Sometimes I wonder if one of the biggest pitfalls of moral reasoning in professional life is the fallacy that “although I’m aware my job involves me doing something immoral, if I don’t do it someone else will anyways..So why turn down a good opportunity to make money?”
Sadly I’ve heard this excuse used so many times, usually pronounced in a passive hopeless tone.
Of course its hard to imagine that anything we do at work is immoral because we live according to the law and never intentionally cause harm to anyone. But is our design harming the factory line worker, be it by stress, or through the use of solvent adhesives? Or are the materials we selected for use on our design polluting the environment? If so surely we are part of an immoral system.
I know we should be pragmatic and realize that reform doesn’t happen overnight, but I hope designers can become more aware of harmful factors and the negative externalities of their industry.
I’m not saying that is easy to act conscientiously, but how many of us even consider the consequences of or work?
Are corporate lawyers justified in representing clients with unethical ambitions?
Are international architects justified in building in countries with poor building regulation and workers rights?
Are designers justified designing products that are made in countries with bad waste management that pollute and impacts the health of the local population?
Are food chemists justified in using chemicals to enhance processed food flavor, or increase profit margins?
Are engineers justified in designing weapons?
and are sales people justified in selling them?
Ultimately its immoral to provide a service, or create any product that has harmful consequences.
“If I don’t do it someone else will anyways”, is usually the conclusion and justification I get from many peers when I ask them how they reconcile with the less moral aspects of their profession. For example designers and pollution their designs create during manufacture and after disposal.
I can empathize how important it is to have a job and earn money, I’m in exactly the same boat..but at what cost to our culture and the environment? Can we really leave the future of our children to chance?
What will the long term consequences of continued, prolonged unethical behavior be for our society and environment? For our grandchildren? Especially on an overpopulated planet.
Surely we can all put our individual talents to a better use than marketing, or sexing-up next season’s cell phones, or developing another half-true advertisement to sell a car.
Why instead of solving problems, do we try so hard to create illusions?
Think of it this way, if no one had questioned the status quo of “if the if you don’t someone else will” excuse, we might still have slavery, child marriages, institutionalized homophobia..and none of the work reforms we are privileged to such have, such as the 5 day work week, the 8 hour day and paid holidays. Someone challenged the norm and fought, just so you did not have to work on Saturday.
The greatest minds in history were independent thinkers who were driven and with strong personal principles they never settled for conventions.
To all my designer friends: Conventions are conservative constructs, only the Unconventional can be progressive. Our design approach should be unconventional if are designs are to be progressive.
To be unquestioning and content with doing the same work as others, to not question the Status Quo is an act of conformism and not conducive to progress. Because the relativism of the “if I don’t do it someone else will” as history shows has no limits. Such an excuse can be used to justify virtually anything and the more we promote it’s use, the more immoral behavior can become normal and acceptable.
Besides “two wrongs don’t make a right”…and that’s something we’ve all known since before we could read and write.
However I propose that “If I don’t do it someone else will” excuse could be turned around into a positive encouragement, to stimulate positive progress and maybe that’s what we should focus on instead.
To be the first to do something differently from the norm, in order begin changing the game for the better.
Who will get the credit for a good idea? Why not me?
Who will get the credit for an environmentally friendly solution, or for creating positive and healthy outcomes through innovation? It could be you.
To all those ambitious designers out there, think of it this way; if you don’t come out with a positive design breakthrough, someone else will.
Don’t be normal, be great.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi