The Dark Side of Human-Centricity

My vision is to make the world more human-centred. I’m bringing my vision to life by designing products that are driven by human needs rather than technology. I also give workshops about user research and design so that others can join me on making the world more human-centred.

I believe a human-centred world is a better world.
This morning I woke up with a striking thought though:

Is human-centricity harming the world?

I’m currently watching the Netflix show Last Kingdom which plays in the middle age when the British fought against the Danes to protect their land. The series makes clear how little human life was worth in that time: It was normal to die in battle or pay with life when making a mistake.

This has completely changed nowadays. What is part of the constitutional law of every democracy was recently proven by the corona pandemic: There is nothing more valuable on earth than human life.

This is the reason why we take protection of our lives so seriously: We spend millions on medical research, change our environment to our needs and banned death punishment in most western countries.

We do not harm ourselves anymore.

But do we harm the planet?

It feels obvious to answer this questions with yes. We’re taking ourselves so important that we’re allowing us to exploit nature and living beings other than ourselves. The ironic part is that we do it so much that we eventually harm ourselves.

It feels like we’re still fighting the same battles as people fought in the middle age: In the end, people will die because of the actions we take. And most likely the “poor and weak” will die.

Back then the “poor and weak” was the army with the fewest men or the weakest swords. Now it’s people in development countries who don’t have the money and rights to protect themselves.

Cause and effect

The main thing that has changed is the direct link between cause and effect.

When a man killed another man in the middle age, he saw the effect of his action immediately. He saw the pain he caused this other man. He might also felt sorry for him and his family for a short moment.

When we nowadays decide to eat meat or book a transatlantic flight, we don’t get to see that someone will eventually die, because the effect of our cause will happen years later. By that time, the whole situation will have changed and a lot more variables have come in, making the relation much more complex than direct cause and effect.

But it is true that our actions have an effect. On the planet and therefore also on the people who live there.

So coming back to my initial question:
Is human-centricity harming the world?

It depends

It depends on our understanding of humanity.

If humanity means humans first, for sure. Because we lost the link of direct cause end effect, we do things that might enhance our lives short-time (transatlantic flights), but will harm the world long-term (global warming).

But if we understand that human beings have always been and will always be part of a bigger ecosystem, human-centricity can bring us back to our original balance with nature.
If we acknowledge that humans need other life than themselves, human-centricity can help us support these lives in the same way as we support ourselves.

Intuition

This sounds a bit wishy-washy because this is where our intuition comes in. Being in balance with nature is one of the most natural instincts of human beings. It is where we originate from and is therefore deeply rooted in us. It’s just hard nowadays to bring this intuition to the surface when we’re fighting against each other.

There are countless stories of people making unethical decisions because they were pushed by their managers who in turn were driven by being better and stronger than their competitors. From Volkswagen’s Diesel scandal to Amazon’s exploitation of tax loopholes.

We’re fighting against each other as we did in the middle age.

Nobody is fighting against the planet on purpose

As soon as we stop fighting against each other and begin to be more empathetic with one another, we will also stop exploiting the planet.

Human-centricity is an impressive tool to gain empathy. Therefore I hold onto the belief that human-centricity will make the world better. It’s definitely more complex than a direct cause and effect relationship. But I trust that it will bring the right effects over time. Come join me proving it.