Take Your Manifesto and Shove It.

A Commentary on the Experience Design Manifesto by Andre Pereira

Just for the record, I’ll state right up front that I’m not a nice person. I’m critical and argumentative. I’m also judgmental and opinionated. I believe that these qualities are important and essential for any rational human being. We cannot advance our store of knowledge without ruthlessly winnowing the chaff from any new information or ideas that are presented to our cognitive storehouse. Because of this point of view I’m immediately put on guard against anything couched in what appears to be feel-good rhetoric. I also tend to judge folks based on their ability to effectively communicate.

So Pereira’s Manifesto racked up two strikes in my book just within the first three sentences:

The ultimate aim of all creative activity is to bring happiness to people’s lives.

Happiness is an emotion that comes in result of positive experiences and affects human beings.

Experiences can happen in the past, present or future.

The only way the first statement can be true or valuable is if terms like ‘ultimate’ ‘creative’ and ‘happiness’ are used in so vague a sense as to be practically meaningless. The Victorian Era expressionist painter William Turner’s work would be considered creative by any conceivable standard. However the goal of his Slave Ship had little to do with happiness. It’s violent colors and brush strokes are almost gut wrenchingly visceral. The subject matter is equally upsetting. While it served to cast light on the brutality of the Triangle Trade, and the inhuman conditions imposed on transported slaves, this aim would have to be extrapolated hundreds of years into the future to bring any happiness to the parties involved. The same judgment could be made regarding Picasso’s Guernica, which is about as close as you can get to capturing pure despair on canvas. Is Pereira stating that these masters aren’t creative, or that their madness is an existential form of artistic happiness?

Speaking of happiness, Pereira’s grammatical mess of a second statement provides all the clarity and illustrative power of a cream pie to the face. Happiness: a positive emotion that happens to people. Thanks bunches for clearing that up.

And as for clarity, stating that experiences can happen in the past, present or future as your third premise, doesn’t really narrow things down much. Past experiences are not ‘happening’, they ‘happened’ – past tense. You can recall them in the present, as memories, but once they happen, they’re over buddy. Just live with it. Likewise experiences cannot happen in the future. Nothing happens in the future. I’m going to state this with absolute conviction; the present is the time period in which things happen, period.

The whole Manifesto is just littered with these little gems of illiteracy. I could spend all night just picking the thing apart sentence by sentence, but I’m afraid that experience wouldn’t ‘make’ anyone happy, myself included. So I’ll just point up two more issues that I have with this Huxleyesque piece of dreck and have done.

Firstly, I’m not name dropping old uncle Aldous lightly. Pereira’s bullet pointed list enumerating the requirements of Experiences That Foster Happiness (my own capitalization) engenders the same queasy feeling that I received from the benevolent lab coated eugenists in ‘A Brave New World’. You can no more ‘make people happy’ than you can make them be good, e.g. Alex from ‘A Clockwork Orange’. I’d like to believe that my beef with Pereira is merely semantic or cosmetic, but the entire manifesto is rife with absolutes couched in positive spun catch phrases.

My other issue may seem minor, but it’s a pet peeve that rankles me like a shrimp fork to the eye socket. Pereira starts off the third to last paragraph with the statement that “Artists are not different than scientists”, and then rattles off a quote from Gropius’ Bauhaus Manifesto. The statement is as grammatically egregious as it is qualitatively incorrect. Creativity is a required attribute of any ground breaking scientist, and there is a good deal of science e.g. chemistry, engineering and psychology that can be applied to the pursuit and creation of art. This being said; the artist and the scientist are as different as night and day. The scientist is afforded no leeway for personal preference. No matter how much he may like a given theory, if the evidence does not support that theory than it is wrong; end of story. This is not a matter of aesthetics or personal taste. There are as many different opinions on a work of art as there are art critics. There is only one correct scientific view on any given hypothesis; the right one, as supported by repeatable experimentation and evidence. In this arena, truth is not relative, and any scientist that cannot play by this hard and fast rule has no place in the game. I neither believe, nor desire, that artists should be held to this same rigid law.

In conclusion, if this is the sort of statement that Pereira is setting forth as the guiding principles for the fiend of Experience Design, I want no part of it. Come back and try again after gaining a great deal more exposure to the real world, and the invaluable assistance of a good copy editor.

3 Comments

  1. Joel Earl
    Posted July 15, 2010 at 07:35 |
    Permalink Quote

    William Turner painted ‘Slave Ship’ as a stinging rebuke of the practice of slavery. his ultimate goal was clearly to play whatever small role he could in ending slavery. and it would seem to follow that in doing his part in the fight against slavery his actions would bring happiness into people’s lives. it seems obvious to me that the ultimate aim (ultimate being the key word here) of any effort to fight or speak out against a particular cause of great unhappiness in people’s lives -war, slavery, or any injustice you can name- is to bring happiness into those lives by virtue of the absence of that unhappiness. whether that in any given instance has that desired effect or not is always debatable, and seldom clearly defined. but I think it is clear that the ultimate goal is to engender happiness.

    no, the real rub here is that every single atrocity man has ever committed was also perpetrated in the name of bringing happiness into people’s lives.

  2. Benjamin
    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:44 |
    Permalink Quote

    Duly noted Joel. However I can’t say that his ultimate goal was to increase happiness. He sought to illustrate a great injustice and play a part in correcting that injustice. He certainly didn’t bring happiness to slavers or plantation owners. I would agree that happiness for some people came about in part because of his creative endeavor, but to state, as the author of the manifesto did, that happiness was his ultimate goal is an unwarranted assumption, and also quite Pollyannish. It could even be said that to seek happiness as your ultimate goal is somewhat narcissistic and hedonistic, which are already negative stereotypes that artists are unfairly saddled with.

  3. Joel Earl
    Posted July 15, 2010 at 17:49 |
    Permalink Quote

    but I think it’s important to draw a distinction between happiness as a goal and happiness as a result. no one is guaranteeing happiness, just intending happiness as a result. whether that effect is immediate or takes generations to be felt, or never really happens at all is beside the point. the point is that he’s hoping that in highlighting an injustice the vacuum created by the absence of an unhappiness will be automatically filled by happiness. history proves that to be somewhat naive, and yet I think it’s universal to all human actions. be it hedonistic happiness or happiness for others, I don’t think anyone so much as takes a breath without the hope for some kind of happiness to result from it, either directly or indirectly. such is the universality of the intention of happiness (or rather, the pursuit thereof) that to define any category of behavior as having happiness as it’s aim is utterly meaningless because everything has happiness as it’s aim. the ultimate aim of genocide is happiness. the ultimate result? not so much. that’s the flaw in the thesis. it’s like saying the great thing about Ernest Hemingway’s books is that Ernest Hemingway’s books have pages.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*