> Basically, my question is this: if you (Arval or anyone
> interested) were to structure the Society and its relationship to the
> mundane world in the manner you would most like, what would you do?
> Gwion ap Owen
If I were starting out afresh, I would make the basic unit the Barony. Counties would be confederations of baronies, kingdoms confederations of counties. The corporation, if it existed, would be a service organization, selling insurance coverage and other services to those baronies or groups of baronies that wanted to buy it, on the model of the Living History Association.
There would be no one to produce Society-level rules, hence no such rules. There would be a Society-wide culture and some widely followed customs (such as the meaning of "barony," "kingdom," etc.). Basically, a Baron would be someone with lots of people in garb who thought he was their baron--internal organization up to the barony. No geographical exclusiveness--giving a very period patchwork.
Peerages would be self chosen orders, typically kingdom or interkingdom--the prestige of a particular order, say "the knights of the Silver Spur" would depend on how selective it was in choosing members. The College of Heralds would exist as a Society-wide organization, as it now does, with no power to enforce rules but considerable status. Individual kingdoms might, or might not, have rules about what titles they recognized, how many people it took to make a barony, etc. T.I., C.A., etc. would have to survive on their merits as subscription publications.
The result would be a much more feudal structure, a lot less paperwork, more diversity, and (I think) a more attractive Society. -- David/Cariadoc DDF2@Cornell.Edu
Gwion ap Owen courteously raises some questions about my response to this query on how the society ought to be structured.
> How would such a culture come to be if there was no Society-wide
> structure to begin with?
Through people doing something, others imitating, and the pattern spreading. Precisely the way our culture did. Do you think the Board sent out hired missionaries?
Consider the early history of the SCA. When I and a few other people started the Middle Kingdom, we were not acting on orders from the Board. We had heard about the SCA through people who knew people in it (mainly through SF fandom) and seen a copy of a publication (Handbook of the Current Middle Ages). That publication could easily enough have been produced by an individual in a single active barony--it was, as I recall, a lot smaller than the Miscellany that I produce. Nothing we did depended on the existence of a national organization--merely on communication, most of which did and does happen outside the formal structure.
Almost from the beginning, people in the Middle found the formal national organization to be a hindrance. The first person they appointed to be our seneschal was a lady who never did anything and who we never saw--I think she had written to the national SCA expressing her interest in starting something. Our second (or possibly third?) seneschal, Roland de Tour Gris (Roland Green), expressed his views, as I recall, with the remark that "A Board is long and narrow and made out of wood."
I know less about the very early history of the East, but my impression is that there was even more conflict with the national organization. I do remember, some years later when I was king of the East, receiving a letter from someone in the national organization suggesting a new EK seneschal. I wrote back telling him that if I decided I needed a new seneschal I would be sure to let him know.
I again offer the example of international folk dancing, where there is no national organization, or at least none that most people in local groups have any dealing with. Nonetheless, it has spread, and is a reasonably homogeneous culture.
It is, of course, useful for people starting in new areas to have available resources from old areas--mostly publications, but also experienced members who move, access to buying armor, etc. But none of that requires a national organization.
> Would this not make baronies very elite, and hard to crack if you are
> new to the area?
I don't see why. Nothing in the current structure forces groups to be friendly to new people. Some are, some are not.
There are two features in the system I describe which should make it somewhat more open than what we now have. One is that, since there is no national organization defining the status of groups, it will be even more obvious than it now is that real status depends on size, activity, quality of events, and the like. So a group that wants to be admired by its neighbors has an incentive to welcome people, in order to grow.
The second is that groups are no longer territorial monopolies, so competition becomes possible. If Barony A consistently ignores its new people, they can get together to form Shire (later barony) B in the same city--and very likely will. Some of that happens now, in the form of households, or of people playing with the next group over. But it is discouraged by the fact that they are told "A is your official group." That gives A an element of monopoly power it would no longer have. That power makes it easier for it to ignore new people--or anyone else.
