Open Discussion on historic symbology in Conquest Reforged 1.15

Hello, all members of the community.

After some discussion among the overseers, we felt we wanted to bring this topic up in a more formal context. Due to the obvious gravity of the topic, things should have been discussed a bit more thoroughly and openly, and allow everyone to feel they can freely share their opinion and be heard.

In our builder channel on Discord, I posted the image:
https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/441317992685371392/841384367753658378/2021-05-10_14.40.06.png
With the purpose of demonstrating two things: It’s easy to make a swastika with about any corner texture facing certain ways(which can be intentional or unintentional) and also showing that a swastika when used in the proper historical context of ancient designs can make for a beautiful pattern. The result of me doing so was nothing short of a disaster. While some good points were made, others simply took offense to any point being made and others resorted to insults. This also resulted in 2 members (that we know) of leaving the community with strong words such as “This shouldn’t even be up for debate.”

Well, unfortunately, a debate is coming. While we can avoid making swastika patterns like I did; there are more textures available in the alpha that will have them.
Example: https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/697988905504342016/842217392376905768/2021-05-13_13.51.06.png
Note: The above is only a minor example of a swastika being noticable. There are plans to add more blocks that have swastikas of varying degrees of obviousness.

Obviously, this topic needs more nuance than simple accusations. So to help add some organization to this discussion, I’m going to break this down into three categories: Pros, Cons, and Solutions. As the public perception of swastikas is generally negative, and for good reason, I will list the cons first.

Cons:

  • Being perceived as supporting Nazism
    • Even if not directly seen as supporting Nazism, could leave a bad taste in the public eye
  • Retention/Acquisition of new members and builders has been and still could be hampered by concerns over the textures.
  • Could lead to direct conflict with content creators(streamers being flagged)

Reclamation of the symbol’s original meaning may not be possible in our lifetimes and no one could seriously expect our small community with few legal protections and limited support to change perception of the swastika.

Pros:

  • The swastika predates the Nazis
  • Has been used in many cultures from all parts of the world
    • Symbol of prosperity in many Eastern religions
  • Our reasons for using it:
    • Historical context
    • Reclamation of its original meaning

Solutions:

  • We can request/make an overlay.
    Upsides: We can use more of Tolkien’s traditional designs or have textures based on them:
    https://image.slidesharecdn.com/pictures-120719192803-phpapp01/95/pictures-by-jrr-tolkien-57-728.jpg?cb=1342726238
    Downsides: We will need to have any modifications to the texture pack generally approved by the developers. There’s no guarantee that they will make changes.

  • We could just ignore them and choose not to use them
    Upsides: This is the easiest way to avoid controversy in our own project
    Downsides: A player searching our blocklist can still locate and find the swastika textures and still be disturbed and may cause problems

  • Luckily, with Gondor we will have lots of cultures to pull from, such as the Egyptians, more of those designs will be added. We can likely avoid swastikas all together if that’s the wish of the community.

With all that being said, us Overseers have generally agreed that this needs to be brought up. We would love your feedback.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable speaking about this topic in a public forum, tell an overseer who will post your comments anonymously. We understand.

Please keep this topic in the AC community. Obviously, this conversation could have an impact on the rest of the Conquest Community where opinions are likely to be more varied/potentially more extreme. Its important that we don’t attempt to be the only voice in the CR sphere and in defense of our project, its important we value the time and efforts of our fellow builders above all else.

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I’ve had this conversation with a few member who know my views already. There will always be the vocal minority who argue that the use of the Swastika in Conquest is unacceptable. Fundamentally however, the shape is arguably unavoidable due to the nature of minecraft/conquest (there is a limited amount of design we can make with specific blocks). I have seen some that say the swastika is historical and therefore acceptable. Although I do not disagree with this per se, we have to acknowledge the political climate we are in. Therefore i would suggest we try to keep obvious swastikas to a minimum, and only in designs where they supplement the design as a whole.

