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December 30, 2003

varieties of fame

As I've remarked before, I'm interested in the desire for fame. It's the main selfish motivation of academics--and of people who create personal websites and blogs. Christians and ancient Stoics called the desire for fame a vice. Arguably, it is a virtue: specifically, a civic republican virtue that motivates and accompanies participation in public life. But I think its influence on academics is mostly corrupting. If it is a vice, then it's a worse moral danger for me personally than some others, such as greed for money and desire for power.

I hope to create an extended thread on the topic. For today, I'll just observe that many people want fame, but they want it in very different forms. So ask yourself:

1. Would you rather be known to millions of people at one instant because of a CNN broadcast, or to one hundred people during your lifetime, plus one hundred people in each generation after your death for the next 500 years?

2. Would you rather be known to half a billion people in India or China, or half the people you pass as you walk around in your own neighborhood?

3. Whom would you prefer to know about you--some of the world's most powerful people, some of the top experts in a difficult field, or some of the people who themselves have the biggest audiences?

4. Would you rather be known for your name, your ideas and actions, or your face? For instance, would you rather (a) have a daily byline in a major newspaper, or (b) see your own work described once in a news article, or (c) appear in secondary roles in various TV dramas?

5. Would you rather be known by a limited number of cognoscenti for your originality, or would you rather that millions of people associated you with an idea that you did not originate, although you have expressed it articulately?

December 30, 2003 3:49 PM | category: none


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