Dilemma

Graphite, ink, and goache on A3 paper. How does it change the process of tackling difficult ethical choices if we re-imagine utilitarianism, Kantian moral theory, and other typical lenses for pressing forward this process—in a network context? Social problems like anxiety and depression—and social phenomena like trust and mistrust—are, well, social, and can spread like contagions along social networks. Can it then be utilitarian to ask what choice will best enable acceptance of an unknowable future self? Or is it only hedonistic to selfishly choose what loves you best, not necessarily so that you and others following your example or principle of action might better care for the world in the future—but because it feels good? 

“Dilemma”

In dialogue with Linda Pastan and Peter Singer.

You’ve heard the riddle:
An old lady and a Rembrandt, trapped in the middle
of a museum fire. You can only save one.
Situation: dire. Which?

Or the one about trollies:
One will hit a larger number of people
if you do nothing but look on,
and a smaller number if you act.
Will you flip the switch?

What neither set-up tells you is this:
If you do nothing, the old lady, the painting,
and all the people on all the tracks
will probably never like your art anyway.
Their tolerance for you is already waning.
Just as you feared, they will think your clothes are weird,
you have too much (or too little) to say,
your hair sits too dirty or stands too wild,
your choice far too selfish for not having a child,
and your taste in men (and women’s)
expression—scandalous. At worst they hate,
at best they judge—everything you are.

Don’t let the dilemma frustrate
your natural faculty for eating life’s lemons.
Switch or no, the trollies don’t take you far
enough. None of these people
and no painting on the wall
will talk you off the mat,
walk you through changing a flat,
or be there for you at all.
Only you can save yourself,
which is really the question:
How will you go on, having made
unforgivable mistakes
like any human being off the shelf?
Who will you have faith in,
when faith is not an artefact of your fates?
Cut the crap. Save the cat.

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