For better or for worse, throughout time, society has asked individuals to set aside their own needs, wants, and autonomy for a “greater good” that can sometimes limit or expand individual rights and freedom of speech. In addition, actions taken for the greater good may have catastrophic consequences for humanity, the environment, and animals.
Throughout history, individuals and institutions have legitimized their actions under the guise of the “greater good” to help accommodate the largest number of people in order to fulfill an ethical, political or capitalistic priority at the expense of a minority. Late 18th and early 19th-century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham defined what became known as modern utilitarianism believing that "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." Despite being an early advocate for individual and economic freedoms, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, the abolishment of slavery and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts, his definition of the greater good could ironically lead to a wealth of inequity and harm with a total disregard for any individual rights or needs in lieu of satisfying the needs of the masses. Even though Bentham would argue that human beings should always have the possibility to choose happiness over sacrificing the possibility of happiness for the greater good, his philosophy leaves open the possibility of us taking care of strangers before family and friends or sacrificing our own personal health and leisure in order to bolster the health of the larger public. Therefore, if society existed in a morally aware state that aimed to dualistically preserve individual rights and needs while satisfying the needs of the whole, Bentham’s modern utilitarianism could stand a chance of working to the degree that he idealistically had hoped. Unfortunately, people have used it as a means of manipulation. One cannot assume that humans will always move toward the path of goodness and benevolent behavior or that that original intention will result in a positive outcome.
In this show, I look at a variety of topics that walk the fine line between an application of an idealized but often imperfect utilitarianism. Three platforms provide a backdrop to a twisted lot of ecocide survivors that find themselves misshapen and deformed by human-driven disasters in pursuit of cheap energy in order to raise and maintain the current human standard of living expectations. From left to right, the silhouettes of the laser-cut acrylic depict Cherynobol, whose containment sarcophagus is failing, the next Bhopal, one of the greatest industrial disasters in the world killing 3500 instantly and possibly 25,000 more with Union Carbide Company having yet to pay for any of their crimes almost 30 years later with many still suffering from long term health effect and birth defects and lastly, an abstraction of a deforested section of the Amazon that continues to increase global warming and destabilize animal habitats and ecosystems.
Next, looking at the eventual singularity of humans and machines from the perspective of a futuristic archeological site that unearthed representations of humans 2.0 which originally embraced technology willingly but soon found imbalance losing autonomy to the need of the greater good neohive mentaltiy. Think the Borg meets the Matrix.
In the corner lays a pile of oil-slick fish corpses which comment about the need thurst for fuel for machines in trade for this age-old natural food that fuels our bodies and the entire ecosystem that they come into contact with in many places and cultures throughout the world.
Bound by bandages in the shape of wings and topped with a double black rainbow that forms a feedback loop of greed and power encircling a blood red pot of gold is a nanocized caduceus, the official insignia of the United States Medical Corps, Navy Pharmacy Division, and the Public Health Service. Although well-intentioned when adopted as the official symbol in 1902, The caduceus, the staff of the messenger god Hermes, has been wrongly used as a medical symbol for a little over one hundred years. It has often been mistaken for the Rod of Asclepius, a visually similar symbol belonging to the god of healing and medicine. It is actually a symbol of commerce. The critique is not with the thousands of well-intentioned medical professionals that help millions of people each day with ailments and injuries, but with the companies that make excessive profits from the misfortunes of what should be a human right.
Lastly, during the Covid Pandemic, I found myself, like many others, feeling increasingly isolated and mainly connecting with family, friends, and people on the internet through Zoom and social media with very little in-person physical contact. Everyone seemed to create their own bubble of safety. The 3D pen cast represents the arm that the shot was administered into and symbolizes the well-intentioned technology that courses through my body almost like a separate organism that I have no control over.