We can divide groups into roughly three categories: the anti-evangelistic, the evangelistic, and the nonevangelistic.
The anti-evangelistic are groups that are actively uninterested in getting new, adult members. Many anti-evangelistic groups have some way of getting new members, but it’s difficult and you have to really want to, and they have no objections to arbitrary limitations designed to make getting in harder. Religions that prefer that new members be born into it, such as Judaism and many Native American religions, are often anti-evangelistic, as are many forms of mysticism.
The evangelistic are groups that are recruiting new members. Nearly all social movements and political parties are evangelistic. The most famous evangelistic group is, of course, Christianity.
The non-evangelistic are groups that don’t really care about new members: if new members come, great; if they don’t, fine. Think about fandoms. If your fandom consists of two people (and you know about each other– always an important caveat), you can have a great time arguing about the canon and making fan material for each other. Larger fandoms have some advantages (wikis; much, much more fan material) and some disadvantages (WHY IS EVERYONE SO BAD AT WATCHING TV). Nonevangelistic groups may have individual members who try to get their friends to join, but they’re unlikely to have recruitment drives. By far most groups– from birdwatching to basketball players– are non-evangelistic.
Okay, so you’re a nonevangelistic group. Why should you exclude people? Excluding people is leaving people out! It’s mean! You shouldn’t be mean! Instructions from kindergarten and the Geek Social Fallacies drift through our heads. If someone wants to join the birdwatching group, shouldn’t they be able to?
The problem is that every action involves tradeoffs. A group is very well justified in excluding other people if excluding those people allows them to better cater to the group’s membership.
To pick the most obvious example: it would be very silly if a birdwatching group had to be inclusive of people who aren’t interested in looking at birds. It would not be a birdwatching group anymore!
Many groups– even those that seem, at first glance, to be simply hobbies– aren’t just intended to cater to people with particular interests, they’re also intended to cater to people with particular personality types and values. For instance, fandom typically caters to people who are smart, socially awkward, and obsessive about things that they’re interested in; that’s as much a part of the fandom’s mandate as catering to people who are really excessively concerned about their favorite TV shows.
So let’s imagine Joe comes in to his local anime convention. Joe likes watching anime! He would be very interested in the panels! But Joe thinks that all those people running around in costumes are very weird. It’s not even Halloween. They should get a life. Why are people hugging each other when they don’t even know each other? What’s this ‘pocky’ stuff? Why are fourteen-year-olds squealing about ‘yaoi’? That’s porn! You shouldn’t talk about porn in public! Why are there suddenly a bunch of people dancing? Why is that man selling body pillows? If you can’t get laid you should at least have the dignity not to mention it. Joe feels that anime conventions have a long way to go before they are inclusive of him.
I think that the otaku community would be perfectly justified in saying “Joe, cosplay, hugging, pocky, dancing, public conversation about porn, and body pillows are all part of what it means to be a member of our community. It’s fine if you watch anime and don’t want to be around people who like cosplay and body pillows, but we’re not going to change our community so it caters to Joe-like preferences.”
You’re an evangelistic group. You want to recruit everyone. So inclusion is the most important thing, right?
It is a very rare group that only cares about membership (“Let’s Get A Million-Person Group On Facebook” groups aside). The Democratic Party wants lots of people to register as Democrats, but even more than that it wants lots of people to agree with the Democrats about policy issues.
I recently read a critique of the Giving What We Can pledge as classist. The GWWC pledge requires everyone with an income to donate 10% of their income. This disproportionately affects poor people: if you made $20,000 last year, giving 10% means potentially going hungry; if you made a million dollars last year, giving 10% means that instead of a yacht you will have to have a slightly smaller yacht. This is a true critique.
Of course, there’s another pledge that doesn’t have this problem. It was invented by the world’s most famous effective altruist. It even comes with a calculator. And I bet you half the people reading this haven’t heard of it.
The problem is that the Giving What We Can pledge is easy to remember. “Pledge to give 10% of your income” is a slogan. You can write it on a placard. “Pledge to give 1% of your before-tax income, unless charitable donations aren’t tax-deductible in your country in which case give 1% of your after-tax income, as long as you make less than $100,000/year adjusted for purchasing power parity, and after that gradually increase the amount you donate in accordance with these guidelines” is, um, not.
While effective altruism wants to recruit everyone, it is most interested in recruiting rich people, on account of rich people have more money. One person making $200,000 a year and giving 10% donates more than four people making $30,000; Dustin Moscovitz has done more for people in developing countries than the rest of the effective altruist movement put together. So it makes sense to go “well, a certain number of poor people will read this and go ‘shit, donate 10%, I might as well fly a rocket to the moon’, but if that makes it easier to put our ideas in front of one millionaire, it’s worth excluding the poor people from our movement.”
