On Memes and Maturity

Welp, I guess you can’t please everyone.  Still, of those I can, I’d rather not indulge immaturity in the process.

Over the past week and a half, the Hermetic House of Life Discord server (HHoL) has basically recovered half the membership of the old Hermetic Agora Discord server (HA), adding in a few new faces to the bunch in the process.   I talked about the debacle shortly after it happened here, and in the following days, while I’ve had my hands full with my good colleagues both on the modteam and off, it’s been a great time getting back to this collective, communal work we’ve been doing.  Still, amidst the high points, it has also been…enlightening in a number of other unfortunate ways.  I’ve had some time to mull together my own thoughts, and while I can’t promise a five-star analysis or response, I figure having something out is better than nothing in this case, especially to clarify a few stances of my own in the process for anyone who is still left wondering.

While I’m super thrilled that things have gone as well as they have regarding the HA/HHoL migration (I don’t think they could have gone better except if this didn’t have to happen at all), there’s a small but vocal minority who insists that I and the rest of the modteam are in the wrong for getting so upset over a cartoon frog emoji.  The arguments start innocuously enough:

  • “Memes are a way to express oneself”
  • “Memes are a way to build identity and community”
  • “Memes don’t have to be politicized”

Sure, I agree with all of that, 100%.  But consider: would you make a “yo momma” joke to someone whose mother just died and they’re still grieving over her? Would you make a racist joke to the face of someone of that race? Would you use a 9/11 meme with someone who was still going to therapy because they were there in NYC when the towers fell?

No?

Why not?

Because it’s an asshole move to make, and you know it.

Whether or not you’re aware of the conditions and situations of others, your sense of humor might just have some innately offensive quality about it that only barely skirts by public censure in the best of times, but in the worst, can cause actual emotional harm to others, regardless of your intent.  You might have thought it was funny, but that doesn’t mean others will agree with you.  We don’t always intend to do harm with our actions or words, but we sometimes still do all the same. Regardless of our intent, the result also matters, and it’s on us to own up to that.

HHoL—the community I help build and maintain—is full of people from a wide variety of walks of life from all over the world. And some people in that community have been harmed, directly or indirectly, by those who politicize/weaponize certain memes, and seeing those memes causes distress and discomfort.  Sure, some of those same memes are used innocuously enough in plenty of other places, but that doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t used innocuously everywhere.

I will be first to admit that it is profoundly unfortunate that a 20-year-old badly-drawn cartoon frog that never garnered any real media attention on its own has been politicized and weaponized by the alt-right and extremist political groups, centered in the USA but used similarly across the rest of the world for similar political movements.  I hate that that’s the case, and I hate that some memes, joke, art, and the like gets seen as political when it’s only been politicized.  But it is the case all the same.  To be sure, the use of a Pepe meme is not, I want to emphasize, an automatic indicator of being affiliated with the alt-right or other extremist political groups, and it’s used rather innocuously across vast swathes of the Internet—but it is used in a politicized alt-right way all too often for others to ignore, and thus it’s used that way enough for it to be a problem that I, as a moderator, have to make a judgment on in order to moderate HHoL.  This is not unlike the reason why too many women have to walk to their cars with their keys held between their fingers like claws, because while not all men have tried to accost or harm them in public, too many already have—enough for them to be rightfully suspicious of all men.  It’s the same reason why you wouldn’t reach into a bowl of candy when 1% of it has been laced with a deadly poison, because even though the majority of that candy is safe to eat, enough of that candy makes the whole bowl dangerous enough to avoid.

Besides all that, though, HHoL as a community and as a Discord server is just not the place to fight that kind of politicization.  That’s a fight for taking down the alt-right and other extremist, Nazi, Neonazi, and fascist organizations first, and then rehabilitating the meme and cartoon character after the threat from these organizations have passed and after the harm they have caused is healed.  Until then, the hands of the HHoL modteam and community are already full tending to those who have been harmed by that selfsame politicization, and the first thing you do when helping people heal is separate out the thing that caused them harm in the first place.  For that reason, we do not allow—and have never allowed—political content on the server because of how much of a tendency it has to go to really bad places really quickly, and that includes the use of political or politicized content, whether or not one uses things in such a way.

I mean, HHoL is just a glorified IRC server that just wants to focus on spirituality and mysticism, for crying out loud; indeed, why let bullshit like memes get in the way of that?  That very question is what’s leveled at me and the rest of the modteam for causing such a stink over a cartoon frog meme, but by that selfsame token, I have to level that same question back at those who seem to want to fight to the death over being entitled to use it whenever and wherever they please.  Let’s be blunt: if the use of memes can be said to build community, then by that same token, so too does the non-use of memes. It behooves everyone to learn how to read a room: if the community you’re in avoids the use of particular memes or jokes or statements or asks you to avoid using them, there’s probably a good reason why.  Moreover, to not say a thing or not do a thing—to not use a meme—costs nothing. In that light, when the use of a meme causes harm, regardless of one’s intent, that is a cost. To use such a meme costs more than to not use it.  Consider that oft-tired but ever-meaningful phrase “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”, etc.

