Category: Shifting Perspectives Written by Nimue Brown
I’ve been talking recently about meritocracy. I feel strongly that for meritocracy to work, one of the things we would have to do is give up the story of the lone genius. It’s not a true story, but it is a story that feeds into the idea that some people are more entitled to lead than others.
Historically the lone genius has often been a man. Presenting him as a lone genius disappears from the story the ways in which that wasn’t true. We’re hearing more of the real stories now. There are many examples, historical and contemporary. Over here there’s one about John Le Carre and his wife.
We might think about the way economist Adam Smith lived with his mum and completely ignored the role of unpaid labour (usually undertaken by women) in his economic models. Thoreau also left his mum’s critically important efforts out of his descriptions of living in a cabin and being a poet.
No one is brilliant all by themselves. At the very least everyone is stood on the shoulders of the people who went before them in their field. We’re all shaped and influenced by the ideas, beliefs and actions of others. We overlook and downplay the role of supporting workers. But to clean the lab, or stop the scientist having a meltdown because they’ve not eaten properly, is also critically important.
It’s important to name the team, and to acknowledge the community that makes anything possible. I’ve tried to be explicit about this around my own writing. I’m very aware of the people who make my work possible. The people who taught me as a younger human. The people who inspire me. The people who provide technical support, and practical support.
Ideas, experts, creativity and all of that depend on community. When we put the community back into the story, then meritocracy will work in an entirely different way, I suspect.
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