People make places toxic

Alastair Somerville
1 min readOct 16, 2017


Hurricane Ophelia is heading towards Ireland now and I’ve been watching it on this website.

Looking at the global imagery of wind patterns and also because I’m visiting Bristol today, I was reminded of discussions about the transatlantic slave trade and sailing ships.

The Triangle

There is an argument about how the slave trade was enabled by the wind patterns of the Atlantic.

The wind South to Africa, West to the Caribbean and East back to Europe.

A natural triangle for sailing ships and thus for trade.

It’s an interesting argument.

But it’s stupid.

Toxic blame

The problem is it’s externalising and blaming natural weather patterns for the toxic behaviour of men.

Neither the technology of sailing ships nor the environment of Atlantic winds, or even the discovery of America and tobacco, means that the slave trade was inevitable.

Men chose to do it. They did it because they could.

Looking at patterns and systems can mean we lose touch with he power of individual human intents. Humans see patterns very well but systems thinking can make us forget about the raw inhumanity of individuals.

It’s worth talking about contextual factors in history but intent, toxic intent, is held by men.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX