You know, in the Middle Ages, in England, when you met a very poor person, that person would be described as an "unfortunate"
literally, somebody who had not been blessed by fortune, an unfortunate.
Nowadays, particularly in the United States, if you meet someone at the bottom of society,
they may unkindly be described as a "loser."
There's a real difference between an unfortunate and a loser,
and that shows 400 years of evolution in society and our belief in who is responsible for our lives.
It's no longer the gods, it's us. We're in the driving seat.
That's exhilarating if you're doing well, and very crushing if you're not.
It leads, in the worst cases -- in the analysis of a sociologist like Emil Durkheim
it leads to increased rates of suicide.
There are more suicides in developed, individualistic countries than in any other part of the world.
And some of the reason for that is that people take what happens to them extremely personally
they own their success, but they also own their failure.
Is there any relief from some of these pressures that I've been outlining? I think there is.
I just want to turn to a few of them. Let's take meritocracy.
This idea that everybody deserves to get where they get to, I think it's a crazy idea, completely crazy.
I will support any politician of Left and Right, with any halfway-decent meritocratic idea; I am a meritocrat in that sense.
But I think it's insane to believe that we will ever make a society that is genuinely meritocratic; it's an impossible dream.
The idea that we will make a society where literally everybody is graded,
the good at the top, bad at the bottom, exactly done as it should be, is impossible.
There are simply too many random factors:
accidents, accidents of birth, accidents of things dropping on people's heads, illnesses, etc.
We will never get to grade them, never get to grade people as they should.