Thursday, October 20, 2011

Muammar Gaddafi

I had a pre-prepared, midweek, filler post ready to upload today but instead, here is my reflection on the death of Gaddafi.

This video really struck me, particularly the complete and utter lifelessness of the body being dragged along the ground. No matter who you are, no matter how powerful you become, no matter how much wealth you acquire, one day you will be nothing more than a sack of meat. I don't mean this observation to spark one of those Carpe Diem, seize the day, make the most of your life, type of realisations. That isn't my natural response to this. If there is a group of people throughout history who have seized the day and lived their life to the fullest, then Mr Gaddafi is definitely a member. What I am drawn to do is to wonder what part of life is worth seizing, because for all of Gaddafi's pride and power and extravagance during his life, he still ended up cowering inside a pipe, in the city of his birth, begging his pursuers "don't shoot". Nothing Gaddafi lived for now remains. Nothing.

I can't help but compare Gaddafi's death to the also recent death of Dennis Ritchie. Most of us probably didn't even know who Dennis Ritchie was before he died (I didn't). Yet, he played an instrumental part in developing one of the most widely used computer programming languages. He also played a key part in developing the computer operating system who's descendants power the world.

One of these two people lived his life full of glory, fame, fortune and grandeur. The other did not and I highly doubt was any less happy because of it. But which one's life has the greater legacy? Who's impact will still exist hundreds of years from now and who's impact is gone already (mere hours after his death)?

While most of us are not going to become dictators of oil-rich nations or design programming languages that end up used throughout the world, the same decision exists for anyone with the tiniest shred of ambition. Strive for popularity and acceptance, now? Or, strive for a lasting impact on tomorrow?  Certainly the second path can often lead to the same destination as the first. But, any time we spend pursuing the first path for its own sake inevitably leads us further away from the destination of the second.

No matter how much glory we obtain, or seizing of the day that we do, one day we will all be soulless sacks of meat, just like Colonel Gaddafi.


  1. Whenever I have these thoughts or similar, I can't help but think of this guy and this guy. Talk about immortality. 2500 years dead and your discoveries are still being taught at high-school?

    Or this guy. 3000 years dead and your poetry is still studied at schools.

    Sure the lives of some prominent figures of history (who sought only glory) from that time are studied, but not their actual discoveries or creations.

  2. Isn't it funny how the best baddies in recent years have holed up underground?

    While appreciating the deeper truth of the comparison, I cannot subscribe to the (Western media's attempted)notion that Gaddafi's impact has been erased hours after his death.

    Certainly, the western world will forget about him as soon as we have more interesting things to talk about. Yet, he ran Libya for 40 years and his presence will continue to be felt *there* as long as he isn't written out of Libya's schoolbooks. I mean, if anything, the people replacing him have grown up primarily with his example of political leadership and the political system will have a hard time adjusting for generations to come.

    If they do manage to white him out, it will be an amazing feat akin to Caesar writing his enemies out of history("Dad, what happened between 1969 and 2011?" "Nothing son. Absolutely nothing. If something had happened, don't you think it would be in the textbook?").

  3. I did think as I wrote "Nothing Gaddafi lived for now remains. Nothing." that I was going too far. Thanks for calling me out, it's good to be kept honest.

    We're probably on completely the same page, but I wasn't meaning to suggest that he would not be taught about and that he would be forgotten to history. I only meant to suggest that the Libya he wanted is far from the Libya that now exists. And his sons are all wanted criminals. Etc... etc... He won't be forgotten, and the present Libya is different because of him, but his *lasting* impact on future Libya is now negligible. I don't think even the lack if any impact at all is crucial to what struck me watching the film though. Even if he has had a lasting "impact" it isn't the impact he would have wanted.

    We have had our fair share of big-bad-guys in the last 10 years. Is it all that platform gaming from the 80's and 90's coming back to haunt us? Once you defeat the boss, you get the princess, right? The West is kind of advancing up the levels too, this time they got a bad guy who even once actually did have WsOMD!

  4. It's important to remember that the contribution that you make does not need to be remembered in the conventional sense, as with your examples of Homer or Archimedes, but more that it makes a difference. The vast majority of people will never be remembered for more than a few generations after their own lifetimes, but the decisions they make in their lives will have complex and potentially far-reaching implications on society and future history. It's obviously impossible to predict how you might impact on the future, so trying your hardest to have a positive effect on the people around you and humanity in general is the best bet that you have to have a meaningful legacy. This can be done in countless ways: pioneering in an area of science; creating beautiful art; being an inspiring teacher or parent; the list is pretty much endless.

    Humans are mortal, humanity is not. Everyone contributes to what we are as a species and a civilisation, and some, like Muammar Gaddafi, squander their opportunity to help us improve.

  5. Yes, yes... I meant them as examples of concrete differences, not that they were remembered. Archimedes' actual scientific discoveries are being taught at high-schools in physics class. I didn't mean that the fact that he existed is being taught in history class. I find it incredible that the things he discovered are still taught today. You probably knew all of this and were just expanding on what I wrote anyway.

    Being remembered seems utterly pointless compared to making a difference.

    I don't think it is impossible to predict how you might impact on the future. I think it is an extremely smart idea to try and do just that. Surely it enhances the chance that you will have a big impact. Also, surely you did exactly this immediately after you said it is impossible. OK, too pedantic, fine.

  6. "Humans are mortal, humanity is not."

    Yes. Or at least, hopefully it can be.


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