Everyone wants to cheat death. So far as we know, no one ever has. Of course, immortals would want to keep that secret but it would be tough to do so, especially in the age of so much surveillance, so much concern over identity. People have tried to disappear but it turns out it’s harder to do than you might think. Staying disappeared is even harder.
So barring immortality (and frankly I’ve never been able to discern the psychological difference between craving life after death from craving it in the form of uploaded consciousness), the options open to us are more limited. If personal immortality is out of the question, at least for now, what else could provide its surrogate?
Undying fame is one option. People have been trying to get themselves in the history books ever since there were history books. Some succeeded despite best efforts to keep them out. Others — and who can say how many — have failed utterly and are unremembered. That will likely be the fate of most of us. I got that straight from Ozymandias so it’s pretty much gold.
Still, some succeed. Most people remember Caesar if only from the salad or drink that bear his name. And lots of people have a vague idea of who Shakespeare was even if who he was exactly is pretty vague. That could change of course as more and more schools stop making him a regular part of the curriculum.
Fame is fleeting as they say — many who were famous in life became forgotten soon after their death or had their memories twisted into something they wouldn’t recognize. They say that most of us have an entirely wrong impression of Nietzsche thanks to the efforts of his sister. And poor Bulwer Lytton — one of most famous English writers of the early nineteenth century is now mostly remembered for “It was a dark and stormy night”.
Family is another way to cheat death — but kids and grandkids can be so unreliable. And the extended power of families begins to become very uncomfortable when we live in a democracy. I, personally, am not looking forward to another Clinton vs. Bush presidential campaign if it comes to that in 2016. Though most families are less public than that — preferring to extend their power for generations through the accumulation of wealth and power behind the scenes. But even that is no guarantee of forever. As the last King of Egypt is reputed to say: someday there will only be 5 Kings — that of England, and of Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades. If Kings have gone the way of all flesh, what chance do any of us mere mortals having of still having an impact after we’re dead — or even after next year?
But that’s ten minutes.