Life                      -                    Death
Together               -                   Apart
Include                 -                    Exclude

Is it a given that any system of social organisation will necessarily exclude someone or other?

If a thing is only a thing because of all of the things it is not, then identity is predicated on the idea of exclusion. As a person you have an identity because you say yes to some things, and no to others. You allow certain things within your borders, whilst keeping others at a distance.

Thus, inasmuch as a collective (a locality, a community, a society) has an identity, it must be exclusive.

From this it follows that when a collective attempts to include all - give everyone a place - within its boundaries, it also works to erase its sense of identity.

Inasmuch as those within the collective define themselves in opposition to those on the outside, the more people there are on the outside, the more there is to oppose; and thus, the stronger the sense of identity within the collective. As the number of people on the outside decreases, the opposition becomes weaker. When there is no-one left on the outside then there is no longer anything to oppose; and all sense of collective identity disappears (indeed, the notion of the collective itself disappears).

The communities that have managed to retain a strong sense of identity in the contemporary world seem to be those that have very definite borders; in other words, those that are exclusive.

Two that come to mind are the traditional Amish and Jewish communities. Both set very firm guidelines on the kinds of person they will and won’t accept within their collective. I imagine that most people from modern western societies, myself included, would find these communities extremely restricting, and very hard to live within.

Modern progressive societies attempt to include as much as possible within their boundaries. Words like ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘globalisation’ can be used to talk about this process. Whilst an Amish or Jewish community may exist within a larger collective (‘American’) they see themselves as very much distinct and, to a certain degree, separate from this collective. The only way they can maintain their identity is to remain a collective within a collective; in other words, to not assimilate into the greater whole. More assimilation = less identity (or to put it another way: stronger borders = stronger identity).

Thus the Amish primarily identify as 'Amish,' and secondarily as 'American.' And, inasmuch as 'Amish' and 'American' are mutually exclusive - as much as to be one means to not be the other - then one must suffer in deference to the other.

Multiculturalism faces its multiple cultures with a choice; to loosen their cultural boundaries and assimilate, to a degree, into the larger whole; or to maintain those boundaries and remain isolated.

Picture a colour wheel. The more the colours mix, the less distinct they become. When all colours are merged they become a dull brown or grey. To retain their vibrancy, they must remain separate: they must have boundaries; say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

I’ve heard it said that multiculturalism is good because it increases diversity within a society; it brings new things, different viewpoints, ideas, experiences, and so on: it brings new colours into the wheel. However, this diversity is only possible to the extent that the cultures - the colours - within the collective do not mix. We gain diversity, but at the expense of cohesion.

This presents a schizophrenic situation: on the one hand, I want to belong to something greater than myself, a collective; and for that collective to exist it must have an identity. In other words, it must distinguish itself from other collectives. But on the other hand, I’m urged to transcend boundaries and think of myself as part of something larger. My urge to be part of a collective conflicts with the imperative to transcend the boundaries of that collective.

What really happens is that I’m asked to think of the collective of which I’m a part in an ever more expansive and abstract way. As one boundary is dissolved, another appears on the horizon. Much like Russian dolls, no sooner have I escaped one container than I find myself within another, larger, one. What this suggests is that, inasmuch as we continue to think of ourselves in a collective sense, we will always need boundaries and will always be excluding someone. For instance, we can only think our ourselves as citizens of the earth because we are not citizens of some other planet.

What affect does this swelling of boundaries have upon us? If, for instance, I'm part of a community of 50 people, chances are that I will know most, if not all, of these people. It will be a close community, at a scale that makes sense to me (a 'human scale'). I understand this collective in a relatively concrete way, inasmuch as I know the people within it and understand our relation to one another.

However, the more my collective increases in size, the less likely I am to know everyone within it. Concrete relations are replaced with an abstract sense of relatedness. As the collective becomes more inclusive, the links between its constituent parts weaken. It may be that the kind of bonds that tie together small groups of people simply don't emerge when a group exceeds critical mass.

I raise this because the pendulum of contemporary culture seems to have swung fully in a particular direction, embracing concepts like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘inclusion’ whilst maligning concepts like ‘boundaries,’ ‘exclusion,’ and so on. In other words, we’ve swung, collectively, into an imbalance.

Another way to put it is to say that we’ve had the thesis - exclusion (tribalism, etc) - and we’re now getting the anti-thesis - inclusion (mutilculturalism, etc).

Perhaps we’re just about ready for the synthesis…

It seems that I need vulgarity. I'm fascinated by it. The things I disapprove of define me as much as the things I approve of.

Sure, I could spend all my internet time reading my digital copy of The Wire, watching the films on ("all avant garde, all the time") ubu.com, or listening to Arte Radio. But, even given the opportunity to be my own curator, my own programmer, I throw in some stuff that's compellingly appalling, some stuff I love to hate.

Otherwise, what would there be to rebel against? How could I enjoy my trek to the cultural high ground?

'Portrait of the artist as a young snob'

A third theory attracting considerable attention recently is that mechanisms similar to those behind racism drive affective polarization. 

Thus, party identification becomes a central component of people’s social identity, regardless of any meaningful differences in policy goals. The intense emotional conflict between partisans then is not a dispute about issue positions, but rather an “us versus them” dynamic familiar in social psychology

[Darren Schreiber, Greg Fronzo, Alan Simmons, Chris Dawes, Taru Flagan & Martin Paulus]
'Neural nonpartisans', p. 3

In social identity theory, the mere sorting of individuals into groups is sufficient to lead to a range of discriminatory beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. 

Whereas previous generations of scholarship had attributed intergroup tensions to a range of sources including historical animosity or resource scarcity, subsequent research using a “minimal group paradigm” showed that bias in favor of members of the ingroup and negative affect towards the outgroup could be created by just arbitrarily divvying people into clusters, in the absence of any of the factors typically suggested as causes of ingroup bias.

[Darren Schreiber, Greg Fronzo, Alan Simmons, Chris Dawes, Taru Flagan & Martin Paulus]
'Neural nonpartisans', p.3

Henri Tajfel proposed that stereotyping (i.e. putting people into groups and categories) is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:

1. the differences between groups

2. the similarities of things in the same group.

This is known as in-group (us) and out-group (them). The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that group members of an in-group will seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image.

We categorize objects in order to understand them and identify them. In a very similar way we categorize people (including ourselves) in order to understand the social environment.

Similarly, we find out things about ourselves by knowing what categories we belong to.  We define appropriate behavior by reference to the norms of groups we belong to, but you can only do this if you can tell who belongs to your group.

Once we have categorized ourselves as part of a group and have identified with that group we then tend to compare that group with other groups. If our self-esteem is to be maintained our group needs to compare favorably with other groups.

[Saul McLeod]
'Social Identity Theory'

Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel 
The Principle of Polarity
This, Not That 
Here Be Dragons