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|T.I. #96, Fall ’90. Of all the pitfalls the Known World offers, the temptation to draw social lines and then fight across them scares me the most. That’s the road to Bosnia....|
My cousins, once again I can’t resist opening with a brief aside—this time for pure
pleasure. I just fell into Karl Menninger’s Number Words and Number Symbols,
which follows the concepts for counting and calculation from earliest pre-history.
Our period occupies a large part of the book, because—at least from the point of view
of Western culture—a lot happened to the concepts in the High Middle Ages and
Renaissance. I never realized how rich the history of numbers could be, or how far
medieval and Renaissance views were from the ideas we take for granted today. Ever
wanted to count as high as a million on your fingers, as medieval scholars were able
to do? To know the relative value of a warhorse and a mail shirt in Frankish law?
Or why pounds and shillings and pennies made sense to the people who used them?
This book is like a long bull session with the best professor you ever had—it doesn’t
matter whether or not you think the subject is interesting now, you’ll like it when
you read it!
And a recreational excursion is a good place to start this column. It makes a nice break, and I suspect that a lot of you could use a break as much as I can.
However, They’ve been real active lately, and it’s time to go back to work and do some constructive worrying about Them. You know who They are. They’re those blind old fogies who never want anyone to have any fun at events. They’re those brash kids who think they know everything about the SCA based on two years’ experience. They’re that new couple who expect to run things just because they’ve been peers for years in some other kingdom. They’re the trogdolytes who’d rather see their branch vegetate than let anyone outside the core group do anything. They’re the stick-jocks, the artsy-fartsies, the barbarians, the fops, the politicians.... You know. Them.
Frustrating Them is fun. Whatever you do by way of exploring and enjoying the culture and technology of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it’s more satisfying if there’s a chance to do Them one in the eye in the process. That’s natural. Most humans adore that sort of thing. You may think you’re miserable about all the unnecessary conflict around you, but there’s a part of you that just loves it. Don’t bite me; it’s true. If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t do so much of it.
This sort of conflict is not unique to the SCA—people everywhere write their own soap operas. Every group has its causes and factions. However, while a certain amount of uproar is productive and entertaining, it’s important not to let it get out of hand. Conflict has no redeeming value if it destroys either side’s pleasure in the main activities of the Society, or puts anyone afoul of the civil or criminal law. Socially, intellectually, even physically, it’s altogether too easy to get into a cycle of aggression: he bumped me, so I shoved him, so he stomped my foot, so I hit him over the head.... Once a cycle like that has rolled around for a while, it doesn’t matter who committed the first offence. Both parties have made themselves aggressors many times over, and if they’re not careful they may well wind up in court. And I don’t mean a Society court.
No matter how deeply They affront your sensibilities, bear in mind that people drawn to the Society always have a great deal in common with each other. We all believe we believe in honor and personal responsibility, nemmind what we sometimes think of each others’ commitment to those ideals. We all enjoy the color and the pageantry, and we all feel our lives to be richer because of the things we learn and accomplish within the Society. Within that framework, many views are possible—we study a wide range of cultures, we bring a wide variety of levels of intensity to the study, and almost all those variations can take forms that enhance the unique whole we call the Current Middle Ages.
Differing points of view do throw people into competition, and conflict itself can be a learning experience. So go ahead and fight—but keep it sane. Don’t assume that people with a different view of the Society from yours, or from your branch consensus, are necessarily evil. Even if you’re certain that Their view is ruining your pleasure in the Society and perhaps endangering the Society itself, there is no excuse for being less than courteous and honorable in your dealings with Them. Direct your arguments at issues, not personalities. If you encounter behavior that seems to you outside the bounds of our standards, remonstrate quietly with the offenders first, then use our complaint procedures if you see a need for further action, and avoid lapsing into the sort of behavior you criticize while you’re working on the problem. No Society dispute justifies an attempt to harm anyone else, or—short of outright and provable illegal activity—even to influence anyone’s life outside the SCA in any fashion.
Of course, you may well think, that should go without saying! And so it should, but I keep running into situations where it should have been said, loud and often, so here it is. For self-respect, for survival, for the good of the Society, remember: we’re all Them to somebody, and every last one of Them is one of Us as well.
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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).