The Idea of an Inclusive Society

People today say they want a truly inclusive society. But what would that be like?

Evidently, it would not tolerate disadvantages associated with race, sex, religion, or cultural background. So all identity groups would be equally represented and valued in all significant social settings. That’s why people today find it so important for transgenders to serve in the military, women to serve on submarines, bakers to treat gay weddings like straight weddings, and everyone to call out “microaggressions.”

In addition, there would be no stereotypes. No one would assume anything regarding someone’s likely actions, abilities, or personal qualities based on his identity as male, female, black, white, young, old, Jewish, Mormon, gay, straight, genderqueer, or whatever.

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We’ve come some distance in that direction. It’s now considered bigoted to deny that men can give birth and suckle their babies, which is certainly a victory over stereotypes. (On the other hand, fifty percent of Democrats and even more Republicans still believe there are basic innate differences in physical ability between men and women, so we’re evidently a long way from what the ideal demands.)

An inclusive society would also abolish restrictions on immigration, which exclude by definition. It’s wrong to discriminate against Hispanics in the United States, and Hispanics elsewhere are equally human, so on the current view it is equally wrong to discriminate against them simply because of the accident of where they were born. Hence the emerging consensus that restrictions on immigration are intrinsically racist.

Respectable political, social, moral, and religious leaders increasingly support or at least submit to these views. To reject them squarely and vocally would be to support prejudice and discrimination, and that would be social and professional suicide.

Nonetheless, the views have their difficulties. Some have to do with realism. Is it really true that men can give birth, that diversity is always strength, and that men who are convinced they are women and women who are convinced they are men make just as good Marines as anyone else?

Similar issues come up in connection with immigration. Free migration means populations would flow freely from worse to better living conditions until conditions are largely equalized worldwide. It also means that whatever human factors—tribalism, ingrained combativeness, religious or political fanaticism, lack of economically useful attitudes and skills—that contribute to problems in the regions being fled might well contribute to problems in recipient regions. So conditions might be equalized up or they might be equalized down.

Worrying about bad effects of immigration is considered xenophobic, but doubts remain. Is it really true that conditions in a country have no connection to the habits and qualities of its people, or that residence in America, in an age of mass immigration, multiculturalism, and skepticism regarding the goodness of Americans and American institutions and traditions, can be counted on to turn new arrivals into loyal, productive, law-abiding, and easily integrated citizens of a society that is very different from the one to which they are accustomed?

Perhaps. Or it may be that different peoples have different ways of doing things, and the best road toward a better life for Afghans lies in improving the situation in Afghanistan, an effort we might be able to assist but would, among other things, require the Afghans to solve whatever issues they have with each other, their institutions, their way of life, and their economy. And to that end it would seem useful for the most energetic, talented, and public-spirited Afghans to stay there.

A more fundamental problem is that in the diverse societies immigration creates, inclusiveness destroys all cultural traditions because there is no significant setting in which any of them can count as authoritative. How, for example, can Catholic or French culture exist if there is no significant setting in which Catholic doctrine or French language and customs can be presumed? But a diverse and inclusive society abolishes such settings. To accept them would be “white privilege,” the continuation of benefits like a sense of being at home that tend to accrue to white people living in an historically white society.

But getting rid of such benefits creates problems. Radical disruption of cultural traditions means that the culture of the people can no longer be a largely inherited system reflecting long community experience of the whole of life. Instead, it becomes a matter of propaganda, Internet memes, political ideology, commercial pop culture, and therapeutic talking points. As such, it seems unlikely to offer most people a satisfying or even tolerable way of life.

A problem that may be even more basic is the conflict between equal treatment and equal results. “Colorblindness” and the other formulations on which antidiscrimination laws originally rested have long been superseded by a more affirmative approach to inclusion, so much so that the colorblind ideal is now dismissed as racist.

It was tried, and it didn’t work, because people in fact are different—as suggested above. So for the sake of inclusion we are now required to be culturally sensitive and celebrate diversity. But that creates a problem, because it means we have to recognize that cultural and other differences related to identity are real and have practical consequences.

Sensitivity means I’m supposed to treat Hanifa differently because she’s a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim, and celebration of diversity means I must think she adds something for those reasons. So I’m supposed to believe it’s great to have an Arab Muslim woman around, and it would be less great if she were a native-born male Southern Baptist of Scotch-Irish descent. But that sounds like prejudice and discrimination. And how do we know that the characteristics that make someone like Hanifa so great in this setting don’t make her not-so-great in another?

It’s a problem, but problems can always be solved if you know where you want to end up. The solution increasingly accepted is to believe that prejudice, discrimination, and similar offenses only go one way. Black people can’t be racist, women can’t be sexist, and so on, except when they absorb the values of their oppressors.

But why is that? The answer—it’s not clear what other answer would do—is that American and Western society is best understood as a uniquely burdensome scheme of oppression with normal white Christian men on top and others on the bottom. On that view inclusiveness becomes a matter of dismantling the “cishet” white Christian patriarchy that causes so many problems for everyone else. Whatever takes something from those benefited by that system and gives it to those burdened by it promotes overall justice and therefore deserves favor.

The reader can decide whether that view is just and likely to end well. I’ll only observe that it tells us that one reason abolition of borders is good is that it enables other sorts of people to migrate to America and the West and displace majority populations from the position of dominance they have held and abused.

Opposing that result is now considered “white supremacy,” and that certainly sounds bad. But it seems worth asking what comes next—a utopia of inclusive multicultural tolerance, in which Pashtun and Panamanian sit down together and swap recipes and tales of resistance to racism, colonialism, and transphobia, or something more like a cross between Brazil and the post-imperial Middle East.

Whatever the likely answer may be, the ideal of cosmopolitan inclusiveness more and more permeates public discussion. Surveys show that our current political polarization results from Democrats’ sharp turn to the left on such issues and Republicans’ failure to move more than moderately in that direction. That being the case, who can doubt that efforts to overcome divisiveness and bring us together will involve promoting the ideal even more vigorously than today?

Nonetheless, there seem legitimate grounds for doubting its worth. So it seems advisable for Catholics to avoid the strong tendency in mainstream public life to turn it into an unquestionable dogma and indeed a religion, and make up their own minds on these issues based on Catholic principles and direct observation. Who knows? Something more humane and true to human nature and our experience of the world may indeed be possible.


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