Every, society must assign rankings to its members. Among gregarious animals
there are orders of status that are fought over. The strongest is the boss.
This also occurs among human beings as, for instance, in street gangs of young
people. In general, though, this turns out to be impracticable since more is
involved than mere muscle power. Other criteria have to be sought. Heredity
plays a special role in traditional societies. The oldest son inherits the farm,
the title, and authority. There is wisdom in that since conflicts are avoided. Violence must not be employed to contest decisions that derive
from nature itself.
In modern industrial society, with its high degree of division of labor and
adaptation to rapid change, the criteria of heredity alone again turn out to be
impracticable. The fact that someone is his father's oldest son scarcely
guarantees that he is not a fool who will ruin the farm, the firm, or the state.
For that reason, the old natural criteria increasingly seem unjust and are being
replaced by new and artificial yardsticks.
These latter include the principle of achievement determined through
competition. This can be illustrated by way of sport. A stop-watch or tape
measure can be used to as- certain beyond question whoever runs fastest or jumps
furthest, and whoever is the victor or the champion. It is hardly a matter of
chance that competitive sports exert such great fascination.
Wherever the stop-watch and the tape measure are insufficient because
intelligence or attributes of character are required for specific tasks, the gap
is filled by a test. The development of tests in a diversity of forms and applications, ever more elaborated, is logical since
what is required is to separate the suitable from the unsuitable, and to find the right man for
the right position.
Anyone who protests and rebels, saying something like, 'The achievement principle
is invalid since in reality only success decides', gets entangled in contradictions. Such object-
ions only pressurize people into making the criteria even more precise, into improving the
initial opportunities for the many over the few and into further perfecting the tests. The
"tested" man demonstrates our society's striving towards justice. Is there any alternative?
Should we once again give preference to the principle of inheritance, or of membership of
church or party?
The problem lies elsewhere. My thesis is that this equitable society where everyone -
thanks to tests - gets a suitable position would be a completely inhumane society. After all,
what becomes in such a society of people who achieve little - the handicapped, the ill, the
failures, the old people? Even the greatest achievers must be filled with fear of not making
the grade. We know that some time we will weaken, and that each of us will succumb.
Viewed in that way, the many psychological illnesses, depression and aggression and resort
to alcohol and drugs are all too understandable.
Material provision is not enough. Even though our society could not have
developed and cannot survive without the achievement principle, it also cannot
remain in existence on that basis alone. The achievement principle must be
complemented and balanced by a counter principle -- the principle of love. That
entails an incalculable and infinite value, taking precedence over and above all achievements, being man's due, every man's need.
The principle of love cannot be measured or proved but only believed in. Arguments
can be brought forward on its behalf only if there exists a foundation beyond social calculations.
Taken literally, the principle of love is the consideration for the superfluous. In practical terms it appears to achieve nothing, and not to be necessary. If, however, our society is
to remain humane or to become humane again, it is indeed the superfluous that turns out to
be necessary and absolutely crucial for existence.