Sadness

and I belong to an e-mail list for the “serious people committed to self-improvement through attendance at fire circle festivals.” Who, exactly, is on this list is not really important, but there are a lot of heavy hitters from that community, and a lot of people who are apparently committed to becoming more noble, more excellent, and more humane human beings.

Both and I are really feeling disillusioned with the online community, right now. While I don’t think either of us intend to give up on fire circles, because we both have a good time and do some things at them which we find deeply important, and I have just come up against the limits of what “people committed to self-improvement” really seems to mean.

In the last few weeks, there’s been a regular cycle of resolutions and prayers for self-empowerment and transformation, as people express their highest vision of who they are and who they hope to become. It’s only natural, I suppose, but it’s also a total washout. At the same time that everyone is posting what their new higher vision is supposed to be, there’s this metaphysical riptide caused by the tsunami, and the knowledge that people had their houses and boats and lives ripped out from under them. It’s really hard to be working for self-transformation when you’re conscious of suffering people halfway around the globe.

And yet. And yet, a couple of days ago, posted a message from a friend of hers, Bill, who happened to be in Thailand (though not on the coast) at the time of the tsunami.

Bill, as says, is a sweet and genuine human being, and was quickly moved to compassion. He left the comfort and safety of his hotel, and went down to the coast to see what he could do to help. There, he discovered the existence of a kind of Sea Gypsy folk, who fish in the Indian Ocean, coming to land in one country or another every few days. Not really clearly belonging to one nation or another, these Sea Gypsy folk are getting screwed over by the relief efforts, because no one really wants to claim them; and yet, being on the sea, and working in close to shore, they lost boats and nearly everything else they own.

Bill decided to help these people. He arranged to stay in Thailand (indefinitely? I’m not really sure), and to send out an appeal to his friends in the US for funds to help him help these Sea Gypsy folk. He’s not an organization to , he’s a friend, and one who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Now, and I are not very financially secure just at the moment; the winter Yule season was kinda more expensive for both of us than we wanted it to be. We’re not in a position to send a whole lot of cash. So passed this e-mail from her friend Bill on to this e-mail list of “socially conscious fire-circle people interested in self-transformation”.

And she gets the electronic smack-down.

Suddenly is getting the worst sorts of e-mails: Bill is a fraud. He’s trying to scam us and make money for himself. He’s just trying to play on our sympathies for those people over there, and steal money from us. You’re deluded if you think you’re not being scammed here. You obviously don’t know anything about international relief efforts; you should never donate to people in disaster areas, you should donate to organizations that can put people on the ground in the right place. You must be in league with him. You’re helping him try to scam us. Who the fuck are you, anyway, to send this to us? Stop sending this shit to us. You must not be interested in personal growth or self-transformation.

OK.

First, to get on this list, you have to be added by the moderators, and at least one or two of the moderators have to have met you in person. You don’t just join up by clicking a button on some web-page; you have to be nominated, seconded, and ‘vetted’, for lack of a better term, before you get on this list.

Some of the response I can understand. OK, yes, technically it’s not really a great idea to donate money to a disaster-stricken area directly through a person; it’s not exactly a fail-safe way to transmit money to help people, and it means you can’t get a tax-credit for charitable donations. But knows Bill, and was welcomed into this e-mail community as a result of personal, face-to-face contacts with a number of its members. She didn’t seek to join up, she was invited (“Ils sont invité!” to quote from Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and she sought to help everyone on the list, and her friend in Thailand, and the world. And in exchange she gets handed shit by a bunch of people who are sending off poems about their vision quests and essays explaining how they have become truer to their higher selves, and prayers to their totem animals to help them become more in tune with the planet and the world.

