Connections get you the job in a corrupt organization, but they’ll get you absolutely nothing in a perfectly meritocratic organization (which doesn’t exist). In a perfectly normal organization, connections won’t get you the job, but they’ll get you the interview. In his controversial bestseller, In Praise of Nepotism (2003), Adam Bellow maintains that giving interviews primarily (or even exclusively) to people with connections is by and large a good thing. Despite what you might think, connections are an excellent filtering mechanism. What’s more, when you hire people with connections, the reputations of their connections are to some extent on the line. This gives everyone skin in the game. And that matters. Big time.
But of course, like all things human, hiring people with connections isn’t without its drawbacks. If people with connections are the only ones who get the interview, people with connections are the only ones who’ll ever get the job. For many organizations, this isn’t a problem; but for organizations like the CIA, it is. Soon after 9/11, the CIA realized that they needed to hire more sophisticated urban types from the coastal cities, more people with Arabic and Farsi. What’s more, they realized that they needed another corn-fed, blonde, blue-eyed Nebraska boy like they needed a hole in the head (they don’t blend in especially well overseas). If you wish to diversify your organization’s personnel, you have to interview people without connections.
In 1775, Samuel Johnson wondered at the hypocrisy of American slaveholders prating on and on about freedom: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Thinking along similar lines in 2017, we might reasonably ask: How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for meritocracy among people who got their jobs through connections? Once you let go of your attachment to that fiction known as the perfectly meritocratic organization, it’s easy to get over your resistance to affirmative action.
Can affirmative actions programs be gamed? Sure. Everything human can be gamed. Will the oppressed of today become the oppressors of tomorrow? Maybe. If they do, we’ll fight them. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Will minorities within your organization eventually become an entrenched interest group that fights to keep affirmative action in place long after its goals have been achieved? Probably. I’d expect nothing less (or more) from flawed human beings like me. But so what? That’s not a valid argument against affirmative action. It’s merely a sad reminder of the fact that the struggle for justice is without end.
—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)