A Serpent in the Chat
The bickering and in-fighting had been intensifying for weeks. Like dogs to their vomit, the members of Milo’s Telegram chat kept returning again and again to the same-old, same-old rivalries they had been cultivating for months. “She hates me!” “He said mean things about me!” “The admins have too much control.” One of the admins got so sick of it that he left both the admin group and the main chat entirely, declaring himself weary of the drama and how serious it had become.
Milo asked the admins how we might put a stop to the nonsense. “I’m tired of everyone whining about the ‘mean atmosphere,’” he told us. “So what’s the solution?” I had excused myself from speaking that week after blowing up at the chat for precisely this reason, so I first asked whether Milo wanted my thoughts. Milo replied, “I already said I want people’s opinions. Why ask again? JUST ANSWER!”
I opened gently.
“I have learned an important lesson in the past week about what kind of effect even positive posting has on the chat. Last week, I was sincerely trying to stop all the bickering and back-biting, but I came on much too strong. The impulse for women is always to try to control the situation. It is what we need to be good at in order to care for all our children. It hurts my heart to see the chat squabbling like toddlers, when most of the rivalries are all fake.”
Milo scolded me: “You have no place trying to ‘fix’ things and YOU SUCK AT IT, so I’m glad you’ve stopped.” But still he wanted names. “Who is at the heart of the problem?” he demanded. I replied: “Satan.” I elaborated: “This is not a problem that is caused by only one or two people. This is a problem caused by our fallen nature.” “You’re being evasive,” he said. “Perhaps it was myself being the greatest problem,” I suggested. “I have been watching the past couple of days to see the effect of my not being there. But the problems were still there after I left.” “You’re still not giving me names,” Milo rejoined.
“You, my lord,” I told him. “You are the one who sets the tone for the chat. Everything comes down to what I wrote about in ‘Cruel Rules’: the debate over what it means to do your will.” And then I named those whose rivalries I had observed, starting with my own.
It was only later that I realized I had, in effect, called Milo Satan.
What I meant at the time was that groups take their character from their leader—something I learned from Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), when the archeological dig goes mad because it is their director who has killed his wife. The group picks up on the distress of its leader and reflects it, whether they recognize the source or not. Likewise, the rules in the chat explicitly encourage chaos and cruelty, and Milo is there in the chat regularly to set the tone. If the chat is cruel and mean, then the responsibility lay—I was arguing—with Milo.
Or did it?
By the end of the night, after Milo had announced weddings for a half-dozen or so couples in the chat as a way of soothing some of the tensions, I was well and truly down the rabbit hole, horrified by what I was seeing. I had been deceiving myself for months. The chat was not an allegory for training souls in virtue; it was pure and simply hell, presided over by demons gleefully egging each other on to greater and greater cruelty. Whereas I had been trying to encourage the chat to Beauty, Goodness, and Truth, nobody else (or so I was told) was there to learn lessons about Christianity or saving Western civilization, whatever the Rules might claim. The other members of the chat were only there to have fun being mean.
|Milo celebrating Brexit
By Saturday morning I was having to sit on my hands not to rage-quit every chat I was in, never mind Telegram altogether. Twitter? That was heaven by comparison, the air filled with birdsong, even if some of the birds are vultures and ravens. Facebook? Earth, where at the very least everyone has to present themselves under their real names, even if they do lie more often than not by omission in curating their public personae. But Telegram? Telegram was out-and-out hell—a cesspit of deception and pretense and lies lies lies. Never mind the Groypers (a.k.a. the frogs). Telegram was full of monsters and demons masquerading as human beings.
And Milo was their leader, the Father of Lies himself.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, punch the devil in the face. What business did I—a tenured professor at one of the very top academic institutions in the country, prize-winning author and Guggenheim fellow—have hanging out in Milo’s chat room? I am a scholar of medieval Christian liturgy and devotion, not an internet troll. I take no pleasure in calling people names or trying to shame them for anything other than lying about Milo. Yes, I had come on somewhat strong the other week trying to get the chat to stop fighting, but I had refused to take sides in the on-going spats, even as I was accused of so doing by standing up for certain principals in the fray. They were the ones squabbling over status in the chat. I was the one trying to get them to stop.
It was too much. I hid the apps on my iPhone and iPad in folders, finally listened to Milo, and stepped away. I had been asked to do a blurb for a new book on saying the rosary, which I read (thanks be to God!) Thursday and Friday during my descent into hell. I promised myself to say the rosary daily—grasp the sword offered by Our Lady—and stop looking at the chat entirely for a month. I had already been silent in the chat for well over a week, only breaking my self-imposed gagging once, to post something from Boris Johnson about Britain’s new Independence Day, but by Saturday last week I was prepared never to come back again.
Whose fault was it that I was in such distress? I had my lists. So-and-so had said such-and-such, disrespecting me. So-and-so was too full of himself, always bragging about how intimate he was with Milo. So-and-so picked fights with everyone even when all they were doing was making jokes. So-and-so was constantly claiming to be the most important one in the chat. So-and-so always tried to take control of the conversation whenever she was in the room.
I had honestly meant to acknowledge that I was part of the problem when Milo asked the admins to name names of those we had seen causing problems, but I was still at that point convinced that my purpose in screaming at the chat had been a good one. Why, after all, shouldn’t I try to take control of the conversation every so often? Milo had encouraged me to post about Christianity in the main chat after a brief experiment back in October with a catechism class side chat showed there was interest in the group in learning more. How was I supposed to “teach” the chat if I couldn’t give them homework assignments every so often? What had I done so wrong in asking for feedback about what they thought of the Thanos’ing or setting a poetry competition to help with my eleventh day of Xmas post? Why did Milo tell me that I was crap at rallying the troops? Hadn’t he read the roundels?!
“FORGET THE DAMN ROUNDELS,” he told me. A.k.a. STOP TRYING TO CONTROL THE GAME.
It was my fault the chat had turned into hell. Not my fault as such, in the sense that I was the cause of the rivalries—those are ongoing and real and for the most part have nothing to do with me. But my own fault that all I could see in the squabbling and posturing and name-calling was hell. Because I was invested in it myself.
About the time I came to this realization yesterday, I got an email from Milo with only a subject line: “you may return.”
But do I dare?
For Milo’s ongoing lessons in virtue, see The MILO Chronicles: Telegram Diaries (from August 2019). You can buy my book (seriously, the roundels were great!) on Amazon or direct from the publisher at Castalia House.
To watch Milo on Friday nights, go to Censored.tv. For entry into the Telegram chat, go to Milo’s Telegram channel and watch for the link.