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.

The king is dead, long live the king: the demise and future of a Hermetic Discord community

The king is dead, long live the king: the demise and future of a Hermetic Discord community

Man, what a post to break a stretch of quiet around here.

No software engineer likes their name to be associated with buggy code, no civil engineer a collapsed bridge, no architect an imploded building, no mechanical engineer an exploded car.  To say that I am frustrated and dismayed would be an understatement, then, given the recent collapse of the Hermetic Agora (HA) Discord server that I have spent over a year promoting, building up a fantastic international community of over 1000 members, and in general trying to establish one of the most solid, respectful, and learned places to discuss Hermeticism and esotericism online.  And it all came crashing down today due to the actions of the server owner who wanted to nurse his injured ego over a damned politicized cartoon frog rather than continue that same work.

Here’s the TL;DR: the old server owner DanKadmos (who is was also the owner of a number of subreddits associated with Hermeticism or esotericism, but has since abandoned ship and deleted his Reddit account) decided to throw a temper-tantrum over having a Pepe the Frog emoji removed from the server emoji list while he was offline, a decision I made as an admin backed up by the rest of the other six mods, because it was requested that we stop using it due to this cartoon frog’s unfortunate politicization and appropriation by far-right, alt-right, Neonazi, or white supremacist groups to the point where even John Michael Greer wrote about it and its play in (ostensibly) getting Trump elected as the 45th president of the United States of America (it was a whole thing).  The server owner decided to throw a hissy-fit in the public chat and mocked the server member who raised the issue to the modteam.  The rest of the modteam called the server owner out on it, and we collectively tried our best to get DanKadmos to realize the problem he was causing and the hurt he was inflicting; after writing a thoughtful reply to the situation addressing him, he decided to double down in all sorts of deeply unfortunate ways.  After making further replies, the whole of the modteam trying to give him every reasonable accommodation and chance to make things right, he told us all, effectively, to get bent, and that if an exodus happens, the server would go down with him.

Seeing the cracks in the foundation, while DanKadmos was losing his shit, several of the mods messaged each other, and we collectively agreed to make a set of contingency plans: send Discord friend requests to as many people as we could to maintain connections should the server go down, make a backup Discord server to migrate to should we need to, and take backups of all non-casual discussion channel messages.  I spent a good few hours taking care of all these things, just to be prepared and to be kept in quiet reserve should anything happen.  It was my complete goal to keep anything drastic from happening and to keep the community together as best I would be able to, and I was willing to do anything that wouldn’t compromise either my own integrity or the safety of our members to keep the community I—we—had worked so hard to build up.  But…well, contingency plans are always good to have, I suppose, and it paid off for us all in the end.

Anyway, once DanKadmos gave his final reply to the mods, I immediately made the following announcement to the entire server:

Due to unfortunate and irreconcilable differences between me and the server owner/primary admin @DanKadmos#3527, I (polyphanes#0777) will be stepping down as admin and leaving the Hermetic Agora. It pains me to leave this place, but given the irresponsible and intolerable conduct of @DanKadmos#3527 with his recalcitrant refusal to recognize the problems he caused and continues to engage with, I find myself faced with a choice: to stay here and implicitly support his choices, or to leave and explicitly deny them. The only moral and ethical path I can take is the latter.

@DanKadmos#3527 wishes to hold himself above the community standards he himself laid down and enforced, and instead revert to hypocrisy and nursing his own bruised ego for being called out for immature, disrespectful behavior and the violation of a number of our rules (1, 3, 8, 11, 12). After the removal of the “Pepe the Frog” emoji, he has done nothing but remained unrepentantly and willfully unapologetic for his disrespectful, confusing public messages. Time and again @DanKadmos#3527 has doubled down upon and continued to refuse to admit error, apologize, fix the problems he started, or encourage healing from the harm he caused. For all these reasons, I find myself unable to participate further in this place of which he is the server owner/primary admin.