On a slight tangent, you might want to look at Adam Smith's argument with David Hume on the case for and against an established church (_Wealth of Nations_ Bk V, Ch1, Pt iii, art iii). Hume argued for an established church as a way of "bribing the indolence of the clergy" in order to reduce religious enthusiasm and related problems. Smith argued against, on the grounds that a system of many small sects competing for members and reputation would produce a much more attractive outcome. One can view the past two hundred years as evidence for the success of both Hume's strategy (England) and Smith's (the U.S.). That assumes, of course, that Hume was, as widely believed at the time, an atheist, and Smith was not.
> >Peerages would be self chosen orders, typically kingdom or
> >interkingdom--the prestige of a particular order, say "the knights of the
> >Silver Spur" would depend on how selective it was in choosing members. (me)
> Would these not be rather exclusive, then? Again, hard to crack?
The present peerages are rather exclusive. The most obvious difference is that, at present, the royalty can occasionally overrule the preferences of the membership--in either direction. I am not sure that is an improvement.
Under my system, if you think the existing orders are too exclusive, or excluding on the wrong characteristics, you start your own order. If you are right, people want to join and other people admire what you are doing, giving your order status. If you are wrong, you have an order which nobody else cares anything about.
For a real world example of this in our Society, consider the Dark Horde. I can assure you that Yang did not have a charter from either the Board of Directors or the King of the Middle to start it.
> How would a member from Connecticut have any affinity with (or perhaps
> even means of knowing, let alone playing with) members in California?
There are at least three ways of finding people:
1. Someone (or several someones) maintains a national group directory, either as a public service or as part of a national magazine--a feature making people more inclined to subscribe.
2. There will certainly be national magazines, whether broad based or specialized--the latter exist now independent of the Corporation. So you call the editor of "New Member Times" or "Early Period" or "Chronique" and ask if he has any subscribers in the area you are moving to. He gives you a name and address, you write or call that person, who tells you who the local contact person is.
3. You know someone in your group who knows someone who plays in California (because one of them moved, or they share a common interest, or they met at Pennsic--not a function produced by the Corporation, incidentally). You call up the person in California, who makes a few phone calls and calls you back with a contact person in the area you are moving to.
Earlier I mentioned international folk dancing, which is my wife's other hobby. My other "hobby" is libertarianism--a policial movement that you may know of. I have been an active part of it for thirty years or so. There is a national Libertarian Party (although it was established well after I became active), but only a small fraction of libertarians belong. There are also a few other, smaller, national organizations, as well as at least two national magazines at least as professional as T.I.
Last week I made a trip to L.A., on fairly short notice. Before going, I called a libertarian friend in the area to ask him about arranging a talk for local libertarians. He got in touch with someone who organizes two libertarian supper clubs. I ended up speaking to an audience of sixty or seventy people, at an out-of-schedule meeting of a libertarian supper club. No national organization involved. If I had tried to do the equivalent in the SCA through the national organization, I would still be waiting for a reply.
Note, by the way, that an informal process for solving such problems is going on continually on this newsgroup. The Corporation did not create the Rialto--indeed, it seems to be mildly hostile to it. Yet every week people post to the Rialto, asking either for general SCA information or contacts in some area--and they get the information.
So far as "affinity with," I think this point has been discussed before in the context of decentralization proposals. To the extent that the SCA currently has a common culture, it has very little to do with the Corporation. The Corporation does not make very many rules defining our culture--more than they should, but not very many.
For instance, there is no rule to prevent one kingdom from having vastly lower standards for knighthood or the laurel than another. There was nothing to prevent a kingdom from giving a Laurel for photography. Such consistency as we have is almost entirely due to common culture, maintained by interkingdom events, individual mobility, forums like the Rialto, publications both official and unofficial, ... . All of that (except the official publications) would still exist.
I hope this answers some of your questions. -- DDF2@Cornell.Edu
Jester and Fiacha comment on my proposal, and raise several issues:
1. Are kingdoms desirable? Are they possible under my system?
Yes and yes. In the system I describe, kingdoms are voluntary associations of Baronies. They could take at least two forms.
A. The kingdom has no mundane existence. It is simply defined by an agreement among a group of baronies, which agreement includes the procedures for choosing a king. Baronies can drop out of, or join, the kingdom.
