Category Archives: reflection

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.’ (

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.

The why of guns

Over the past few weeks or months really, I have been more engaged with the issue of guns, gun safety, gun violence, deaths, shootings and rights to bear arms than I have ever been before. I have found this to be both fascinating, depressing and frustrating. I have tried to listen and make sense of the various perspectives, to overcome my innate dismissal of any pro-gun for personal protection, and as a vegetarian for hunting either – and it isn’t easy.

I follow the twitter stream ‘gun deaths’ and am infuriated at the idiocy of the number of deaths; of mindless shootings; of police shootings; and of children being shot, shooting others or themselves.

I listened to the first episode on guns from this American Life podcast yesterday and felt myself despairing. The teachers and principal at the School are amazing. Their love and belief in their students is phenomenal, the tragedy of the situation is incomprehensible. As I listened I found myself thinking that well, if this WAS a war zone – if it was Baghdad, Bosnia or the streets of a war torn South American mythical city, I might feel a little bit better about it, but even that is reprehensible. This account of kids feeling so threatened on their walk to and from school, of accepting being shot as being a norm, and this is all because of where you live with your parents and not because you choose to join a gang is out of control. This is a future generation that has a matter of fact attitude to violence, to threats of being shot, of death or injury. They have plans for how to fall to minimize injury – this is the stuff of battle. And not the battle of the sports field, but battle that we might think has some meaning.

It leaves me wondering – is this a war zone? Are the streets really to be conceived as that? And not by all, but only by our youth – the future? What or where is the sanity in that? What does it mean for the future? To my mind it doesn’t bode well… hopefully I am wrong. But, when you couple it with all the other inequalities of contemporary life in one of the leading, modern, richest and most civilized nations – is that really what this is?

Today whilst listening to the podcast ‘How to think about guns’ on Freakonomics – many things in the podcast annoyed me, but others didn’t. And, what struck me most was that this was the first time that I have read any commentary on the ‘why’ of guns. What is the social phenomenon that makes people so afraid, so embittered, so battle hungry that they need to be in this state of protection or attack?

Some things that came to mind as a result of their conversation were:

  • if guns were invented now, then we most likely wouldn’t make them available to everyone
  • the argument that if we take away guns then knives will become the norm is not really sound as knives are still less cumbersome
  • most gun deaths are suicide
  • guns in the USA are historically part of the culture and that is being held on to – but relatively this was true elsewhere as well – so why did they stay on here and grow as they have? the 2nd amendment or an arms industry that could make more money?
  • there is a marked difference linguistically between naming something as being a robbery, burglary and a home invasion – and with that, how does that affect my perspective of needing to protect my home and family?
  • when and how did Pittsburgh in particular transform from being a place of community, of generosity, of unlocked doors to becoming a place of fear and protection?