Over the course of the last two weeks or so, I’ve watched as two communities that I’m a part of take long, hard looks inside of themselves. At the root of each of these, there’s a significant cultural toxicity that’s existed under the veneer of shared interests, finally boiling up from the depths of these burgeoning collectives of humanity. I’ve watched people I’ve known and respected be revealed as unworthy of respect, and I’ve watched insane fallout as battle lines of some sort are drawn across the sphere; nobody’s entirely sure who’s on which side, or even what the sides are outside of some idealistic view of what a community should be. There’s truth interwoven with vicious rumour, there’s lies sprinkled with damning truth, and there’s a multitude of interpretations and reactions.
It’s been a really, really tough thing for a lot of people. Some have stood up and bravely exposed ugly things that surge under the surface of the community; some have demanded proof, or rejected the idea that anything is wrong. Some have lashed out in anger, or in confusion, or in simple disbelief that the accusations being thrown around are founded in reality. We all, as humans, have some desire to feel like we’re supporting the right people, that we’re good judges of character and that we surround ourselves with people that deserve and respect our time. We build up communities because we share some common thing, whether it’s a hobby or an ideal or a political stance — we create a force that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and certain pieces of the puzzle become bigger than themselves by the very nature of what we’ve constructed.
I’ve often heard the phrase “pillar of the community”, and it’s these very pillars that become the junctions to formation of even larger groups. A single person may bridge a gap, intentionally or not, between two disparate but related circles, and suddenly those circles are one – they join together, forging a stronger and larger group, all because one link in the chain was made strong enough or bright enough to act like a beacon to those who want to be a part of something greater. And who doesn’t want to be a part of something greater? It’s a basic human instinct, the way we’ve survived ice ages and world wars, the way we’ve carved the history of all humankind from the epochs of Earth.
The problem is that, no matter how venerated, no matter how pure their intentions, these pillars of any community all share a fatal flaw: they are human. Humans do stupid things. Humans do hurtful things. Humans fall. And when the linchpin falters, then there’s a decisive split within any group that formed around them, any platform they supported on their backs. When these pillars crack or crumble, or when the cracks that have been spreading for years are suddenly laid bare for all members of the community to see, we’re left at a loss. The light that called us together goes out, and we fumble in the dark for answers — he’s misunderstood, she’s being too serious, they’re not looking at this the right way. From the fallout of these collapses, the dust gets in our eyes and we all are guilty, at times, of being blinded by it, of being susceptible to knee-jerk reaction, amplified by a multitude of people all reacting in different ways to the same stimulus.
So, where do we turn when a community consumes itself in righteous fury? What do we do, but turn on each other and strike while the iron is hot? The immediacy of the internet’s social platform inevitably leads to instant vitriol, made all the more toxic by the propensity for everyone to signal-boost and pile on to whichever piece of things makes the most sense to them. We grasp for the only piece of a confusing mess that makes any sense, whether it’s buying a lie or rejecting all unproven variables. We latch on to any shred of hope that we were right from the start, and use even the slightest piece of supporting information to solidify our stance and entrench our beliefs in whichever things we need to be right. Each person fabricates this unconsciously, putting together the only sequence that their mind is willing to accept, and — well, some of them are going to be right, but when the chips are still falling, it’s impossible to know where they’ll land.
Conflict is the one constant in all of human history. From the first time our primordial ancestors decided that a thing could belong to one entity or group, we’ve built engines towards the end of ensuring that the sacred cow remains in the possession of the right prophet. We’ve torn down cities and civilizations in the name of reclamation, and built empires on the backs of the unworthy to justify our own superiority. While the history books keep close the events of those which influence global policy and belief, there’s little to no record beyond our own thoughts and deeds to write the history of the smaller things; things that, ultimately, may seem petty in the grand scheme, but which are the most important things to ever transpire in the lives of those living them. It’s easy to take the moral high ground and simply disregard the “Others”, or to smirk and say that these things aren’t going to change, that they don’t matter since their impact is only on these few hundreds who form the community.
These things matter. No person is any more or less allowed to feel the gravity of any one thing, just because another fails to see what they see. No person is permitted to dictate to another person which things in life are important, and which are not. None of us have the right to tell another person that something just doesn’t mean anything, or that we should just walk away rather than being an advocate for change. There’s no set of rules or regulations on the scope of human emotions, or the way that we categorize the things that matter to us. Issues large and small, global and local, are important; just because they’re important to less people, this does not make them any less important. If one person feels that a thing is their reason for being, nobody has any right to strip that meaning, or to deny it. Inevitably, though, the dissonance between one person or group and another creates an irreconcilable friction, and these build up over time, and eventually the whole thing is up in flames because passion, for all its beautiful potential, has a way of clouding reason.
