Musings on Group Inclusion

9 May

Musings on Group Inclusion

This is a bit of a ramble, for various reasons, but bear with me a little.

If you happen to run a club – any club – and you deny membership to a black girl because she is a black girl, you are being cruel, stupid and self-defeating.

You are being cruel because you are penalising someone for something outside their control.

You are being stupid because you have made yourself look like an asshole.

You are being self-defeating because you are limiting the membership – and thus the lifespan – of your club. On one hand, very few people want to join a club run by an asshole (and those who do aren’t the sort of people you want around); on the other, what happens when you and your core membership move on (however defined)?

One of the fundamental truths about clubs – and any form of social group – is that they are organised around a single core-point. A chess club, for example, exists because its members want to play chess. This is what they have in common. They are not a bunch of people thrown randomly together, but people who want to play chess.

The chess club, therefore, has two core purposes. First, it introduces people who want to play chess to other people who also want to play chess. Second, it provides an environment conductive to playing chess. A club runs a quiet room where people can think, where the rules of chess etiquette are honoured (i.e. you’re not allowed to gloat if you win) and generally promotes chess-playing.

In a sense, the members of a club are self-selecting. To misquote Marx (the funny Marx) I wouldn’t want to join a club I wouldn’t want to join.

Now, the thing that binds a club together is the thing that all of its members have in common, whatever it happens to be. Club members organise themselves around this activity. It does not matter, on one hand, if a chess player should happen to be black and female; all that matters is that they play chess. Why would someone want to join a club centred around an activity they hate? If someone asked me to join a football club (I hate football with a passion) I would say no. Why would I want to spend an evening a week being cold, wet and miserable? I had enough of that at school.

The problem facing many clubs, with or without the interference of well-meaning fools, is that they must strike a balance between being inclusive and exclusive. On one hand, arbitrarily restricting your membership is bad for your future development; on the other, widening the membership to the point where the core-point is diluted is equally bad. This is a problem that strikes all subgroups, sooner or later; they must steer a course between keeping the essence of whatever they are while bringing in newcomers who will revitalise the subgroup.

This isn’t easy. It can get nasty – very nasty – when a club forgets its core-point (or, perhaps more likely, is overruled by well-meaning outsiders.) A chess club becomes a games club becomes a games room becomes a common room … an environment that is no longer welcoming to the original chess players. I’ve seen it happen and it isn’t pretty. On one hand, once you start compromising the core-point, you’re in trouble; on the other hand, if you refuse to allow anyone else to join, you’re also in trouble.

These days, sooner or later, any sizable club (or social group or whatever) will start talking about ‘outreach’. They will start insisting on reaching out to prospective members who aren’t part of the mainstream (however defined). On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. Like I said above, a club that doesn’t bring in a certain amount of new blood every year will ossify and die. However, how far can you reach out without compromising the core-point? The people who join chess clubs, by and large, aren’t interested in missionary work; they’re interested in playing chess. If the fun gets sucked out of the club, if they are expected to do things that have very little to do with the core-point (which is why they’re there in the first place), they might leave. Or they might seethe and silently resent being told they have to reach out to potential newcomers …

… Which does no good for the club’s future harmony either.

The question that has always struck me, when people start talking about ‘outreach,’ is just how much does the club have to change? I wouldn’t join a football club unless it changed itself so radically that it could no longer reasonably call itself a football club. Whoever ran the club would alienate the current membership, without – perhaps – bringing in new blood to make up for what they lost. And this clumsy social engineering angers people because it is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding about humanity.

Point is, a club core-point is based on what people have in common. Two chess players can play chess, regardless of the other differences between them. The differences do not matter! But, the more people talk about differences, the more people become aware of those differences and the more they separate themselves – sometimes mentally, sometimes physically – from the different people. At best, this dilutes the core-point; at worst, it fragments the group into smaller groups. And then the old ‘Us V. Them’ problem rears its ugly head again.

On one hand, no reasonable club should discriminate on issues that don’t touch its core-point. BUT, on the other hand, a club can reasonably demand that people who want to join have to be invested in its core-point. And it can reasonably throw out anyone who blatantly isn’t interested in its core-point. A ‘Superhero Action Movie’ club can reasonably kick out someone who wants to watch romance movies … and indeed, why would someone who wants to watch romance movies want to join the ‘Superhero Action Movie’ club? Why should the people who were there first, the people who created the club, change to meet the demands of a newcomer?

I’ve been a member of three school chess clubs in my life (four if you count an online platform as a club.) There were no rules banning anyone who wasn’t a straight white male from joining and playing chess. And yet, the clubs represented a tiny percentage of the population of the schools (straight white male or otherwise), had only a couple of non-white players and didn’t have any girls at all. Was this racism or sexism? A failure of inclusion and representitism? Or was it a reflection of the simple fact that they didn’t want to play? It was sadly true that very few kids wanted to join the chess club and play chess. The football club did much better when it came to attracting new blood.

You can open the door. You can invite someone in. But you can’t force them to play and you can’t dilute your core-point without risking your current membership walking away.

