My wife wants to retire to a gated community. I find the phrase to be an oxymoron, and believe that the whole gated project is morally flawed; for example, it can lead to us vs. them thinking, social stratification, etc. Is there an argument here, or just a personal preference?

Fascinating situation. And really important to resolve in a marriage or intimate relationship! There might be some interesting empirical evidence or social science that can shed light on the situation: my guess is that gated communities probably contain more persons who prize privacy than public works, the greater community or a nearby municipality, but this might or might not be backed up by social research.

If I was in your situation, the most important factor for me would be to reach agreement on core values with my spouse. Perhaps she shares the same values you do, but either fears or has been the victim of violence / crime or (as a woman) she believe she is more likely to be assaulted than males, and so a gated community is preferred for her safety or she may feel the need to be more protective of both you and her and your family. If so, those may be good reasons (for her sake or for the sake of those values) to (perhaps reluctantly) joining the gated community as I would think one could offset the tendency of being in such a community leading to the outcomes you describe. For example, one might well be in a gated community and yet do volunteer work at a nearby prison or volunteer at The Center for Victims of Torture or advocate for children who are dispossesed or raise money in the gated community for Amnesty International, and so on.

I wish you the best!

Nice question - I wish philosophers thought more about questions related to domestic choices like this one!

No doubt the disagreement between you and your wife could reflect variations in personal preferences that are morally defensible. Some can tolerate noisy environments, others prefer solitude, and so on. And on its face, there's nothing objectionable in wanting living conditions that reflect such preferences.

But there does seem to be something more than personal preference at issue. I'd encourage you to research this yourself, but based on what I've learned about gated communities, they tend to be very homogenous with respect to who lives there. For one thing, the homes all fall within a narrow price range, generally toward the higher end of the income scale. They also tend to be less varied with respect to religion and race. In and of itself, these facts may not be problematic: Sometimes individuals with similar backgrounds opt to live in close proximity, as in many Jewish ghettos and 'Chinatowns.' Yet gated communities look morally different to my eye; this is not a phenomenon in which similar people happen to live near one another. They also throw up a gate with the express aim of keeping others out. The gated community turns what is ordinarily public space -- roads, sidewalks, greenspaces, and the like -- into private space available almost exclusively to community members, often policed so as to discourage outsiders from entering. In this respect, gated communities look like engines of social exclusion, both reflecting and reinforcing social divisions and inequalities about which we should be morally uneasy. As you nicely put it in your question, we should be concerned that gated communities contributes to us vs. them thinking and social stratification. For what it's worth, I don't think "gated community" is an oxymoron exactly -- those in gated neighborhoods are community in an obvious sense and may feel a strong sense of community among themselves. But community isn't the only important value — it may need to be balanced against justice, equality, etc. — and one might legitimately ask whether 'community' achieved through the heavy handed and exclusionary mechanisms of gated communities is the most desirable form of community (or even a genuine community at all!).

I'd encourage you to express these concerns to your wife, as well as asking her more about what appeals to her about a gated community. Something about the lifestyle? Worries about crime and security? Perhaps there are alternatives to gated communities that answer to her concerns without raising the moral 'red flags' that motivated your question.

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