So, what about this is meaningful from a spiritual standpoint?  I’m not just bitching for the sake of bitching—warranted though that might be on my own blog—or merely complaining about detractors who complain that I’m somehow “too PC” or “too American”.  I think there’s a meaningful spiritual point to be made about all this that I want to call out in those who want to call me out.

Consider: HHoL is an online community centered on Hermeticism and its related fields of spirituality, mysticism, religion, and the occult. We aspire to develop ourselves, reaching higher and deeper into divinity, and help each other to do the same.  We study texts ancient and modern, we exchange ideas for practice and implementation, we review methods and results all for the sake of bettering ourselves and, with each other and on our own, the world as a whole.  In that light, I have to ask: on what planet is slavish devotion to a meme, knowing that its use is hurtful to some because of its connotations due to long-standing developments outside this community, considered to be something helpful for these goals or aims of study and practice?

The very first community rule of HHoL is “be mature”.  (You can read all of our community rules and why we have them in this Google Doc we maintain for our server’s members.)  After all, HHoL is intended for a mature audience talking about topics that I consider demand a certain level of maturity: spirituality, mysticism, religion, the occult, union with the Divine, self-exploration, and so on.  If one is unable or unwilling to develop or dedicate the maturity these topics require, then I would think that HHoL is not a community for them.  It’s not about mere age or experience, but about giving enough gravity to these topics of discussion and a willingness to be, or at least become, mature enough to engage with these topics (and the other people who are already engaging with these topics) with the respect these topics (and these people) deserve.  Sure, we have fun and laughs in the process, but on the whole, these topics we talk about are indescribably profound and require much of us in the way of our development and progress.  Those who choose to be immature in HHoL are warned to learn how to properly behave; those who continue to behave immaturely are removed from the community because of the distractions they cause for everyone else.  After all, you don’t play chess with a pigeon.

But what about fighting for one’s “right” (for whatever that might mean) to use a cartoon frog meme wherever one pleases is mature?  What about that is indicative of prioritizing things of real spiritual or divine value over meaningless or inconsequential things like cartoons or memes?  What about that is indicative of supporting the essential dignity and real needs of other living, breathing human beings out of compassion and love for humanity, especially those who are telling you in no uncertain terms why certain behaviors hurt?

It’s not indicative of that at all, because it’s not mature at all.

It is not mature at all to disregard the warnings of the moderators of a community or to ignore the needs of members of that community, especially a community to which one joins freely but is neither obliged nor entitled to join, all for the sake of one’s own self-centered sense of humor.  It is, rather, a matter of recklessness, pride, arrogance, and vanity.  It is a matter of immaturity, and I will not tolerate it.  After all, I and the other moderators of HHoL are there to moderate discussions on the community, to uphold our community standards—to keep the peace.  I also note that certain politicized trends, memes, and the like have a strong tendency to upset peace to the point where it’s better to just not have them around. And then I see people who attach themselves to those same things, and we just ask people to choose: that, or this?

In the end, I can’t make that choice for them, but increasingly, it seems like I wouldn’t have to anyway: HHoL has had a small but loud number of people willingly choose to leave or loudly abstain from joining in the first place (though often in a huff or with some choice words for me and the rest of the modteam), and I have the sneaking suspicion that word is spreading about our enthusiasm for keeping out disruptions to our community (you know, the job of a moderator).  Sure, some of them are well-meaning, but I can’t overlook that their concerns are (at best) misplaced and misguided or (at worst) maliciously misdirecting.  While, as a moderator, I do take such events as people leaving and telling me why as an opportunity in reinspect and potentially refine my own aims and methods here, I also consider that this server has over 500 members but just shy of a dozen detractors.  In a sense, I suppose that my aims to ensure a base set community standards through reinforcing and upholding our rules (which have not changed since well before this whole debacle even started, despite what others might think) is doing little more than what they were intended to do: separating out wheat from chaff, or in this case, those mature enough to engage with a mature group of people intent on studying and practicing Hermeticism from those who aren’t.  We’re not running a daycare, nor are teachers in a middle school; we don’t have time to babysit people through childish, disrespectful, hurtful behavior.  W’ll do our due diligence to issue a warning when we see intolerable behavior, but if someone warned doesn’t catch the hint, then it’s not on us or the rest of this excellent community to personally remediate them.  It just falls to us to ensure the good order and safety of the rest of the community to remove what threats, disruptions, and distractions might arise.

To all those who choose to forego such a community in favor of a childish passion for memes or a misguided crusade for one’s “right” to self-expression at all costs: I hope you grow up a bit, and I look forward to seeing you again if—and hopefully when—you do.

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