Saturday, 26 August 2017

Fireman, doctor, astronaut

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Lots of people struggle with this question, and it causes no small amount of anxiety. There's a lot of pressure to settle on an answer - first from our parents, and then from prospective and actual partners, who often want us to know what we want from life.

And not entirely without good reason: thinking about what you want from life early on is doubtless good for increasing the chances you'll study something relevant to your future career, and thereby not waste money, for example.

But the amount of pressure on people to answer the question, and the very ubiquity and acceptance of the question itself should be examined, I think.

It is, like much of what I've written about recently, a product of the West's dominant liberal humanist ideology. Hunter-gatherers didn't ask their children what they wanted to be when they grew up: if they were male they would be hunters; if they would be female they would gather (maybe not strictly true, but you get the point).

Hell, even in the early days of capitalism the working classes didn't ask their children what they wanted to be: it was accepted that children would follow in the footsteps of their parents.

Both of which might seem obvious, but why then is it taken for granted these days that we should want to be anything at all, in the sense of assigning ourselves a particular career-as-life-defining-characteristic?

Do infant chimps ponder how they will spend their time once they become adult chimps? Do the infants of indigenous tribes-people?

No. So why should we expect five, seven or even thirty year-olds to have the inherent desire to want to be accountants, surveyors or HR managers?

We want to eat, fuck and sleep. Beyond that it's just how we twiddle our thumbs until we die.

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