Virtually no one (Julie Woods [http://www.juliewoods.com] being, of course, the perfected and perfect exception) wrote to on how to fix the problems with Bill’s request. They just dumped on her for being naive, trusting, hopeful, optimistic, passionate, compassionate, and eager to help. Julie’s organization, Fans with Cans (available at http://www.fanswithcans.org) made a genuine offer to be a funnel for funds to Bill’s work, provided that the paper-work could be filled out, and Julie offered to communicate with Bill. ‘s friend C also offered some moral support; other than that, I think every comment or response Leah got to her forwarded e-mail was negative.

What a bunch of shit.

There are few pagan relief organizations of any kind — few food banks, few clothes banks, few homeless shelters, and so on. They tend to be short on funding, because maybe pagans aren’t very rich. But sometimes it seems like we don’t do nearly so good a job of opening our hearts to people who need it, even when those people are allegedly our friends and tribe.

Maybe that’s where we need the real self-transformation.

28 comments

  1. I’ve been in various aspects of the pagan community for the last 15 years and I sadly must agree completely. I’ve met dozens of interesting thoughtful and humane pagans over the years, but those of them that are the loudest and most visible in both on-line and RL communities tend to be most shallow and self-indulgent. This same phenomenon is admittedly true for almost every interested-based community I’ve encountered, but the problem seems especially pernicious in the pagan community, possibly because being a loudly pontificating arm-chair pagan requires essentially no qualifications other than a large ego.

  2. Possiblity

    Virtually no one (Julie Woods [http://www.juliewoods.com] being, of course, the perfected and perfect exception) wrote to [info]lovelips on how to fix the problems with Bill’s request. They just dumped on her for being naive, trusting, hopeful, optimistic, passionate, compassionate, and eager to help. Julie’s organization, Fans with Cans (available at http://www.fanswithcans.org) made a genuine offer to be a funnel for funds to Bill’s work, provided that the paper-work could be filled out, and Julie offered to communicate with Bill. [info]lovelips’s friend C also offered some moral support; other than that, I think every comment or response Leah got to her forwarded e-mail was negative.

    make this the focus. Now there is a way so let it be open.

  3. Possiblity

    Virtually no one (Julie Woods [http://www.juliewoods.com] being, of course, the perfected and perfect exception) wrote to [info]lovelips on how to fix the problems with Bill’s request. They just dumped on her for being naive, trusting, hopeful, optimistic, passionate, compassionate, and eager to help. Julie’s organization, Fans with Cans (available at http://www.fanswithcans.org) made a genuine offer to be a funnel for funds to Bill’s work, provided that the paper-work could be filled out, and Julie offered to communicate with Bill. [info]lovelips’s friend C also offered some moral support; other than that, I think every comment or response Leah got to her forwarded e-mail was negative.

    make this the focus. Now there is a way so let it be open.

  4. Comunities are only as as strong as the people in them and the ties that bind those people together. They mostly function best where they stand for the individual as a political aggregator — where your only chance against a hostile backdrop is total lockstep and everyone is intimately aware that the face a hostile outside world — you can get some immensely strong bonds. Look at policemen, or gun rights activists, the European Jewry or the Shi’ites in Iraq or the Chinese extended family to see variations on this. But even the strongest communities are generally fragile and difficult to motivate into an action other than the communal focus.

    Most modern Western communities are social constructs of convenience for people with shared interests. They cannot be trusted to bury you, defend you, tend you in your sickness or raise your orphaned children. If it was a real “tribe”, you would have to talk to the elders / leaders and convince them it was in the interests of the group as a whole to commit itself to this endeavor, probably after laying the groundwork by persuading prominent members of the community in private. An outburst like that would just lose you face for trying to hijack tribal resources and be ignored or swiftly cut off by the leadership.

  5. hey…

    I replied to this in Ls journal..I’d like to add, here, that the Online community is not a faithful representation of the *actual* community….and I bet the tone of the responses would be totally different if they were delivered face to face.

  6. hey…

    I replied to this in Ls journal..I’d like to add, here, that the Online community is not a faithful representation of the *actual* community….and I bet the tone of the responses would be totally different if they were delivered face to face.

