Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's this $#!+ about Masonic harmony?

This is the fifth in a series of guest essays by Masonic bloggers. This one is from Bro. John Ratcliff, publisher of the self-titled John Ratcliff's Blog.

My thanks go out to Bro. John and to all who are participating in this project.

— W.S.

What's this $#!+ about Masonic Harmony?
by Bro. John Ratcliff

I was asked by "The Widow's Son" to write a guest editorial on the topic of, so called, "Masonic harmony." I don't really mean to go off on a rant, but I have to be frank when I say that this seriously pisses me off!! I mean, the absolute nerve of this guy! It just blows me away! He doesn't even use his real name! "The Widow's Son" might as well call himself "The Masonic Shit Disturber" if you ask me. And, what kind of "Brother" is this guy anyway? Brother, my ass. I have never seen him in any lodge I've ever been in. He lives in one of those jurisdictions that conducts bizarre rituals and would hardly be considered "regular" by anyone I have ever associated with.

What really gets my goat about this "request" (and it really came more in the form of a demand) is that I haven't had time to write a blog post on my own website in ages but this joker thinks I have nothing better to do then compose prose for his backwater blog. It just steams me to have to deal with this outrageous individual. He is demanding, self centered, and absolutely nothing but trouble.

Nevertheless, this evening, it just so happens that I have a little bit of free time on my fingers so I've decided to go ahead and respond. I suppose it doesn't ultimately matter which soapbox I stand on to voice my opinion on this topic, so I will shout from the high hills and low vales of The Burning Taper in a pathetic attempt to reveal the real truth about Masonic harmony.

And what is the truth about Masonic harmony? The truth is that every Freemason I know, every Freemason I have ever met, and every Freemason I have interacted with has been so harmonious that being in their presence has been like a soothing balm on a troubled soul.

In point of fact, when in the presence of the author of The Burning Taper I felt a bond of harmony which quickly seemed like it would become a true and abiding friendship. Now how did the bastard accomplish this feat? It must have been some sort of trick.

Well, it turns out that it was a trick. The trick was that we actually met and spoke upon the level. The trick is, in fact the trick which has been foisted upon all of us, is the complete artificiality of Internet communication.

I don't know what it is about our psychology that makes us behave like teenage chimpanzees tossing shit at each other when we "converse" online but, the fact of the matter is that this is exactly what we do. The "art of writing" has devolved into the "art of ranting" and the "art of personal attack" when transformed from pen and ink to instant electronic communication.

Sure, there is a problem of Masonic harmony, but I believe that problem is restricted, and shaped, primarily by the medium of online communication. Is there really such major discord in your local lodge? I doubt that very seriously or you wouldn't bother to show up. I attend a ridiculous number of lodge meetings every year, and when you add in Installations, Rainbow Girl meetings, DeMolay meetings, and special events, I probably average more than a couple of meetings each week the entire year round.

Would I be so involved and engaged if the experience was full of discord? Of course not, who would? The primary reason I attend meetings which, to be frank, might best be described as boring and repetitive, is due to the fact that participating in a shared ritual is highly harmonious and ridiculously relaxing. I have experienced no arguments, or raised voices, nor political or religious debate, in all of the years I have attended a vast number of Masonic events.

I strongly suspect the same is true for the vast majority of the members of the Masonic fraternity across all jurisdictions, as I simply cannot imagine why anyone would attend a meeting if it were otherwise.

In my opinion there is no real problem of Masonic harmony within the lodge itself. And, while I am sure there are specific lodges which do suffer from discord (I have heard stories) I am also sure that those lodges cease to exist fairly quickly (the conclusion of most of those stories I have heard).

A functioning lodge is almost by definition a harmonious one. Unfortunately, the collection of Internet gathering places for Freemasons from jurisdictions far and wide most certainly does not function as any sort of "lodge." They instead operate as dysfunctional vehicles for destructive dialectic; subject to the common scourge of flames, trolls, and virulent exchanges which seemingly infect all Internet discourse.

