Image: Illustration from The Little Book of Love (16th c.). A man stands on a tree extending out over a body of water, chopping the tree off at the root.
This week I’ve been haunting the comment threads over at Student Activism, one of my favorite personal blogs, where we’ve been discussing in wide-ranging form the fallout from Jonathan Chait’s piece (of click-bait) on “political correctness” (which doesn’t exist) and community norms. See this post, this post, this post, and this post if you want the specifics.
I don’t want to rehash complex debates from the comment threads here; what I want to riff on is the question of the responsibility of any group to outsiders who are considering becoming insiders. Chait, and those who agree with his perspective, argue that certain ways of enforcing group norms in a given community (in this case the political left-liberal coalition) end up alienating newcomers who are embarrassed, shamed, or vilified for transgressing a community ground-rule. This, they assert, is bad politics: The community will not grow into an effective force for political change if people are made to feel bad and leave never to return.
At is most basic, this is a question to take seriously: how welcoming is the left? Or, more generally, how welcoming is [insert group of choice herein]? Back when I attended church on a regular basis, this was a perennial question, the question of the welcoming church. How did we greet newcomers? How did we invite them to stay? Were we too hands-on, not hands-on enough? How would we ever grow the congregation if adherents never became members … and so forth and so on.
It seems like a goal — being welcoming — that few people could or should disagree with. But I’ve been mulling over a couple of facets of this question in the past few days and I want to share my questions and concerns with y’all here.