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The Inclusion Orthodoxy: what we write about when we write about diversity

By: Joe Bardin

I don’t get out much as a writer, so attending a conference on nonfiction writing was an exposing experience. Someone joked by the end that this gaggle of introverted writers was exhausted after three full days of forced mingling, as opposed to a social psychology conference she’d recently attended where they all wanted more. But I was exhausted by something else – the incessant need by many, not all, of the panelists and speakers, to affirm an ideological allegiance.

At first, to my non-adjusted ears, it just sounded like a lot of writers touching on patriarchal structures in our history and society. And a lot of writers who felt free about expressing their sexual orientation and discussing their writing through that lens. But the sheer repetition of these references started to seem be a bit forced, almost like presenting a badge of diversity for our approval.

What brought this to a head for me was when a nonfiction writer who apparently was some kind of Kierkegaard scholar, apologized by saying: “I know, white and male and dead, how boring.” I’m certainly not here to argue that Kierkegaard isn’t boring, but when you have to apologize for your subject matter’s lack of compliance to an increasingly belabored dogma, aren’t you, well, boring?

But don’t worry, she immediately let us know, she was bisexual. Far from revolutionary or even relaxed, her body language was in fact tight-assed. At that moment, she wasn’t freeing herself or anybody else, she was conforming. Is it still a freak flag when everyone’s flying it? Or is it an orthodoxy?

A PhD student, gay, told about his writing on the subject of queering the concept of photographic self-portrait. He argued self-portraits are an impossibility because the self is just a socially agreed upon construct that doesn’t really exist. Never mind that this is just a riff off (or rip off) of Jacque Derrida’s interrogation of the idea of “Signature” presented in 1971, nearly 50 years ago, or that you can obviously take a picture of yourself without having a clue about who or what you are, it’s also a conversation that only signifies anything if everyone’s drinking that particular flavor of Cool Aid. The sheer mediocrity of such posturing is indicative of an orthodoxy at work. How else could it pass unquestioned, as it did, other than through the protection, dare I say privilege of ideological orthodoxy?

No doubt academia, in which most writers shelter these days, has contributed to this rigidity. The more the humanities struggle for relevance in today’s technology shaped society, the more irrelevant they seem to render themselves with their over indulgence in deconstructive rabbit hole thinking, which gets so silly it requires uncritical buy-in to keep coherence from collapsing entirely. (Isn’t that, in fact, the very stuff we’re supposed be deconstructing according to Derrida?)

The irony, and it must be said, hypocrisy, of taking perfectly good principles of inclusion and reducing them to an orthodoxy, is that by definition, orthodoxies are exclusive! You do it our way, or you’re out. Ask any orthodox Jew, Muslim or Christian, they’ll tell you straight up. In their own way, they’re more honest than proponents of this Orthodoxy of Inclusion, who don’t even seem to recognize the bind they’ve put themselves in.

What do they really mean by inclusion and diversity? What they really mean is very specific to non-Western cultures and non-straight experiences. The current emphasis on publishing and promoting these kinds of stories has enriched our reading and opened opportunities for some fine writers to shine. We read to touch and be touched by other worlds and now more well-wrought worlds are within our reach.

But when you put it all in an ideological cage, you’re limiting the very flow of ideas, experiences and imaginings you’re claiming to promote. As if there are no other forms of diversity. But I happen to know there are because I’m an immortalist, which means I’m planning on outliving aging, and not having an end. If queering is questioning normative gender behaviors and other binaries that limit us, then I’m the biggest queer in the place. Any place. Because I’m questioning the most fundamental binary there is: life/death. How’s that for an alternative perspective and under-represented voice?

As an immortalist, I’m passionate about upending gender roles, as they are grounded in the imperative of reproduction, which is how our species lives on but we do not. Living within the conventional limitations of both male and femaleness is part and parcel of how we die. Regarding inclusion, immortality is the ultimate, transcending all cultures, tribes, nationalities, sexual and gender identities, and yes, ideologies.

To my way of thinking, when the human body is no longer disposable, that’s really when discrimination ends. Until then, we are constantly discriminating against the human form itself, devaluing the body as being a baser substance, as religion teaches, in preparation for its imminent loss. Given this intrinsic cheapening of our persons, degrading or dehumanizing others seems almost unavoidable, as history has proven out.

Perhaps this is also why we are so drawn to orthodoxies. We look to dogma of some kind to provide a form of symbolic immortality in lieu of the real thing. Because that’s what might live on when we do not. In this sense, the Orthodoxy of Inclusion, like all orthodoxies, no matter how well-intentioned, is just another way of dying.

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