Somebodies and Nobodies: That's how author and professor Robert Fuller described "Rankism." Fuller suggested Rankism is what "Somebodies" do to those they perceive as "Nobodies."
While many may say Rankism is human nature, consider this: Not too many years ago, other "isms" existed and were widely accepted - racism, whites actively discriminated against non-whites; or sexism, males disadvantaging or limiting women. I don't think anyone would disagree we have made great progress in reducing discrimination and I doubt anyone would suggest returning to these openly egregious practices.
If Rankism can be named and acknowledged, presumably it can be illuminated or reduced. We broke the back of racism and sexism by telling the truth. At one time it was commonly held non-whites were inferior to whites in a variety of ways. Once proven invalid, this myth and many others died. Many believed women were the "weaker sex" and couldn't handle stress or make well reasoned critical judgments. These lies were also proven wrong. The purveyors of discrimination sought an advantage by devaluing others.
It will be more difficult to diminish Rankisim. Rankisim is rooted in issues like privilege by birth or inheritance. Rankisim is also driven by predation, a leftover from the days when man was the hunted and not the hunter. We do prey on animals; unfortunately, we also prey on each other to get an advantage over the next guy.
At its heart, Rankism's purpose is to "fix" the game so the "Somebodies" always win. These fixes are manifested in many ways; some are more subtle than others.
When Ivy League colleges provide "legacy" admissions, they are fixing the game in my opinion. Legacy admissions are based on having a father, mother or grandparent who previously attended the school. Many educational historians say the origins of legacy admissions were discriminatory in nature. It is believed Ivy League schools utilized legacy admissions to keep non-whites, Jews and poor people from gaining admission. While exact numbers are not available, one researcher found only about 40 percent of Ivy League admissions were open to competition based on educational merit.
Politics also provides many opportunities for fixing the game and providing an unfair advantage to those that are politically connected, sometimes with disastrous results. When Michael Brown was appointed the director of FEMA, his premier qualifications were he was the college roommate of the former FEMA director and a political party insider. Brown presided over the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history and was woefully unprepared. This time, the fix may have cost some people their lives.
Rankism erodes solidarity, degrades the common good, and destroys creativity, innovation and excellence.Rankism will die eventually - it must.
Nations and cultures that stop Rankism will begin to out-compete everyone else and will force other cultures to change to stay competitive. It will take the participation of everyone to solve the problems we and future generations are facing. We will not be able to afford to deny the best minds entrance to the best colleges based on poverty, race, pedigree, gender or religion.
In the process of moving toward a necessary meritocracy, we will give many more people a chance to matter, to be "Somebody." This critical paradigm shift could provide the intellectual energy and moral compass necessary to surmount the challenges that now confront us. Remember, all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org