Progressive Inclusivity Is Not Inclusive Enough

Toward an Omni-Inclusive Post-Progressive Vision

By Josh Leonard

One of the hallmarks of the post-progressive approach to politics and culture is what we are calling omni-inclusivity. Omni-inclusivity is best understood in the context of America’s ongoing cultural evolution. A fairly obvious feature of American history can be seen in its steady, albeit painfully slow, growth in political inclusivity. While it is true to say that we are a country founded on ideals of equality that we have never actually lived up to, it is also true to say that the American experiment has been an exercise in trying to make those founding ideals more true with each generation.

America’s slowly expanding circle of moral, social, and legal consideration rapidly accelerated starting in the 1960s when what we now call “progressivism” ushered a sweeping new degree of inclusivity into the American psyche and social order. Over the course of the last 60 years, progressivism has steadily advanced inclusivity for many previously marginalized groups in American society who were often not considered worthy of equal rights and moral reciprocity. Through the influence of progressivism, Women, Native Americans, African Americans, People of Color, Disabled People, Immigrants, and most recently, LGBT People, were empowered to raise their voices, tell their stories, declare their value, and advance their rights as Americans of equal social and legal standing. The battle for increased inclusivity is far from over, but progressivism should be commended for relentlessly championing this broadening of inclusivity in American society.

However, it is important to focus on the descriptor of “broad” in this progressive version of inclusivity. I use it to point to an important limitation of this kind of inclusivity. If we look carefully at the list above of those who are being included in progressivism’s expanding circle of care and consideration, the characteristics involved are mostly externally observable and objective. That is, progressivism’s vision of increased inclusivity is primarily concerned with including people based on their external characteristics. While progressivism’s expansion of inclusion represents a critical advance, our national circle of inclusion must expand still further if we are to meet the political challenges of our time. Simply put, progressive notions of inclusivity are not inclusive enough to overcome the hyperpolarization that is tearing America apart.

Simply put, progressive notions of inclusivity are not inclusive enough to overcome the hyperpolarization that is tearing America apart.

In response to this challenge, post-progressivism is advancing a new vision of inclusivity that builds on and extends the reach of the inclusivity afforded by progressivism. We call this omni-inclusivity, in a tribute to Albert Murray’s Omni-Americans. To progressivism’s broad inclusivity of our diverse exteriors, omni-inclusivity adds a deep inclusivity of our diverse interiors. Omni-inclusivity seeks to see, value, and integrate not just the external diversity of race, gender, ability, or sexual orientation, but also the internal diversity of beliefs, values, truth-claims, and perspectives.

Omni-inclusivity arises as a new response to the multi-perspectival information age that defines our present moment. Penn Jillette neatly sums up this postmodern dilemma in an interview with Vulture Magazine: “For 50 million years our biggest problems were too few calories, too little information. For about 50 years our biggest problem has been too many calories, too much information.”

This rapidly accelerating perspectival overload began with the expansion of cable news and talk-radio, and then reached its zenith with the kaleidoscope of perspectives and information available on the internet and through social media. This overwhelming proliferation of perspectives, beliefs, truth-claims, and values, presents 3 potential responses:

  1. We can hold on tightly to the perspective and truth we see as most valid. This is generally the response of those with allegiance to the traditional and modernist worldviews. When we are presented with alternative perspectives to those that have guided our life and animated our values, many of us have understandingly responded by holding fast to the perspective that best explains and gives meaning to our experience.
  2. We can try to remain suspended above the many perspectives, seeing them all as equally valid, and therefore equally invalid. This is essentially the progressive postmodern approach. Within this view, we begin to see all truths and perspectives as relative and socially constructed, and therefore unworthy of faith and allegiance. However, because it is impossible to actually remain aperspectival, progressives often unconsciously apply their own truth claims and perspective as exclusively valid in a manner that is painfully obvious to traditionalists and modernists.
  3. We can take a vantage point that is outside and above the many perspectives to find the validity in each of them in order to integrate them into a larger omni-inclusive perspective. This is the post-progressive approach. Instead of locking into any one perspective or value system, post-progressivism sees how all perspectives and truth claims exist in context with the experiences that shaped them, as well as in the context of the larger cultural ecosystem of perspectives and truth claims on offer in the information age.

How does omni-inclusivity avoid getting lost in a kind of relativism that renders all beliefs, values, truths, and perspectives equally valid? The practice of being omni-inclusive involves evaluating a given perspective based on the scope of value contained within that perspective. Post-progressivism believes that perspectives that can include more truth claims are generally truer. Omni-inclusivity does not assess all views as equally valid. Perspectives that are outright intolerant or hateful do not get a seat at the omni-inclusive table. However, all positive values and perspectives that are articulated in good faith, are indeed welcome at the omni-inclusive table.

Post-progressives understand that their particular values and perspectives arise in naturally interdependent polarities with other values and perspectives.

