly endorse that identification of “fairness” with “meritocracy” and that, if the problems they are both concerned with prove to be as persistent and difficult as they both fear, that identification will probably need to be questioned.