As I pointed out in the earlier essays in this series, one of the most effective strategies employed by change agents is commandeering words with familiar and positive meanings and redefining them so that the same word carries a very different meaning from the one it previously carried. Like a designer virus, its external familiarity and traditional authority disguises its alien nature long enough for it to infect and reprogram the genetic code of the institution. It is the preferred method of hijackers and heretics.
Inclusion as a Feel Good Word
Today I will examine the third member of the Woke trinity. The word “inclusion,” perhaps even more than the other two members of the triad —“diversity” and “equity”— resonates positively with most people. However, set within the context of social justice theory its meaning changes radically. In this essay I will contrast two different understandings of inclusion.
Most people understand the word “inclusion” in contrast to the word “exclusion.” Inclusion resonates with other such positive words as compassionate, generous, kind, caring, accepting, and loving. Exclusion connotes harsh, arrogant, cruel, rejecting, and disparaging attitudes and behaviors. All of us remember disappointing and humiliating experiences of being excluded and rejected from a sports team, a college, a club, or a set of friends. And we have experienced the affirming feeling of being included and recognized by peers and friends. Hence in everyday language and apart from critical analysis, “inclusion” designates a good act and “exclusion” points to a bad one. But critical analysis tells a different story.
Inclusion as Exclusion in Disguise
Don’t They Teach Logic Anymore?
In my experience inclusion is used in social justice talk as if it were an absolute value, an axiomatic foundation to which every subsequent idea must conform. Policy changes become morally imperative as soon as it becomes clear that they facilitate greater inclusion. Acts of exclusion are always wrong and acts of inclusion are always right. In institutions that accept the inclusion axiom, whoever can sustain their claim to the more inclusive position holds the moral high ground in debates over policy, and whoever represents the less inclusive position bears a huge burden of proof. Indeed, since the axiom declares inclusion to be good and exclusion to be evil, the discussant defending the less inclusive position will be pictured as defending immoral policies.
But inclusion is not and can never be an absolute value. It is logically impossible because the categories of insider and outsider mutually define each other. They are correlatives; you cannot have one without the other. You cannot include someone in an institution, school, club, or church unless there are boundaries that distinguish between those inside and those outside. Groups are defined by what they are not as well as what they are. In fact, this is true of every finite thing. Only the Absolute itself escapes the relativity of all other concepts and things.
Inclusion as a Rhetorical Ploy
In actual practice advocates of social justice theory are very exclusive. Five minutes in a faculty meeting in any contemporary university will teach you that. They use the rhetoric of inclusivity when they wish to break through boundaries they do not like and the rhetoric of demonization and the practice of cancelation to exclude those who defend those boundaries. And it is no mystery where those boundaries lie. As I argued in a previous essay, social justice theorists apply “inclusion” only to people who have been rejected, overlooked, condemned, or marginalized by traditional society. It does not apply to political conservatives of any ethnicity, to traditional Christians and Jews male or female, or to anyone religious or non-religious who defends traditional sexual morality. White men are automatically excluded unless they signal that they are among the woke*and confess their original sin of being born into the dominant group in a systemically racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic society.
The Bottom Line
The real issue to be decided, then, is not whether to be inclusive or exclusive. Every institution is both. The question that must be answered concerns the identity and mission of the institution being discussed. Clarity about the identity and mission of the college or church or business or club or service organization will settle the question of boundaries and hence of who may be included and who must be excluded.
*One currently popular way to signal your wokeness is placing your “preferred pronouns” in parentheses after your name in your email signature.
Next Time: I have now finished the analytic and logical critique of the DEI philosophy. I can proceed to my Christian response to it.