This quote from the New York Times article has been troubling me for the last day or so:
“Japan has become considerably self-centered, meritocratic and egotistic,” said the principal, Kenji Tamiya, 72, a former Sony executive.
Ok, so I can understand how self-centeredness and egotism are not necessarily good for a society, but what is so bad about meritocracy? Maybe there is something lost in translation here.
According to the Oxford American Dictionary:
meritocracy |ˈmɛrəˌtɑkrəsi| noun ( pl. -cies) government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. • a society governed by such people or in which such people hold power. • a ruling or influential class of educated or skilled people. DERIVATIVES meritocratic |ˈmɛrədəˌkrødɪk| adjectivemeritocracy |ˈmɛrəˌtɑkrəsi| noun ( pl. -cies) government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. • a society governed by such people or in which such people hold power. • a ruling or influential class of educated or skilled people. DERIVATIVES meritocratic |ˈmɛrədəˌkrødɪk| adjective
This definition of meritocracy sounds pretty fair to me. Of course, even the most egalitarian societies have their elites, but at least meritocracies mitigate the fossilization of these elite groups by allowing for some degree of vertical social mobility. Surely, a former Sony executive like Kenji Tamiya isn’t advocating a paleo-conservative return to the old four-tiered 士農工商 (Samurai-Farmers-Craftsmen-Merchants) rigid social caste system of the feudal past.
But if not meritocracy, then what? Isn’t meritocracy supposed to figure in an egalitarian society. Or does he advocate clining on to the so-called “Japanese Model” of promotion by seniority within a protective coccoon of lifetime employment? Surely even this model is essentially elitist, since it only applied to fulltime employees of certain large corporations and the government bureaucracy. I’m sure it has benefited people like Kenji Tamiya.
Now, I find it really hypocritical that old, rich Japanese men of influence are criticizing today’s youth of being “self-centered” or “materialistic.” After all, they belong to a line of leaders from the post-War to the present day, who have placed economic development above all else. Not bad for getting Japan back on its feet economically after WWII, but when does this steamroller stop? I am talking about the mismanagement and big business/government cronyism that has resulted in weak civil society, fossilized gender inequality, the continued marginalization of minorities like the Burakumin and Japanese Koreans, the castrated labor movements and lame Left, not to mention the sodomizing of the environment. Harsh words, yes. But how dare these old guys criticize the Japanese youth of today, when it has been young people and consumer culture in general that have made these guys rich?