Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred.

–Ayn Rand,“The Soul of an Individualist,” For the New Intellectual

You cannot create passion and talent. But you can destroy them. When people are punished for their virtues, such as the drive to excel and to work hard, then passion and talent become liabilities.

Sometimes people persist for the sheer joy of creation, for the fulfillment of doing work they love. Because that’s when the magic happens, when neurons snap in your brain and fingertips tingle with excitement. Most of the time, however, people walk away, refusing to become a pawn in a rigged game. Or they become so hollowed out that the passion within dies and dampens the spark of life. Society is impoverished and life rendered less remarkable with every single departure because society is only the sum total of the individuals who comprise it.

America is actively punishing the best and brightest, the most productive and passionate in a drive for a vicious egalitarianism. Consider the situation at University of Wisconsin–Madison where a new vista of affirmative action is being opened. A July 18 headline in the National Review read, “University of Wisconsin Faculty Votes to Apportion Grades by Race.“

The article explains, “Earlier this year, the University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty senate adopted a new “Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence.” One of the policies is a cry for “representational equity.” The term is defined as “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

Awards for participation: a newer American phenomenon.

On July 16, The Pope Center, an organization dedicated to promoting academic excellence in higher education, ran an article by UW – Madison professor W. Lee Hansen. He wrote,

“Professors, instead of just awarding the grade that each student earns, would apparently have to adjust them so that academically weaker, ‘historically underrepresented racial/ethnic’ students perform at the same level and receive the same grades as academically stronger students.

“At the very least, this means even greater expenditures on special tutoring for weaker targeted minority students. It is also likely to trigger a new outbreak of grade inflation, as professors find out that they can avoid trouble over ‘inequitable’ grade distributions by giving every student a high grade.”

Hansen also commented on the policy’s call for “proportional representation…in high demand majors,” such as computer engineering.

“[T]he obsession with all those non-academic details about students comes with a cost—the cost of good students who are not admitted because they don’t seem ‘diverse’ enough. Also, some of the preferred, ‘diverse’ students will be admitted with significantly weaker academic capabilities than their classmates.”

Social justice programs are gutting the quality of American education while making tuition and fees soar. A constant complaint of employers is that degree-holding job applicants cannot spell, compose a grammatical sentence or perform their job descriptions at a basic level. Many financial advisers now say that avoiding a college education is a better path to success. How did America get to the point where it is discriminating against excellence because it is excellence?

Affirmative action is one of the key social programs responsible for higher education being decoupled from success in life. From its early roots as an attempt to impose non-discrimination, it has morphed into “diversity programs” which mandate discrimination in favor of certain racial groups and of low achievers.

The process started in March 1961, when President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925. It required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

The goal seemed fair enough; tax money should not be distributed based on race. (Of course, it should be not distributed or collected at all.) But almost immediately – in the same year as the executive order – ‘civil rights’ and black rights organizations cried out for discrimination rather than its absence. For example, a National Urban League official told a congressional committee that “being colorblind” was not enough or even a virtue. “What we need to be is positively color-conscious.”

From an equality of opportunity (albeit, and alas, a government enforced one), affirmative action hit the fast-track to social engineering in order to achieve an equality of results. The absence of equal results would soon be viewed as prima facie evidence of discrimination in employment, education, housing, credit… across the social and economic board.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King famously stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He advocated a meritocracy because he knew it would be the most just society in which his children could live and grow.

Meritocracy: the concept is now as anathema as cannibalism and often for similar reasons. People equate it with elites who feast off power and privilege while the worker ants live in squalor and labor. But by meritocracy, I mean a society in which people advance based on their own efforts; where children are judged by their character and their achievements.

The key difference between the two views of meritocracy is one question. How did any single individual acquire the advantages of wealth and status he enjoys? Market meritocracy refers to advantages that are justly earned on the free market or are gifts from others who justly earned them. It refers to people who rise because they are skilled and diligent about providing services and goods that others want; such people enrich society. By contrast, coerced meritocracy comes from using force or fraud – especially through political connections and legal privileges. These elites trade no services or goods but drain strength from those who do; they gulp down taxes and divert private sector wealth into scams like monopolies; such people impoverish society.

America has moved from being a largely market meritocracy to being a coerced one. The politicians and politically-connected who rose through corruption and theft also made sure they had a loud microphone. They distract attention from their own stolen wealth and power by pointing a finger and shouting at the private sector. While she cried out at companies who evade their taxes, earlier this year Hillary Clinton publicly claimed she was“dead broke.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg (July 21) pointed out, “Hillary Clinton has earned at least $12 million in 16 months since leaving the State Department, a windfall at odds with her party’s call to shrink the gap between the rich and the poor. “

The elite Clinton represents a coerced meritocracy that cannot live in peace or in parallel with a market one. And, so, she blames the market place for the societal problems that she and her ilk have caused, all the while hoping Americans are distracted enough to buy that she is “dead broke” and only “a public servant.” So far, it seems to be working.

But there is only so long that the true merit of society can be destroyed before the lights and color of that society drains away to grayness. America is going gray as its vitality is being demonized and siphoned.