12.29.12 | Transblog
Perhaps it’s too soon, or too shocking. Some may even say that it’s in bad taste. So before I begin, let me say that there are no words that could adequately describe the horror, sorrow, and anger I felt when I heard about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. My intention in writing this post is not to offend, but rather to contribute to our discourse around such tragedies, the examination of the events that lead up to them, and how our political system can use such events as catalysts to improve our society.
We are a nation at a political crossroads. Our governmental system, which one might argue was founded on the ideals of agonism—where “democracy is a situation in which the facts, beliefs, and practices of a society are forever examined and challenged”—has devolved into a system where no politician is able to truly take a stand on any issue without jeopardizing his/her political future. Where the original meaning of the term “adversary” (“a relationship that includes disagreement and strife but that lacks a violent desire to abolish the other”) has been twisted into a notion that anyone who disagrees with your political views is an enemy and must be crushed. Our system is not working, and events such as the Sandy Hook shooting, serve as both an opportunity for change and as an example of our failings.
According to Carl DiSalvo, “The purpose of [adversarial design], is not to achieve identifiable form or instance of change but instead to prompt debate and serve as a kind of material evidence in political discourse.” No one can deny that shooting in Connecticut has sparked a great deal politically-slanted discussion. Many might disagree with my assessment, and more to the point might find this line of thinking distasteful, but I believe the shootings can and should be labeled as an act of adversarial design.
According to DiSalvo, “the purpose of [adversarial design], is not to achieve identifiable form or instance of change but instead to prompt debate and serve as a kind of material evidence in political discourse,” given the fallout from the abhorrent event that occurred two weeks ago, DiSalvo’s definition can be neatly applied. From the moment we learned that Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six adults (including his mother), the public discourse has swirled around issues related to guns (and tragically to a lesser extent on mental illness and societal cohesion, but I digress). Shortly after the shooting President Obama created a task-force on gun violence, and we have collectively as a nation been struggling with the question of who should be allowed to own guns; how gun permits should be granted; what type of guns citizens should constitutionally be allowed to own; how we can better implement our laws; and on, and on.
I acknowledge, that in design we often discuss intention, but I believe that we are missing out on opportunities for true reflection, and societal improvement, when we focus solely on events that have been designed conscientiously. If we look at the Sandy Hook tragedy, the shooting served the most basic purpose of adversarial design as described by DiSalvo, by being an instance of confrontation which provided our politicians and our communities with the regrettable opportunity to examine the current implementation of our gun-laws and our attitudes around personal safety. You might call it tragically bad design, and you would be right. So maybe we need a word or term for instances where an event or object is created, that manifests outcomes/effects similar to those of something that has been intentionally designed. Maybe we as designers, and as a society, need to pay closer attention to these influential events as being both designed and an opportunity for a design solution. Doing so, might just help us move beyond being simply reactive to tragedies such as the one at Sandy Hook.
*All quotes attributed to Carl DiSalvo. (Carl DiSalvo, “Adversarial Design.” In Design Thinking, Design Theory, edited by Ken Friedman and Erik Stolterman, 1-26. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012.)