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As clearly laid out here by Hearth, this is entirely avoidable. Swastikas appear on a handful of blocks and frankly have better alternatives. In no architectural styles or traditions does the swastika center itself as a predominant motif, as its usually implemented as decoration or pattern variation. making it an embellishment motif rather than integral one.

We also need to consider Tolkien’s perspective here, as we are aiming for a faithful recreation of his artistic vision. Its important to speculate what his views and wishes would be. A man who survives WW2, served in the British Army during WW1, and famously responded to an inquiry from the nazi regime against him with clear distain, it’s reasonable to say his views towards the swastika being used in association with his creations would be a very strong no, regardless of their historical iterations. He is also Eurocentric in perspective, and his world is painted with that in mind. What may be a positive symbol in India and other eastern countries, would not be from what his perspective or interpretation derives.

As for this discussion around “reclamation”, I find this most alarming. Reclamation, or better termed “Reappropriation” is the cultural process by which a group reclaims words or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group. Meaning that a minecraft server, nor reforged have any right or validity to make that attempt. Its just not our place, and if there is confusion on this mark, please consult any article written by POC or marginalized communities about the reclamation/reappropriation of terms/symbols used against them in the past. I would also consider consulting the Jewish community on this, as Tolkien refers to them as the “gifted people”, and they of course would be most affected by its usage.

Many neutral or positive symbols throughout history have been reclaimed by groups or people who have misappropriated and vilified them due to their actions. We cannot rely on original intention or earliest usage to contextualize its meaning through the modern eye. We must consider the iteration most popularized by consumption or public perspective in the people who are alive today.

To summarize: The swastika has no place on any design for blocks or block arrangements without the expressed desire to disregard the feelings and wishes of both Tolkien and the Jewish community. It really is that simple. I hope the server makes an informed and appropriate decision regarding this.

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I am all for using the pattern in a historical context and in patterns where the swastika is not the focal point. Some blocks that have swastikas on them are incredibly easy to pass over without a second thought, as the symbol is usualy part of a larger pattern.

But, as pointed out by the post above, it would not have been Tolkien’s wish to include swastikas in Middle Earth and his sketches for gondorian patterns do not include the symbol at all. Perhaps it might be an idea to re-evaluate what kind of architectural references we use for Gondor, particularly in the areas of patterns and decoration. The swastika is part of historical architecure, yes, but that doesn’t mean that we have to use it simply because it exists in that context. We can always adjust textures with an overlay to more acurately depict Gondorian patterns.

It also very much depends on what outsiders will think if we are seen using swastikas in our builds. The vast majority of people don’t even know that it pre-dates the Nazis, so as soon as they notice swastika s being used they will jump to the conclusion that we are using it with malicious intent. It doesn’t particularly matter what our intent is, if we are seen using the symbol and it becomes public knowledge via a stupid Reddit post then the damage has been done.

In my opinion, the fact that this is a sensitive topic means that we should handle it in a way that avoids the whole topic. Nothing good can come from using the swastika, we can only cause damage.

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I care more about getting and keeping a playerbase of builders, despite of people’s personal views on the subject. We are a public server, and we want to gain attention to gain new builders, including clear swastikas does not help, as the majority of the people in our part of the world will simply not share the historical point of view. It’s definitely going to cause more issues in the future, and i’d like to avoid that. We already lost a few members as mentioned above, this is not at all what we need.
Tolkien made patterns and designs for Gondor, i suggest we use those instead.
It’s not up to us to try and “reclaim” the symbol, it’s too risky, and we will literally have 0 impact.

I simply suggest either not using the blocks, or preferably, get Tolkien’s designs in our overlay.

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So as one of the members that chose to leave because of this whole thing, I don’t know how valuable my opinion is anymore, but I’d still like to share my thoughts. This is the exact discussion that I had with another member regarding this:

"I get that, but the thing is that it’s not really our right to reclaim the swastika, just like it’s not white peoples’ place to reclaim racial slurs. Random people on a minecraft server don’t get to decide whether or not a hate symbol still holds power, and it’s not anyone on here’s right to tell people who are (rightfully) still upset about the usage of swastikas that they’re wrong for feeling that way or that they ‘should take their meds’.

