God of Reward

Limits of meritocratic motivation

Sender Spike
4 min readJul 4, 2023

Until 1311 CE, when cathedral in Lincoln, England was finished, Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest building in the world. It held this title for staggering more than 3800 years. It was build over a period of 27 years by a workforce of c. 10,000–20,000 conscript laborers located at the site in a city constructed especially for that purpose, and an army of logistic contractors who were responsible not only for transport of basic building materials from Egypt and luxury goods for decoration from Levant, but also food and other necessities for the workers.

The city of pyramid builders itself, today referred to as Heit el-Ghurab, included many features one would find in a city: bakeries, commissaries, kitchens, warehouses, small houses for working class, and stately homes and offices for site administrators. Excavations also revealed area for guards as well as massive royal silos where the grain was distributed in order to brew beer and bake the bread used to help feed this massive workforce.

The population of Egypt around 2500 BCE, that is in the era when the pyramid was constructed, is estimated at 1–3 million people. It’s not hard to imagine that almost all of Egypt was in one way or another involved in this vanity project. Looking at it from a different angle, Egyptian pharaohs and their administrations were obviously not complete idiots, because such enormous undertakings provided short-term socioeconomic stability in their domains for distinct periods of time.

In a sense, humanity never managed to move beyond that.

Just consider the Apollo program which lasted mere 11 years. As Richard Hollingham writes in his BBC article, “[a]t its height, NASA estimates that a total of 400,000 men and women across the United States were involved in the Apollo program. The number includes everyone from astronauts to mission controllers, contractors to caterers, engineers, scientists, nurses, doctors, mathematicians and programmers.

But even when you look at number of employees in the largest companies in the world, only Walmart and Amazon are around 1–2 million people and then the numbers sharply jump to around half a million and exponentially decay. Pretty much the same image as that of Egypt, only scaled up to 8 billion people.

One more thing to consider is that usual businesses have one huge minus as opposed to Egyptian pyramid builders and projects such as the Apollo program. That disadvantage is a lack of clear goal and ideology.

In case of Egypt it was obviously shared religion and in case of Apollo a “pioneer spirit” (which is sort of a “shared religion” for those who consider themselves descendants of US settlers) reenkindled by JFK in his historical speech. In practice, both translate to common enthusiasm. Of course, it would be naive to assume that all of the participants shared the same ideological zeal as most were indubitably motivated merely by their “fair share” from the “royal silos.”

On the other hand, and as it’s easy to see, corporations and businesses have no ideology to speak of, except that of glorification and veneration of value per hour expressed in money, and also obviously no clear end goal. There is no finish, only bottom line. And that’s hardly motivating, which may also explain the fact of enormous turnover rates all across the sectors as well as pronounced self-interest in motivation.

In any case, and as is obvious, with 8 billion people and counting, without a common goal, with merit as the only socioeconomic indicator, there is always an uncontrolled spiraling into chaos of jungle, and common goal projects, while still motivated primarily by the same socioeconomic factors, provide merely a short-term fix.

In other words, in neither of those scenarios there is a fixed rallying point that could bring humanity together in order to get us out of the grave we dug for ourselves. We simply have no common ground to tackle social disparities and rapidly changing environmental conditions. We have no social cohesion to implement lasting solutions which do exist, but lay dormant due to the aforementioned reasons.

It’s obvious that the rather perverse concept of earning a living, which was invented in Sumer and rules us ever since — the idea of merit derived from work, implemented in various forms and with numerous facelifts — is not functional. Not even if we are, for a limited time, hyped up by some lofty idea. That’s the intrinsic limit of meritocracy (on top of it being a breeding ground for corruption, nepotism, and so on).

The problem is, that all of our current social concepts (for c. six millennia) depend on intellectual familiarity and not on knowledge. And while knowledge inherently entails action, intellectual familiarity always relies on faith only, and is riddled with doubt. Hence, motivations ebb and flow.

Therefore, the only viable rallying point is the knowledge of self as there’s exactly where our common ground can be found.

People more often than not assume that it’s a process that takes decades or even generations, but the truth cannot be farther from that. Self-knowledge is a matter of choice. If you firmly decide today that you will know yourself, that you will see reality, be as it may, you will. If you cannot, it simply means that you still didn’t make the choice.

Yes, it’s really that simple and fast. While the problems facing us may seem complex and daunting, the solutions are mind-bogglingly trivial.

It’s enough to see through the illusion of value and subsequently stop measuring it with merit, put an end to assigning different worth to different facets of the universe while weighting them in gold, money, social credits, or even bowls of grain. If you cannot see that, you don’t know yourself, and that’s a demonstrable fact.

Perhaps it makes no sense to you, but rest assured — once you know yourself, you will understand.