Monday, January 31, 2011

Utopia and the Cuckoo Clock

Of the four questions Dr. Morrisson posed in Thursday's lecture on Utopia, the one that I found the most intriguing was the second: Does Utopia ensure peace by gently closing off dissent and discourse? In my discussion sections, this led to a debate about whether the price paid for peace and well-being in such a conformist society, where "[e]veryone has his eye on you" (65), would also include creativity.

According to Raphael's account, the answer is no: "By applying their trained intelligence to scientific research, [the Utopians have] become amazingly good at inventing things that are useful in everyday life" (81). In other words, in this society where reason is king and rebellion a fool, innovation is welcomed with open arms. My students were skeptical about whether, in the real world, brilliance would have enough breathing space in such a regimented, blandly equalitarian society. This inspired me to play them Orson Welles wonderful riff on Italy and Switzerland from the movie The Third Man:
What do you think? Do real-world approximations of Utopia produce no more than cuckoo clocks? Is a little chaos necessary to produce creative individuals?

Or would you reformulate these questions? [RCremins]

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