B. The kingdom is a corporation, probably but not necessarily non-profit, selling services to baronies. These might include insurance, newsletter, etc. Such a corporation would not have to call itself a kingdom and have a king, of course. You might have both A for medieval purposes and B for mundane purposes, with no requirement that all the baronies in one were in another.
Note that in neither case would the kingdom have a monopoly of a compact territory, as they do now. They would thus correspond to the holdings of a great lord, such as Henry II, in period--a patchwork. In practice, you might have areas where all groups were in the kingdom, and others where several different kingdoms competed for groups.
"A Kingdom-sized organization will have the pool of talent and population to ensure that the hobby grows and remains interesting." (Jester)
This part of the argument I do not understand. Even if there were no kingdoms, we still could and would have a common culture. The people I play with would not be limited to the people in my barony, any more than they are now. The pool of talent relevant to how good fighting is, or cooking, or whatever will be the people doing it, not the people in a single barony.
2. "I do not see how to cope with a barony that disolves into chaos due to problems with its Baron or Baroness." (Fiacha)
I am told that there is a part of Africa, with lots of jungle and not too many people, which has evolved a simple solution to bad rulers. When a chief becomes more trouble than he is worth, the rest of the village picks up and moves, leaving him "chief of the frogs."
Under my system, the situation you describe would result in many or most of the members creating a new barony without the problem people. Baronies have no geographical monopoly--any more than folk dance groups do now. Shortly thereafter, people in other groups would note that the Baron no longer had a substantial number of people at his back, and would stop treating him as an important leader.
3. "Unfortunately, I do not see how to ... handle the creation of new branches" (Fiacha)
You create a new branch by creating it. Someone interested in what the Society does gets together with other people, throws a party in garb, has some picnics, and pretty soon there are fifteen people who want to play SCA. They decide on a name, go to events of local groups, and introduce themselves as "the shire of ___;" maybe the leader calls himself the sherrif or Shire reeve. After a while they get big enough so they don't think they will be laughed at if they call themselves a barony. If there is no local kingdom they start describing themselves as a barony. If there is a local kingdom they go to the king and ask him to create their lord a baron (or they don't--depending on local custom and whether they want to be part of the kingdom).
What happens if a group of three people call themselves a Barony? Nobody else takes them very seriously. Why do you think there have to be rules for these things?
"On Earth, they have rules for everything. They even have rules for private contracts. Why would you sign a contract with someone if you couldn't trust his word?" (Manny--I may not have the quote exact).
4. "Unfortunately, I do not see how to get there from here ... " (Fiacha)
I was considering how we would do it if we were starting over right. The most likely way of getting there now is through growth of the Society population. As things get bigger and less tightly organized, you develop a fringe of people who want to do SCA but have various ideas of how it should be done. Some decide to start households and have household events (as now happens). Some households are made up mainly of non-members and go mainly to unofficial events--their own and others. Eventually the sort of system I describe grows up, interpenetrating the present system--with some people playing in both. If it works well, it grows relative to the present system. Every time the Board messes up badly enough, more people divert their energies away from things the Corporation can control. -- David/Cariadoc DDF2@Cornell.Edu
Gwion wrote, about my suggestion for how the Society could have developed:
> My greatest fear about this structure is that gives an even greater
> power of shunning unwanted people than is now available.
The crucial difference is that, now, a barony that shuns unwanted people is doing so on behalf of the whole Society, since people are only supposed to play with the particular barony within whose geographical limits they live. That is why being closed or narrow is much worse in a barony than in a household--you can always play in a different household or none. In my system, you are free to start your own group.
> A bit of "political theory":
> > I believe, however, that the Corporation has had a role in the > sustenance of the Society culture, in that it has helped maintain the
> Society as an on-going entity. Each of the steps taken by the
> Corporation has in some way been due to the growth of the Society as a
> whole. In the early stages of the Society history, there was no need
> for a corporate body; a group of friends playing at being medieval
> didn't need one. Even as the group spread into the East, a formal
> structure wasn't so necessary.
