You may not remember Jeremy Bentham from high school history class, as he never became an American president nor was portrayed by John Wayne in any films. However Bentham has nonetheless influenced you deeply, because he is the founder of Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism is a school of thought asserting that you should base ethical and policy decisions on whichever option maximizes the amount of happy people and reduces the amount of unhappy people. This was groundbreaking at the time because most law prior to Bentham was based on rigid adherence to the Bible, and trying to outlaw any fun which surpassed dancing around a maypole in terms of pleasure.
It’s worth reading about his philosophy in and of itself, particularly if you are from one of the Red States which is suspicious of pleasure and continually trying to work out zoning regulations by re-interpreting Leviticus. Today we’re more interested in Jeremy Bentham’s corpse than his philosophical contributions.
Jeremy Bentham stipulated in his will that his body was to be dissected and then preserved in such a way that it could be displayed for future generations. Thus after donating his body to science, his skeleton was dressed in his clothing, seated on a chair, and put on display at University College London.
A wax replica of his head, complete with his hair and a dapper hat, is poking out of the collar. Originally Bentham intended to have his mummified head put there, but in the process of preserving his noggin, it turned leathery and fairly gruesome, even for an 19th century English corpse.
For years the university kept Bentham’s mummified head in the same display case as his body, but stopped after drunken students kept stealing it. One group of students held the head captive for ransom; another smuggled it to Aberdeen. The last straw came when some kids took it outside for football practice. Nowadays Bentham’s head is fairly secure; at least enough so that I wasn’t able to steal it.
Perhaps most interesting is that Jeremy Bentham’s mummified presence is still occasionally required to attend meetings. On the centennial and sesquicentennial anniversaries of University College London’s founding, Bentham’s corpse was wheeled into a meeting of the College Council. In the official records, Jeremy Bentham is listed as “present but not voting.”
In other words, Jeremy Bentham has abstained from beyond the grave!
This also makes Jeremy Bentham the most successful bureaucrat in history: he has been able to attend meetings and do nothing of consequence for over two centuries.
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