Why do fools and scoundrels rule? To take one example, why did the George W. Bush Administration decide to invade Iraq, and then why did so many Democratic as well as Republican politicians go along with that decision, and why did so many liberal as well as conservative media figures encourage and justify that decision? It was clear to many informed outsiders that Iraq was impoverished by sanctions and no threat to the United States, was ideologically unaligned with Al Qaeda and not coordinating with them, had weapons programs that were unimpressive to begin with and had been substantially destroyed during the 1990s UN inspections. But insiders- even insiders who profess relatively anti-war beliefs today- almost all supported the war, and the more insidery they were, the more they supported it.
Is it that it takes a fool or a scoundrel to get close to power, since the fools and scoundrels that are already there will only trust one of their own kind? Or is it that power or proximity to power makes you a fool and a scoundrel? I imagine both are equally true.
Imagine a castle surrounded by agricultural land. The Castle was established where the land is richest, to allow the inhabitants easily and comfortably to support themselves, while the land further away is of poorer quality and is more exposed to raiders and bandits from the Forest Sauvage beyond.
Over time, many of the more clever and industrious peasants end up closer to the Castle, where though they must compete over a more narrow space, they benefit not only from the richer soil but from greater safety, and easy transport and trade with the Castle.
The peasants in the poorer agricultural land must decide if their personal advantages make it worthwhile to travel inward and fight it out with those who are already there, or stay where they are, and make do.
But those who are already within the Castle do not chiefly benefit from being clever or industrious. They benefit from being able to control the drawbridge over the moat, and the portcullis into the castle gate, and most of all they benefit from already being inside.
So surely sometimes it is to the Castle-dwellers’ benefit for the peasants to be clever and industrious, so that there is more food and tradeables to be had, but sometimes it is not to their benefit, since peasants who are too clever might find it preferable install themselves into the castle instead. And surely the bandits and raiders of the Forest Sauvage might, under some circumstances, be a danger and a problem, but under other circumstances be quite helpful in preventing the peasants from becoming too uppity and dangerous.
And what happens when the residents of the Castle are very good at working the gate and the drawbridge, and favoring the peasants who appear most helpful but still entirely harmless, to come inside with their flour and eggs and beer and bacon but not with spears and pikes? Surely those peasants who do best are those who are greatest at convincing the castle-dwellers that they have nothing to fear, and the Castle-dwellers do best when they cultivate such sycophants.
So meritocracy might rule when it comes to who ends up nearer or further from the castle (or then it might again not), but it will never determine who is allowed to come over the drawbridge, in through the gate, and allowed to see the Castle’s inside.