Immortality and the Futile Pursuit of Recognition

The source of my mini-eureka moment this week was an episode of London Real.

In that episode, the show’s host, Brian, briefly mentioned a fascinating result of a study conducted in the US which showed that some of the country’s Presidents are so little known that most people don’t recognise their names.

On the face of it, there is nothing illuminating about that result – after all, the have been 44 US Presidents so far.

But think about it for a second: you could be President of the most powerful country in the world but in just a few generations you could be hardly remembered!

What does that tell us? What implications does that have for us, ordinary folk?

Well, here comes my mini-eureka moment: the difference between an ordinary man and the President of the United States of America is, on average and in the long term, insignificant.

There is only a handful of people, less than 0.000001% of the population, who have a chance of becoming significant figures in human history. In the long term, across many generations, even most of US Presidents won’t be widely remembered.

This, somehow paradoxically, gives an ordinary man a good reason to relax.

Have you hoped to become the next Roger Federer but you feel that, at 22, your chances of winning Wimbledon are rather slim?

Did you have a hard time when you learned that you would not be promoted to a partner?

Are you an aspiring actor who failed to make it in Hollywood?

Don’t worry, even if you had managed to achieve your big goal, very few people would care about it in 100 years’ time.


Illusion of Significance - Number of Followers over Time

Illusion of Significance – Number of Followers over Time

Craftsmen, Cathedral Builders and Che Guevara

A fascinating letter to The Economist, in response to ‘Deconstructing France’.
Jan 11th 2014.

Moreover, you read “Candide” out of context. It was written in response to the optimistic doctrine that ours is the best of all possible worlds. Rather than promote pessimism it shuns a possibly dangerous optimistic attitude. Voltaire was arguing against a certain illusory, happy resignation, which he believed one must overcome, for why else would we need to cultivate our gardens?

Existentialism offers a genuineness that might easily be mistaken for ennui by the uninitiated, but in reality goes deeper than that. The French are Albert Camus’s nation of absurd men, and they would rather face the truth of life than live in ignorant bliss. A baby laughs at the most trivial thing and thinks himself happy; an adult does not. The French believe that pleasure should triumph over desk-slavery, and simply know better.

Kenneth Charles Curmi
Hamrun, Malta