The Board of Directors
Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.
In your June minutes you quoted from a letter by Catherine Rogers-Cook, in which she argued for stiffening membership requirements for participation in the SCA. The quote ended with the comment from the board that "events are moving in this direction." I am writing to argue for precisely the opposite position; the direction in which, in this regard, "events are moving" is, I believe, one symptom of an undesirable trend in the Society.
In order to make my argument, let me first make a distinction which I think important between the Corporation and the Society. The former is a legal entity, chartered in the state of California; the latter is a set of people, a social network, linked by mutual acquaintance, a common interest in "recreational medievalism," and joint participation in a "game." A few members of the Corporation are not members of the Society (isolated subscribers); many, perhaps a majority, of the members of the Society are not members of the Corporation. The trend that I consider undesirable is the increasing tendency either to regard the Corporation and the Society as the same entity, or else to regard the Society as in some meaningful sense the property of the Corporation.
Thus Ms. Rogers-Cook writes, and you apparently agree, that "when a person takes an active part in his or her branch, the person owes it to all the other members to commit to the group at least to the extent of an associate membership." As you and Ms. Rogers-Cook know, there are people in the Society, probably a fair number of them, whose annual expenditures on the Society, in time and money, come to well over a thousand dollars. What you are saying, in effect, is that such people, if they do not choose to be members, are making less of a commitment (and presumably less of a contribution) than those who spend one percent as much-provided that that one percent is a payment to you for membership in the corporation. From the standpoint of the Corporation that is reasonable enough; those who have not paid their membership have not contributed to the corporation. If the board were elective it would be appropriate to deny them a vote. But they have still contributed to the Society, and it is only the confusion of the two that makes it possible for Ms. Rogers-Cook to write what she has written, and for you to agree.
You may reply that the Society and the Corporation are different, but the former is the creation of the latter, hence the Corporation is entitled, if it wishes, to demand that those who participate in the Society pay their dues to the Corporation. My answer is that this is simply not true. The Society is the creation of several thousand people over some fifteen years. The Corporation did not invent the personae, sew the clothes, write the poems, do the deeds, start the wars, or brew the mead. Certainly the Corporation played an important role; it provided the bulk of the publications and most of the formal structure. But it did not do anything approaching all of the building, and it is therefore not entitled to tell its co-creators that the joint product belongs to it and they must pay for the privilege of participating.
Of course, it is appropriate to tell people that if they do not pay for membership they are not entitled to what membership directly pays for-T.I. and the newsletters. It is equally appropriate for the College of Heralds to tell those submitting devices that if they do not pay the fee they will not get the services of the college. It is equally appropriate for Raymond's Quiet Press to refuse to give its publications to those who do not pay for them. But to say that if Raymond does not pay you he is not committed to the Society and should be restricted in his ability to participate in it makes little more sense than to say that if you do not buy his books you are not committed to the Society and should not be permitted to participate in it.
So far I have discussed the Corporation's claim to own the Society, which I think implicit in current trends, in terms of its justification or lack thereof. One half of ownership is the legitimacy of the claim; the other half is the power to enforce it. There is a sense in which the claim to own something, however well justified, is pointless if there is no way you can control what you say you own. It seems to me that the Corporation is very nearly in this position.
Ms. Rogers-Cook proposes that "membership be required to register as the head of a household, to hold any office whatsoever, to receive any award whatsoever, to attend or give counsel at any Peers' circle, any award advisory circle, or any ruler's council, and that no (one?) should be given the precedence, rank or status of any awards they have been given in the past or which they have won who is not a member."
This entire catalog of proscriptions seems to me an example of the confusion of form with substance; its implementation would simply push the two farther apart.
I will start with the final proposal. There exists a bard by the name of Baldwin; you probably know him. I presume he is a Laurel. If he fails to pay his membership and is forbidden "the precendence, rank, or status" of a Laurel he will not be one bit less a bard, nor will he be to any degree less entitled to the respect he now receives. Nor will he fail to get it. I am, as it happens, entitled to wear the tokens of a knight. The only respect I wish to get is from those who know enough about me to believe that I also deserve to wear them. That is why, at a large event such as Pennsic, I mostly do not wear a white belt; I do not want the regard of those who recognize only the belt and not the man.
Going farther up the list of proscriptions, it is suggested that non-members be forbidden to give advice publicly. Since neither you nor Ms. Rogers-Cook can control to whom rulers talk, and since rulers will in any case take the advice of those whose council they value and ignore the rest, this proposal, if it were implemented and if it had any effect, would move peers' circles, Curiae, and the like, a little more towards being empty ceremonies and a little farther from serving their intended purpose.
Next up comes the proposal that non-members be forbidden from holding office. Here you have at least some case, since officers, or at least some officers, are representatives of the Corporation. The content of the proposal, however, is that the corporation, an organization that depends for its functioning mostly on volunteer labor, should refuse to accept donations of labor unless they are accompanied by donations of cash. While you may be entitled to do so, it seems a peculiar policy. And here again, you risk separating form from substance. You cannot prevent a non-member from holding unofficial fighting practices. If he is a good fighter and trainer, you cannot prevent him from being regarded by the other fighters in the group as their leader. All you can do is make sure that the person officially in charge of fighting in the lists at official events is someone else, lacking that regard.
