Museum on the Coast

Curriculum of the Near Utopian School


“What is the problem with modernity? Why do modern societies have such a hard time producing adults capable of intimacy, work, enjoyment, and ethical living? Why is it that signs of damaged life are so prevalent?” Damaged Life: The Crisis of the Modern Psyche (1995)

I saw a tweet with this quote the other day - it’s a little alarmist, but not completely wrong. I think our societies are great at making people who can survive in a modern economy, but not a lot else than that. So the question is something like: “How do you make a society of citizens who can both make a living and have high life satisfaction?”

It got me to thinking about the solution - how would you go about “producing adults capable of intimacy, work, enjoyment, and ethical living”?


Near Utopia is a hypothetical nation-state.

It has one discerning quality - all of its citizens are smart, thoughtful, brave, and honest. Think of a person in your life, (maybe you know them in-person, maybe you don’t) who has impressed you on their ability to create a life they enjoy.1

Near Utopia is a nation filled with people like this. It has the world’s highest rate of artists, scientists, and self-employed people per capita. Incomes and literacy are high, infant mortality and mental illness are low.2

I want to focus on one aspect of Near Utopia - what do its schools teach?

I think schooling is a great way to produce exceptional citizens - the entire population flows through here, what can we impress on them when they are young?

What does the curriculum of the Near Utopian School look like? I imagine something like this:


Truth focuses on what is real, and what is not. Covers the scientific method, statistics, studies and their limits. I think that knowing any specifics about science (physics, biology, chemistry, etc) is vastly less important than how the fundamental process of science happens - why are randomized controlled trials so important? What does it mean for a study not to replicate?


Draws on the social studies, psychology, and literature. I don’t think there’s a super consistent way to have someone make friends, at least in a classroom setting. But I do think you can help someone recognize what a good or bad friendship looks like. I’m not 100% sure about this one though, because I feel like the more you worry about making friends, the worse you are at it (this also applies to dating).

I have heard somewhere that people make closer friends from having shared dislikes rather than shared likes. So maybe you just give Friendship a really bad teacher, and the students can make friends from agreeing how bad the teacher is.


Obviously, this draws on the non-Utopian version of health class, and maybe a bit from gym class. But I also think it could take a lot of pointers from the field of psychology, with regards to building up strong mental health and self-esteem.


A focus on the arts of all kind. I think there’s a lesson to be learned about what art seeks to do, how it’s constructed in a way to make you feel something deep down, which can change anyone’s relationship with art. The hope would be that this course could be appealing to both people who consume art and the people who create it.


Meaning would be the capstone of this school.

Originally, I thought Meaning would have something to do with planning out the rest of a student’s life out.

For example, Simon is a 22 year old who is about to graduate the Near Utopian School. His passion is the Minoan Civilization - a group of people who lived on the island of Crete from ~2000-1000 BC. Simon has a girlfriend who he is happily seeing, and they both plan on moving to Greece, so Simon can start working as an archaeologist.

Ruins at Knossos of the Minoan Civilization

But, unfortunately, Near Utopia is not the same as an actual Utopia. A few months after graduation, he discovers his girlfriend had been cheating on him for the last 6 months. Worse yet, his mom became very sick, and he was forced to put his travel plans on hold in order to take care of her. If the Meaning course went as we described, Simon would be feeling really lost right now. All of his future plans went out the window, because of real life.

I propose a different capstone. A better possible final course would be an exploration of the things that interest you. First you take all of your interests, then you weave them together into an assembly. A simple list would work as an assembly, I think there’s a lot of other options too.

There are a lot of different paths we can take through life, and if we’re lucky, the paths we take happen to intersect with things we get happiness from. Using your assembly, you could try to steer your life into doing things that you really enjoy.

Simon would definitely list the Minoan Civilization. But maybe he would also note interests in researching, YouTube videos, and branding. That would easily give him a path to become a content creator. Maybe he enjoys


Is this education useful for people who don’t live in Near Utopia? I think so.

Truth can be replicated by knowing the basics of the scientific method, reading some scientific journals, or skimming half an article of AstralCodexTen. Honestly, if you’re reading this, this means you’re in the circles I’m in, which means this probably isn’t an issue for you.

Honestly, Friendship and Health can probably be replicated by just reading up on some papers.

Beauty used to be gated behind a liberal arts education, but I think you can reach it now through video essays. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, binge this YouTube channel - congratulations, you’re now a film critic). It feels weird to argue that most people’s art tastes have increased (maybe even dramatically) because of video essays, but this also feels true to me.


Replicating Meaning is the most interesting to me. Society has a lot of memes about “doing what you love,” and maybe even more memes about “but you also have to be kind of realistic.” Which is fine, but not particularly nuanced.

I work with computers, doing website stuff. Computers are really cool. But it’d be a lie for me to say that my job is 100% the best possible thing I could ever be doing. I’m sure there’s more jobs out there I’d enjoy more than what I’m doing now.

Anyways, I think my assembly is going to end up being this website.3

  1. For me who comes to mind are a few Internet personalities, professors, and my dad↩︎

  2. Its government, economic system, and culture are all left up as an exercise to the reader↩︎

  3. Thanks for the inspiration, (Gwern)[]↩︎