Logic, Money, Power, Self Interest and Words

The other night I spent time with colleagues (Cameron Tonkinwise, Mark Baskinger, Gill Wildman and Allan Chochinov) discussing what do you say to the NRA to present back what we perceive to be the idiocy of putting armed guards in schools. For the all the facts that we have that we know makes this proposition seem beyond foolish, stupid even, we also knew that they would have carefully crafted and emotionally balanced counter arguments founded in the rhetoric of heritage, rites, responsibility and fear. Four such strong holds on human emotions, and bound to how people see themselves and who they want to be as responsible citizens that the irrationality of the proposition gets so easily glossed or hammered over.

Today I watched a Ted Talk by Lawrence Lessig about the manipulative power of the funders and the lobbyists who are the real power brokers of democracy in the USA. The ones who pull the purse strings, who make arguments for issues that satisfy them. He brought it down to a figure that 132 people are the ones with the most power – they are the top funders of politicians, and therefore they then decide who it is that will get to go before the people for ‘free’ election. Horrific – all in the name of democracy.

This led me to then go and investigate how much did the NRA put into the last election – it seems that there spending on the election was $25,162,295. $18m of that was put against candidates rather than supporting the ones that were on their side.

They state that ‘The National Rifle Association is a conservative-leaning organization that primarily raises money to support the protection of the Second Amendment and gun rights in general. It typically supports Republicans. During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent at least $100,000 in support of, or in opposition to, 11 different candidates. In Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race alone, the NRA spent more than $1.43 million either supporting eventual victor Pat Toomey, a Republican, or opposing Joe Sestak, a Democrat.’ (http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/detail.php?cmte=National%20Rifle%20Assn&cycle=2012)

I read this and I wonder – why do you have to invest more in those you want to bring down than those you want to promote? Is it because it easier to damage someone’s reputation than it is to promote someone? To discredit rather than to credit? Is it because there aren’t really that many people who you can support, so you use this strategy to make up for small numbers? I’m sure political strategists could tell me the rationale. But in the mean time it leaves me wondering, and perplexed.

How do we as citizens, as designers, as people who believe in the values of democracy, with its tenets of being able to speak, to be fairly represented, who call for rational shared approaches to well being- how do we as such naive beings, find the way to act to in a David vs Goliath kind of way, against the self interest of groups such as this?

This is what I think has been at the heart of this studio course. Together and individually we have looked to find ways to act as social designers, designers committed to social change that is for the care of all, and not for the interest of some. In this we have worked around the social and cultural practices of Western Pennsylvania where hunting is a part of many people’s lives. We acknowledge the second amendment rite as much as we have discussed its relevance to contemporary life. We have also been shocked and dumbfounded by the power of some, the gun manufacturing agencies above all. In a class of designers, how can one category of product – guns and weapons – be the only unregulated industrial product in the USA?

Developing strategies to speak and act within this framework is complicated. As designers it feels like we are playing a very masterful game of chess.