I come now to the first, and to my mind least defensible, of the proposals, that non-members be forbidden "to register as the head of a household." Being the head of a household has nothing to do with the Corporation or even the kingdom; it is a fact about the relationship between one person and some others. The Kingdom, or the Corporation, can if it wish refuse to admit that someone is the head of a household; it can also refuse to admit that the earth is round, with about as much effect.
In finishing this part of the argument, I will briefly assume that you decide, as you so far have not, to go all the way in trying to force participants in the Society to be members of the Corporation, by forbidding non-members to attend events. Assuming that the kingdoms do not simply ignore the order, the first effect would be to encourage unofficial events. You could forbid the newsletters from publishing such events-thus greatly increasing the circulation of the unofficial newsletters. You could not, as a matter of both mundane law and practical enforcability, prevent me from transporting "Cariadoc," the persona I have created, from the context of an official event of the SCA to the context of unofficial events to, eventually, some alternative framework such as one of the parallel organizations already existing, or some new organization of a similar sort. You could not prevent me and others, if we wished to do so, from basing our ranks, customs, rules of fighting, and the like on those that have developed in the Society. You could impose on us the cost and inconvenience of redoing some of the organizational work that has been done over the past fifteen years; that is all.
I have argued that the Corporation neither can nor should own the Society. You may reply that I have misinterpreted your attitude, that all you really want to do is to assure that officials are well informed by requiring them to subscribe to the newsletters, or that your objective is simply the practical one of raising enough money in membership fees to pay for the Corporation's essential expenses.
With regard to the first argument, it is certainly desirable that officers be well informed. Being a member is some evidence of that, although not much; one can subscribe and not read the newsletter, and one can fail to subscribe and read someone else's copy. It is also desirable that officers be hardworking, responsible, well informed, likable, competent, and many other things. Whoever is responsible for choosing the officer must balance these desiderata in deciding who among the limited number of people who want the job can best do it. I see little point in choosing the one characteristic of being a member, which is in any case only mild evidence of what you really want, and elevating it into an absolute requirement; by doing so you in effect say that you would rather a shire choose a knight Marshall who does not know how to fight but is a member than one who does but is not.
The final argument that may be made for current trends is that the Corporation requires income to do its essential duties, and requiring people who benefit from those duties to be members is the obvious way of getting it. My first reply is that how much the Corporation needs is not something handed down from the heavens; it is the result of choices made by the Corporation. An immediate example is the case of the new groups in Australia and New Zealand. You have, as I understand matters, chosen to handle the groups through the Steward's office rather than letting one of the Kingdoms deal with them as has usually been done with new groups. This may be a good or a bad idea, but it was certainly a choice which could have been made the other way. Its consequence was to transfer the work from the Kingdoms, which run on volunteer labor, to the Steward's office. Having chosen to do so, you can hardly claim that the fact the Steward is doing so much as to require a salary is an unavoidable necessity of running the Corporation.
You can, of course, argue that everyone in the Society benefits from the good work of the Steward's office, and everyone should have to pay for it. But many of the "beneficiaries" will disagree, and if pushed hard enough will express their disagreement by doing without whatever services you insist require membership to receive. It seems to me a much wiser policy to require payment for those services (T.I. and the newsletters) that can be clearly separated out from the general activities of the Society, and which in any case absorb the bulk of the Corporation's income. This is, if anything, more practical now than in the past, since T.I. has improved to where it is, by itself, well worth the cost of membership.
Your Servant in the Service of the Society
(Cariadoc of the Bow)
[The following comments accompanied the letter when I first published it in the Miscellany]
This letter was written some six years ago; aside from minor stylistic editing, it is as originally sent. The issue is still with us. In recent years it has become customary in many groups to charge a higher price at events to non-members. The argument is that those who are not willing to contribute to the Society, or to bear their part of the load, should be charged more.
It is easy enough to recognize those who contribute to an event. Look in the kitchen after the feast has been served-they are the ones washing dishes. When everyone else has gone, they are pushing brooms. Before everyone else has arrived, they are posting signs or peeling onions. They bear the load-not the people who pay twenty dollars a year for membership and treat every event as an amusing spectacle produced for their entertainment. Membership fees pay the printing and mailing cost of Tournaments Illuminated, part of the cost for the kingdom newsletters, and the expense of centralized administration-some of which is worth doing. They do not sing songs, write poems, hire halls, cook feasts or clean up afterwards. People do those things-the people who make the Society whether or not they are members of the Corporation.
A group with ten paid members and fifty people willing to work lives. A group with fifty paid members and nobody willing to work dies. Telling people at their first feast that they are perfectly welcome-at a higher price than everyone else-is not a good way of attracting new members.
When I first joined the Society, the rules included a long list of different classes of members. At the bottom of the list, somewhere around class G, was anyone who showed up at an event in garb. That may no longer describe a member of the SCA Incorporated, but it is a good minimum requirement for a member of the Society.