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Self-interest, democracy, justice, and injustice

As I monitor the US National Design Policy Initiative reactions and the ongoing wrangling in Congress, I have been thinking a lot about self-interest. While not quite an Ayn Rand Objectivist, I believe that self-interest is actually a healthy thing. You should know what it is that you want and why, what are the things that would further enhance your life, your ambitions, your survival. Self-interest can provide the boundaries of self-love that keep you from being exploited or abused by other people. It is a guard against totalitarianism.

People ask me how I deal with the self-interest of the groups involved in the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative and I respond that my job is not to dissuade them from their self-interests, but to guide them into seeing how their self-interests are met within this wider community and framework. Self-interest is healthy as long as you allow the self-interests of others to flourish as well. War, fundamentalism, genocide are all the result of a clash of self-interests where one group says, "I will annihilate your self-interests to protect my own." This is where self-interest leads to injustice.

This is why I am so disappointed in people who say, "I cannot support the initiative because there's this thing about patents and intellectual property and I don't do that as a graphic designer, although the others are really relevant to me."

Or those who say, "This thing is not valuable because it doesn't 100% reflect my interests, but only 65%."

Now if the 35% percent actually harmed that person I would say okay. But in most cases, the 35% has no direct effect on them and may benefit some other group. Injustice happens when a person refuses to tolerate the interests of others. The great American clash of values was that one group of people disrespected the right to life and liberty to Native Americans and blacks, because they wanted  land to raise tobacco and cotton.

A just society is one in which self-interests can exist harmoniously because one group recognizes that by allowing the self-interest of others to flourish, then theirs has an opportunity to flourish as well. This is not naivete or romanticism, but the cold reality of global interdependency on the same planet.

Canadian politician, Lester Peterson writes, "We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest."

American democratic public policy, because of its scale of impact, has to operate on the basis of mutual toleration and self-interest. This has made me better appreciate the wranglings of Congress over the appropriations bill, now that the Republicans are actually collaborating.

Yet, it saddens me that people do not seem to understand the importance of mutual toleration and self-interest or live by it.


gabriel patrocinio


internet surfing on the subject of design policies brought me to your blog today, and i was catch by the synchronicity of actions here and there.

you'll understand better if you take a look at my blog:

i'll keep in touch!

best regards from rio de janeiro,



I was googling "Design Anthropology" and stumbled upon your page. I am a young, aspiring minority designer who's been looking for ways to grow my design career and knowledge through anthropology...glad I stumbled upon your blog. I have been looking for a masters program here in Colorado that will meld the two together but no luck :(

Thanks for the inspiring blog, keep it up!



Just tuned in today, and that is a a wise and very thoughtfully centered article. I appreciate it.

Out here we have the California government wrangling, and this morning conversation was about the way certain idealogues are as if fighting a war that no longer exists. Those wars were so often exactly about clashes of single viewpoints, and the issues of honor and respect that obtained.

Let's hope this crisis sooner rather than later teaches us to actualize better paths of thinking. At the moment, there is a lot of reaction.


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