Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Recently, I heard a re-run of an episode of the BBC Radio Four programme *Any Questions* (first broadcast in 2009. In it, the panel were asked which words or phrases they would most like to see scrapped in the English language. I thought two of the answers were quite revealing. The philosopher Roger Scruton said that he would like to see the phrase “social inclusion” abolished and replaced with “kindness.” Another member of the panel – whose name escapes me (I’ll call him x) – said that he would not like to see any word or phrase scrapped, as they all lend richness to the English language. I found myself agreeing with both Scruton and x. I agreed with x because of what language is – namely a practice (and form of behaviour) that is constitutive and expressive of our ways of living and is meaningful in a way that no other aspect of our behaviour is; language – its expressions and phrases – belong to particular and distinctive ways of living. That is why, unless one is familiar with a language and at home with the way of life to which it belongs, one cannot gain much from its poetry (even if one has a basic smattering of the language in question) because the relationship between the language and the form of life – or culture – of which that language is a part, is incomplete. A complete relationship would be defined, at least in part, by one’s capacity to see the depth of meaning in such poems in relation to the rest of the culture.
However, I agreed with Scruton in a different way, but for the same reason (that is, that language – meaning and expression – are intimately bound up with a particular form of life). I agreed with him because the very fact that there exists the phrase “social inclusion” is indicative of a way of living that shows a contrast between it and kindness. Surely the notion of social inclusion could be discarded (dissolved altogether) if we exercised a greater degree of kindness towards one other. Social inclusion is a curious phrase: among other things it is redolent of a kind of “objectification” of what we do in kindness – almost as though if we socially include people, it makes little difference whether we do so in the spirit of kindness. Kindness is too subjective; social inclusion is not. Scruton’s point was, I think, that we should spend much more of our time developing our understanding of what it is (and can mean) to act out of kindness rather than “socially including” people on the basis of a political mandate.