Whether we like it or not, the swastika is still being used in the West as a symbol of hate by alt-right and white-supremacist groups who still parrot the same talking points that the Nazis did. The swastika’s history is and will always be tainted with hate - especially in a Western context, and especially through the eyes of the people who suffered oppression and hate under it.

The whole ‘historically accurate’-argument doesn’t hold water to me either, especially because this a fantasy world and you have full control over the patterns and aesthetics that appear in it. You don’t have to incorporate everything in your inspirations down to the dime, especially when there are thousands of beautiful patterns and designs (especially in regards to Rome and the Byzantine Empire) that could be used that don’t have the same horrific history that the swastika has.

It just feels so unnecessary, convoluted, un-empathetic, and has the flimsiest justification."

Another upsetting part of this discussion has been the absolutely disgusting and volatile language and insults levied against anyone who is (again, rightfully) upset at the potential inclusion of a hate symbol in the build.

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I’m deeply saddened to see the reactions to that topic. It is indeed a sensitive one, and as JoeVC, I’m certainly not arguing we should put svastikas everywhere just to make a point, but I really think the pattern has its place when used in context (the context here being provided by our historically-inspired builds), and that banning it altogether would be nothing but a waste of potential, cutting our builds from using a part of what Minecraft and CR offer us without giving anything back in exchange.
None of the two exemples provided in the opening post presents that obvious svastikas, as they are well merged in larger patterns, and that effect would only be increased when those patterns will be placed into actual buildings. Their shapes, choices of colours and materials also differ vastly from the Nazi svastika.

Furthermore, I have to say that three of the main arguments I see here against the use of svastikas are, imho, quite bad. I’ll elaborate on them one by one:

  • While replacing the already-on-block svastikas by Tolkien-inspired patterns might seem like a good idea for a Tolkien-inspired server, it would also have the effect of flagging those blocks as Gondor/Númenórean only blocks (as, though those patterns might be designed by Tolkien, he did so with a particular culture in mind), which would prevent their usage in other regions of Middle-earth where they might have otherwise been useful. And on the other hand, we can still add those specific patterns in the overlay as paintings, like we did for the Dwarvish mural designs. As paintings can be placed on any block, this option would really give us the better of both worlds, opening new possibilities instead of closing some. I’ll see what I can make myself with the paintings and post it here.

  • I’m really not so sure Tolkien would have disapproved of the use of svastika in an endeavour similar to AC. While he was indeed a WW1 soldier (though I’ll say that really doesn’t have anything to do with the svastika) and a British patriot as well as a fierce nazism opponent during WW2, he was also notoriously well-learned in all sorts of ancient languages and cultures, and as such might have been quite pained to see the svastika associated with nazism, and supportive of attempts to reclaim the symbol with proper contextualisation.
    Now, unless someone knows of a direct Tolkien quote, we’ll probably never know of his true opinion on the matter, but I think that, though relatively weak, his reaction to the Nazis’ use of the term “Aryan” still provides an argument for my case (he starts by a sarcastical call back to the true meaning of the word):

I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.

  • About the symbol not being ours to reclaim and the POC topic, I’ll say several things. The first is that, as I understood it, AC is not an English nor an European, nor a Western server, but one open to all tolkiendili of the world (and the world is mainly non-Western), from all cultural horizons, and as such we actually might have some Indian dude wanting to place a svastika block here. But you’d be right to mention that the server’s language being English, and with Tolkien being an English author who wrote mainly European-inspired stories, the playerbase is and will probably stay mainly Western in the years to come, so, for the rest of this post, I’ll consider “us” as “Western people”.
    Secondly now, and contrarily to relatively popular belief, the svastika is/was not just an Hindu or Buddhist symbol: it’s remarkably widely used throughout the planet (which is in itself, btw, an argument for not banning it from AC), including ancient and medieval Europe. Moreover, it never ceased to be positively perceived in the other cultures, so they have no reclaiming to do, and the reclaiming is thus actually especially European to make.
    And thirdly, if it’s the Minecraft server part that concerns you, the act of reclaiming a symbol will never be an endeavour agreed on, proponed and encouraged by some official assembly of Western cultural and/or political heads, but the fruit of the action of everyday people simply gradually starting to use it in proper context again. So yes, I do think our action matters. Not by itself, not alone, but it’s a contribution that can be added to books, to movies or documentaries using it in a proper way in the cultural landscape, and push people to document themselves and change their opinion of the symbol.
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After further reflection and and thought, especially with seeing over peoples points of views. I would like to further my previous post. What I should have made explicitly clear is that No - i do not believe that swastikas are necessary and ideally they should be avoided.

