Strategic Design and Management class: Design Project

On manifestos and a surprising revelation

In this project, I will try to decipher what a manifesto means and how it represents value, for whom does it represent value and what can we all obtain from it.

For starters, what is a manifesto? 

It’s defined as a general declaration, a proclamation of principles or intentions. 

By simple human nature, we all have principles and statements; these define our lifestyle, the relationships we maintain, and how we affect our environment and society. From this point of view, the manifesto can be the statement of every rule by which we live.

In the research, for this project, I found many types of manifestos. Some points that they all have in common are:

  • Written in the present tense
  • Very strong language with very strong statements.
  • They all seek to inspire the reader to take action

Whether it is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the future” or the manifesto of American tech giant Google, they all follow the rules before mentioned.

Then, if we all have our own perception of life, and can follow the previous rules, how come this is not our very own manifesto? If we just sit and write about how we live our life or about any very important topic to us and what we think of it, is that a manifesto?
If this is so, then can anyone write a manifesto? I believe so, yes.

This opens up many other questions like: why doesn’t everyone do it? Why aren’t all manifestos famous? Why are some more popular than others? Marx’s Communist Manifesto, for example, is the second most famous book after the Bible and the Bible, at least the New Testament, is a manifesto of Jesus’ philosophy of his life on earth. The Manifesto format then has importance, not only literary but also personal and for society.

So what value can we give a manifesto? 

I think this can be divided into many aspects:

Personal:  A manifesto can give us clarity about our ideas, our pursuit of purpose, and how we get there. Do we have a purpose? If we do not have it, the manifesto is a good tool to continue in the search for one. 
Social: a manifesto, by the nature of its construction, seeks to inspire others. Depending on the message, you can unite large groups of people, orient them all towards a common goal. The sense of belonging is one of the greatest motivators for the human being, a philosophy that allows you to get closer to others and feel welcome is something that more than one yearns for and constantly seeks (we see this with sports teams, religious or academic institutions, etc.).
Political: As we have seen, the manifesto can generate a movement or inspire a revolution that lasts for many years and spreads throughout the world. It is a very powerful political tool to win public.
Artistic: a manifesto can be a call to artistic expression, whether through writing, music, plastic arts, or performing arts; it can generate great artistic movements were, once again, more and more people come together to generate a common front with a specific position on an issue.

All these benefits of developing a manifesto, whatever the format (graphic, textual, moving, etc.), make it an extremely powerful tool. But, if anyone can write a manifesto, then is the manifesto’s value within the idea or the purpose it seeks to inspire action for, or maybe the value is in how the ideas are expressed and how that expression triggers actions? What exactly makes an idea powerful? Does the power come from the idea itself or from how it’s told? Is this power what makes a manifesto valuable? Not all manifestos are as valuable, what does this idea or expression of it need to gain value? 

For me, it all comes down to one specific, major question: Is the form the idea is expressed more important than the idea itself?

Trying to answer this question is complicated. Are we focusing on expression or concepts? What would’ve happened if Marx was (even more) vague in his expressions? Or if there was absolutely no space for interpretation and it had to be taken literally? Would that manifesto have had the power it has until now? 

There are many Manifestos out there, all expressed in different forms. For example, we have The Ten Commandments, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, Easy Rider film, etc. All of these are relevant to this day, but why?

To answer this question I’ve reviewed the structure of three different manifestos, and I will try and break them down into simpler concepts to determine whether it’s the idea or the way the authors express the idea (emphasis, tone, opinions) what really makes the impact.

Manifestos review

The three manifestos I will be analyzing are (1) Marx’s Communist Manifesto, (2) Ted Kacssinky’s (aka The Unabomber) Industrial Society and Its Future Manifesto, and (3) founder of athletic apparel Lululemon, Chip Wilson’s Manifesto.

