Original Painting available here
Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity led to the eventual creation of the atom bomb. The idea of an ideal human condition led a nation to commence one of the most egregious human rights violations in mankind’s history. The ease of worldwide communication via social media has ironically made us less connected. These are some basic examples of something that seems quite fundamental to the human condition; positive intentions tend to lead to unfortunate, unforeseen consequences. I explored this reality in my painting, ‘Power of Intention’, and I will explore this concept further in this blog post.
For this acrylic painting, after mulling this concept of unintended consequences, the positive nature of flowers seemed a fitting choice. A floral ‘rainbow of positivity’ passionately flowing water, a “spout” of sorts. Only the water has come out too powerfully, and just as humans cannot control the oceans, these floral elements can’t contain the splash, and destruction is the consequence. A concept embodied in an energetic and abstract manner.
Another way of looking at unintended consequences despite good intentions would be to simply call them ‘mistakes.’ That’s quite objectively what they are, right? That certainly looks at the issue more optimistically, but when I’ve “made a mistake”, such as mistaking mayonnaise for ice cream, as a whole we think of that sort of thing as a necessary growing pain. But there is a limit to this; losing your wallet once at a mall is an acceptable mistake, but getting into a car accident with fatal consequences is unacceptable. You were driving on the way to a loved one’s graduation, or wedding. Maybe you left a bit late; you had the positive intention of arriving on time for the event, supporting your family. Seeing as you were involved in a two-way collision, this was a slight miscalculation on your part, but that doesn’t matter, as you are now too dead to care. Or maybe everyone survived, and you now take extra care when driving. So does that make it an acceptable mistake, because you survived? Where do we draw the line? Potential casualties? That’s a very unfulfilling answer. Perhaps the notion of mistakes is itself inexcusable, but we all make mistakes, so I suppose we’re all inexcusable? In that case, we have no choice but to be excused.
If the historical whole of humanity were to be analogous to that an individual human, then you might say the atrocities throughout history; the sinking of the Titanic, Columbus merely landing in the new world, and even the invention of the atom bomb, were simply necessary and acceptable growing pains of humanity. After all, no passenger ship of the future made the same mistakes of the RMS Titanic, we’re smart enough to decontaminate ourselves when it comes to space travel, and how many of you are truly frightened of a nuclear holocaust occurring in the near future? The Atom bomb may seem like a very intentional creation, designed for legendary death. But at the peak of the Manhattan Project, there were only 125,000 employees working on the project, and only a handful of project leaders. A drop in the bucket in comparison to the whole of humanity. I guarantee you that Wilhem Roentgen, known for the discovery of X-ray beams, wouldn’t have imagined the destructive consequences of his discovery, however small of a role it may have played.
It seems that I’ve gone full circle, with no real resolutions. So what then? Did Jurassic Park get it right, should we surrender control to nature, because we can’t hope to possibly contain our ignorance? That’s essentially the root cause unintended consequences; the trouble with ignorance is that, in a practical sense, you only know you’re ignorant once it’s too late. But obviously we can’t simply surrender to nature, despite what your fellow tree huggers may proclaim. We need to have more respect for the environment, sure, but if we surrendered control, we’d still be living in caves. We’d be no different from the myriad of others species in the animal kingdom. Today we could circumnavigate the world in a matter of days, communication has never been more accessible, and there are less wars than ever before. We’re obviously doing something right, despite this innate chase and bottomless ignorance pervasive in our world
So what are we doing right? ‘Control and ‘Power’ are terms often viewed in a negative light, when it reality it’s the key to happiness. If your house burns down, or if meteors start raining from the sky, you’ll find it hard pressed to find contentment. Everyone wants to be happy, so everyone wants power, and therefore the collective whole of humanity does its best to control its existence, with varying degrees of success. But there has been success. Control is said to be an illusion, and perhaps it very well is. But I’m reminded of the TV show ‘Dexter’, your friendly neighborhood serial killer. During the first season of the show, it’s clear that he fakes virtually all of his emotions, but throughout all this, he has a small hope that one day, if he just keeps on playing his role, that some of his emotions will become real, and that’s exactly what happens in the show. Maybe this is analogous to control. All those ‘unintended consequences’ could be depressing. Imagine wanting to cook a delicious meal for your family, only to burn your house down? The fact is that destruction and atrophy is a more natural state of being in the universe then that of creation. However, if you simply pay attention to the world that surrounds you, you’ll find that creation itself can make destruction more difficult. Law is a creation, and murder, a form of destruction is therefore more challenging.
Now, I realize that things aren’t quite as simple as “embrace full control, and never fear the consequences!” Too much control could be equally horrifying as too little (Hello Orwell.). I do wish to close, however, by stating that we needn’t be too afraid of chaos. It will always remain, but at the end of the day we shall all grow because of it.