Neurons, synapses, electrochemical receptors, and a compromised immune system. Photo by Izuddin Helmi Adnan on Unsplash.

The Language of Empire

Learning to speak the lingua franca of oppression

A retrospective of 50 years as a human being on planet Earth.

His Diet

In the early 1970s, my father was known as a doctor, a paediatrician with a private practice. He owned a building in our town that was divided into two parts. It was part doctor’s office and part daycare. He observed the eating habits of children and concluded that their cognitive and behavioural abilities were largely determined by their diets. For these children, hyperactivity and learning disabilities could be correlated to the consumption of the heavily processed and manufactured foods that had become typical of the diet in a modern consumer society. He had a chart on the wall to detail the chemical processes in the brain, describing to his patients, in marathon 3-hour sessions, how neurons, synapses and electrochemical receptors in the brain could experience something similar to a short circuit. Garbage in, garbage out. The delicate chemical balance of the brain is affected by what we eat, and certain substances can disrupt the delivery of messages in the brain to such an extent that the effects can severely affect behaviour and cognitive ability in children. In adults, these biochemical imbalances would manifest as migraine headaches.

  • Bananas
  • Raisins
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate

His Jesus

At the entrance to his doctor’s office, my father had composed, in vinyl adhesive letters, the words of a scripture.

The Counter-Culture

As I have stated elsewhere, the effect of conflict is to put enemies into an adversarial relationship. In a relationship, people reflect back to each other thoughts, ideas, actions, habits and patterns of behaviour that eventually evolve into mirror images of the other.

Isolation and Alienation

Art was my refuge from the isolation and alienation of growing up evangelical in a secular Canadian society. The last thing I wanted to do in high school was to stand out. So, I became invisible. My art became my world. As a Christian, I was taught to be in the world, but not of it. The Christian strategy was to create parallel institutions so that it would not be necessary to mix with non-Christians or be tainted by their sexual promiscuity and perversion, secular relativism, liberal heresies and New Age mysticism. The subculture attempted to become an island to itself.

The Bauhaus

I became more aware of my privileged upbringing when I was accepted to a 2–year graphic design program at a local college when most of the other students had started with a 1-year foundation in art courses. Because I had access to a darkroom, process camera, silkscreen equipment, phototypesetting equipment, a letterpress printer, and an offset printer in an affluent suburban high school, I was able to show a portfolio of work that allowed me to skip the foundation year.

Building an Identity

My father was born to Chinese parents in Hong Kong, educated in Australia and emigrated to Canada in the mid-60s. My mother was born to English-Canadian parents in Vancouver, Canada. In some ways, because of my mixed heritage, I grew up without a well-formed identity of my own. I don’t speak Chinese. I grew up in a suburban, Canadian home, the eldest of three brothers, assuming the identity of the son of an evangelical doctor.

Building the Church

After two years, I was working as a typesetter and production artist on the ground floor of the Vancouver design studio and I was restless, because I wanted to be a designer.

Building a Foundation

I had not yet baptized my education, so I enrolled in Trinity Western University to learn more about communications and fine arts. I discovered how much I enjoyed pouring over books and writing, inspired by Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, Leiss, Kline and Jhally, Studs Terkel, Paul Johnson, Bill Moyers, Noam Chomsky, Neil Postman, Walter Ong, Jacques Ellul and Marshall McLuhan.

Building a Family

At the age of 23, I married my best friend, a girl I had met at a Christian summer camp when I was about 12 years old.

Building a Career

Graphic design tends to be a metropolitan profession, where the community centres around the downtown core, close to the highest concentration of business activity.

Building a Community

Our family became active members of the Abbotsford Vineyard Church, where I played keyboards in the worship band and organized random acts of kindness with the lead pastor and the worship pastor. Over time, our activities grew into a social movement within the city that we branded Love Abbotsford. The movement spread to several cities throughout Canada, U.S., England, Australia and India as Love Your City.

Building Tools and Networks

Domain7, a web development business in Abbotsford asked me to help out with branding and print design for one of their clients. Over time, I was invited to become part of the growing web agency as they built web applications for local businesses and tech startups. I worked on projects to develop business processes within the agency to manage proposals, projects, human resources, and knowledge sharing.

Building a Design School

Since I left Domain7 at the end of 2012, I have been challenging myself to follow through on a dream that I have had since the beginning of my career. I have been inspired by the socialist, utopian ideals of the Bauhaus to rebuild society by creating a school of art, design and architecture.

Building a Community of Artists

At the same time, I sought to reconnect with people from the faith community. I was invited to participate in a project to profile 100 local artists, creatives and innovators as part of a crowdfunded book called WeMakeStuff, Volume 02.

The Catastrophe

At the end of 2013, I realized too late that I had taken on too much.

  • The faculty position
  • The national executive position
  • The open source community
  • The artist community
  • The design career

The Renovation

I was unemployed and I had, in my own mind, completely trashed my reputation and my career. I had no idea what I was going to do for work.

The Crumbling Foundations

My business ideas didn’t pan out. The collective wasn’t viable and I admitted that the business concept was a failure.

The Deconstruction

We discovered that there were people whose hearts were breaking over the brokenness of the world, and we began opening up to each other about doubts and questions.

Reinventing Myself

  • The corporation: purchasing power
  • The church: perpetuating abuse

Deconstructing Design

Meanwhile, the design world has also been experiencing an epiphany of sorts.

Taking Responsibility

We must own our part. We who have supported the empire — the government, the corporation and the church — in elevating political, economic and religious values above the value of human beings, either unwittingly or willingly, have been complicit in perpetuating a system of oppression. Taking responsibility is only the first step. We must make reparations. We do this by redesigning and rebuilding.

The Reconstruction

Now, almost 100 years since the founding of the Bauhaus, we are reconsidering the modernist project.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

— R. Buckminster Fuller

  • Creating and working together
  • Sharing our lives together

Designer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective. We are exploring how we imagine, design, and build the future together.

Designer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective. We are exploring how we imagine, design, and build the future together.