What Inclusion Really Means

The university library is running a promotional campaign to assure students that they are, indeed, welcome inside, where the books are found.  The suggestion, as you shall see, is that many are presently skirting the library because they fear that bigots may haunt the stacks, and that hurtful words may be heard among the whispers.  Apparently it is this rumor of hostility (and not, say, ubiquitous access to the worldwide web) that has rendered the postmodern library such a forlorn and desolate place.


The slogan of this campaign is “You, Me, All, Welcome,” and it is of a piece with a larger university initiative that seems to assure students that the campus is a Cossack-free zone.  That it is a Cossack-free zone of course implies that Cossacks are not to be included among the “all” who are welcome.  Cossacks may, of course, from time to time foray onto campus under cover of alleged constitutional rights; but when they do, they will be repulsed by an exceedingly chilly reception.

So, it seems we must read this slogan as containing a suppressed qualifying condition.  Passed through the proper hermeneutic, it actually means “You, Me, All, Welcome [except Cossacks, of course].”

And there is more.  The great conundrum faced by every postmodern university is how to present itself as inclusive and exclusive at the same time.  It must announce that “all” are welcome in its ivied halls, while at the same time making it perfectly clear that there is something pretty special about the students that one finds actually strolling around campus.  So, to the Cossack exclusion we must add the Dimwit exclusion.   An expanded meaning of our library’s slogan is, in other words, “You, Me, All, Welcome [except Cossacks and Dimwits, of course].”


If a horny-handed son of toil took our library’s assurance that “all” are welcome at face value, and so dared to darken the library’s doorstep, I do not suppose a detachment of librarians would actually vault the circulation desk and give him the bum’s rush; but neither do I suppose that they would greet him with their warmest and most benevolent smiles.

This brings to mind the egregious hymn entitled “All are Welcome in this Place.”  The music director in my parish is, I’m sorry to say, very fond of this sentimental folderol, so I find myself giving voice to the absurd words a couple of times each month.  When I do, I must admit that there passes through my mind a gallery of pictures, each one depicting a species of humanity that would have the ushers placing a rather urgent call to the police.  A swaying and singing drunk?  A Klansman with cross aflame?  A naked representative of Pussy Riot?

As it so happens, all are not welcome in that place because that place has a purpose; and every place with a purpose somehow or other excludes persons who do not share, or at least respect, that purpose.  The saloon from which the swaying and singing drunk has come will naturally exclude me if my purpose is to study the Summa Theologica in silence. The hilltop rally from which the Klansman has come will naturally exclude me if my purpose is to share the wit and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King.  And if I stumbled upon the members of Pussy Riot unwinding after a hard day of pussy rioting, I would no doubt be excluded if I proposed to entertain them by an a cappella rendition of the egregious “All are Welcome in this Place.”

At the risk of pomposity, I will put the point in these terms: exclusion is the soul of social ontology.  A crowd is transformed into a group by a common purpose, and the group will survive as a group only so long as it excludes everyone who is indifferent or hostile to this purpose.  As a practical matter, this means exclusion of nonconformists from the spaces (real or virtual) in which the group pursues its purpose.  This is why the ushers at my church keep the telephone number of the police station handy, even as the congregation belts out its sentimental folderol about all being welcome in that place.  This is why we at the Orthosphere sometimes suppress some commenters.  This is why the library’s slogan, “You, Me, All, Welcome,” is bunk.

Inclusion is always conditional, the condition being that those who are included share, or at the very least do not actively oppose, the purpose that makes the group a group.  In the case of a “university community,” the purpose is learning, whether by way of research or instruction.  A university community therefore quite rightly excludes persons who are incapable of learning at the level that university community provides.  This is the Dimwit Exception to the principle of inclusion.  A university community must also exclude those who have the capacity to learn, but who lack the inclination to learn, or at least to make a good show of pretending to learn, and whose presence would therefore disrupt the university community in its pursuit of its purpose.  We might call this the Rowdy Exception, and so further amend the library’s slogan to read: “You, Me, All, Welcome [except Cossacks and Dimwits and Rowdies, of course].”

If we look more closely at the banners that announce this slogan, we see the names of a great many identity groups, the members of which are, or so the posters suggest, “welcome” in the library (on the condition that they are not also Cossacks, Dimwits or Rowdies).  I do not know how these names were chosen, but suspect that the university took the safe course of rolling out some butcher paper in a public place and inviting passers-by to write what they pleased.

Below you can see my attempt at sorting these identities into categories.  Apart from the venereal minorities, very few of these groups strike me as grievously stigmatized or oppressed, or as standing in obvious need of assurance that they are welcome to set foot in the library.  Are we expected to believe that rich athletes and Danish engineers can be found cowering in the shadows by the late-night book drop?  Have campus cat lovers actually shamed this “dog person”? Does it take courage to come out as a Lutheran?

Of course not!

