Regarding Oblivion: Why We Needn’t Fear Of Being Forgotten
My first blog post, and it’s long and unrefined. This post manifested from a beautiful conversation I’ve recently had with a friend. Brace yourselves!
Throughout my life, I’ve met many people who dream of being rich and famous — and it’s a no-brainer that almost everyone wants to be rich and famous. Many of them have their different reasons behind these wants. A lot of them, like Kevin MacLeod, merely want to be recognized for the beautiful works they do. Many also seem to want a life of luxury, where their need of comfort (we could debate if such an art is soulless, but that’s for another topic) is what drives their art. Many others want to simply “follow the social ladder” of popularity as the norms have encouraged.
And some are simply afraid of oblivion.
As a friend once told me, after agony that enables the creation of life from nothingness — a babe in arms of its mother — there is nothing scarier and more painful than returning to that nothingness.
We’ve feared death for such reasons, that this one life we have could essentially stop to exist, and this consciousness that gives us the ability to sense and commit to actions may essentially “stop working” and therefore everything would have gone beyond your control.
However, our personal needs are usually outweighed by the needs of the society — a collective identity — for sustainment and growth, even though the human individual is mostly self-serving, living in ego-centric perceptions.
In order to satisfy both ends, most cultures manufacture stories of heroes or special individuals that are unlike any others in that story, and these heroes have a duty to hold the world in balance upon their own shoulders so they would be remembered for it. While the stories were meant to inspire people, they may have also largely misguided the masses. For one thing, the “hero” is often designed to be someone the reader / audience can project themselves into, and the problem is that the story convinces the readers / audiences that the hero is “unlike any other” in the story, that none hold the great responsibilities as they do. The readers essentially become captivated with that idea subconsciously, realizing their own duties towards the society. The problem is, there are no protagonists in life.
This might just be doing more harm than good, especially with the cultures’ promises that the efforts could be paid of with great success, fame and fortune, immortalized by world for their contribution. In a culture of millions these days, it’s impossible to satisfy each one of them in the idea projected. The readers are intelligent enough to know this, but even so, the primitive system of thought (which is now encouraged today by pop media) still embeds itself into the collective mind, with an idea that somehow being rich and famous is paramount, and therefore defines life’s success.
Does being rich and famous really lead to satisfaction in life? In a way, yes and no. Wealth provides agency, and fame provides market, which in turn aids in success. However, neither of them are the fundamental “cause” of any contributions towards the society, and that fundamental driving force (or vision) can exist regardless of fame and fortune. Donald Trump is rich and famous, but is not known to contribute to the world in any meaningful way. But Bill Gates is certainly known to not only have invented one of the most used operating systems on the planet, but also for saving lives. It seems like most of those who did become rich and famous as meaningful contributors were merely focused on the work they would like to contribute to world. And some, like Edgar Allan Poe and Van Gogh, were left by the road-side until after their deaths.
So where does this discrimination of fame come from? Where are the opportunities that our cultures have promised us?
Let me shock you out of this with one question. There are countless NGOs in innumerable areas of the world. Do you remember each of them, and all who head these organizations?
We can’t even remember our shopping list well enough, or the next one our To-Do list, let alone the names of so many who are changing the world at every moment that we breathe right now, and all those who have done so in the past. There are so many people, and so many contributers to all that is good that if we were to compile just their names (not even their contributions) our list would be longer than the Christian Bible. And this does not include all the unsung heroes in everyday life either.
The fact is that civilizations don’t merely run on a couple of shoulders, and is actually an active collaboration between the people who owe their livelihoods to it. Each of them plays an important role to create an efficient system to sustain themselves, in hope that others like themselves would not have to go through the hurdles they have gone through. Gandhi didn’t know his face would be on the Indian bank-note for the struggles against racial discrimination and foreign rule — he merely played his part in the fight that started long before him.
But despite the many significant contributors, the society only tends to remember (by collective memory, not archived memory) a select few. It’s not because these select few are any better than the ones along with them, but because they are either artificially (via biases, politically motivated, etc.) or randomly chosen to be placed in the spotlight, and the other significant ones are left in the shadows.
Such examples include Edmond Halley, Steve Wozniak, Katharine Wright, Octave Chanute, Ada Lovelace, Emmy Noether, Mary Anning, Joseph Lister, etc. In fact, you would notice that even I have been very selective when it comes to mentioning unknown contributors, because a blog-post can only hold so much.
Sure, thanks to the internet, we have a better chance at making ourselves renowned. And only recently, with the advent of communities like DeviantArt, have we realized that there are SO MANY PEOPLE who have skills and creativity like Monet or Da Vinci but could only ever have been “known” because they had been given a chance to, because information is freely available to distribute at a click of a button. Considering this, the idea — that such thousands or perhaps millions of artists who could not have been as well-known as Monet or Da Vinci simply because of lack of agency — becomes all the more uncomfortable.
And yet, looking into the art galleries of DeviantArt’s 31 million artists, there are still those who EXTREMELY GOOD at what they do and are yet unknown by the very community that gave them agency.
