Dark Wisdom (3 of 3): How Design Manipulates The Way We Think, Feel and Behave

How To Use Dark Wisdom For Good?

This third column is part of a series of three posts about Dark Wisdom: How design manipulates the way we think, feel and behave. In this last post, we focus on Good Design.

The biggest problem with this dark wisdom is that those with a desire for power and dominance are more keen to embrace its principles than those who want to do good. Do-gooders on the left, always tend to convince us of our moral duty. They believe we will eventually do the right thing if only we could see things the way they see it and if only we could realize that it’s the right thing to do. I saw a heart-warming video the other day that went viral on social media.

A young intelligent black activist woman, called Chloe Valdary held a very eloquent plea against compassion by the progressive elite for the Baltimore rioters. She argued that showing understanding for the rioters and seeing it as an expression of the feeling of powerlessness of the black community simply is racism in disguise. It’s like treating black citizens as helpless children who can’t express themselves otherwise. It’s very tempting to agree with this argument, as 50.000 people on Facebook did. The problem is: It’s not that it’s wrong, but it doesn’t change a thing. Richard Rorty, one of the biggest philosophers of the 20th Century once famously said:

We resent the idea that we shall have to wait for the strong to turn their piggy little eyes to the suffering of the weak, slowly open their dried-up little hearts. We desperately hope there is something stronger and more powerful that will hurt the strong if they do not do these things.

Rorty despised utopian thinking and thought of philosophy as nothing more than a nice literary genre. Fun to read and fun to discuss, but holding no relation with reality. If you want to shape the world into a better place, then the only thing you can aim for is to convince the strong that not being evil is in their own self-interest. He pleaded for a far more pragmatist approach to changing the world. Instead of thinking about what people should do, think about a way to get them to act.

If you want people to donate to charity, the most effective strategy by far is still to make it really difficult to say no to the cute girl who just rang your doorbell. If you want to prevent kids from smoking: turn it into an addiction they simply can’t afford. If you want bankers to stop gambling, make them personally accountable for the losses. If you want kids to get passionate about learning: turn geekiness into something incredibly cool. If you want your cops to stop using excessive violence, stop providing them with military materials in the first place. If you want to prevent Western Muslims from radicalizing, start offering them opportunities to earn more respect in our society. If you want your employee to work hard, simply walk around every day and ask them what they are doing and if you can help. If you want people to recycle: make it more difficult for them not to recycle by offering transparent bags that look really filthy when you throw organic waste in it. If you want people to get more energy efficient, simply show them how much more they pay for their bill than their neighbours.

The list of behavioural interventions is endless. All we need to do is convince the strong to implement them for their own good. 🙂


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Nah, I'd rather be unpersuasive

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You walk through life without caring if you ever have an impact.

You think persuasion is for perverts.

You are perfectly happy being charmless.

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