Life under Meritocracy -- embodied edition

I am a dutch white guy from a lower middle class family, among the first in my extended family to go to uni, who was strongly encouraged to embrace petit-bourgeois (Calvinist) cultural values and aspirations, in a Dutch society that does the same. As a youth, I encountered few positive role models or like-minded folks, while I got lots of confirmation that I was different, which I didn't know what to do with. Due to social awkwardness, some early bullying and the like, and because I equated social status, likability and attractiveness, I also long doubted both my general likability and physical attractiveness. This gave me the freedom to not care much about people's appearance beyond basic hygiene, as I saw these as facts of life for everyone.

The above strongly contributed to my preferring my own company, because most of my efforts to connect with people were rather unsuccessful, as they mostly didn't seem to know what to make of my interests, while I was mostly unable to coherently explain why I cared about the things I care about. Overall, it was a fairly lonely time, especially in primary school and university. As a result, I now experience relatively little 'social' pressure, although I should say that I've become a bit opener and more self-confident since meeting my partner over a decade ago, and I am much more comfortable with my interests, and my life choices thus far.

On this blog, I will mostly discuss ideas, values and institutional structures at an abstract level, while spending fairly little time talking about the personal(ity) level impacts of living in a world in which we're constantly encouraged (and encouraging ourselves) to conform in different ways, and in which certain traits and types of behavior are treated as preferable over others. Yet life under meritocracy also has pretty significant consequences for how we think about and perceive our bodies, and how we feel about and present ourselves, and so on. And since (luckily) not everyone functions the way I do, I figured it might be helpful for me to try to illustrate how this works in different ways. :)

To this end, I highly recommend you watch or listen to this panel discussion, both to get a sense of what life is like for these others, and because it may help you to look at your own life and choices differently. Speaking for myself, I find like bell hooks's suggestion to always look at issues through different lenses in turn (with the main ones being summed up in the splendid phrase Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy) quite useful, even though there of course are a few other lenses we might add to it. Implicitly as well as explicitly, the discussion between the speakers gets at a lot of the stuff I'm trying to get at in this blog, in a manner I find quite interesting and engaging, both because they're all confident and lucid speakers, and because they're very aware of the impact of norms and expectations on their and our lives, who were motivated and able to push back against them.

Permalink - Published on Feb 7, 2018, 10:00:00 AM

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