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The Aspirational Voter

Updated: Nov 17, 2019

The Aspirational Voter

I want to talk about what is often referred to during political debates as the ‘aspirational voter’.

One thing that I find myself puzzling over quite frequently, is the way the term is used by many of our politicians and political correspondents in the media. Generally, it seems that they understand it as referring to members of the electorate who want to make money through getting better paid jobs. Aspirational voters, apparently, need to be good for the economy.

The reason I find this puzzling is because one is surely just as aspirational if one wants to become a good poet, musician or philosopher, as one is if one wants to become a market trader or hedge fund manager. Moreover, aspiration need not always be morally commendable.

Excepting morally dubious aspiration from our thinking (and, of course, it is important to bear in mind that there can be a good deal of disagreement about what counts as morally dubious), we – as a culture – still tend to value certain aspirations over others. This disparity in valuation is often rhetorically condemned, but it would seem that far fewer than make such professions actually believe what they say in their hearts. Frequently the distinction between rhetoric and belief is illustrated by the advice dispensed by parents and teachers to their charges about their career or university choices.

Sometimes, advice given by relatives that focuses on making money and social prestige is motivated by the desire to see their loved ones financially secure and free from that terrible kind of worry. At other times, it is motivated by appearances – by a concern over how a particular choice will look. Often, it is a combination of both these and other reasons.

Whatever motivates these reasons, pressure of this kind (habitually in the form of a condescending judgementalism about the path in life someone wants to take) is life-denying; life-denying, in part, because it has the capacity to nurture a sense of shame about what one would like to do with one’s life, but more importantly, because it denies a way of life that is worth living - a way of life that might allow one to realise (and rise to) the potential granted by living a human life (as opposed to, say, that of a bird or a mouse).

At school I had an exceptionally talented and unorthodox physics teacher who said to me, “if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly!” - He meant that even if I turned out not to be any good at whatever it was, that in itself, provided no reason to abandon it, as long as it was worth something to me. Internal to this idea of worth is the thought that one can become entirely absorbed in the wonder and love of what one is doing – a very different idea of worth to that presupposed by the parents, teachers, politicians and those in the media, who believe that worth is defined and determined by its instrumental value.

None of this is to deny that pursuing a career as a writer, musician, historian, puppeteer or actor can be difficult, demoralising and financially precarious. But if one has seriously considered such risks then there should be nothing that draws condescension from others.

An aspirational voter is, therefore, surely one who understands all the possibilities that are open to them and pursues their life in the spirit of embracing what it has to offer – whether that be as a market trader or a poet.

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