(Für meine Mutter im sein Geburtstag!)
Everyone wants a place in History. They bet their lives on it. Their meaning depends upon that goal. Being so well known is attractive, regardless of scope. The best carpenter, priest, or writer of the town, city, or country, it does not matter. Happiness lies behind them. Or so they think.
History is reached through dreams of grandeur. To get there one must satisfy them. Working more hours than anyone else. Writing longer papers than any one else. Having more ideas than anyone else. Converting more heathens than anyone else or simply dismembering the White Whale that has killed everyone else. All of them: dreams of grandeur. They constitute, I believe, an evolutionary advantageous disease. A good number of people have it, just like others have ADHD, and some have both.
Ahab’s case is illustrative. Dismembering the mythical Moby Dick is certainly an extraordinary thing to do. Everyone has tried and all of them have failed. Ahab included. If Moby Dick gets killed, whaling itself will be nourished: less trouble for the whaling ship. It will not make such a difference for Ahab, however. Even though his madness precludes him from understanding, Moby Dick will be just one more whale for him. Everyone, but the involved ones, cherished the project. It is an insane adventure for the individuals; a great achievement for the history of whaling.
As a matter of fact, for the individual sailors (Ahab included) the project merely offers trouble. Only pain and suffering lies beyond the coast. Thus, such a great achievement for the annals of whaling is barely more than rubbish and nonsense for the prospects of an individual human life.
Something similar happens with the great carpenters, writers, painters, athletes, artists, and other starring divas. Their projects make a lot of sense for the species but nonsense for the individual. The sheer amount of work required makes a historical biography an unworthy form of existence. Furthermore, there are important consequences to consider: apathy, misanthropy, depression, social isolation, and miscommunication among others. The life of the great ones does not seem more pleasant than a miserable one. Yet, we strive for them.
We have dreams of grandeur that beget equal projects; projects that beget suffering, loneliness and more megalomaniac dreams. All of a sudden “that before living agent, now became the living instrument.” We loose control over our dreams. Says Melville
“God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart forever; that vulture the very creature he creates.”
But of course, no greater gift than Prometheus’. For the species, that is. Dreams of grandeur have several problems. Not only are they arrogant, as their own label tells. They are also stupid, in a way no one likes to admit (me included). Happiness does not lie behind but before them. Or so it seems to be.