I would like to say, “well, now I have seen it all,” but that is a statement easily falsified by further events.
Some time ago I spent time on a forum, I said I was a Gnostic, they said they were Gnostics. There were occasional useful/non-polemical discussions at the very beginning. It seemed nice to find other Gnostics, and be Gnostics together. By now you should have guessed what the issue would become—that name-space “Gnostic.”
The problem seriously emerged when an attempt was made to define that name-space. When urged to caution, the charge was made “we have to do it to exclude the sex magic and new age groups!” Despite the many problems with that 'reason,' the push went aggressively on. Dissent is rarely popular by definition, and for such a grand scheme there was no opt out option, it was the entire name-space remember. A vocal dissenter is a persona non grata. The definition was presented as a fiat accompli, one of many such 'conclusions.' It was presented without an argument in its favor, the burden being on others to successfully convince those responsible for it that they were in error. Yes, it was that scholarly of a debate. “Here's my conclusion, convince me I'm wrong,” is not a caricature since identification with the conclusion stated was the norm, with arguments against being taken personally. Did I mention that these were the moderators of the forum?
Of course, it only got worse. In effect, if you disagreed with the definition of the name-space you were telling others that they were not Gnostics. Be part of the collective, or you are attacking the 'aggrieved' other parties. It was all about identity. It was the worst instance of identity politics. Simply not affirming the proclamations of some became “saying they weren't as good as you,” or, “saying that they were bad Gnostics.” It certainly wasn't the case that the 'aggrieved' weren't sincere, just that it was not a rational reaction by any means.
And, it got worse. The right to be a distinct individual with a different view on anything Gnostic was completely abrogated in practice. Any post making a distinction in regards to my own understanding and actual practice of Gnosticism was attacked by many respondents in ways that violated the forum rules. The only response of the moderators was to promptly close the entire discussion.
So, I was effectively silenced. Oh, the moderators did discuss me in their private forum, which they either forgot I had access to or just didn't care. Other moderators were asked to close discussions so it wouldn't seem biased on the surface that one of those involved actually closed them. Juvenile nicknames were used for me. A significant personal bias against my church and bishop was evidenced on a number of occasions. After seeing all that they were about, I left.
Yes, even after I left it got worse. I was pursued and hounded at another forum for the same sin of disagreeing. It may have done the trick of putting me off forums all together and effectively silencing me yet again. Fortunately, the moderators of that forum actually intervened to remove the personal attack made by a moderator of the first forum. There is much to be said for standards.
That was years ago, but the same people are doing the same things and whining and insinuating the same things. While about the most seriously creepy thing that I have experienced in my online dealings with those who call themselves Gnostics, I like to think that I have learned from the ordeal.
What comes most to mind is that community actually means being able to be distinct and to make distinctions. If you cannot be distinct it is not really a community, it is an identity. Dialoging is easiest with those who won't have identity-crossover with you, that is, for whom you do not play a role in their identity. When there is a similarity, caution is needed, as are perhaps new qualifiers for distinctions within your shared idea or name-space. To actually share things in common, we need to be able to share our distinctions and differences; after all, they are what we have to give each other.
One of the big lessons I learned is to actively remain agnostic about people and groups encountered online. When all you can know about them is what they say and what others say, it goes without saying that there is no gnosis involved. One can easily make a false-recognition out of a desire to either uncritically include or reject. Staying agnostic is what the ancients would have called a spiritual exercise, a practice of remaining aware of the difference between gnosis, doxa, and episteme.
I studied the scholarship on Gnosticism for years and had my own developing understanding from experience before encountering any practicing Gnostics, and I was quite skeptical about them, with many tests they had to pass both formulated and vague. Yet, somehow when this started, my policy was to accept anyone as they said they were, until proven otherwise. I had become ego-identified with being Gnostic in the usual way of such things so that I unconsciously identified with others who identified the same way. While a common and well-studied psychological effect, it is no less a failure on my part.
I also think that I have acquired more skillful means of communicating by that long exercise in not communicating. If someone misunderstands your argument, you can try to learn to argue more clearly. However, if someone twists your plain text in order to 'misunderstand' you, they are attacking you and not your argument, and that fact is all that there really is to learn.
The other lesson that gets driven home all too often is that if someone is attacking you in this medium, you probably cannot help them in any way. The reason for this is that anything you say will be twisted, and there is no “reality factor” that has to come into play. The interpretation by the individual does not have to be subjected to reason, facts, or simple reality tests—in this medium the interpretation by each isolated individual can be unassailable. However, I don't know if it will keep me from trying. After all, in the worse case, it only brings in a more personal animosity against me in particular.