Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Inclusivity, Exclusivity

As the SKS beefs up its online presence over the summer, I've been ruminating on inclusivity and exclusivity as factors in building a community. Inclusivity is a value normally associated with the progressive liberal: we want institutions and communities that are inclusive, that don't reject people out of hand, for all the wrong reasons (race, sex, gender, etc.). Inclusivity also happens to be one of those values with a certain amount of theological grounding to it: Jesus made a big deal about accepting those who were rejected, and sweeping aside the usual boundaries for who was worthy of your love and concern. So it seems sensible that a spiritual community (virtual or otherwise) would want to be reaching out and pulling people in. The power of radical inclusivity has been demonstrated by the likes of the Wikipedia. By rejecting all notions of "who's an expert," and letting the masses participate to whatever extent they feel like, the Wikipedia has become a staggeringly huge resource of scholarship, comparable in quality to the "exclusive" club of Britannica authors and vastly bigger.

"On the other hand . . ." (as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof might say) we are hard-put to define a community that has any meaning at all unless we draw certain boundaries. When examining the unbridled, innocent liberalism of his parents, Barack Obama's critique was: "If everyone is family, then no one is family." In a world of limited resources (especially our time and attention), we have to make value decisions, and that inevitably leads us to put some people ahead of others. St. Paul did an awful lot of work to cultivate the standards of the early Christian community. The Christians were supposed to love everyone, but they were supposed to really love (and help) their fellow believers. Exclusive standards exist in every major institution -- education, business, politics -- to insure that you don't waste your time on people who are not equally committed to the same values and goals that you are. Exclusivity is demonstrated in other online phenomena, such as social networks: we still pick our friends and mates, and we like to think that's a pretty exclusive club.

So how to we synthesize inclusivity and exclusivity as real values? I still don't have the answer, but I suspect the meta-rules for inclusivity and exclusivity do exist and are active in all communities. More on this later.



Blogger Joanna said...

I have thought about this a little myself, and this is what I have come to. Communities should be inclusive up front. Anyone is welcome to join. For instance, anyone is welcome to be a follower of Christ. Membership is an open invitation to all. However, membership brings with it certain standards and obligations: commitments of time, money, attention and other resources. To go with the Christianity example, the message of Christ was available to anyone, but following it, or being a part of the early church, required something of you. Because of this, exclusivity is self selecting. The individuals exclude themselves from the club, by essentially not wanting to be a part of it, i.e. not wanting to do what is required.

This works out well for the integrity of the community. An open invitation up front pretty much ensures that discrimination based on irrelevant factors is impossible. But this does mean the community has to think really hard about what it means to be a member... the kind of work Paul put in. It also means that these standards should be observed without partiality.

Perhaps this sounds too harsh, as though it does not allow room for human error. I disagree. Even in the early church they had mechanisms for confronting members that were out of line... a structure for second chances. Active exclusion came when an individual continuously refused to change, or in other words, continuously asserted that some particular issue was more important to them than membership in the community. In which case, you can't fault the community for being too exclusive. On the contrary, they are simply given the individual what he wants.

9:08 PM  

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