Sunday, March 19, 2006

A “modest proposal” for government-enforced morality

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:55 PM |  

The headline on Paul Tosto’s article in the Pioneer Press reads St. Thomas struggles with ethics debate, which pretty much sums up the ugly world we would have if we fail to heed the need for collective vision.
The effects of a University of St. Thomas decision that kept two unmarried partners from traveling together on university business continue to ripple through the campus, and what began as a debate about travel policy is edging into a tougher discussion about the university's future.

Two recent St. Thomas rulings launched a wider debate over Catholicism and the university's reach into employees' lives. A choral director last spring was told she couldn't officially bring her lesbian partner along on a trip with a university choir; two professors who live together as unmarried, heterosexual partners were told in December they could travel with students only if they stayed in separate rooms.

Last week, a letter signed by 132 faculty and staff appeared in the campus newspaper Aquin supporting the professors and calling the administration's stance intolerable. Although the signatures represent a fraction of total faculty and staff, the letter was extraordinary on a campus that rarely sees public dissent. Some teachers recently boycotted a faculty recognition event. There's been scattered talk of professors seeking jobs elsewhere. E-mails and discussions on the matter are a daily distraction for some.
So much wasted effort. Can society afford the time and resources to examine the values we hold and whether or not we should actually live by them?

If St. Thomas were a public rather than a private institution, there would be no need for students and faculty to struggle with reconciling their personal beliefs with their actions and Catholic doctrine. Laws governing public institutions prohibit discrimination and alleviate the need for people to struggle with ethical issues. Collective morality frees people to worry about grander things, like global warming.

The situation at St. Thomas is precisely why we need society to step in and pass laws defining appropriate personal behavior. Without such laws, society, like St. Thomas, bubbles in a cauldron of individuality until collective vision evaporates. Individuals make decisions that are not in keeping with the collective vision. Worst of all, those that are content to let society do their thinking for them are faced with the nightmare of making individual ethical decisions -- of differentiating “right” from “wrong.”

Isn’t it easier to have government remove that threat? Do we want a world that is like St. Thomas where individuals must struggle with ethical questions? Do we want a world where it is always 3 o’clock in the morning, and we lie awake with nothing but our souls for comfort? Isn’t it time to move beyond humanity and institute controls on individuality for the sake of the collective good?

Let St. Thomas serve as an example of the ugliness that awaits if we resist the tranquility of a single collective vision. It might not be possible to extinguish humans to make the world a better place, but with a little effort, we can abolish “humanity.” Isn’t it worth it?

Cross-posted to the John Adams Blog