Truth. We always want the thing that isn't easy to get, because getting it becomes an accomplishment, something that sets us ahead of the pack - whether it's a peerage, a person everyone wants to date, or an A in Torts ( silverstah, represent!), if we can get it when others can't, it's special and it makes us special.
I think this is such a universally ingrained trait that no matter what people try to do to neutralize competition, competition will always exist. The resentment is simply a part of that competition - who doesn't dislike being told that other people are doing better? Losing at Monopoly, reading the alumni newsletter and seeing the person you thought was such a loser is now a multimillionaire, seeing someone else get that award you want very, very badly...
Admit it - even if you're cool with the whole not getting an award thing, when some idiot who can't make a push-pin and eraser pig gets a Laurel for something, it stings (especially if it's something you're good at!). Whether they deserve it or not, the social recognition has advanced that person. I think a lot of the real deep bitterness one sees from some people is rooted in the perception of someone else getting the coveted prize that should have been yours (FYI, we don't have a limit on awards - someone else being elevated doesn't mean there's one less award available). I understand this - I think it's a more harmful internalization than people realize, but I do understand it.
However, to change the system and give the award to anyone who thinks they deserve it simply leaves a vacuum where another system of perceived superiority will slip in and take hold. Such as - if you award peerages based solely on time served (which means, like many Government promotions, one simply needs to hang around long enough to qualify), then the peerages will more consciously rank themselves in levels of peer-ness. This happens now - there are better peers and lesser peers (it's not spoken about, but it happens) - but it would become much more pronounced. No matter what you do, strata will emerge, and not everyone will be on top.
People scream about this, but it's a societal thing, and one you would have to suppress to Harrison Bergeron-like levels to stop. I'm even going to be controversial here, and say that the people who resent it most vocally would not feel the same way about the system if they were on top. It's not that there's anything ugly in their nature, it's because it's natural to dislike being at a lower social level. Communism could be described as a giant snit by the Proletariat resentful of the higher social level of the Bourgeoisie. The pervasiveness of social caste can be seen in how the Communist Regime immediately sorted itself into privileged and unprivileged classes, while pretending everyone was equal. You can take away the names, but the attitudes remain. Remove the "specialness" of one type of an award, and another will move in to take its place.
I don't think it's wrong in the least to aspire for the top level in anything - if you don't shoot for the top, you have no reason to push yourself to become better at your chosen thing. But striving to be something is different from claiming you deserve something, and I think it is the expectation of the award as the only validation that makes some people so bitter. If you are truly that level, then people know - and a medallion around your neck means nothing that your actions and works didn't already say much, much louder.
In my experience, the people who drape themselves in every award they have, mention their awards within seconds of speaking, and generally throw their "peer weight" around aren't the ones at the top - they're the ones who can't get people to listen to them any other way. You don't want to be that peer.
To be a peer, you have to be a peer - your words, deeds, and craft should be the best you can muster. Time spent brooding about the award you don't (but should!) have is time wasted. Time spent being what you feel a peer should be is never lost time, and is good practice for the day that award finally arrives. Keeping that goal of what a peer should be in your mind, and telling people "I want to be good enough to be a peer someday" isn't pushy, or award-grubbing, it's your source of inspiration.
(ETA: It just occurred to me that you can side-step the whole "I want X award" issue by simply saying "I want to be like so-and-so, who has X award". It conveys the same desire, but couches it in more defensible terms - to say you want to be like the person you see as the epitome of that award emphasizes that it is the accomplishment, not the medallion, that motivates you. Just a suggestion for those who are skittish about coming right out and saying it.)
Just so you know I'm not speaking down from a lofty perch of perfect zen-like equanimity on the issue, I spent the eight or so months prior to my Laurel getting my mind into complete knots because I felt I was artistically at the level of a Laurel - why wasn't I being recognized?! I was driving myself (and my close friends) crazy. I hated the way I felt and thought, and I was killing myself over what I thought was a general dislike of me. It was awful; I had to make myself let go. I couldn't resent other people - I had no control over them, and what they thought of me. All I could do was be the best I could at what I loved, and try to be a better person (this project is ongoing). I honestly don't know how I managed it (not very helpful of me, I know), but by the time Bob sat me down on the sofa and flat-out lied to me that I wasn't getting my Laurel that weekend, so shouldn't be disappointed, I could truthfully say that the thought had never even crossed my mind.
I admit, I didn't get to that point easily, but I was happier at that point than I had been for ages. Even if I hadn't been elevated that weekend (he is such a straight-faced liar when he needs to be!), I'd have been content.
I'm comfortable with speaking about this because I've been there - I see the same thing happen to people who want an award badly (mostly for the validation, something I totally understand), and let it twist them up in knots they would not normally succumb to, and I want them to know they're not alone in their worries. For those who have decided that we are all corrupt and evil, I cannot do anything. For those who are afraid of being seen striving for an award, I can say that there is no shame in working to become better - it's a noble pursuit to inspire with your deeds and words, and you don't need to wait for an award to do it. I also think that those who want an award just so they can lord it over other people are pretty thin on the ground - it's usually a combination of wanting validation and acceptance, and that very human desire to be special.
Because peerage is special - if it wasn't, people wouldn't get into heated discussions about it.
And it's okay to want it. It's just not cool to expect it.