Why Utopias Go Nowhere in The Circle

Utopias, places where everything is perfect, are not real.  They are to be found nowhere, which is the etymology of the word utopia, from the Greek ou “not” + topos “place” or nowhere.  The recent movie The Circle suggests a utopian solution, where everything is designed to be nice.  Like many utopian designs, the basic premise is seductive, everything can be perfect, if everyone can just be…

In The Circle, everyone is supposed to contribute to the group.  If you can just do that, it will all work out.  Like most other social designs, this utopia focuses on one of the five primary relationships, the relationship to the group, assuming that if you do that well, then the other four primary relationships (self, other, nature, spirit) will somehow work out.  In The Circle, they imply that they are working on all five primary relationships by measuring the impact you have in each.  You have a scorecard, which everyone can see.  They measure how you express your own creativity with a self score (relationship to self), how you support others with a service score (relationship to other), how creative you are in finding solutions with an innovation score (relationship to nature), and how much you access the creative source with smiles (relationship to spirit).  It is all measured and in a scorecard.  All five primary relationships, measured continuously, giving you instant feedback on how healthy you are in the vibrancy of your five primary relationships.  That should work, right?  And, as the movie unfolds (spoiler alert), it does not work.  Why?

The utopia always focuses on one to two primary relationships, then either ignores the other three to four primary relationships or tries to fit them into the first one to two.  This is where the centripetal forces of The Circle’s utopia collapse it in on itself.  The design of The Circle is based on “the push.”  The principles of measurement focus on pushing you away from the centripetal forces of deep scarcity, away from low levels of vibrancy experienced in each of the five primary relationships.  Through measurement, they show you where you are on the continuum from weak to strong in each of the five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  Through the ecosynomic lens, it has to be based on a push, a push away from scarcity, because it is primarily based on one of the five primary relationships–the relationship to the group–masking the other four (self, other, nature, spirit) as expressions of the group.  Express yourself, for the health of the group.  Support others, for the health of the group.  Be creative, for the health of the group.  This is a scarcity-plus move. This move assumes that people are based in scarcity, and it tries to control or measure the scarcity out of them.  The lead actor receives lots of feedback, the second she engages, about how poorly she is doing at being vibrant, in multiple ways.  A key lesson here is that you cannot achieve higher levels of impact resilience and vibrancy through a push, a scarcity-plus move.  The centripetal forces of collapse, back to the center, are too strong.

Does this mean that there is nowhere to go, is everywhere a nowhere, a utopia?  Our research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity of the past two decades suggests that there is a somewhere to go, a now here, instead of a nowhere.  In beginning to map the global social topography of human agreements, my colleagues and I have found hundreds of examples all around the world of people that are beginning to find their own “now here.”  They are not in the middle of nowhere, rather right in the middle of now here.  What are they discovering that enables them to live in the outer circles of vibrancy in all five primary relationships on a sustainable basis?  The pull.  They have discovered how to connect to the pull, the force that pulls people towards a desired future to which they give their will.  We find this pull is connected with a deeper shared purpose that draws people together.  It accesses a seemingly infinite source of potential, of creative energy.  Within the pull, people work with tangibilization power, continuously learning and evolving, seeing potentials, discovering pathways of relationships and capacities to manifest that potential energy, and then experiencing the outcomes of those pathways, adjusting what is seen in potential and the pathways to be used.  Learning and evolving, which is nature’s process.

From the pull, they are uncovering more robust forms for realizing, making real, each of the five primary relationships.  In the relationship to the self, you find your own individual initiatory development of free expression, which only you can see for yourself.  Nobody else can dictate, like in The Circle, what your initiatory path of development is and how to express your own self.  In relationship to the other, justice as fairness supports each uniquely constituted and contextualized self equally.  In the relationship to the group, each individual is invited to contribute their unique expression in the self-other-whole relationship to the group.  In the relationship to nature, one learns to witness, through self awareness and with support from the other and the group, how to improve one’s capacity to tangibilize potential through pathways of relationships and capacities into outcomes.  And, in the relationship to spirit, groups are learning how to connect to their pull, their source of creativity.

Through the pull, it seems that it is indeed possible to find yourself now here.  Through the push, it seems that you end up nowhere.  The Circle shows what happens when you try the push method.  The O Process shows what groups have learned about working with the pull.


Guest post — Introducing the Experience of Harmonic Vibrancy in Mexico

Building on Annabel’s innovations on bringing a body experience to the Introduction to Ecosynomics course, I used the same exercises she developed for the Relationship to Self, Other, and Group. I tried different exercises for the Relationship to Nature and Spirit.

