Aspiration Vacuum

by Lee Boot

Have we forgotten how to aspire? Have our problems, once merely sticky but now bordering on existential have scared us timorous, unadventurous and unimaginative? When’s the last time you heard a sober person paint a utopian vision in public? She’d be tarred and feathered with skepticism. But the irony that has to be choked down like a used tire sandwich is that otherwise thoughtful, well-meaning people never to try anything “unrealistic” and so repeat the same tired, unsuccessful solutions to problems over, and over, and over again in ways that defy reason. Education’s not working so let’s double down on what we do already—we’ll just do it more. Public health campaigns fail as they ever do so let’s wrangle more resources and do them again the same way. No credible person should propose anything that might be considered “out there” because theory of change that is unfamiliar or novel in ways that require us to grill a sacred cow is automatically unconvincing. We’ve conflated familiar with smart. We accept incremental as innovative.

Have we lost the ability to think big unless it involves bulldozing large tracts of undeveloped land, or visioning something certain not too happen—like socialism or ending cars? In the past people thought: let’s sail across the monster-filled ocean; let’s walk on the moon; let’s make discrimination illegal; let’s light Randy’s sneakers on fire (seemed big at the time). Now we have such bold ideas as let’s keep kids in school longer; let’s open another clinic. I’m not against such improvements—they’re essential. But when will we start dreaming of things that could actually get us there? We are all participating in Baltimore’s renaissance, but what would make Baltimore a fundamentally better place for all its citizens—better in ways that are obvious to everyone? What would put the city back in the black? What would make here the place where everyone wants to be?