I just came from seeing the movie Sicko by Michael Moore. I found it a very engaging critique of the American health system. It felt less heavy handed than his previous film, Bowling for Columbine, although the camera, in an Oxfam commercial effect, seems to focus too much on people crying. For those who do not know, Sicko is Michael Moore's documentary/expose on the lack of universal healthcare in the US. It deconstructs the myths behind why there should not be universal healthcare in the US by exposing the maximization of profit over care in the HMO system, and the effectiveness of universal healthcare in Canada, Britain, France, and Cuba. By the time you are done, you really want to move to France although one wonders what affect President Nicolas Sarkozy will have on universal healthcare, the 35-hour work week, 5 weeks minimal vacation, 6 month paid maternity leave, practically free child care, and the services in which new mothers are provided a helping, who will do your laundry.
Besides reconsidering a move to France, what it really made me reflect on was American values. Perhaps because I am giving a presentation on Values/Design/Experience next week at the IRS, it helped me refine three specific points regarding design and American governmentality:
- The valuation of your life (or that of your kids, community, or nation) over that of others is the root of all evil. Thus, the valuation of profit over the lives of others should be a one way ticket to the Inferno.
- The core value of any American government agency should be democracy, or strengthening the power of the people. In the same way that speed is the core value or "brand essence" of Nike.
- Design is the translator of these values into tangible experiences for people.
The valuation of your life over others
This past week in my 365 Tao Daily Meditations written by Deng Ming-Dao, there was a line about how "every person should be equally valued as a human being." I thought a lot about how evil happens when we say that my life, my family's, my community's, my country's life has more value than this human beings. In the case of health care, there seems to be an attitude by the Health Industry, that their profits are more valuable than the lives of human beings. This is discussed ad naseum in the film the Corporation. Yet what became apparent in the section of Sicko about the HMO industry was how, starting with the pact between Nixon and Henry Kaiser in 1973, the government became complicit in the industry's murder of people due to denial of service.
It puts into perspective for me, what is happening at the Cook County Bureau of Health Services and the patient billing and payment policy. The conflict between the Bureau staff and even administration I would say, who are focused on providing care, and the government which seeks to fill its budget deficits. Although the idea of the policy is to get those who can pay to help subsidize those who cannot pay, there is a higher costs involved with patients and dcotors worrying about money as opposed to health, that makes the contrast with Canada, Britain, and France seem so stark.
The Value Democracy
In the movie, this British labor gentleman states that there are two ways to rule through fear and through demoralization. He goes on to say how in France, the government is afraid of the people, while in the US, the people are afraid of the government. As I said, next week I am giving a presentation at the IRS, and part of what I want to talk about is the value, democracy, and what it means to translate that into tangible experiences for people. Democracy is government by the people governed. I had an interesting discussion with a friend about the removal of the barrier between the government and the governed, because the governed are the government itself, not an alien other. Thus, the brand of any government agency should be people's participation of the "conduct of conduct" of governance. This means people's involvement in the formation of law and policy, in the citizen-centered design of government artifacts, and the evaluation of those policies and artifacts as they impact their lives. The message of any government interaction should be one of, "I am the government and can make positive change."
Design as translator of values into experiences
AIGA expresses this idea of design as the intermediary between information and experience. I prefer the metaphor of translator because it further defines the role and the requirements of being an effective designer in the government sector. The designer as translator has to have in depth knowledge of both cultures whose values are being translated. She has to know the nuances of each language in both their connotations and denotations for various sub-cultures in the group. She has to select the right word, image, symbol, material, to align the meanings of both languages to achieve communication. She has to do so with the understanding of the full gravity of those choices to avoid any diplomatic incidents. Because through her efforts, the abstract becomes tangible and people can then react to it, positively, negatively, or neutrally, but they respond to the experience her words create. What is being made manifest is more than information (which assumes a decontextualized neutrality of meaning) but values. It is values that people experience, not information.
For America, we really need to look at our values, particularly our value of democracy, and how it embodies the idea the "everyone should be valued as a human being." For design and designers, we need to align all of our decisions towards the manifestation of that value, democracy. As an African American woman, born within the first generation of that group to truly be born free (due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), I carry the hope that it IS possible for our government agencies to embody the value of Democracy or at least I am willing to work towards it.