At the end of the day, the events that have ripped through these communities I belong to will eventually sputter, but they will not have died. The things that have happened, the rifts that have opened, cannot be undone, and I’m suffering because in both events, I’m able to see points from multiple angles. I’ve often thought that I’m either blessed or cursed with some acute empathy. It makes me insane to see two people that I know and respect tear at each other over these things, to see two sides of the same coin wage violent protest against each other. I’ve seen it a lot recently, and it’s something I can hardly even begin to process myself, and as I catch myself compartmentalizing people as being “this side” or “that group” I have to step back and remember that months, weeks, maybe even days ago, this was one entity, one community that shared itself despite its flaws, and now the gaping wounds are healing into scars that I’m not really able to reconcile.
I wish that I could say I’ve got clarity in these days. I wish that I could say I’ve had the time or the capacity to see where the dust is settling, but frankly, I’d be lying to myself, and I try not to do that. I’ve seen good friends say things that hurt me or other good friends. I’ve been warned against continuing to associate with certain people by people that, days earlier, were associating with each other. I’ve built my own little tower to watch the battle, and it makes me as bad as anyone in the trenches spitting fire and brimstone and scorching out whatever they feel doesn’t belong. I wish I could say I’ve been a better person than some of those who’ve been exposed as something less, but again, I think I’d be lying to myself. I wish I could say that any of what’s happened has made me feel better about myself, or has helped me find something to champion, but it comes out empty and I’m left sitting here, watching as the walls cave in, wondering if I should have left the building while knowing that a safe retreat is cowardice.
I guess what it comes to is that I really, honestly wish that humans could reach a social evolution that would allow us to be great. I’ve spent years believing in the good in people, and years playing the cynic that refutes that it can exist. I’ve marvelled at the beauty of our species and the heights to which we can soar, and stood agape at the horrors we’ve wrought. I see so much potential, so much pure, unbridled power within so many people that I can’t comprehend it, but I see so much waste and spite for its own sake that it boggles my mind. It’s said that a person can achieve anything they set their mind to, that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but here in the muck and mire of what we truly choose to do, it’s all but impossible to even think that these are true.
I’m at a loss as to where this goes from here. I wish I could stand up and tell people to just get along, to be good to one another, to stop tolerating or propagating bullshit. I’d love, more than anything, to have some solution to what’s eating these communities, and the people within them, alive. I’m being gutted near-daily by one-off comments and miniature lectures from pulpits built on what we feel is right, and there are so many of these that I don’t even know, sometimes, which ones I agree with. Everyone feels like they’ve got The Answer, but we’re all refusing to acknowledge that it’s a trick question and we’re all fooled by our own perceptive filters. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but I’ve tried to (by and large) keep a lot of it to myself out of some misguided sense of social parity.
The fact is, there are toxic elements to any community. We can either suffer them in silence for the good of the whole, or we can speak up for the sake of change, but these are both things that often fail to do anything useful. By remaining quiet on the cancerous elements, we tolerate their existence and embolden those who perpetuate them. By standing against them, we build walls and start fires that will burn across our collective landscape — and, more often than not, we solidify the very opinions we’re hoping to see snuffed out. Conflict, after all, is in the hearts of all of us, and the clearest piece of human-to-human interaction that’s out there. Very little causes us to double down on our beliefs more than someone declaring to us that they’re wrong – after all, these sanctimonious naysayers are simply misinformed, we say, or they’d agree with us. And so, the cycle repeats itself in an endless feedback loop that’s not likely to end with anyone’s point of view having been properly constructed or understood.
I’m not sure what else I can say here, except that I’ve little left in me for fighting battles right now. I’ve seen too much damage already, and much of it can never – maybe should never – be repaired. I’ve observed and participated as beloved communities have struck themselves into furor, and I’m worn thin from trying to put it together in my mind. I’m here, writing this, because I needed to vent some things, to allow my thoughts the space to breathe. I’m here because I’m bleeding and I don’t know if I’ll stop, and I don’t know if I want to, because in some way, feeling the sting is a means of feeling alive, of feeling like a part of something that’s happening. I hope that someday it heals, but for now? For now, I’ve got my wounds to examine, and communities to build or burn. After all, I’m only human.