Very interesting discussion. I would say that while there are some who "inherited meritocracy", others are still able to achieve by the combination of talent, ability, and effort. My father was a blue collar worker who advanced to a management position. My siblings and I had vastly different career trajectories. The youngest (48) of us is making below the poverty line. The oldest (67) is retired from a six figure profession. The other 2 are somewhere in between. We all had to make our own way with no financial help from our parents. We are all talented and gifted with abilities. The difference has been effort, personality, and life choices.

We shouldn't discourage anyone from believing in themselves or make them feel hopeless. If you don't give up on yourself, you have a chance.

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An Emersonian family!

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I think the inherited wealth based on the merit of others has created a sort of pervasive cultural anthropological pathology: America has made a strange move backward from a "guilt culture" to a "shame culture." In a guilt culture one is only culpable for not doing what one should, and that can be rectified by doing what one should. Guilt depends on autonomy. Guilt is always a consequence of a voluntary behavior or lack of behavior. If you do not study and you receive a D. Study and then you can receive an A. The guilt we feel can be repaired by doing the right thing. In a guilt culture reward is also based on a presumption of autonomy. You can do it if you try-ism. This is of course a myth to a degree, but it is a long standing American myth at least as long as Ralph Waldo Emerson's thoughts on Self Reliance in the 1830's.

In a shame culture, on the other hand, you are what you have done. And it is irremediable. You are stained by your actions. Your flesh defines you. If you receive a D you are a D. Shame is not dependent on autonomy. If someone hurts your feelings in a shame culture you really only have two choices: hate yourself or the person who shamed you, since it is not your fault it is your you. Shame is built on inherent dignity beyond reason, beyond action. Shame has no cure since it is an irreparable stain of your character. In a shame culture you are defined by your social status, your race, your parents, your failures, their failures, your looks and even your test scores in math. In shame culture we do not identify ourselves by our freely chosen deeds but by our identity and the politics of identity that causes our deeds. So why are we stuck here now? Well, would you give a student who needs to know more math a bad grade if it was only going to shame that student and not motivate the student to study harder? Better to just blame math itself or the culture that values math. That is shame culture par excellence.

Shame culture: you can't fix stupid. Guilt culture: there is no stupid just lack of self reliance.

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