By taking this omni-inclusive approach, post-progressivism escapes the exclusivity of a uni-perspectival approach, while still being capable of taking a particular perspective. Post-progressives can, and often do, take an individual perspective or champion a particular value when necessary, but they do so with the understanding that the perspective they are taking does not have an exclusive hold on the truth. Post-progressives understand that their particular values and perspectives arise in naturally interdependent polarities with other values and perspectives. This recognition of value polarities allows post-progressives to champion different values and advance different solutions depending on the context, as opposed to other worldviews that often see their values and solutions as universally applicable to all contexts.

Post-progressivism recognizes that progressivism has, in its commendable attempt to be more inclusive of those who have historically been marginalized in American society, come to take an increasingly divisive approach that is remarkably intolerant of perspectives different than its own. Post-progressivism therefore takes up progressivism’s call for increased inclusivity, but enlarges it further into a broadened omni-inclusivity that can validate and integrate the diverse values and worldviews that make up America’s overall social fabric.

Where most people listen to be right, post-progressives listen to be wrong. In other words, post-progressives listen to be exposed to perspectives, values, and insights from anywhere that might help them gain a more comprehensive and nuanced point of view. Omni-inclusivity accordingly represents the leading edge of the American experiment of pluralistic inclusion. In many ways, it asks even more from those who strive for it than does progressive inclusion. Learning to value those who look, love, or live differently can be easier than valuing those who believe, value, or think differently—but this is the omni-inclusive goal of post-progressivism. If we are ever going to overcome the culture war that is driving our hyperpolarization, then our omni-inclusivity must reach further than our diverse exteriors, and into the interior diversity of our hearts and minds.

Showing 3 comments
  • John Walley

    An enlightening explication of the concept and functionality of omni-inclusivity in the post-progressive worldview.

    To help me ground this concept operationally I would appreciate learning some examples of how “post-progressive values and perspectives arise in naturally interdependent polarities with other values and perspectives”. I have read Steve’s book, so I am hoping for a more targeted description with examples of how this actually works, day-to-day and/or over time. I am referencing your text below.

    “Post-progressives understand that their particular values and perspectives arise in naturally interdependent polarities with other values and perspectives. This recognition of value polarities allows post-progressives to champion different values and advance different solutions depending on the context…”

    Thank you for your time and explanations.

  • Mark

    Hi John,
    I echo your request to “ground this concept operationally”.
    My sense is that in order to get at the inclusivity of interiors, we need to learn to listen differently and to facilitate a new order of conversation.
    My example: I am a high-school music director. I direct small choral ensembles in jazz and acapella music. (So my on-the-ground experience comes from an arts-based, collaborative environment.) I work in an independent school that straddles two world views, Wilber’s Orange and Green, or Packer’s Smart and Just, (see Steve Macintosh’s post on this website.)
    The teenagers I work with mostly reflect those values, (although, interestingly they often appear more ready to move up to a kind of onmi-inclusivity, (Wilber’s teal) than we might expect. Sadly, we don’t really have a way to lead them towards that intuition. (I digress).
    My ensembles have won many awards over the past decade. Many students show up in order to be a part of the winning legacy. In other words to embody Orange values. At the same time, the thing every student identifies as the most important part of their experience is the connections they make with people they would never have expected to connect with, i.e. Green values.
    Back to operational omni-inclusivity:
    My groups collaborate on establishing goals for the coming year. They do not agree on what is most important. Some are adamant that we need to strive to be our best and show our best at our competitions, others are mostly concerned that we never lose our sense of community. Omni-inclusivity for internal differences requires that I repeatedly articulate the underlying values, feelings, and forces that motivate both of these positions.
    This is not an easy situation where we can just both be our best and include everyone where they are. After all, if one singer is not pulling their weight, the community will and should have a response. Likewise is someone is pushing for their notion of excellence so hard that other singers are withdrawing in fear, then the community will and should respond.
    Clearly, this is a tiny, highly controlled environment, where I make most final decisions and can facilitate deep listening.

    For a more large scale and less controlled application, I suggest looking at the work of Thomas Hübl and his current work with German and Israeli groups processing the trauma of the holocaust.

  • Simon

    An integral aspect of a move toward omni-inclusivity, and perhaps a partial answer to the queries above on operationalising the approach, would seem to me to be the move from the perceived rightness of a perspective/position/policy to its effects: as an example in the context of this article, does my position anathematise individuals, groups or perspectives?

    Racism and anti-racism here provide clear examples: the racist, as described above, anathematises people on the basis of their appearance/supposed origin; the progressive anti-racist anathematises folks on the basis of (the progressive’s perception/projection of) their internals.

    To progress beyond progressivism seems to me to require each of us to master and discount our emotional reactions, particularly our indulging an insouciant addiction to “I don’t like/I fear …”. A difficulty is that we pre-consciously generate our internal narratives (Sperber & Mercier, Stolorow & Attwood, …) to clothe, & often hide from ourselves, those emotional reactions in verbal/logical justifications.

    Note that this is a move from the 3rd person perspective on a post-progressive perspective to a 1st person view. I must grasp in myself the natural arising of aversion and the means to manage that arising in ways that allow that which I dislike/fear its place in the world.

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