    • Re: hey…

      Mainly because the potential to push your fist between their annoying teeth is so much greater in person.

      Its another Lazarus Long moment.

  7. Thanks, I been learning much from this experience.
    I know now what the “tribe” can handle. I often ask is it really a “community” or is the “community” that which I create with the people I bring close to me. And what about the world community. Where does that fit it…Many questions to ponder.

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I guess I am a bit naive some times with these issues. One of the reasons I do not usually put requests out such as I had with this one.

  9. Its really the biggest problem with most “pagan” or “alternative” groups. They wallow in the masturbation, and action itself is offensive to them. After all, accomplishment intimiates responsibility. And that is to be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason that the pagan “community” (and I use the term in its losest possible sense) is populated by neurotic, inexperienced, actively self-defeating Left-leaning slackers without a decent job or decent car, with the extremely rare exception. We’re not talking about a group that self-selects for being able to get stuff done, n’est pas?

    I think Zamiel nails it in one.

  10. Thank you my love.
    I sent a note out to Joss asking for more clarity. Waiting for response.
    I find myself thinking of Justin Sterling’s higher purpose chart. The levels of higher purpose he says we have are self, relationship, community, country, world. That we can tell where we are at by how we show up in the community.
    This is just one of those mirrors I think. For me and for me to see where others are. It is not wrong or bad, it just is. Doesn’t mean we can’t be frustrated though.
    I love you, thank you for your post.

  11. Thank you my love.
    I sent a note out to Joss asking for more clarity. Waiting for response.
    I find myself thinking of Justin Sterling’s higher purpose chart. The levels of higher purpose he says we have are self, relationship, community, country, world. That we can tell where we are at by how we show up in the community.
    This is just one of those mirrors I think. For me and for me to see where others are. It is not wrong or bad, it just is. Doesn’t mean we can’t be frustrated though.
    I love you, thank you for your post.

  12. The cynic in me is driven to point out that anyone who gets into an online community for “real self-transformation” is a liar and a fraud. You get into an online community to communicate, to exchange info, to talk about things … but if you think its about “self-transformation,” you’re just using a social venue for mutual ego-gratification. (And before you go all puffer fish, let me say I perceive you and L’s reasons for being there are for the reasons I just listed, to communicate, not to posture. In light of that, however …)

    Its really the biggest problem with most “pagan” or “alternative” groups. They wallow in the masturbation, and action itself is offensive to them. After all, accomplishment intimiates responsibility. And that is to be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason that the pagan “community” (and I use the term in its losest possible sense) is populated by neurotic, inexperienced, actively self-defeating Left-leaning slackers without a decent job or decent car, with the extremely rare exception. We’re not talking about a group that self-selects for being able to get stuff done, n’est pas?

    So, yeah, this story’s pretty much in line with my experience of the pagan world. I am less than surprised. I shrug, gesture randomly with a tentacle, and wonder what you expect to do about it? Because everything comes down to a very simple question: What are you going to do about it?


    Utterly unrelated, but the stuff you emailed last night was uber. You must finish the arc.

  13. The cynic in me is driven to point out that anyone who gets into an online community for “real self-transformation” is a liar and a fraud. You get into an online community to communicate, to exchange info, to talk about things … but if you think its about “self-transformation,” you’re just using a social venue for mutual ego-gratification. (And before you go all puffer fish, let me say I perceive you and L’s reasons for being there are for the reasons I just listed, to communicate, not to posture. In light of that, however …)

    Its really the biggest problem with most “pagan” or “alternative” groups. They wallow in the masturbation, and action itself is offensive to them. After all, accomplishment intimiates responsibility. And that is to be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason that the pagan “community” (and I use the term in its losest possible sense) is populated by neurotic, inexperienced, actively self-defeating Left-leaning slackers without a decent job or decent car, with the extremely rare exception. We’re not talking about a group that self-selects for being able to get stuff done, n’est pas?

