One of the more inspiring aspects of the US inaugural party the other day was its aspirational quality. The focus was as much on who we want to be as on who we are. That is the beauty of the line that Lincoln gave us, we are a nation that is “dedicated to a principle”. Being so dedicated implies an ongoing commitment to go further, perhaps without end.
So far so good. But what types of things give us that sort of push? What types of things help us get beyond the noise that we hear day to day and the day to day chores that never seem to get done?
I would argue that it is really hard to find those things alone. When you are alone, it is easy to get lost in noise and routine. We aspire to things through our identification with groups. More precisely, through our desire to be part of a group that is better than we are. Flaubert derided this as romantic twaddle in his great work, Madame Bovary. Here is the haughty Gustave (from Habihacker)
Well, not entirely. Poor Emma is destroyed by her romantic aspirations. But those who survive the melodrama are left with nothing else. They are a rather pitiful lot by comparison.
So, what groups do we aspire to join? And what are the barriers to entry? Ah, these are great questions indeed. Notice how Alfred Dunhill addresses them. Why Dunhill? Dunhill sells men a life style that we can never achieve. And yet … the path is clear even if the barriers are steep (and I don’t refer only to the prices of the goods that are for sale). Very stylish, n’est ce pas?