(P. S. if taking the Giving What We Can pledge would be a hardship, definitely take the Life You Can Save pledge instead)
Okay, then, so I’ve just spent a bunch of time arguing that inclusion isn’t that important. Why should we care about it at all?
Most obviously: if you don’t have some very strong motivation for people to join your group, and you don’t have people being born into your group, your group will die. People always leave groups; therefore, some people have to join them.
I think for a lot of nonevangelistic groups, the set of people they would ideally like to be members is larger than the set of people who are actually members. Fandom is for smart, socially awkward, obsessive people who are excessively concerned about their favorite media. Some of those people are not currently members of fandom. While fandom as a group doesn’t really care about whether there are more fans, an individual fan might very well think “wow! Fandom made my life so much better! I wish people like me before I knew fandom existed could be included.”
For that reason, a nonevangelistic group might make an effort to include people, even though it’s not part of their core mission. For instance, a convention might have some lower-cost memberships for people who can’t afford the full price. Fans may make fan translations of manga or record podfic of fanfic for fans who read slowly. These efforts allow the group to enrich the lives of more people without compromising its nature.
There can be disagreement about whether the group should be evangelistic, non-evangelistic, or anti-evangelistic, and about who exactly should be members of the group.
For instance, I think Less Wrong should be nonevangelistic. I think my friends are awesome and I love hanging out with them, but I’m not convinced that we offer any unique insights that can’t be found just as well elsewhere, and I don’t think anyone has enough information to make correct predictions about the Singularity. On the other hand, someone who believes very strongly in raising the sanity waterline might think Less Wrong should be evangelistic: they believe the world would be a much better place if everyone had just read the Sequences.
Similarly, I think Less Wrong should be aimed at people who have what I called the not geek not autism thing. This is purely selfish: I like not-geek-not-autism people, I am one myself, and I would be annoyed at having to find a new community. On the other hand, someone else might have joined Less Wrong because they want to become more epistemically or instrumentally rational. They are probably going to spend a lot of time muttering to themselves about how half of these people aren’t interested in self-improvement at all, and there is all this low-hanging fruit just sitting there, and WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE CUDDLING ALL THE TIME WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING
I think a lot of fights about inclusion make more sense if you view them as fights about who should be a member of the group in the first place.
“Hey, Ozy,” you might be saying. “You are writing this whole long thing about inclusion, and you have failed to mention the thing that everyone actually talks about when they talk about inclusion. You know, women, black people, LGBT+ people, that sort of thing.”
And so I suppose I must do so.
I think the important thing about Social Justice Inclusion is that social justice inclusion is often a freebie: that is, a way you can include more people without having to pay any costs in terms of the fundamental values of your group. It is a very rare group whose fundamental values require misgendering trans people: therefore, if you encourage people in your group to not misgender trans people, then you can include trans people at almost no cost.
A lot of times, members of marginalized groups are marked: we might think of a black woman as “a black woman”, but we think of a white woman as “a woman.” So when we think about making welcome an ordinary member of our community, unless we’re deliberately thinking about inclusion, we tend to think about making welcome a cisgender, heterosexual, white, abled, middle-class man (or woman if the activity is one considered feminine in our culture). That means that, in general, it’s very likely that there are low-hanging fruit in including marginalized people.
There are two important caveats here. First, a lot of the people peddling advice about how to be inclusive to women are actually giving advice about how to be inclusive to feminists. (Similarly POC/anti-racists, disabled people/disability rights advocates.) Being inclusive of feminists may or may not fit the goals of your group but is definitely not a freebie. Consider the Less Wrong Feminism Wars (currently expanding into the Effective Altruist front). Feminists often give advice like “ban neoreactionaries, stop saying angry anti-feminist things, talk about sexism more.” However, when I asked a woman who runs a gender-balanced EA group about how to be inclusive to women, her advice was:
- don’t hit on people at meetings
- don’t make gender a marked group (for instance, by talking about ‘getting girls’ as if it’s a goal everyone shares or by lamenting the absence of women);
- take a break from arguing if it looks like the person you’re arguing with is getting stressed or defensive.
Which is somewhat different.
Second, social justice inclusion is only often a freebie. Focus on the Family– to pick an obvious example– would seriously compromise its mission if it included trans people. A less obvious example is women’s inclusion in STEM fields. While there is a fair amount of poor treatment of women in STEM, a large amount of whatever drives women away from STEM seems to have happened by high school. Fixing whatever thing happens to drive women from STEM seems well outside the purview of the average mathematician.