For the Relationship to Nature, standing outside in a beautiful forrest setting, we experienced: (1) how many things can you see? [noun-outcomes level]; (2) what can you see that does not change over time? [verb-development level]; (3) what could you imagine being in here and see it here? [possibility-light level].

For the Relationship to Spirit, we went into the library of the facility we were using, and picked a book. We then experienced: (1) point at 2 specific ideas in the text you picked; (2) notice 5 thoughts you have about those 2 ideas; (3) imagine everyone here taking on those ideas for themselves.

The experiences people had were really cool, finding themselves in their own experiences of the five relationships, in just 2 hours.

Jim Ritchie-Dunham

Guest post by Annabel Membrillo, ISC Fellow 

When I was designing an Introductory Experience of Harmonic Vibrancy, some questions came to my mind: can I find a real experience for the group? An experience that talks not just to their mind, but makes them feel it in their body and will?  I did not want to start with their mind in the very beginning, and that was a bit difficult for me, since I am so accustomed to work with my mind. Then an inspiring moment gave me some ideas of how to do this.

Feeling each relationship in the body. I believe there is a way to get people to feel Harmonic Vibrancy. I did this body experience in about an hour and a half. The I, Other, and Group relationships were easier to experience in the physical. I still need a good form of body experience for…

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3 Circles of Harmonic Vibrancy

This is part 7 in a 7-part post.

At this point in the conversation, having looked at the five primary relationships people experience in the harmonic vibrancy of the group, it starts to seem like a bit much.  Five relationships experienced at three different levels.  I take this feeling of fullness as an opportunity to summarize what people have described so far.  When people experience greater harmonic vibrancy, which is what they want, all relationships are taken care of, and through those relationships they accomplish more.  Conversely, when people experience less vibrancy, which they do not want, it is hard to pay attention to relationships, and everyone does what they can alone, accomplishing much less.

What I have seen, when I share this summary, is that someone will speak up, saying that this sounds like a set of principles – guiding principles.  Starting from abundance, all relationships work together to generate a higher vibrancy.  Starting from scarcity, the lack of relationship generates a lower vibrancy.  The figure below shows this.  The inner circle describes the experience of the lack of relationship in all five relationships.  Likewise, the middle circle describes the experience of medium vibrancy in all relationships, and the outer circle describes the experience of high vibrancy in all five relationships.


3 Circles of Harmonic Vibrancy3CirclesRotated040816

The questions now begin to focus the conversation, finding that the experience is that of the inner circle, or the middle circle, or the outer circle.  My curiosity about this question as a researcher over the last eighteen years has taken me to teachers who have taught me why it is difficult to see these agreements.  From decision theory, I saw that the judgments people make are full of assumptions of values that others and I have and of how things work.  From systems theory, I saw that the relationships among the actors and the decisions they make generate dynamics that determine system-wide behaviors that are different than what the individuals want or see.  From integral theory, I saw the importance of including the different lenses or perspectives on agreements and transcending them to a higher, more integral perspective.

Interweaving these lessons learned helped me see the harmonic in the stories.  When I asked, some say this experience of the harmonic is like ice cream.  One person is describing the experience of taste – it is all about the sweetness, while another is describing texture – it is all about being both smooth and crunchy, yet another is describing temperature – it is all about being cold, while another describes appearance – it is all about the colors of the cream, cone, and sprinkles.  While each is partially correct, they all describe a critical dimension, bringing in an important voice, and none is complete on its own.  Ice cream is about the perfect combination of taste, texture, temperature, and appearance.  Nobody wants just sweet, just smooth and crunchy, just cold, or just colorful.  Others liken it to music, where the richest songs that move us most have rich harmonies, where each voice contributes to the harmonic, yet no voice alone sings it.

Now comes the realization of the agreements driving the experience of scarcity or abundance in any group.  People are choosing to experience lower vibrancy most of the time.  That’s the inner circle of scarcity.  Why would they do that?  Maybe because they are not aware that it was an agreement they were making.  Could they make different agreements?  It is easy to see how they can make different agreements, sometimes.  But it seems hard to figure out what this means for different groups.  It gets pretty complicated.  Or does it?  In Tom Robbins’ saga of the many facets of the beet, Jitterbug Perfume, Dr. Dannyboy summarizes what he has learned, “The universe does not have laws.  It has habits.  And habits can be broken.”[1]

My request to you

I invite you to share here your own experiences of these relationships to the harmonic vibrancy you experience.


[1] See (Robbins, 1990, p. 312).