The Communist Manifesto

In his manifesto, Marx detailed observes the social classes of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the struggle between them, and all of this to explain the Communist goals. These are the clear and objective points that the manifesto touches; however, Marx is not careful to express his opinions, these are objectively charged with hatred (words such as hate, rejection, or wishes for termination are explicitly developed against one of the two social classes he elaborates on).

Once the reason for the rejection of him against the bourgeoisie becomes clear point by point, Marx invites to a revolution. It is at this moment where I believe, that the manifesto gains momentum and where it spreads the same sentiment that Marx has towards the situation in which he found himself at the time.

To this day, all those who identify with the communist party call for revolution. Inviting all «workers» to unite and fight for equal wealth and resources.

Quite apart from the ideology or its invitation, what this example seeks to clarify is how it is not the neutral points that generate popularity, these are not the ones that are discussed when speaking of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, they are but the opinions and generalities that Karl Marx expresses firmly with so much intensity those who have given so many years of validity to this manifesto. 

Now, for the second example:

Industrial Society and Its Future Manifesto

This manifesto is a critic of technology and industrialization. Although Kaczynski’s violence was legally punished and morally condemned, his manifesto expressed ideas that continue to be commonly shared among people, especially the American public.

In this manifesto, Kaczynski expresses his understanding of technology, his idea of how this technology is destroying humankind and communities. He criticizes the fact that, even back in the late 1980s, humans were starting to adapt to machines instead of the other way around. 

Again, we see objective observation (or as objective as observation can be) combine with opinions and wishes for destruction. He even justifies losing industrial society, claiming the social winnings are worth the cost. As Marx, Kaczynski proposes a revolution, also economic, but this time against the technological foundation of society instead of the social classes it’s built by.

In this case, the popularization of the manifesto comes from a negotiation: to stop the bomb attacks when the manifesto is published. So, are not these actions the ones that encourage the idea that Kaczinsky proposes to proliferate and gain the attention of the spectators?

Today, his ideas and opinions continue to be validated by a group of people; however, it is with the form of his acts and how they frame his ideology that he gives life to the idea.

Not all manifestos are violent or seeds of discord. Therefore the last example is a different form and different context.

The Lululemon Manifesto

First of all, this isn’t a Manifesto like the previous. It’s not over 100 pages or 30 thousand words long, this is a graphic representation of what Lululemon stands for.

Unlike the previous, this manifesto does not observe a situation or behavior but rather leaves statements free for interpretation. Same as the previous manifestos though, it’s expressed in a present tense and invites for action.

Unlike a social or economical revolution, this manifesto calls to action of each individual that reads it. Whether it’s to take part in some physical activity, professional project, trip, or any other kind of action, this manifesto invites the reader to engage and be active, involved in the present and whatever it holds.

After analyzing the three manifestos, I can clearly state that the value inside a Manifesto is not the ideas presented in it. Ideas can fall short if there is not an interpretation or a strong voice behind them. The way ideas are expressed can (and should) guide an action, a change of the status quo, whether personal or collective. Therefore, we can start to understand the value of a manifesto as the action it invites the readers of it to engage with, but for these actions to engage ideas must be explained not objectively but emotionally and authentically for them to connect and truly push the reader towards action.

A simple or evident way to confirm this would be by writing a manifesto. This could be done by anyone. Facing this opportunity is that I realize how intimidating it is to express your ideas, or even the question “What do I believe in? What do I need others to know?”. 

Confirming the theory: My experience 

Looking back on this, thankfully, for the last year, I’ve been involved in a writing workshop. The dynamic is simple: once a week we get together, we review some form of theory on different literary subjects that can go from lying, death, obsession, or infatuation; usual themes found in literature. Each subject then develops into an assignment due to next week’s session. In each session, each individual writer (12 in total) reads out loud the previous week’s assignment. The trick? Stick to the word limit (it goes between 250 and 350 words, depending on the assignment) and make it powerful.

