Kungfu meritocracy

I refer to the 27 Apr 2014 TR Emeritus article “Potential PAP MP upset about not getting P5 math prize”.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong claimed that giving the Math prize to another pupil who scored half a mark less than him in Primary 5 went against fair play and meritocracy. Mr Chong has failed, after all these years, to understand his teacher’s important lesson on the philosophy of meritocracy in society.

Meritocracy in society is very different from the meritocracy of winning Math prizes which is more like sports where the winner takes all and nobody remembers the Silver medalist. But meritocracy in society is not winner takes all. If society is run as winner takes all, there will be riot and society will collapse. The best lawyer doesn’t take all the cases; the best doctor doesn’t perform all the surgeries. The spoils of this country are shared by all in proportion to each individual’s respective contribution. So if Mr Chong performed half a percent better than his counterpart for example, he should get half a percent more than his counterpart. He should not be getting everything while his counterpart gets nothing. Singaporean meritocracy is quite often elitism in disguise as the winner takes much more than a fair share of what he deserves while the loser takes much less than a fair share of what he deserves.

Mr Chong shared the beauty of meritocracy as working hard and grabbing the opportunities given to you. Sadly after all these years, Mr Chong still does not understand that “opportunities given to him” is based less on meritocracy and more on relationships. Mr Chong gave the example of how the hero in Chinese sword fighting novels always get taught by skillful old pugilistic masters after showing perseverance and sincerity. Has Mr Chong forgotten how one hero had to rely on his wife’s close relationship with a pugilistic master and bribery in the form of delicious cooked food before the master was willing to teach the hero? Has Mr Chong forgotten about another hero who merely stumbled upon an opportunity to absorb tremendous amounts of “internal energy”? Mr Chong’s romanticized version of meritocracy makes one wonder if he is not another elitist divorced from the true principles of meritocratic society.


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