Which brings us to another observation: The agency to allow artists or other contributors to be renowned is often “manufactured” by either the artists themselves (the hard way) or someone else (the easy way). Comics like Fisheye Placebo, The Cat Meets Fish and Fail By Error may not have enjoyed the popularity they have today if it wasn’t for Michael Son’s invention of Tapastic to address the needs of digital-age comic creators. In fact, the entire history of art depends on the principle of constructing formats for the descendants to understand, master and improve upon to offer more autonomy for future ideas, pushing the boundaries of thought. In other words, someone needs to invent the painting brush so that you could paint with it; now, you might be famous for your painting, but inventor of the brush is most likely to be forgotten by time.
In other words, fame is related to your contribution to the world in some way, but it is definitely not DIRECTLY related. So it is a better idea to consider fame not as a reward or ultimate goal for the work you do, but as an opportunity to allow your work to manifest greatly into the world’s consciousness.
But even if you DO achieve fame, how likely it is that what is remembered about you is the same “you”? In almost every case, we rarely remember a person’s personality, unless that personality was directly related to the contributions made by that person. We admire Nikola Tesla, not only as an antagonistic celebrity to Thomas Edison but also for his contributions. But what we tend to remember about him is an “ideal” that we expect from him (and others that we admire), and not necessarily what he truly was. You can also thank the flawed human memory and its tendency to reconstruct itself depending on stimulation, wherein you remember things that may or may not have anything to do with the situation you attribute to. Not to mention, the way you are “imagined” a hundred — or even a thousand — years from now is highly morphed with the changes in paradigms and linguistics-dependent thought, as can be observed with many translated literary works from the past. In such cases, not even the famous are safe from oblivion.
To make matters more complicated, we are never really our selves at every moments of passing. Between 5 to 8 years, every atom in your body is replaced by newer materials as the dead cells are shed into the environs. Beyond that, thanks to neuroplasticity, your brain is not always the same in the next few moments from now, as every input and stimulation either changes or strengthens synaptic connections. You’re never really the same person throughout your life, so what about you is the “You” that you’d like to have remembered?
But on a lighter note, that is precisely what the evolution and sustainment of humanity and other species depends on: change. Without change, there could be no adaptation, no growth, no survival. In fact, the reason we’re alive is because we have some “control” over what changes throughout our lives, and how or what we could affect with it. The AntibioTick could correct me on this, but doesn’t culture (that we invent) and our own behaviors essentially influence our epigenetics, which in turn carry on as further “information” as ourselves onto our own offsprings? That does not mean that the offsprings are us, but rather they are someone else entirely with the same necessary nourishment that we cooked into our own beings, with perhaps the ability to make better decisions that we did. In that regard, we are the work of art of countless ancestors — humans and other creatures before them — that strived for survival and other perfections that are now inherited to us.
And if we have no obligations to remember them, then why would anyone have any obligations to remember us? It’s not about looking back, but looking forward. It’s not about our own formless and evolving identities, but those of the whole. While the ideals we strive to become are important, they are not necessarily any better than the other six billion people on this earth who strive for something similar.
Six billion people, which includes you — just a drop in an ocean. You are NOT better than any of them. You are NOT special. But you certainly are unique, and you STILL make the ocean BECOME the ocean, making the bigger picture look even more beautiful than if you weren’t there.
That thought, at first, may be scary, but then becomes the most liberating thing idea you could ever hope to have. It doesn’t matter if the world does not remember you, but it matters very much if your close ones do.
So HOW do you leave your mark? Look around you: you already are! From waking up in the morning to going back to bed, each decision you take doing simple things every day influences how the world works, and changes the course of events that could have happened if you weren’t there. Each decision you take affects the cycle and introduces change.
If it wasn’t for Sunil Gavaskar’s less known mother who encouraged him on, he wouldn’t have been the well-known cricketer we know him for today. If it wasn’t for Srinivasa Ramanujan’s parents giving him a book of advanced trigonometry at precisely the time they did, he would not have become the mathematical genius we know him as today. If it wasn’t for Edmond Halley’s selfless friendship, we would not have had Isaac Newton’s greatest contributions in history. There are countless unsung heroes who have been responsible for great changes via simple acts of kindness, without knowing the wings they flap could trigger a hurricane.
Maybe you made someone smile, which in turn made them appreciate something and thereby nurture it. Maybe you encouraged someone, or lent them a helping hand, which in turn empowered them do things nobody except for them could ever do. Maybe you were just “there”, doing nothing but just watching someone’s back lest they fall, and knowing you were there and watching was enough for the other person to trudge on through their life’s difficulties.
You’re always leaving a mark, in some way or another. The question is: What KIND of mark are you leaving behind?
For me, I want to be the candle of hope, burning as bright as I can be for anyone to ignite their own flames from my spirit. Because even if my life is snuffed out, I can die knowing that there will be a thousand other candles I helped light, a thousand other candles that can easily replace me and continue the work I started.
I want to be the first force of the falling dominoes, a kind of chain reaction that never stops. I want to be the butterfly that causes a hurricane with its subtlest fluttering. I want to be that Stop sign by the road-side that lets you know if the path ahead may be dangerous. I want to be that first ignition of the fireworks, from where every light and spark BEGINS.
And it doesn’t matter if nobody remembers me, and yet I’ll STILL be that one force that guided humanity in the right direction. Because our lives are not our own. Because we have never been JUST ourselves. Because we cannot deny our responsibilities to the collective “whole” that we call the human race, or even “Earth Race” (including other biodiversity).
Because when you’re looking Oblivion in the eye, you dare not blink.