The Art of the Good Life #43 : The Just World Fallacy


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This chapter serves to remind us that the world is amoral and that thinking that morality will win out in the end is a fallacy. The author emphasises that the world is actually unjust and that living stoically would actually result in much fewer disappointments.

One recent event that made quite a number of folks angry is NTU organising a job fair that is exclusive to students with the best grades. It’s quite easy to vilify NTU and say that doing this is incongruent with the Singapore’s recent attempts to reduce the elitism in society.

But just as hard it is for top students to boycott the event (who wouldn’t want an intimate session with an investment bank ?), NTU is in a battle against NUS and SMU for the best students from the local JCs and is already hampered by its poor physical location and super uncool ancient Chinese themed architecture. They have a duty to ensure that their students get noticed by the top companies.

It is also unfair to apply more pressure on our universities and not consider other stakeholders who are also at fault. I suspect the career fair is also supported by government agencies and MNCs. If HR can get direct access to the top cohort of a university, it may mean less effort interviewing new hires. This is why over a decade ago, my finance lecturer would brag about HR departments from Citibank wanting special access to the University Scholars who were studying in the Bizad faculty.

I believe that, over the short term, students will activate their Unions and launch into a pitched battle with their University Administration to ban such invite-only events only to see these career fairs being taken over by the private sector. Over time, though, there is nothing stopping our companies from holding an external event to invite local and foreign grads to a career fair, stipulating a minimum grade to qualify for admission to the fair itself. A paymaster can dictate the terms and have the right not to interview anyone with below average grades.

Which leads us to the question of whether grades truly lead to better performance at work.

I always believed that IT and Engineering are the least elitist of professions because they involve actually solving real problems or creating real products that has to be tested in the market.

In most other professions, the performance of a worker is often rather quite subjective. Two legal trainees can submit a research memo with basically the same legal argument but one submission may be subjectively viewed in a more favourable light because one trainee has been known to have better grades in school or comes from a more prestigious university. The Halo effect can be quite strong where the profession deals with subjective matters.

As angry as many NTU students are, I just cannot see how morality can win on this matter. In fact, I can see a lot of ugliness that can result if we clamp down on these events too aggressively.

With the current arrangement, there is a chance that the person with best grades will be matched with the best jobs. You don’t want to have a situation like in legal industry where training contracts or associate positions may be given not on the basis of grades, but by how much social capital the candidate has. This creates a huge advantage for a candidate who comes from a High SES background.

All this points to an uneasy conclusion.

When our leaders say that grades are not important and we should not be defined by our academic performance, gently smile and ignore the propaganda.

Continue to go all out to get the best grades, cultivating a strong CCA record whenever possible. Do all the previous year exam papers and try to internalise the material that is taught.

For those who are not academically inclined, go all out to develop your communications skills, doing everything in your power to turn yourself into the best salesman the world has ever seen.

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