The reclamation argument in my opinion is not viable. Although a lovely idea its not really an argument at all to be perfectly honest. Swastikas are used in certain cultures, but its not like its a day to day design which is needed and required by society. It just so happens that its in the architecture we are using as inspiration and therefore this “reclamation” argument is relevant to us but this argument holds no weight. Although I would argue that reclamation is a lovely idea, not for swastikas. Swastikas are fundamentally the insignia of possibly one of the greatest evils to exist in human history - were not talking millions who died in war, were talking millions who were systematically murdered in some of the most abhorrent ways possible. Little side note, I know that everyone is aware of the holocaust and the concentration camps but I implore you to do some research into the Einsatzgruppen or Josef Mengele and see just how horrific the Nazis were. (Also, its not for us to reclaim, who are we to tell people that they cant be offended by something as it is also used in different cultures).

Now, the reason why the swastika is not acceptable is because although were not using the design as were all secretly Nazis and want to turn Tolkiens ideas into some neo-facist propaganda. The issue however is that this is what people will think. People will see the swastika and instantly think of the Nazis (rightfully so in my opinion as it should server as a reminder of the evils of man), but i do not think its place should be on a minecraft server. The symbol is of just a reminder of so much evil that I just cant see it being justified. At the end of the day it comes down to perception. What we see as a symbol of evil another may see it as a piece of religious expression (referring to Buddhism specifically here). As a predominately Euro/US server realistically we do not view a swastika as the latter and it would be embarrassing to argue otherwise.

Would Tolkien envision the swastika in his world? Well to be honest it doesn’t matter. He never gives detail on it. Fornad set out with the goal of creating a realistic and accurate middle earth, however this does not mean that we cannot make assumption or make changes that are relevant? We’ve done it before, hell were doing it now with cherry-picking which civilizations to base Gondor on, so why cant we do the same and chose to ignore designs which we know will cause upset, offence and alienate members of this community?

All that said, we do not develop CR but we have some input. Furthermore, we are too far into this project to say “fuck it lets find another mod” as that wont work. This means we can either drop certain designs all together, ask CR to change / add more designs, or we can just actively try to prevent the design being used unnecessarily. Again this is a matter of perception, but a blatant Swastika is very different and not comparable to this https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/697988905504342016/842217392376905768/2021-05-13_13.51.06.png They just happen to look similar. Therefore i do refer to my previous argument. That there should be no issue with the design as long as they’re not obvious and unnecessary? However, the key word is should. There will be issue and people will take offence.

I would argue using Swastikas will lead to flack. There will be issues, comments and dislike from members of community. If we use them we have to accept this and acknowledge it, there’s no point arguing history as we wont win. Which is why I think we should avoid them at all costs. But, this is realistically not possible if the blocks themselves have the design on them, and therefore if we are to use them they should be kept to an ABSOLUTE minimum.

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I feel this topic is a difficult one, since it’s quite hard to notice it. Players should know we’re using the blocks as blocks, not political symbols. Some pattern that from one angle looks like a swastika is very different to the server being Nazi, and people getting upset over it is a bit over the top.

However, like Joe said, this is a public server which is open to everyone, which means even the littlest things will likely be spotted and potentially damage our reputation. It is hard to point out to people, especially on a fast-growing server, that it’s unintentional.

