ramblings on PHP, SQL, the web, politics, ultimate frisbee and what else is on in my life

Understanding what is wrong with meritocracy (part one)

Being fair is very important to me. I have however not really devoted my life to determining what the definition of fairness is, I mostly rely on my gut feeling here, like I assume most people do. In that sense I also accept that fairness, how most people apply it, is based on social conventions and personal experience. Both of which are not necessarily "just" in that social conventions often simply keep the ignorance of the past alive and personal experiences are essentially a social experiment with insufficient data. However I also assume that not leveraging social conventions or personal experience would make my daily life impossible as I would be overwhelmed with all the decision making. But if we choose to not challenge us in our daily life out of convenience, we should at least review our decision framework at regular times, especially by actively trying to expand our personal experience with the experiences of others.

Open source software development is without a doubt one of my big passions. What I enjoy most about it are three things: the intellectual exchanges, the intercultural collaboration and the empowerment it provides for people around the world. Especially in regards to "intercultural" the demographics in the open source world, especially in the western world, obviously do not represent the demographics in the real world and that of course diminishes on of the three aspects that attracted me to open source to begin with. Even if open source has enabled me to travel around the world both physically and virtually, I believe that the status quo is not ideal. In fact I also see this as unfair. Meaning its not just that it diminishes my enjoyment of participating in the open source world, I acknowledge that its an injustice that it seems that others are not getting an equal chance to at least enjoy the other positive aspects of open source development. So I would like to see this changed.

Within my twitter timeline I see quite a few people linking to articles such as "The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community" and "The Dehumanizing Myth of the Meritocracy" that argue that meritocracy, the predominant decision structure in open source, is inherently flawed for two reasons: 1) merit isn't sufficiently objectively assessed to give marginalized groups equal opportunity and 2) that it perpetuates elitism and more specifically rationality over humanity. Now to me meritocracy isn't key to my enjoyment of open source directly but I have always held it as one of the key contributors to both the intellectual as well as the cultural exchange aspects. The statements in the linked articles put the fact if open source has truly achieved a cultural exchange into question and to some extend questions the motivation for the intellectual exchange as potentially wrong in and of itself. That is some pretty fundamental criticism of one of my biggest passions. Meaning it is very important to be able to address this and take necessary actions based on the expanded understanding I will hopefully gain.

I will try to post about my findings. I assume that as I dive into this, I will say wrong things or more importantly I will say things where I have simply not yet understood the entire picture yet. I welcome criticism but I hope that people will refrain from attacking my character and instead address my particular statements. I have come to realize that the shortness of twitter messages often times make such differentiation impossible and as such discussions especially about this topic have gone of course from the original intention, i.e. they turned into insults or people pit opinions against each other needlessly resulting in defensiveness (which often results in counter attacks that spiral downward) rather than in an environment of safety required for a dialog about questioning fundamental aspects of ones passion. I will see if a blog serves as a better platform than twitter.


Re: Understanding what is wrong with meritocracy (part one)

"The Tyranny of Structurelessness" http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm is an excellent piece regarding this topic. I heard about it from Laura Thomson on /dev/hell and I have re-read it a few times now.

Re: Understanding what is wrong with meritocracy (part one)

The link Paul shared is a great one to start from.

This is an area I've been pushing back on for some time in the Drupal world. For copious background information, I've collected a history of Drupal governance discussions of the past half decade, many of which touch on this topic either directly or in a round-about way.


In particular, the presentation I gave in Amsterdam included a number of links and resources that are worth following up on. I'll especially call out Ashe Dryden's article, linked there.

In short, "meritocracy" and its cousin "do-ocracy" are more trouble than their worth at best, and outright lies at worst. :-)