I have worked hard to help build this public community as one of the most solid, respectful, and learned for discussing Hermeticism and esotericism, and I am proud all the work we’ve done together as a community. I am honored to have met so many excellent people through this server, and I hope to maintain ties with many of you, whether on Discord or off. Wherever and however you plan to continue your own Great Works, I hope that the time you spent here has helped you with that, and that you find nothing but success in advancement in all your endeavors.

As my final administrative action, I (polyphanes#0777) approve this request that I submit to the modteam in accordance with our server rule #16:

I have started a separate Discord server to which I invite all members of the Hermetic Agora to join to continue the work started here with me. Though I profoundly dislike schismatic behavior and recognize that such a fine community as this deserves better than to be split apart, I would hope that many of my friends and colleagues here would consider joining me at this new server where we may continue to engage in fruitful discussions and studies regarding Hermeticism and esotericism apart and away from the unfortunate behavior and choices of the Hermetic Agora’s server owner. I assure you that you’ll already find several familiar faces there besides my own.

https://discord.gg/5vzhykvFuN

Needless to say, three things immediately happened:

  1. DanKadmos started trying to regain control over (what he had always wanted to be) “his” server and proclaimed:

    I am most probably going to delete the server in a few days. While @polyphanes ´s words are offensive to me, I am not easily offended like other people around here, so I will leave his message on so as many of you as possible will move to his community is you so decide. If somebody wants me to keep the server up, bear in mind that I don´t care about politically correctness, so there will changes that might potentially offend people

  2. A large number of people (many of whom had been basically holding their breath following DanKadmos’ blowup in public chat two nights earlier) immediately left, seeing what was happening.
  3. I was shortly removed from the server myself, and the above messages were removed as well shortly after that.

After that point, I don’t know what happened precisely or what was said on the old server, though I’m told that DanKadmos proceeded to go on a right-wing rant about liberals, how the server would be taking an anti-political-correctness approach, got rid of the gender/pronoun roles, and the like; immediately, the conversations veered into “swastikas are cool actually” and the server quickly devolved into another white supremacist, fascist online group, something that we tried our damnedest for so long to avoid and which we’ve called out time and time again (like with the whole ToTHO debacle).  Somehow, he didn’t anticipate that that would open up the floodgates to the stuff we had been battling against for so long, so he sent this final message before nuking the entire server (as was shared to me):

It was, in short, an awful end to a great place.  But at least the end was quick (less than 48 hours in the making), and we’ve already started to rebuild.

To make it clear, for anyone who was still there at the very end but didn’t see my messages: I do not approve of DanKadmos’ behavior, I stand as ever and as always against far-right/alt-right/Nazi bullshit, and I sincerely regret what has happened.  I tried what I could to hold the community together, but in the end, it was not in my power to do so.  I am frustrated and annoyed, not least at the loss of someone who was once a great colleague but now an obstinate asshole whom I can no longer associate myself with, but I am also determined to move on all the same.

As I mentioned before, seeing that a potential end was nigh, I and the other mods went ahead and made a new server, the Hermetic House of Life (HHoL), basically keeping the same channels, format, and style of the old server.  I’m going to go through my old posts and update any such reference to the old HA server (nobody could join even if they wanted to), and I’m also going to figure out in the near future how to make accessible the old server discussions I was able to back up; news for that will be going on the new server soon once I figure it out.  We’re already supported by a fantastic team of mods (basically all the old team), and we’ve already (as of this post) reached a quarter of the old member base (around 250 people) including virtually all of the usual faces and most well-acclaimed members, so we’re already getting by.  Hopefully we can continue growing at this new server and continuing the same Great Work we started elsewhere.  We might have changed houses, but this community is still our home, and I want to continue serving this great community as best as I can.

Plus, for those who are currently members of my Red Work Course or who are thinking of joining, I have a special channel set aside just for RWC-related discussions.  If you’re a current RWC member and have joined the new HHoL Discord above, send me an email with your Discord handle or send me a Discord PM with your email address so I can verify your membership, and I’ll grant you the role for that special channel.

Here’s hoping to see you at the Hermetic House of Life Discord server soon!