Monday, September 30, 2013

You're bigger than your skin suit, Part 2

The High Line in New York, between 1999-2006
(Image by Joel Sternfeld from High Line)

Rat Park was a study conducted in the late 70's and published in the early 80's, which provided evidence suggesting that the environment played a large part in drug addiction, not the drug itself. Funny how this has largely been ignored (why have an "end poverty now" campaign when a "war on drugs" sounds sexier?).

The popular concept of drug addiction is based on a disease model, which tells the story of how we get diseased (addicted): drugs are addictive, taking drugs leads to addictive behavior because of how they act on the brain, and this in turn creates addicts.

This is based on studies of isolated, caged lab rats getting hooked up intravenously to heroin they could control. If you were put in solitary confinement, what would you do to escape that kind of punishment? And is this a realistic model to use for how people get addicted to drugs (among other things)?

Path of the High Line, photograph taken between 1999-2006
(Image credit unknown, from Highline)

Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander didn't think so, and he decided to bring the environment into the equation. You can read the 41-page comic book, Rat Park, by the brilliant and meticulous (damn, did he ever do his research!) Stuart McMillen, to get the story.

In short, your context matters, because it shapes who you are. Your environment matters, because it influences your choices. Design matters (see? I told you I'd bring it back to design), because it creates possibilities.

The High Line in 2011
(Image by Iwan Baan, check out his photography)

What surrounds you can support you or suppress you. Cages take many forms. They can be as big as a city. They can be as invisible as a belief. They can also be transformed into a gorgeous park.

The High Line: from abandoned and neglected to connected and loved.
(Image by Christina Hicks)

Give a damn about the design of your room, your office, your neighborhood, your town, and your environment, and you will be rewarded. Ugliness disconnects us from ourselves and each other, and can lead us to withdraw and find ways to numb our pain. Beauty, on the other hand--beauty, and the urge to make beautiful, attracts support, resources, and gives birth to the reality of a better present with the probability of a wonderful future.

Invite Beauty,


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