If there was any part of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) agenda that I could support, it would be Inclusion. Unlike Diversity and Equity, which are logically flawed ideals that pit themselves directly against undeniable realities about life on planet earth, Inclusion is at least a charitable objective.
Wanting everyone to feel included; working to actively value everyone… that’s just nice. In fact, being inclusive is about actively creating community, which is something lacking in our over-urbanised modern world.
Being inclusive is a good social instinct that we should all seek to develop; when you spot that person who is clearly outside their comfort zone, hovering at the edge of conversations, not sure what to do with themselves… include them. Be hospitable. Be a friend-maker. And do so in a way that is self-sacrificing; open up your home, give up your time, be prepared to make yourself vulnerable in granting other people access to your friendship.
And yet, the drop of truth always sweetens and disguises the lie. In the case of inclusion, the truth is that being inclusive is, indeed, a virtue. The lie in the DEI context is that inclusiveness (or you may call it inclusivity if you want to sound pretentious) is treated as a value rather than a virtue, which distorts the underlying moral.
Traditional Christian virtues are about the means, not just the end. For instance, compare charity and theft. For someone who has a lot of wealth, being charitable is a virtue and results in them giving to the poor. For someone who is poor, being discontent is a vice which could result in them stealing from the rich. The outcome of both actions is the same – wealth goes from the rich to the poor – but the morality is different.
We experience this also in social settings. Inviting someone into your conversation and having someone inject themselves into your conversation uninvited both have the same outcome. Yet the former is polite and the latter is rude. Why? The answer is in the language, it was your conversation. The old-fashioned virtue, ‘charity’, is a free-will action. You are able to give only that which you first own.
The concepts of ownership and authority are important constructs in our society that result in order rather than chaos. They are more important than inclusion. We can admire and practice inclusion the virtue, without demanding inclusion the outcome.
Problem #1 – Inclusion is subjective
Inclusion has three problems.
The first is that it is subjective. Whereas diversity in a workplace can be measured by looking at the human resource statistics, ‘inclusion’ in many cases is not be measured objectively. Instead, inclusion is measured by asking everyone whether they ‘feel’ included.
How you ask such a question can easily determine the outcome. “Do you ever feel uncomfortable? Misunderstood? Like an outsider?” The answer to this will almost always be “yes” due to the messiness of human life and interactions.
If you ever feel uncomfortable, offended, ignored or neglected in a situation, there are two responses you can take. The first response is to blame everyone around you and identify what others can do to make it better; the second response is to identify what you can do to make it better.
Sometimes the first of these is worth-while. I’ve confronted someone before and explained how their actions made me feel. The problems with always blaming others, however, are that: (A) you may be simply incorrect. Let’s face it, sometimes a situation will be awkward and uncomfortable no matter how people try to make it otherwise. Some other situations ought to be uncomfortable, like being publicly reprimanded for doing wrong. (B) blaming others can be counterproductive. Ultimately, we are not responsible for the actions of others. I am responsible for my actions, you are responsible for yours. For you to respond to a situation by trying to fix me is pointless, even if my actions are, in fact, the problem.
What I am describing here is a general feature of the modern progressive worldview. Rather than focus on an individual’s responsibility to accommodate the world around them, they focus on the world’s responsibility to accommodate individuals. The latter of these sounds nice, but it is beyond ability—moving the world requires a force that we cannot exert, whereas moving ourselves requires a force that we can exert. It is also beyond rationality—every individual is unique, and so there is no one version of the world that can simultaneously accommodate every individual to their satisfaction. It is also immoral—the highest expression of individual morality is love, which means to desire the best for others; it is not to expect the best from That is selfishness.
Problem #2 – Inclusion is never satisfied
The second problem with inclusion is that it becomes a pathology. The complaints of Inclusion chase their prey relentlessly but will never believe they’ve caught it.
It is obvious to anyone who looks honestly, that our society has a very different view of the roles that women can take than it had forty years ago. We also have a different view of race than we used to, back when we gladly maintained a ‘White Australia’ policy or when the USA had segregation laws. Certainly there are still some individuals who are sexist and racist, and some pockets in which a particular expression of prejudice will thrive, but ‘systemically’ we are not. Women and people of all races work in all workplaces, are admitted to all public venues, have held almost all public offices in the land. And yet while some are happy to celebrate the victory, the latest wave of feminists and activists instead invent new categories of discrimination to explain situations in which these minorities don’t ‘feel’ included.
