ASPIRATION, ASPIRATIONAL: The invention of the highly elastic adjective coincides with what until lately looked like a permanent shift in the scope of the noun. In his 1973 rant to the Trilateral Commission, Samuel P. Huntington deplored 'aspiration' as an extravagant and dangerous collectively staked claim: an overeducated underclass demanding too much and expecting to get it by forcing structural change.  But by the time of its emergence in the1990s as a party-political marketing theme, aspiration implied a strictly personal kind of anxious conformism.  The aspirational individual stakes everything on 'social mobility'; that is, she expects to compete against the rest of her class on a 'level playing field' (i.e. everyone doing the same thing), and she expects to win, beating her opponents 'fairly' by embracing more eagerly, energetically and obediently whatever rules of the game are transmitted from above.  Or better still, by guessing in advance the instructions likely to be dictated by previous winners occupying higher rungs on an imaginary career ladder (comprised in turn of 'playing fields' at ever-higher altitudes).  This kind of pre-emptive obedience is known as 'showing initiative'. 

   The curious elasticity of 'aspirational' as an adjective lies in its multiple applications to a prize (an aspirational apartment, home entertainment system, lifestyle), the competitors pursuing it (see above), and the wider social structure imposing the competition (an aspirational society).  This last usage confirms the irreconcilable contradiction between aspirational conditions and the kind of aggressive class aspiration feared by Huntington.  Diligent aspirational behaviour precludes the very thought of provoking structural change, as the existing structure is the context, vehicle and measure of personal success; turning the world upside down would make a mockery of the effort to rise to the top.


























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