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What we get wrong about fame

McKinley Valentine — 1 min read
What we get wrong about fame
Photo by Jane Duursma / Unsplash

Because we're humans, we think in stories and narratives, and Westerners in particular tend to think in terms of individuals rather than societies. So we think of fame-worthiness as being mainly about the special individual, not about the society they're in. The following is an analogy:

"When a matchbox full of lazily dreaming future grill-lighters was bought at a small-town store on a hot summer day in the California desert, little did it know that one of its passengers would become the most notorious, most sought after weapon of all time. Two weeks later one of its matches would be used to start a wildfire that would burn for months and destroy 50 million acres. Anyone armed with a match like this one would be able to take over the world."

"This is a patently ridiculous story—a single match is not the entire reason for a wildfire starting and spreading. But that’s exactly how we naturally think about social wildfires [fame]: that the match is the key. In fact, there are two requirements: a local requirement (a spark), and a global requirement (the ability of the fire to spread). And it’s the second component that is actually the bottleneck: If a forest is dangerously dry, any spark can start a fire. Sparks are easy to come by, and are not intrinsically special."

Quite a long article but that was the idea I liked best in it.

"Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life"

— Marcel Proust, sorry. I haven't read Swann's Way, the book it's from, but I find this such a soothing image.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #53 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

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