Design Theory Reflection 11

I found this week’s reading a little confusing because I felt that I didn’t have any of the proper background information to understand what the author was speaking about. I have read Kant in the past, but I’ve only read Groundwork of Metaphysics of Morals, so I really only understand his ideas around ethics, and not so much about what his thoughts were politically. What I was able to draw from the reading in combination with the videos, was how damaging ideas around globalism and universalism are to the human experience.

When I was trying to understand what the author was saying about Kant, I was reminded of the philosophy courses I took in my undergraduate education. Both were required, but I took one that focused on the philosophy of human nature, and the other was on philosophical ethics. I learned about Kant more so in my ethics course, but when I think back to the fact that I took a course about the philosophy of human nature, I question it. On the one hand, the course did go through ontology of what it was to be human by exploring Descartes’s, “I think therefore I am.” However, I wonder if there really is a single human nature. When so many people have grown up in different parts of the world and with different lived experiences, how could we determine what is the nature of humans everywhere?

When I think of human nature, and how it’s discussed in American and other Western cultures, capitalism has determined that human nature is selfish, and competitive, which is why we could never have something like communism. Maybe this is true of Western society, but there are cultures that do care for and work together for the benefit of their community, instead of individual gain. When I question if we can really define human nature without considering these cultural differences between humans, I’m not questioning people’s inherent humanity — I think there are things that make us unique and different as compared to animals. Because we are all human, we are all deserving of things like kindness and respect. However, these values I think are important might look differently in other cultures, and other cultures might express these values differently than I might. I think smiling at people is kind and friendly — other people might find my smiling at them and how I smile at them disingenuous or too much or strange. To conclude this segment, I just think that trying to figure out what human beings are inherently like (vs. what they are in an ontological sense) doesn’t make sense.

I really enjoyed the videos that we were supposed to watch. I liked Sun Ra: Space is the Place a lot. I might try to watch the whole thing, but I thought the clips were really interesting, and the cinematography/style of the film was unlike anything I had seen before. I’ve seen a lot of science fiction and I really thought that the planet the man was on looked really interesting. I also thought it was funny when he came to earth and all the kids were making fun of his shoes. Smoke That Travels was also really interesting. It was sad to see how hard it is for indingenous people to hang onto their culture, because the American government is working really hard to erase their stories but I think it’s really beautiful how hard they’re fighting and continuing their traditions.

I think what all the clips have in common is that they show ways of living and culture that are alternative to the current white supremacist, universalist and globalist society we currently live in. In Sun Ra, this alternative to the way young black people are currently living in America is shown to be some planet in space, where the vegetation and animals are very different, and there are no white people living there. In Smoke That Travels, that way of life that is different than the predominant way that white Americans live in this country, is a way of life that is thousands of years old, that has a deep history and is rich with traditions. But in our homogenous society, both the prospect of living differently is erased, as well as the history of living differently is erased. What needs to be changed, is that people should be able to live in communities in any way that they like, and embrace their cultures, their traditions, and their differences. No one should be forced to live in the way of the dominant group.

Katelynn Browne is a current graduate student at NYU who specializes in user experience design with interests around social change.