So if we do want to avoid issues and withhold our reputation, then yes, we should be keeping them to a minimum.

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It’s not a matter of angle, the discussion is mainly about whether or not we’ll use the blocks that obviously have swastikas on them, even more so than the one in the main post.

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The fact that this discussion is here inherently means we are setting our selves up to get cancled. Its too big of a risk in my honest oppinion.

I also do not think we can start the change, or that there really should be change. Like said before, it carries a lot of weight, and maybe it should stay that way.

I would also add on further that, I would feel far less comfortable as it means at any point I can be personally attacked for being around here. Even if there are decent arguments(which is debetable) it would still mean a lot of my time will go into explaining everything, and most people will just ignore that.

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My own issues are not with the designs in the pattern of the image in the opening post.
But stuff like this i would hope to avoid, like, the really obvious ones as seen below which we’ve been told are being added?


I think these are unnessecary.

You’ve been told wrong.

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Probably worth mentioning that right away, both examples used, its kind of a stretch to find/call those swastikas (with the second being of course more obvious, but still). I don’t think any builds’ focus should be of a swastika, nor do I think the pattern itself should be treated as a boogy man to avoid at all costs.

I don’t think this is nearly the problem this forum post seems to make it.

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So, here are the patterns as paintings:

I have been advised against making a response to this thread for a few reasons
Mainly that I wanted and should want this to be an open forum where other voices can be heard besides just server leadership. But, as I’m being held responsible for causing this debate by some, I think I’m due some space to voice my opinions as well.

I’ll address points I made and others have made in order

Reclamation/Appropriation of the Swastika

Its interesting to me that this is the point that people have stuck the most to being critical of. I had to edit this post several times because the language I used made it seem as though this is the primary reason. I’ve since deleted an entire paragraph regarding this point. I want to re-iterate what I wrote in the OP: No one seriously thinks our project, the conquest texture pack, or any efforts made in a small online community such as ours will ever work to the benefit of reclaiming the swastika. More-over, the swastika isn’t in need of reclaiming or re-appropriation. Any texture in the alpha currently, or any texture that gets added(Big if), that has a swastika as part of the design is only replicating a historical example that predates Nazi Germany. Any claim otherwise, regardless of perception, lacks any factual grounds. ArdaCraft is not responsible for its use in the pack. ArdaCraft is not responsible for reclaiming the symbol on behalf of other cultures(ancient or otherwise.)

We could, and if we were being honest, should have ignored any comments that paint us as supportive of neo-nazi rhetoric and propaganda. Our project is a medium for art and recreation. As such, we are able to place ourselves in the same position as other iterative art and media projects–of which I can think of more extreme uses of swastikas and even Nazi aesthetic. Ex: Wolfenstein, Man in the High Castle, Inglorious Basterds, and for all you unapologetic weebs: Full Metal Alchemist. All of these are examples of quality work that touches on topics that many would be uncomfortable with, all without compromising to societal pressure to censor.

You can display the past without glamourizing it.

Relating to Tolkien’s Universe/How would Tolkien Feel?

Bombur has made a “fairly” decent point. The swastika is not the only symbol that has been appropriated by Nazis and now their modern ideological spawn. Here in the United States, the Aryan Brotherhood and other groups have adopted Norse symbolism. Thor’s Hammer, Viking Runes, Anglo-Saxon aesthetic, or some other glorified notion of a blonde-hair blue eyed race of people have all been corrupted by these groups.

Tolkien himself has been accused of creating a historical fantasy that embellishes a Euro-Centric mythological supremacy. Some have gone as far to say that his comparison of orcs to a corrupted and ugly form of Sallow Skinned Mongoloid; or the Easterlings and Haradrim being evil–are a reflection on our modern racial stigmas. They honestly believe that’s enough cause to erase Tolkien’s works from the history of modern literature. At what point do we just state that the we’re not fit to handle the inevitable backlash that comes with a progressing society that wishes to shut the lid on the past?