But was present, and apparently causing problems.
> However, as more and more people became
> interested, it behooved the organization as a whole to help coordinate
> efforts through the installment of a corporate body--helping with
> insurance, communications, and the like--mundane considerations which
> detracted from the game.
To the best of my memory, corporate insurance was simply not an issue in the early years--by which I mean at least through the point when there were four kingdoms, and probably a good deal later than that. So far as communications, T.I. has been of some use--but so has Raymond's Quiet Press, and "Early Period," and ... .
So far as the formal structure of communication--the local mistress of arts reports to the kingdom reports to the corporate--that, so far as I can tell, has always been a net waste of time. I practice a number of period arts, such as cooking. I cannot recall a single instance in twenty-five years where someone called me up or wrote something equivalent to "my MOA found out from the kingdom MOA who found out from the Corporate MOA who found out from your kingdom MOA who found out from your local MOA that you were doing medieval cooking, and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions." That is simply not how the real lines of communication run, at least in my experience.
> What it boils down to is that I think the
> corporate body exists/has existed for a reason, and that
> reason has to do with helping people play the game as their numbers grew
> too unwieldy for a national culture to be sustained.
That is your conclusion--on what evidence is it based? If anything, I would have thought that maintaining a culture becomes easier as number grow--there are more people close to you to interact with.
Let me offer some contrary evidence. The Corporation had nothing to do with starting Pennsic--that was an MK/EK initiative. I believe it had nothing to do with starting the various chivalric companies which are now trying to introduce some historical accuracy into the pattern of our fighting. It had nothing to do, in my experience, with the spread of information on period cooking--indeed, its own publications (T.I. and the Handbook) have frequently been very unreliable sources for information in that field. It does not seem to have played much of a role in the spread of heraldry, which seems to be done mostly by the College without much involvement of the corporation.
> Now, the next question: What, since (for good or for bad) we aren't
> starting the Society afresh, would you (Folo, Cariadoc, anyone)
> recommend we do now to "fix" the Society? What would the Society look
> like after all this is over, if you could have your druthers?
I see two attractive options--depending on whether the changes are being made with or without the support of the Board.
With the Board, I would like to see a general retreat from the long policy of increasing Society-wide requirements--for membership and other things. Further, I would like to see serious organizational decentralization. The simplest way to do this would be to offer kingdoms and baronies the option of "group membership." Such a group would itself be an incorporated or unincorporated non-profit association, although not necessarily a 501(c)3. Its finances, choice of officers, etc. would not be under the Corporation, any more than my private finances are. The Corporation would make some reasonably simple list of requirements for a group to be accepted as a member (roughly, the minimum common elements of the Society as they now exist).
This change has several consequences. One, assuming a significant number of groups accepted the offer, would be to greatly simplify corporate accounting. The Corporation would no longer have to know how much the barony of Upper Tidmarsh took in on its feast, or paid for its cabbages--that money would no longer be legally flowing through the Corporation. Another would be to cut down paperwork. The Society could not require regular reports from everyone in sight.
My impression is that a lot of hobbies are run this way--with both group and individual members. It is how our hobby actually runs--nobody in a local group thinks of their feast receipts as belonging to the Corporation, and the Corporation would be astonished to be presented with the local group's bills to pay. It is one respect in which our formal organization is out of sync with our real organization, and I think the latter makes more sense.
Note that, under this system, no group is being forced to be independent. They are merely given the option.
If the Board tries to oppose decentralization, the way it could happen would be by continuation and expansion of the present pattern of people in the Society doing things outside of Corporate sponsorship. That includes unofficial publications, books such as the _Miscellany_, unofficial events, ... . As the Society grows, that becomes more of a viable option.
Alternatively, of course, it could happen as a result of the kingdoms seceding in response to unreasonable behavior by the Board. It sounds, judging by the news from the meeting, as though that is not likely to happen anytime soon. Pushing kingdoms into seceding is fairly hard, and the Board has apparently backed off from the policy that might have done so. Pushing individuals into "seceding"--putting their effort into things outside of Corporate control--is much easier. -- DDF2@Cornell.Edu