So how does this relate to Manifestos? You could call these assignments little manifestos on specific subjects. These are all written in different forms: letters, narrations, or lists; but in the end, they all express a point of view on a specific topic (sometimes based on observation, others on experience) and invite the reader (or listener) to take some form of action, even if it’s just taking a stand on a situation. Half-year through this workshop, all of the different 12 people groups (4 in total) got together for a competition. 

In this competition, the jury chooses which assignments they want to read and listen to, each team chooses which member will represent them in the different assignments. Then, texts are faced one by one, the winner of that confrontation takes the point. At the end of each match, the team with the most points earned moves on to the next date.

So, what’s in it for the winner of each confrontation? You become a published author. Your views and perceptions on a specific matter get published in a book (a book which the previous edition sold out 3 weeks after it was published). 

Without realizing it, I was confronted with what I now believe is the value of a manifesto: The way in which an idea is expressed, beyond the idea itself. How to get an opinion, perception, or observation to have an impact on others? 

In my personal experience, the assignment I faced was titled “I don’t want to talk about this”, and you had to pick between three uncomfortable topics to talk about: domestic workers (fairly common in Peru), money, or eating disorders. 

My rival talked about money, the text explained how he came from a wealthy family, but lost absolutely everything to the agrarian reform of former president Velasco. Parents hid from their kids, the author, and his siblings, the fact they’ve lost everything and he just innocently enjoyed spending time at his grandparents’ house, beach house, country house, etc. This text was a narration on how we, as adults, come to realize things we didn’t before, we should appreciate those memories and try and remember that innocence and regain it.

My text was a letter to my mom who, at that specific moment, was struggling with cancer. Even though she was, literally, fighting for her life, she would ask the doctor to stop certain medications, so she would stop gaining weight. I spoke about how ridiculous, superficial and unimportant this was. How her physical expectations affected my teenage years and now, could end her life. This is a text, at the moment of the competition, described as uncomfortable, it made a lot of mothers think of their relationship to beauty standards and their daughters.

My text won. 2 votes against one. 

What makes this experience valuable, is the explanation the jury has to give for their votes. In this particular case (not the same for all the assignment confrontations, unfortunately), judges explained how one text made them feel happy, nostalgic, and, overall, comforted on the feeling left; the second text led them to reflect on their actions or the things they say related to some issues of beauty or social standards. Hearing someone curse her mother and what she thinks makes you question your parents’ beliefs or your beliefs as a parent.

Then, in this brief experience, I could realize how the way an idea is presented: clearly, strong, enticing, makes for a more attractive manifesto. The value (or beauty, if you may) comes from a place of determination and commitment to an idea.

One more point I’ve come to consider is, exposing your views or stands on certain important matters is not comfortable, even if it’s just important for the author. Once he, or she, really opens up and exposes him or herself to this, it comes across as authenticity, and readers (or spectators or listeners) can really perceive this. After all, manifestos aren’t made for or by computers, they’re instead made by humans for humans, with vast interpretations and visceral reactions to raw expressions of honesty.

Final thoughts 

Manifestos are a way of expression. Personal or collective ideas that are exposed with strong and confident language which should inspire one or many to take action on a specific matter. 

Yes, anyone can write one, but can everyone really expose their ideas? What you firmly believe in can be something so personal that can fail to be expressed in words, maybe it’s something you know but are not able to translate. 

There’s the value: being able to express an idea or point of view so authentic, so visceral that it inspires others to take action or, at least, form an opinion over the manifesto. 

Having said that, I have a newfound respect for Manifesto authors. With this latest conclusion, I now realize, yes, everyone can write their own manifesto, but only a few are brave enough to come to do it, let alone publish for the world to see, argue, or question.

As a personal project, I’ll now try to dig deeper into my opinions and views, where I stand on different subjects as relevant as economics or religion, but also as mundane as working out or food. This would be a first, moderately accomplishable endeavor. The hard part, and what I now come to admire manifesto authors for (including a previously despised Marx), is letting others read or see my expressions.

I hope this project finds us all digging our minds, trying to come up with an expression of each one’s unique view on life and all that it involves.