Raoul Martinez, artist, philosopher and writer, at the Hay Festival on June 4, 2017 in Hay-on-Wye, United Kingdom.
David Levenson—Getty Images
By Ellen McGirt
Updated: January 10, 2018 2:16 PM ET

No essay today, because I’m working on a magazine feature – one that is sure to make the inclusion crowd quite happy. So, thanks for your patience.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a little inspiration from rising philosophy star, Raoul Martinez.

He’s a portrait painter, not an academic, so his new popularity has ruffled some feathers, evidently. But in his recent book, Creating Freedom, he explores the idea that as products of our distinct environments we all have different limits to our choices in how we navigate the world. He calls into question the idea of a level playing field, as well as the purpose of capitalism, the nature of criminal justice and of course, the flaws baked into the democratic process.

Think of it as a philosopher’s challenge to the pervasive myth of meritocracy.

His first insight came at a young age, according to this Guardian interview.

Martinez tells me of an epiphany he had walking home from school with a friend when he was aged 12 or 13. “He was religious and wanted to convince me that I should be, too. I wanted to convince him that his position wasn’t well grounded. Had he been born to a different family he would be arguing with exactly the same force for the opposite perspective. I don’t think the argument changed him, but it did change me. I realised my genes, my inheritance, being born in a particular point of history all made me. I keep returning to the question: how can we be free if we can’t control the forces that shape us?”

This charming short video, animated by Joe Bichard, is an easy way to wade into a very chewy topic.

“In the end, luck is what separates the rich from the poor, the saint from the sinner, the prisoner from the judge, the powerful and the powerless,” says Martinez. So where does meritocracy come into play?

Free your mind, then go dazzle them at the water cooler, philosopher-royals that you are.


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