Tolkien wanted to create a mythological history for a Europe that wasn’t corrupted by modern man’s technology, morals, and views. Which, at the time of his writings–was a Europe that was obsessed with eugenics and looking to validate itself against a rising tide of change to the cultural and economic landscape. Based on other Tolkien’s writings, I don’t image he would be against efforts to reclaim it. But Tolkien isn’t here to debate, so we to respect his silence on the matter and not attribute our own thoughts as his.

Why all this matters?

I’m actually not in agreement that if we somehow allowed swastikas to be added that we’re insensitive to the pain and suffering of marginalized groups. Perception is a funny thing. On one hand, everyone is entitled to their opinion; on the other, not everyone is entitled to being correct. I’m very annoyed with the two mindsets emerging here.

Mindset 1:“If this server doesn’t value the feelings of the oppressed and marginalized, and allows this texture to be added, then this server is morally apprehensible”
Mindset 2:“If you think we’re being oppressive/insensitive or lacking discernment because of a swastika in a historical texture, then leave.”

Both establish absolute ultimatums and state “Here’s the line, cross it and I’m done with you” These attitudes prevailing has lead to a brand new discussion that we probably wont get in here because it deserves its own thread. It clearly creates division in the community and destroys any sense of nuance that this topic clearly needs if its to be brought up at all.

The way I’ve seen people react to this has proven right the warnings I was given before posting.
“If you ignore it, the controversy dies down. If you draw attention to it, its going to make things worse”

But I think this all demonstrates the perfectly valid point being brought forward: Is it really worth the trouble to add them/use them on ArdaCraft?

Honestly, my wish is to use the designs that have the swastikas. Call me ignorant if you like, it doesn’t do anything to me. It only has power and meaning to it because we give it power and meaning. If the Overseers hadn’t decided to make this thread, I have doubts that this debate would have ever resurfaced. But we didn’t want to leave it to chance. But now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, can we honestly say its a good idea?

Well I operate on a basic principle that I think anyone can benefit from. What is right and wrong doesn’t matter, its about what’s best. We can debate all day long what is right and wrong and we won’t get anywhere. Do what’s best. I don’t think the swastika is wrong. I think it carries no meaning IN ITS PROPER CONTEXT. But if ultimately we decide not to use the textures: Good. Its not a hill worth dying on.

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I can live with it if we do go for normal conquest, but I am certainly going to: I told you so when/if we get nuked.

I think it would be much much better if we just did not do it, as it would mean less presure for me, and a lot of other people, and we sidestep potential backlash.

I do have a question do: if we get youtubers on our server, youtube algorithem will certainly pick up on it. Same goes for our video’s. So idk how the overseers/ other people view this

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Here’s a video with the complex Greek meander on full display (the “swastika” pattern taken issue with in the Etruscan wall painting texture): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P023rBHU84

50k views, healthy like:dislike ratio. Doesn’t look like an algorithm is certain to nuke videos of such a sort. New textures, if they do come along, are likely to follow the pattern shown in the video. As long as you keep it professional and mature in your presentation, I doubt you’ll have trouble. If trouble does arise, providing academic context (I’m happy to provide it) should mitigate sudden hysteria.

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I think a final decision is needed from me here. Thanks to everyone for leaving your thoughts; there are good points on both sides. It’s a difficult topic and I’m glad that the thread at least has remained calm and mature.

Though I don’t feel that the symbol in isolation - in a purely academic or theoretical sense - is bad, I think this experience has shown that it has enormous potential to cause harm. We’re a small community and the last thing we need is this kind of discord.

So, here’s the decision. The symbol will be banned across all textures and builds on the server, and will be replaced in our overlay where it appears in CR. Thanks to @Bombur8 for taking the first constructive steps towards this.

If you’re considering leaving as a result of this drama - remember the bigger picture, and our ultimate goal. This server has been through worse before and we’ve always come through and made some incredible builds along the way. Let’s not lose sight of that!

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