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]


  1. I suppose the deeper question concerns what conditions are necessary for creativity. Surely the tensions or struggles that seem to be a fertile ground do not have to be political or social in any pronounced way - we dont need racism or wars or revolution in order to write poetry. Right!? There are other kinds of inspiring tensions. What might these be and are they present in Utopia?

  2. It would seem to me that a certain amount of chaos is necessary in order to have any necessity for innovation and imagination. What need would there be for new ideas, inventions, or imaginations if Utopia is the place where everything is almost too perfect? Would people desire for a place of their own imagination if they live in a world that has everything provided for you? People begin imagining places and friends at very young ages because they long for attention or a situation that is better than what they have. In Utopia, the people believe that they live the best way possible, so they would not want to be anywhere else.

  3. "Cuckoo" can be allegorical for someone who innovates a new reality independent of a chaotic cause. Thomas More conceived the Utopian socioeconomic system to provide equality for social opportunity and economic need. The King's privy counsel deemed this view "cuckoo" because the notion threatened the Church and State hierarchical system and its economic advantage. Hypothetically, if reality were reverse between Utopia (designed to prevent chaos) versus the European Church and State, More would likewise deem the privy counsel's idea of the Church and State system as "cuckoo" because it threatened the security of socioeconomic equality. How could the privy counsel make a valid (or non "cuckoo")notion to More if Utopia were so ideally perfect, non chaotic, as it is designed to be? The Utopian view welcomes innovation, whereas the privy counsel discourages it; however either views nevertheless deemed "rebellion a fool" or a "cuckoo" innovating a new reality! At least the Utopian view tolerates fools even at the cost of innovating a rebellion. Therefore it is not valid that a "cuckoo" derives from chaos because Utopia has plenty enough of innovators who can become rebellious fools.