    So, yeah, this story’s pretty much in line with my experience of the pagan world. I am less than surprised. I shrug, gesture randomly with a tentacle, and wonder what you expect to do about it? Because everything comes down to a very simple question: What are you going to do about it?


    Utterly unrelated, but the stuff you emailed last night was uber. You must finish the arc.

    • Its really the biggest problem with most “pagan” or “alternative” groups. They wallow in the masturbation, and action itself is offensive to them. After all, accomplishment intimiates responsibility. And that is to be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason that the pagan “community” (and I use the term in its losest possible sense) is populated by neurotic, inexperienced, actively self-defeating Left-leaning slackers without a decent job or decent car, with the extremely rare exception. We’re not talking about a group that self-selects for being able to get stuff done, n’est pas?

      I think Zamiel nails it in one.

      • Thanks, I been learning much from this experience.
        I know now what the “tribe” can handle. I often ask is it really a “community” or is the “community” that which I create with the people I bring close to me. And what about the world community. Where does that fit it…Many questions to ponder.

        • Comunities are only as as strong as the people in them and the ties that bind those people together. They mostly function best where they stand for the individual as a political aggregator — where your only chance against a hostile backdrop is total lockstep and everyone is intimately aware that the face a hostile outside world — you can get some immensely strong bonds. Look at policemen, or gun rights activists, the European Jewry or the Shi’ites in Iraq or the Chinese extended family to see variations on this. But even the strongest communities are generally fragile and difficult to motivate into an action other than the communal focus.

          Most modern Western communities are social constructs of convenience for people with shared interests. They cannot be trusted to bury you, defend you, tend you in your sickness or raise your orphaned children. If it was a real “tribe”, you would have to talk to the elders / leaders and convince them it was in the interests of the group as a whole to commit itself to this endeavor, probably after laying the groundwork by persuading prominent members of the community in private. An outburst like that would just lose you face for trying to hijack tribal resources and be ignored or swiftly cut off by the leadership.

      • I’ve been in various aspects of the pagan community for the last 15 years and I sadly must agree completely. I’ve met dozens of interesting thoughtful and humane pagans over the years, but those of them that are the loudest and most visible in both on-line and RL communities tend to be most shallow and self-indulgent. This same phenomenon is admittedly true for almost every interested-based community I’ve encountered, but the problem seems especially pernicious in the pagan community, possibly because being a loudly pontificating arm-chair pagan requires essentially no qualifications other than a large ego.

        • I’ve met dozens of interesting thoughtful and humane pagans over the years, but those of them that are the loudest and most visible in both on-line and RL communities tend to be most shallow and self-indulgent.

          Sometimes I wonder if it’s more like they turn me off merely because I’m quiet and level, and maybe the Loud Visible people are actually having a great time with each other. *grin* Maybe we could lock them up in a room together.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I guess I am a bit naive some times with these issues. One of the reasons I do not usually put requests out such as I had with this one.

  14. ohholymotherofGod, that quote makes my stomach turn. what. in the. fuck? so much for healing, for thinking outside of your sphere, for improvement & compassion.

    let’s set aside the fact that L personally knows this guy for a minute – wouldn’t it seem that someone who genuinely cared about L, if they thought she was being scammed, would reply to her without being a dick? after all, if you’re trying to help someone you care about, you don’t come at them with your fangs.

    what is apparent is that these are people who are used to being scammed. that sucks.

    i’m sorry, Boo.

  15. ohholymotherofGod, that quote makes my stomach turn. what. in the. fuck? so much for healing, for thinking outside of your sphere, for improvement & compassion.

    let’s set aside the fact that L personally knows this guy for a minute – wouldn’t it seem that someone who genuinely cared about L, if they thought she was being scammed, would reply to her without being a dick? after all, if you’re trying to help someone you care about, you don’t come at them with your fangs.

    what is apparent is that these are people who are used to being scammed. that sucks.

    i’m sorry, Boo.

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