Thursday, March 09, 2006

Living where you want: a ramble about ghettoization

Last Sunday, after an excruciating trip to Tijuana, my partner, another couple and I were having pizza for dinner. Since we were having pizza, the topic of Tom Monaghan, founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza came up. One of my friends suggested that we shouldn't buy Domino's any more because of Monaghan's latest venture. For those who might remember, he caused a stir in the 90s when Monaghan donated large sums to pro-life (or anti-abortion, depending on your stance) causes leading to a boycott call from the National Organization for Women.
Recently, though, he has been in the news again for a related, but decidedly different project. A few years ago, he gave a sizeable chunk of his fortune to found a new college in Michigan (closing in 2007) and university in Florida, both called Ave Maria. Since Monaghan rediscovered his Catholicism in the late 80s, he has been an advocate of the most conservative Catholic causes. Ave Maria is designed to be an ueber-Catholic educational enterprise. In other words, the schools are supposed to be a counterbalance to what some Catholics think is the overly liberal atmosphere at presumably Catholic universities such as Georgetown or my alma mater, Notre Dame. In my opinion, what they really object to is the very idea of a university in which different viewpoints are shared and discussed and debated, but that may be the subject for another post. If they read a little more history, they might see that even Aquinas' thirteenth-century University of Paris was a hotbed of "heresy", some of it Aquinas'. Such is the nature of a university.
But what Monaghan is up to now--and what concerned my friend--is the founding of a town surrounding the Florida campus of Ave Maria University. You see, he wants to create a town in which Catholic values--as he sees them--are the rule of the land, with central churches, an emphasis on the family and "family values", etc. Non-Catholics would be welcome in the town, but would be expected to live according to the standards of the community. In short, he is designing something like a large gated community in which the covenant to which the residents agree is to live according to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. It is this part of the project that troubled my friend the most.
Personally, I am often troubled by gated communities. But, if push comes to shove, it is difficult to say just what I find problematic about them. Is it just that people want to live apart from others? Well, that is no different from taking my home to be inviolate. It is just the same principle writ large. Is it the idea that wealthier people are separating themselves off from the problems of society, from those that they find undesireable, from the poor? Well, that might just be it. But, if that is it, then all I really have to say about people living in gated communities is that they are...what?...selfish, not fully connected to their fellows, ...? But of course, I don't invite the homeless into my house, either.
So, what is so wrong with founding a town in which the agreed-to law of the land is a religious one? Of course, it would be bad if the civil power were made to enforce religious law, but that isn't quite what is going on here. Am I just made to feel uncomfortable by such a community because I wouldn't be welcome there? That might be it, but I wouldn't be welcomed in an Amish community or in a cloistered convent either. And, the residents of this community probably wouldn't be made to feel very comfortable in some of the places and communities that I frequent.
What Monaghan is proposing and planning is a sort of Catholic ghetto. Now, we tend to think of ghettoes as bad things. But they needn't always be so--when they aren't we tend to call them enclaves, ethnic or otherwise. Of course, we tend to think that people ought to interact with others who are different from them. And, we tend to think that it is good public policy to encourage such interaction. (This is the realm of interaction that Richard Rorty calls the bazaar.) But it is unrealistic to think that people will or must do so in their private lives.
I simply don't interact much with heterosexual couples or singles in my private life, though I do in my public life. I live, in essence, in a gay ghetto.
Does this make me immoral? Probably not. Does it mean that my life is impoverished in certain ways. Probably so. But, since I am an adult, no one has the right to bring real force to bear to force me to change my private interactions. At the same time, it means that there are people around me whose lives and interests are sufficiently similar to mine so that we can understand one another, we can build some sort of community, etc.
This is partly why I don't think there is anything all that wrong with the project of forming a religious city or for that matter a commune in the hills somewhere. As long as the interactions between the separated community and the rest of society are peaceful, as long as the members of the community are there willingly (I realize that children are not exercising their will to be there, but they aren't deciding to be in the families they are part of either), I simply cannot think of good reasons to oppose the formation of such cities.

1 comment:

Tyler Hower said...

Would it help if I talked about having seen one of the more recent Paris Hilton sex tapes and being shocked by my own inability to look away?
I realize that the way I write is pretty masturbatory, but I doubt many people read my blog, so I suppose I'm just writing for myself and a few others.
No one would live in my commune, so it would be more like a hermitage.