An Editorial Note from Gabrielle Kennedy

When it became clear that Joe Biden had won the US presidential election, celebrations erupted across the world. Clips of kids, parents and the elderly expressing their joy through smiles and dance went viral. The rapture – despite the ongoing spread of this devastating pandemic – is contagious, a seeming celebration and victory of basic human decency, a trait that’s been seriously undervalued of late.

“Tonight, we are seeing all over this nation… indeed across the world, an outpouring of joy, of hope, renewed faith in tomorrow to bring a better day,” Biden seems to shout to all.

Issue 77 was conceived before all this, back when DAMN° was struck by how a dearth of positivity, a deficiency in happiness was permeating our mood. Joy was missing.

The pandemic is easy to blame and has ushered in a new type of exhaustion. Everyone is just so tired. I think that the absence of any demarcations between all the many things we are expected to be right now – worker, manager, parent, lover, friend, creative – is becoming increasingly blurred. It’s one intense existence from the same chair and blinding (and binding) screen.

Interestingly, it was the possibility of a return to norms that so many election commentators were immediately chanting. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and Van Jones talked about how we have become “insufficiently shocked” by people who trample on our norms. Even Hillary Clinton talked to the New York Times about how damaging the last four years has been for our “norms and values”.

This chant struck hard because so many articles in the issue explore these fallacies and take a critical stance on who designs “our” norms, and how an unconscious acceptance of a norm can stifle freedom and block happiness.

“The point is we do not know what is normal, what is true, what are the facts anymore,” says Avsar Gurpinar of Ambiguous Standards Institute when I asked him about the inconsistency. “I am not being simply misinformed in a traditional manner. The information that I am getting is so contaminated, delivered in a nice package with cute graphics that say NORMAL in huge reassuring letters. I am sensing that this is absolutely not normal, but I don’t have the guts or resources to declare that.”

The point here is not that Trump lost, but that 81 million people realized that it would not be normal for them to allow him to set national and international standards anymore. It is the acknowledgment that one thing is better, or at least more normal than the other.

Design plays a substantial role in both establishing and challenging norms – our connection or rejection of which affects happiness. The way information is shared. The way mood is manipulated. The way personal and political decisions are made. Covid-19, inequality, social injustice… our ability to be happy is designed by design.

Generally speaking I see a connection between the spread of miserabalism and the collapse of resilience – not just a coping-with-hardship type of resilience, but a mindful mettle that a life of privilege seems quick to erode. Cancelling, avoiding, silencing, only weakens our ability to deal with hardship. A lack of resilience distances us from ourselves and makes us anxious.

Design needs to look at the world as it really is so that problems and challenges can be connected to the whole gamut of emotional existence where nothing is denied, nothing is cancelled.

Being happy is never going to be easy. Our system of earning and spending is more a reminder of what we don’t have than an activity that brings any meaning or connection.

Because our coverage in this issue climbs to just that conclusion, that it is meaning and connection that makes us happy – friendships, family, relationships; time spent in nature and enough community infrastructure like parks, gardens, cafes and sport facilities – the things and the spaces that bring people together, enabling genuine bonds between diverse communities to not just exist but to thrive.

Gabrielle Kennedy

Illustration by Olivier Heiligers.

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