Song, Nick Bratton, AV, Changyeon, and I began our attempt to construct a utopia by asking ourselves, “what makes me feel liberated.” We were trying to pin down what our own personal utopia might look like, in terms of discrete parts, so we could think about how to combine them into something collective. We generated responses on post-it-notes, and tried to see if there was any convergence.
- “Antagonism as invitation”
- “Liberation from personal choice”
- “Lack of knowing people/being judged by people”
- “Feeling of constant confinement”
- “Feeling that each person matters”
- “Whose utopia is it?”
- “No wrong/right”
What began to emerge very fast was that as long as we wanted to include the rest of the class in our utopia, which we agreed we did (as opposed to say staging a utopia ourselves before or during class), it would be very difficult for us to facilitate an open-ended or autonomous situation that allowed for everyone to access their own elements of utopia. The reason, we surmised, had to do with choice. Our own choice, the choice the each member of the class would have to make. And as we looked at our conceptual map laid out on post-its, we noticed that much of what we associated with utopia, even on a personal level, could be boiled down to freedom from choice. What was the factor that we could point to as a main constriction, or limitation, barring us from feeling liberated? Choice. Economist Barry Schwartz’s concept of the Paradox of Choice became a central element of our thinking.
Schwartz lays of some key observations about choice.
- More choice ≠ more freedom
- More choice ≠ more welfare
- Choice leads to less satisfaction because of
- Regret and anticipated regret
- Too-high expectations
- Higher awareness of alternatives that are lost when one choice is made
- Self-blame for our choices
Utopia of No Choice
We will be instantiating a Utopia of No Choice in the classroom. We will give everyone a blindfold to remove their choice of what to look at, and provide a soundtrack of pleasing noise to remove choice of what to listen to. We will restrict everyone’s motion with a gentle binding to remove choice of movement/interaction. People will be free to break out of the constructed situation and rejoin the world of choice at any time.
- Noise track
- Fabric for binding hands
We are curious about which choice moments in life are paralyzing for people, and which ones they would remove if they could. We hope to have a moment in the experience (perhaps after everyone has chosen to exit the utopia or when the time we allot is over) where these thoughts/feelings/preferences can be shared.
We also need to decide exactly how each of us — the creators of the utopia, will participate, whether we join in, we provide some sort of additional stimulus to the experience of the participants, or we exert energy to convince those who have left the utopia to rejoin.