Point is, inclusion requires a degree of commonality. It must be something that the included have in common. At the same time, it can’t be something too common or there’s no point in joining a club to honour it. (Who wants to be a member of the red-blood club when everyone has red blood?) And the more the club – or its leadership – talks about things that have nothing to do with the club’s core-point, the more it dilutes itself.

So what does this have to do with us Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans?

We are a club, to all intents and purposes, organised around the core-point of being Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans. We are welcoming, to those who share our core-point; we don’t expect people who don’t share our core-point to join. We understand that they do not want to join, any more than we want to join them. They have their core-points and we have ours. But we are also having problems caused by people who, in wanting to be inclusive, are actually promoting exclusion.

And this, I think, is true of pretty much everywhere in society today.

15 Responses to “Musings on Group Inclusion”

  1. lif strand May 9, 2019 at 5:19 pm #

    This is a keeper article — a good one to share with every club, social media group, and volunteer organization I belong to.

  2. bret May 9, 2019 at 7:47 pm #

    Chrishanger wrote: “But we are also having problems caused by people who, in wanting to be inclusive, are actually promoting exclusion.”

    I have no idea what that means. Do you have examples?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 9, 2019 at 8:36 pm #

      In the case of SF (especially World Con/Hugos), what we’re seeing are people who have a “single vision” of what SF should be and in the name of “inclusion” they are excluding people with a different “vision” of what SF should be.

      Also, in the “name of including POC”, they have decided that “conservatives” should be excluded because in their minds “conservatives” are Old White Males thus evil.

      • bret May 9, 2019 at 10:38 pm #

        Just being a reader I have no idea what World Con/Hugos is/are. Should I care what they are and if so why?

        Are Amazon and other outlets excluding conservatives? It doesn’t look like it. For example, it looks like all of Chris’s books are available at Amazon.

        As long as the outlets like Amazon allow all kinds of writers to sell their wares and all kinds of readers to buy them, isn’t that as inclusive as you can get?

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 9, 2019 at 10:53 pm #


        Second, like me Chris is aware of the garbage concerning the Hugo (Major SF award) and that’s what he was talking about.

        Third, as for you caring about it. Heck no and many of us who are aware of the Hugo garbage think WorldCon is a dying part of SF/F.

        Fourth, yes Amazon doesn’t care about conservatives selling books via them which is why many of us gleam with pleasure as the books that the WorldCon would-be-elites fail love to do well with readers.

  3. bret May 9, 2019 at 8:17 pm #

    Interesting thoughts.

    I belong to a club called the Barbershop Harmony Society which is the modern name for what is still officially the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA).

    But what does it mean to preserve and encourage barbershop singing? While the origins are debated, it’s likely that barbershop singing originated as a bunch of black guys making up 4 part harmonies around their barbershops and other gathering spots.

    SPEBSQSA was founded by white guys about 100 years ago and was both exclusively white and male by charter for the first few decades. Some time in the distant past all races were admitted but it remained exclusively male until this year.

    Now all genders are admitted (indeed, any human is now welcomed and encouraged to join). Many are extremely unhappy with this decision because a quartet of men singing barbershop style arrangements does have a unique sound and they feel that the society (club) has thrown away its core purpose – that of preserving barbershop music.

    So why did they do it?

    (1) It’s close to impossible to legally have an all male organization in the west anymore. The legal counsel felt certain that lawsuit were coming soon and those lawsuits would destroy the organization if the society didn’t act preemptively.

    (2) Like many artistic organizations, the society relied on grants. Whether or not it was legal to maintain an all male organization, it was certainly a fact that grantors were becoming ever more reluctant to provide funding to an all male organization.

    (3) Membership halved over the last 2 to 3 decades so the organization was withering away anyway.

    We’ll see if this desperate gambit works. I think it will. I personally really like it. I belong to one all male quartet that focuses on old style barbershop songs and we pretty much get as many gigs as we want. I also am in a new mixed quartet (2 men, 2 women) and we sing some barbershop and some jazz a cappella arrangements. And our chorus is now mixed and we do lots of different things.

    So we moved forward, diluted our core purpose, perhaps much like a chess club adding checkers and poker, it may work, it may not, we’ll see, but I don’t think there was a choice.

    It was either change or die.

  4. Hanno Frerichs May 9, 2019 at 8:52 pm #

    Just a small note
    It’s in smaller clubs also often a case of scoop.
    In London a Chessclub can have enough members to stay exclusive with dedicated players and maybe a pro children, teen, female and what ever else as sub devisions so being even more exclusive.
    While the same kind of club in a small village will likely get pople from the areas around it, and still fall short to sustain a good big enough player base.
    Then they become the strategy gaming, the gaming club, the game room and finally the common room. Sometimes stopping in that evolution if the club gains enough members to sustain itself at some point, with o better alternative for most members around.