This is because the “You, Me, All, Welcome” campaign is not about inclusion or the “celebration of diversity.”  Its purpose is to place all of these other identities on the same level, and to subordinate everything on that level to the institutional purpose of the university.  In other words, the “You, Me, All, Welcome” campaign tells students that all of these identities are not only equal, but equally irrelevant to the real business of life.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Protestant or Intersexed because such things do not matter. 

Or at least they will not matter, unless you make the mistake of insisting that they do matter, in which case they will matter in a way you will not like.

What matters, these posters say, is that you are a Cadet on his or her way to joining society’s Officer Class.  What matters is that you are not a Cossack, a Dimwit, a Rowdy, or one of those Damn Fools who thinks some things matter more than joining the Officer Class.

Thus, in the last analysis, these posters are very good illustrations of the point Jim Kalb made in Against Inclusiveness  (2013).

“Supporters of inclusiveness insist on suppressing the effects of distinctions that have traditionally ordered social life, but do not correspond to bureaucratic or commercial ways of doing things.”

“Inclusiveness does not touch the forms of differential treatment associated with the ruling institutions of present day society”

“The end is the single liberal way of life based on career, consumption, and diversion accessorized in ways not allowed to matter”

Categorized Identities

National and Ethnic Identities: Eskimo, Japanese, Australian, Zuni (twice), Mayan, Swedish, Libyan, Creole, Afghani, Arabic, First Nation, Native American, Danish, Namibian (twice), British, Mexican, Spanish, Apache, American

Racial Identities: Bi-Racial

Class Identities: Rich, Blue collar

Collegiate Identities: Party, Athlete, Jock, Old, Preppy, Freshman, First Generation, Graduate Student

Sexual Identities: Female, Woman, Man

Anatomical Identities: Bald

Personality Identities: Extrovert, Shy, Dyslexic, Organized, Artistic, Leader, Disabled, Schizophrenic

Religious Identities Christian (twice), Protestant (twice), Lutheran, Rastafarian

Occupational Identities: Rancher, Cowboy, Professor, Teacher, Staff, Entrepreneur, Amateur

Political Identities: Pro-Gun, Anti-Gun, Pro Choice, Activist (twice), Political, Tea Party

Lifestyle Identities: Dog-Person, Hunter

Venereal Identities: Pansexual, Intersexed (twice), Asexual, Queer (twice), Lesbian (twice), Ally, Fluid

13 thoughts on “What Inclusion Really Means

  1. Pingback: What Inclusion Really Means | @the_arv

  2. This brings to mind the egregious hymn entitled “All are Welcome in this Place.” The music director in my parish is, I’m sorry to say, very fond of this sentimental folderol, so I find myself giving voice to the absurd words a couple of times each month

    Very sorry for this, but I thank God I’m not a Catholic!

      • Excellent! There is so much given to us these days to perform penance that we are quite rich if you look at it that way.

        But you do actually “give voice” to these ditties. I might consider it if my children were not present and observant of what their father is doing, thinking of it as a penance as you do. But to sing along with such fluff is comparable in my mind to donning a tutu in front of them. Usually I will attempt to sing along with what comes out of the Ga[i]ther, but revulsion literally stops my lips at songs such as the one you refer to.

      • I don’t always join in, but, as you say, I do have to set an example for my children. The youngest are not ready to grasp the difference between silent dissent from offensive lyrics and silent indifference or sulkiness. As it happens, we were talking about the Pledge of Allegiance after dinner the other day, and I confessed that I wasn’t always of a mind to join in the recital. Even when I’m not, I’ll certainly stand respectfully, and would do nothing to make it a public protest, but sometimes the words would be false. They were quite shocked, and are a little worried their dad might be a communist.

      • I’ll usually sing along, typically with enough volume to make the words and phrases I omit conspicuous. I’m afraid I find this necessary during the petitions sometimes too. Refraining from giving voice to a lie takes priority over obedient participation.

      • Holding one’s hand over one’s heart during the playing of the National Anthem at public sporting events, I’ll admit, is a problem for me. But as you say, Prof. Smith, I do not make a public spectacle of my non-participation as it were. I do stand and remove my ‘cover,’ as a matter of respect to the other observers. I could be wrong in this, of course, but am persuaded – strongly persuaded – I am not. My children generally follow suit.

  3. Pingback: What Inclusion Really Means | Reaction Times

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  5. Dog-person? So, if I ‘present’ as dog and bark in the library, while walking on all fours naked except for a collar, they’ll let me be in the library? Perhaps only if I keep the barking low, to a whimper, whining like a prog. 😉

  6. You’ve put it in an altogether new light. It hadn’t occurred to me that dog-person was an otherkin. Otherkin are certainly welcome in the library, which is being redesigned with liter boxes and and wood shavings on the floor. Of course a librarian will have to walk any dog-persons.

  7. Pingback: The Old Checkout Desk, She Ain’t What She Used to Be . . . – The Orthosphere


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