Wednesday, December 28, 2011

decisions to make before home-making

I told my friends that St. John's was starting to convince me that Utah isn't the place for me, and their response was, "we thought it was strange that you stayed so long."

Mostly, this made me sad, because I see so much of the same situation in Utah but in a very scaled down way. The reporting took a very clear viewpoint--a seven/eight year old who is afraid to walk down the street represents a shameful situation in the town; her mother, wearing a pencil skirt with a slit in the back, well, "nobody could say she isn't being modest." Except, Slaya (an orthodox Jewish friend who doesn't veil) would say she isn't--and so would a lot of moderate Mormons, though they probably wouldn't mention it. The frustrating thing for me, here, is that no one in the clip is talking about the real issues.

By the real issues, I mean: the behavior of individuals impacts the freedom of other individuals to live in the kind of community they want to live in. No one in this news clip is disagreeing with that premise--they disagree only on what the reasonable standard of behavior is to enforce upon individuals. On top of this, the narrator doesn't appeal to any sort of logic to describe why his standard is better than the ultra-orthodox one--it is presented as something that should be obvious to the viewer.
The real questions--what standards of behavior in a community ought to be accepted, how those standards should be arrived at, and how they should be enforced, need discussing. And you don't get very far into those discussions before you run into other questions, like, "should we just let people group together into like-minded communities?"
Why did I stay in Utah for so long? (From the news clip: Should we have stayed, and fought? Here I know my school will not be shut down. . .) Community is inevitable and inherently restrictive. Some kinds of diversity bring good things--certainly it makes St. John's more interesting. I would like to think that I'm doing some kind of good for my nieflings who correct strangers who swear in public parks, who are dreadfully concerned with whether the punch in "A Christmas Carol" is alcoholic, who are much of the time in need of attention but showered with it on the day they get baptized.

And I would like to think that we have something to learn from the fundamentalists; if nothing else, they should remind us that we, too, are enforcing a standard of behavior for the sake of our community, and that this standard ought not go unexamined. Is there anything deeply (fundamentally?) different between the fundamentalists, the moderates, and us (for this I'll say, both liberals and radicals), when it comes to our desire to enforce community behavior standards?

Is it possible to find a balance wherein we agree that we are all in this together?


  1. I don't know we can... I mean, on some level we do in our Enlightenment society, but at the same time, the issue is that any effort to stretch across these boundaries are going to entail violations of certain mentalities. I think society is maintained because it creates its members, not because it unites radically different people.

  2. Yeah. . . I think recognizing genuine conflict of interest almost necessitates that we can't *all* be in it together, all the time. We have to sacrifice some people's rights some of the time. The question is--by what criteria?

    My friend Y. suggested that there may be a difference between active and passive harm, and how bad it is, but that gets to be a very messy proposition very quickly. My big problem with that approach is the fact that most of the harm done in the world seems to be done by negligence, and as such, I think that taking more responsibility for our negligence is one of the best ways to refine our ethical intuitions.