  5. Anarchymedes May 10, 2019 at 11:43 am #

    My question is, what is the definition of a Sci-fi/Fantasy fan? Is this someone who reads/watches nothing but Sci-Fi/Fantasy? Is this someone who believes that any Sci-Fi/Fantasy work beats any realistic one hands-down? Or is it someone who enjoys Sci-Fi/Fantasy among many other things?
    Choose your definition, and you’ll choose how inclusive or exclusive your club is going to be.
    Besides, in one of your earlier posts, Chris, you absolutely correctly pointed out that someone who demands respect likely doesn’t deserve it. Can it be the same—or along the similar lines—with inclusion? For example, if a black girl is trying to join, say, an Asian boys’ club, what does she expect?

  6. masgramondou May 10, 2019 at 12:35 pm #

    This doesn’t just apply to clubs. It applies to all sorts of human groupings. I think a lot of this should be read by the people who tell churches that they should be more inclusive (for example) and let in people who don’t believe in Jesus

  7. Robert Stewart May 10, 2019 at 6:01 pm #

    Your essay is anything but a ramble. Inclusion is vastly overrated. Like “diversity”, its absence is a symptom of disfunction. But the disfunction will remain if all that is done is to force inclusion by external force. This is the problem with progressive ideology. It deals solely with symptoms, and doesn’t have the integrity to confront the underlying reality.

    Each of us is remarkably unique. The combinatorial math associated with tens of thousands of genes, each with a number of possible alleles contributed by our parents, coupled with our varied life experiences, ensures that for any given task or game, a remarkably small number of people will excel. And the more complex the task, the more unlikely any particular person will have the right combination of disparate talents required to be successful. We admire those who are successful, but we appear to be oblivious to how unlikely such success will be granted to more than a few. The mass media makes this a real challenge, as too many children seek only to emulate those who become media celebrities. And far too many parents have been raised to embrace these flawed expectations, and so their children are even less prepared to deal with reality. Twitter and Facebook “likes” and “friends” are now their tenuous link to reality.

    The world would be a much better place if more of us sought success in our own terms, following our own interests, within the scope of a relatively small community. We all have much to contribute, but vast fortunes and adulation of the masses are not the markers of success that we should focus on.

  8. Big Ben May 10, 2019 at 11:08 pm #

    I get what you’re saying about the chess club eventually morphing into a game room, but you’re kinda suggesting that a game room is a bad thing, or at least worse than a chess club.
    A) If the chess club was successful it would continue to draw in new members dedicated solely to that great game and not need to diversify in order to survive. ANY organization eventually dies if cannot continually attract new members.
    B) A healthy chess club that kept it’s membership rolls up would never need to vote on including other games, thus never falling into the dreadfully plebeian realm of (gasp) checkers or pinochle.
    C) If the die hard chess players don’t like the inclusive evolution of the organization, they can all leave and start a new chess-only club … though if the first one failed, there’s no reason to expect an identical club to succeed.

    It’s no longer the BOY Scouts – the organization was slowly dying so in desperation they opened it up to girls too, despite fighting rabidly for decades to exclude gay kids.

    The Catholic Church is slowly dying, too. Too many scandals, views that are centuries outdated and stupidly noninclusive … simple birth control still outlawed by church doctrine, still no women priests or allowing priests to marry?
    How very 17th century of them.
    It’ll be interesting to see if the old men steering that ship get a clue or if it’s destined to go the way of Druidism.

    Inclusion in an organization can be honestly debated, how much and how fast, but one thing is almost universally irrefutable … accept change and be open to new ideas or inevitably become irrelevant.

    • Anarchymedes May 11, 2019 at 6:42 am #

      Even on a broader scale, any dying culture/civilisation/whatever always clings to the form that has lost its meaning ages ago, hoping that the form itself is the meaning and sticking to it blindly will revive this zombie. From Boy Scouts being ‘too boy,’ so-to-speak, to the Catholic church still refusing to acknowledge that the burning of witches was (at the very least) a terrible mistake caused by ignorance and excessive zeal, to (otherwise reasonable) Islamic and Hindu clerics still trying to excuse the so-called ‘honour killing,’ we see the same pattern of hope that if we deny something we don’t like strongly enough, we’ll make it go away. Some scientists have suggested that this behaviour caused the extinction of the Neanderthals: they refused to change their ways–to learn–while we, the Homo Sapiens, did just that. I’m also afraid to admit that our beloved democracy and the Western civilisation itself are gradually sliding in this direction: if so, the World War 3 will see us destroyed.

  9. Guy Marc GAGNÉ May 12, 2019 at 10:00 pm #

    Right, well that was a wee bit of a ramble.
    Not that clarifying your views or establishing a proper definition is vicarious by ant means.
    But, I am somewhat curious as to the catalyst…
    Obviously, the current forum (blog) is plainly more active than the rather moribund ”Writers’ Club”; without precluding any intent beyond intellectual meanderings – surely this is not a reaction to the comments by some barely alphabetised dilettante that may have inadvertently crossed over into this club/blog of pseudo likeminded free thinkers!?!
    Keep the faith lady, we likes what you writes!
    Be well & stay safe!


  1. Musings on Inclusion | The Chrishanger - March 11, 2020

    […] example, you’ll probably find acceptance very quickly.  Social groups are organised about core purposes and the footballers will be delighted to have a new player who loves to play (although if you […]

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