The opening paragraph of this editorial made intentional use of the techniques of "rant" and "flame" to make a point. In the past, I myself have taken issue with our humble host. On occasion I have taken "The Widow's Son" to task for focusing on negative stories about the Fraternity without a corresponding balance towards the positive. One might imagine heated and emotional exchanges as fevered fingers stroking keyboards with a pounding pace try to win the dialectic struggle. And, while this could have been the outcome, instead, quite something else happened instead.

On a cross country trip from Saint Louis, Missouri to Cape Canaveral, Florida, I drove a few hours out of my way to meet with the author of this blog. In perfect Masonic harmony we met and shared our lives, our stories, and our Masonic experiences building a bond of friendship that can only be constructed through direct personal contact.

And, rest assured, Internet communications is quite impersonal indeed. Recently, on my own blog, I have made a series of posts about an odd young man who lives in Thailand and hosts a virulent anti-Masonic conspiracy website. During this process some exchanges have occurred which were anything but harmonious in their tone and little education or understanding resulted from it. Nevertheless, I am quite confident that were we to meet, over a couple of beers or just relaxing with tea in the living room, we would probably have an incredibly entertaining and enlightening exchange filled with good humor and warm thoughts. How could we not, we share far too many interests in common to do otherwise.

Not that long ago I was a guest on a podcast for a Masonic themed conspiracy radio show and that interview was entirely harmonious from beginning to end as basic etiquette took the place of the rants and raves of online verbiage. As an experiment, on the same day, I called into a conspiracy talk show where the host was ranting about some of the most outlandish topics imaginable yet still, while introducing myself as a Freemason, we had a pleasant, polite, and often humorous exchange.

The simple fact of the matter is that Internet communications, especially in the form of blog comments and message forums, is so low, so foul, so full of discord, that those engaging in it should make a great effort to divorce themselves from it emotionally. Instead retain a good sense of humor and try to remember that "arguing" on the Internet carries about as much weight and seriousness as an episode of H.R. Puff'n Stuff.

The next time you are tempted into an unharmonious online argument with a Masonic brother, maybe you should instead try to call him on the telephone and carry on a civilized conversation where the basic rules of etiquette should help shape the tone? Better yet, try to meet in person at a bar or restaurant for lunch.

Now, to be fair, I must admit that I myself quite often abuse Internet communications with great abandon, glee, and self-driven purpose. As a form of entertainment I rant, rave, and argue for my own juvenile amusement. That said, I am fully aware at all times that I am engaging in a childish pursuit and, if I ever find myself taking any of it too seriously, I send myself my own personal cease and desist order.

Perhaps this topic of Masonic harmony would best be served in another forum. Maybe we can get some of those Internet brethren involved in these high octane exchanges to participate in a forum that requires a modicum of civilized and even mediated discourse. I strongly suspect that the entire tone of the conversation would change rather dramatically and, quite possibly, some real exchanges of shared understanding on disparate points of view might take place.

Or, maybe you are all just a bunch of stinking idiots.

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  1. Ooh, ooh, aah, aah -- SPLAT!
    Right on! I think that as the technology gets better and more personal that the situation will also get better. Eventually, the web will make way for truly immersive virtual environments. However, until that time, we need to remember that it is a real person on the other end and not some fiend.


  2. That said, I am fully aware at all times that I am engaging in a childish pursuit and, if I ever find myself taking any of it too seriously, I send myself my own personal cease and desist order.


    Good one, bro! Always nice to see a person who recognizes his own capacity for BS!

  3. Admit it: the cartoon nails it. For every single one of us.

  4. Tom,

    I thought you might recognize that line. It was my phone call to you that reminded me I needed to cease and desist on that topic.


  5. "Or, maybe you are all just a bunch of stinking idiots".

    Isn't that the prerequisite for being an internet blogger?

  6. John: That was a great essay. I find that the Internet really encourages ad hominem attacks like no other medium. I have even been a part of the evil cycle even though I shouldn't. For that, mea culpa, mea culpa.

    Masonic Tr: "'Or, maybe you are all just a bunch of stinking idiots'.

    Isn't that the prerequisite for being an internet blogger?"

    That and a serious case of narcissism. Now where's my mirror? ;)


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