“Micro-aggressions”, for example, like asking someone where they are from, or speaking more slowly to someone who has an accent, or offering a different greeting to a woman compared to a man (am I meant to shake your hand? Kiss your cheek? I don’t know, it’s confusing!). None of these are aggressions because they are not “aggressive”. They are normal human interactions between people who have only just met. They reflect a lack of understanding, but not a lack of support. A lack of knowledge, but not an unwillingness to learn. They are part of a process, not a product. If you can’t handle a world where this sort of stuff happens, then move to an island and start getting acquainted with a soccer ball named Wilson.
This problem with inclusion, like the first point, reflects a broader cultural trend. It is the trend of taking the ‘post-modern relativism’ approach to interactions. Relativism gives the right of interpretation to a person receiving a message, rather than the person sending it. As a result, a comment may be interpreted as hostile that was intended to be friendly. An action may be interpreted as a sexual advance that was meant to be platonic. Inclusion is subjective, it doesn’t care what was meant but only what was perceived, because the message received is what determines the ‘feeling’ of inclusion.
Some people are chronically discontent complainers and nothing would satisfy them because the world simply doesn’t work the way they want it to. No amount of effort towards inclusion would satisfy such people. Should we allow those people the right to define what the rest of the world ought to be doing to make them feel included?
Perhaps it is cynical of me, but it seems that this aspect of inclusion is even strategic, because inclusion provides something for people to complain about even after diversity has already been achieved. “Yes, ok, you have women on your board of directors – but are they included? Do you listen to them? You’re still not doing enough!” There’s nothing more useful for an activist than a problem that isn’t solved until they say it is.
Problem #3 – Inclusion has a cost
The third problem with inclusion is that it has a cost, and where inclusion is not affordable, it is not feasible.
The direct costs of inclusion are prominent when accommodating people who face significant physical barriers to inclusion, such as people with disabilities. Accommodating disabilities is very expensive. Ramps cost more than stairs because they take up more room. Elevators cost more again. Someone who hasn’t got arms may need a voice-to-text system in order to type, and also a more private work-space to be less disruptive to colleagues. People with mental disabilities may take longer to teach, or require more supervision, and may be less productive… all of these are costs. If the work completed cannot cover the costs, then who will pay them?
Now, I think it is wonderful that we have many systems to support people with disabilities and that provide many ways for them to become involved in many activities. These are, however, a luxury of the modern era. If our society was not insanely wealthy, due to the technological revolution, then we could not afford these things. They are privileges, but not rights. Put simply, someone with a disability cannot claim a right to be included in all the same facets of society that able-bodied people can, because they have no right to demand that ‘somebody’ pays the cost of their inclusion.
Perhaps you think that this is a problem of the past and that these days we have enough money to include everyone in everything, but that is not true. Sure, public places, offices, and most city-centre buildings can have wheelchair access, for instance. But could someone in a wheelchair work out the back of MacDonalds? No, it’s too cramped. Could they work in the average factory, which usually have mezzanine floors overlooking the workspace? Could they work in processing facilities, which use ladders and stairs for access everywhere? There are many types of participation that remain simply infeasible.
Inclusion can have other indirect costs also. For instance, I read about a Scouts camp in which a group of children did the sorts of things that scouts do – zip-lining, camping, eating grubs, finding unconventional sources of water? I don’t know, I wasn’t a scout. On this particular trip, a non-verbal autistic child attended. The child would yell disruptively and thrash about, he required full-time direct attention, it was a slower process to involve him in every activity, and the other kids were (quite rationally) a bit scared of him. Having him along ruined the trip for everyone. What did it accomplish? Attending Scouts isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. Someone in unfortunate circumstances may be deprived of that privilege for practical reasons. There is nothing wrong with that. We can’t all be ‘included’ in everything.
A more controversial topic is when mentally disabled adults are put on the pill or given hysterectomies to prevent them having children. “Who has the right to deprive them of being included in that facet of life?” advocates ask. And yet the consequences of ‘that facet of life’ are childbirth—a distressing process that a young mentally handicapped woman might not be able to process—and then a child who the parents are not able to look after, and who has a high probability of being disabled. So we can flip the question, “why would someone who cannot raise a child have a right to bear one?” Who will pay the cost of their inclusion?
