They have become ubiquitous: communities of the living that can be entered only by passing a guard house or punching some numbers into an electronic pad. They are brazenly distinct from the rest of the world where communities grow organically and one can pass freely into a neighborhood or onto a street without challenge. Punching in the code, hearing a clunk, and seeing the imposing gates rumble apart must impart to residents a sort of elite feeling: I can enter but you cannot.
I suppose the residents who live in them want to feel safe and protected from threat. But I also fancy that they want something quite more: to immerse themselves in a world that is as controlled as possible from surprise, annoyance, and discomfort. No pushy solicitors, no junky cars in the neighbor’s driveway, and no loud music until midnight. Architectural covenants keep the neighbor from painting his garage door a bright pink and no one can buy the land and build a house in the well-manicured open space with designer playgrounds. Speed bumps and cruising private security cars assure that life will be measured and predictable.
In the West, large swaths of humanity have become a kind of gated community but without gates. Technocrats poring over population statistics suggest policies that head off overpopulation. This usually takes the form of pushing contraception and abortion. Unborn children are not given the code to punch into the key pad. They are not welcome there. People who might otherwise feel the urge to bring a new life into the world are dissuaded by sober considerations of future impoverishment, career derailment, or simply mere inconvenience.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Those living in the community always justify these exclusions by appeals to quality of life. But, of course, it is the quality of their life, not the life of those excluded. “We must be stewards of our world and guardians of its resources,” they opine with sober solemnity. They might even invoke pious concern for the well-being of the excluded: “They would not be happy here. We would find them strange or they would generate resentment. They would not fit in. It is for their own good that we keep them out.”
The gated community has even begun to suggest that elderly people who are terminally ill might want to move out early. While the suggestion is always couched in the soothing language of personal autonomy, there is a tacit understanding that old dying people are messy and inconvenient. They disrupt the routine and the cost of their care sucks up community resources. Others must pay for them via increased health insurance premiums. Besides, they aren’t productive anymore.
Hurt feelings are taboo in the gated community. People are protected from any perceived insult by strict codes regulating speech and enforcing the use of pronouns selected by residents which reflect their subjectively declared identity. Public places are scrubbed clean of historical monuments and inscriptions that might cause offense. Children are shielded from feelings of failure by certificates of participation and constant reinforcement of the idea that they are fine just the way they are. Kids are not allowed to hand out birthday party invitations in class unless everyone gets one lest feelings are hurt. Even casual remarks or unwitting actions may be labeled microaggressions and be roundly condemned.
The gated community wants, more and more, only those who are carefully screened, who will slide easily into the homogenizing routines of their swept streets and neatly manicured lawns. Thus the imperfect, off-key, or rough-around-the edges are not allowed entry. Unborn Down Syndrome children are summarily rejected. Their undisciplined exuberance would not fit into community day care, and their need for care pins down otherwise productive people. More and more, the community will advertise for new residents who fit a particular pleasing profile. Physically attractive and athletic, ambitious, meritorious, and sober. Ads targeting the eggs of cash-strapped coeds now appear in the Harvard Crimson specifying IQ, height, and even eye color.
Community residents have made great progress in conforming their physical surroundings and the attitudes of their neighbors to a predictable homogeneity. Now they seek also to transform their very bodily selves. Plastic surgeons are conscripted to sculpt natural bodily features into shapes and configurations that are seen as more desirable. Bariatric surgeons can get rid of unwanted fat. Piercings and tattoos embellish the original equipment which is seen as too prosaic and not sufficiently individualized. Community members press neuroscientists to perfect gene splicing techniques that might eventually render imperfection obsolete.
The gated community encourages diversity, which might suggest that it values surprise in the form of difference. But it simply wants—and even enforces—a sort of homogenized version of diversity. Residents might be differently pigmented or have a fluid and unconventional sexual preference, but they must pledge allegiance to the community’s code of belief. Residents can look and behave differently but they must think exactly alike. They must be tolerant to a fault except when it comes to intolerance of their orthodoxy of inclusion, diversity, and protection from contrary opinions.
Outside the gated community, life goes on. Children planned and unplanned are born and loved just for who they are in all their human beauty and imperfection. Unforeseen problems arise and are dealt with through prayer and unanticipated resiliency. Messiness is seen as part of the natural fallen order. Pain and suffering are accepted with a quiet resignation. Old people spend their last days surrounded by their loved ones in their homes—although now in rented hospital beds—breathing in short raspy gasps. The infirm and handicapped are lovingly cared for by their families as a matter of course, as children of God, and cherished for who they are.