Moving away from disabilities, an example I heard from a seminar on gender inclusion was mining. Mining is a traditionally male industry that, before improvement in machinery, involved back-breaking work. In the past, mines often had only one changing room or toilet (or perhaps even none), because there were no women around. This turned a statistical lack of gender diversity into a certainty, because no women were accommodated by the available facilities.
Now, you could call this ‘structural discrimination’, a lack of inclusion, and unfair! Yet who can afford to build an additional toilet block or changing room for one per cent of their staff? Would the productivity gained by that one percent cover the cost? And if not, why would you pay that cost unnecessarily? The mining companies were instead quite content with a male-only contingent of miners.
Inclusion, generally, turns minorities into a disproportionate resource sink and that reduces overall efficiency of our economy. We are able to afford this to an impressive extent in our modern, affluent society – but a few centuries ago it would have been unthinkable and even today it is limited.
Inclusion is immature
It may be apparent by now that inclusion, like diversity, is really all about equity.
When I was at school, I was told not to compare myself to the people around me. “Don’t worry about what he’s doing, you just worry about your own work”. Even in a competition we were told that we should just strive for a PB, a “personal best”. Don’t compete against everyone else, only ever compete against yesterday you.
Though we were encouraged not to compare ourselves to others when it came to skills and accomplishments, increasingly we are told that we should compare ourselves to others when it comes to everything else. Opportunities, income, quality of life. We use the word “deserve”—everyone deserves an equal chance in life.
The historical Western perspective actually took the opposite stance on both of these issues. Comparing your skills and accomplishments to the people around you was not discouraged. We must measure ourselves against one another because we participate in a common marketplace – if you’re no good at mathematics compared to the rest of your class, it doesn’t really matter whether you are better than you were yesterday or not, you’re still not going to become a mathematician because no-one will buy your services. We measure ourselves against others to discover what we have to offer the world.
People who object strongly to comparisons, do so because competitions have losers and being a loser is difficult – but that’s immature. Mature competitors can identify and celebrate those who are the best at something without taking a blow to their own ego. They can understand that there is a dignity and value to everyone from the greatest to the least, and that recognising and honouring a winner does not dehumanise the loser.
Avoiding comparison is an immature response to inequality. A mature response has nothing to fear from competition, because all a competition does is to reveal truth. Some people are more skilled than others; it’s a fact, and it’s a fact that may be relevant. Denying this is just juvenile.
When we measure ourselves as unequal, which we inevitably will, the traditional Western response was then acceptance. We had an expression, “your lot in life”, and a saying, “life’s not fair”. Some people are born in poor families and some in wealthy. Some are born diseased and some are born healthy. Some people went to war and died in the first minute, others survived until the end. My parents went to university in the 70s and got it for free, I went to university in the 2000’s and had to pay for some of it. Life. Isn’t. Fair.
Everyone will have some options closed to them by virtue of who they are, and when and where they live. Short people can’t play basketball. Asthmatics can’t run marathons. Eventually all of us retire because old people can’t do lots of things.
The right response is not to complain about what you don’t have, it’s to identify how you should best serve with what you do have. The right response is not to demand everyone else change, but to teach yourself to be more resilient.
Remember that kid who had a tantrum whenever he couldn’t have the same things that the other kids got? Of course you do, you were that kid. Well, that’s what valuing inclusion looks like. Inclusion means telling that kid he’s right, instead of telling him to grow up.
Yes, it is virtuous to be inclusive and understanding of others to the maximum extent you are able, but it is simply immature to demand that of everyone else.
So if that’s you, being all demanding and whiney, here’s some tough love: grow up. Take responsibility for your own feelings and substitute complaining with coping. Thankfulness is a verb, start doing it. Assume the best of everyone else and show a bit of grace; you’re not the only one with difficulties in your life. Are yours worse? Maybe. Is that unfair? Sure is.
Life’s not fair; deal with it.
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Nick Kastelein is a South Australian writer. He writes about politics, philosophy and current events, with an emphasis on applying a Christian worldview, and finding the simplest, truest perspective. You can find more of his past writing at NPKastelein.com.
Nick is also a professional mechanical engineer with extensive experience in the energy sector, and especially in design of natural gas pipelines. He is a contributor to Australian Standard AS/NZS 2885.1, and lead author of Fracture Control – A code of practice for the Australian pipeline industry.