[sca-comments] Peerage Committee Proposal

Owen Townes otownes at gmail.com
Fri May 28 11:31:09 CDT 2021


Dear Members of the Board of Directors,


I am writing to you today with my thoughts and feedback on the proposed
catch-all peerage.


As you are aware I was, for a time, part of the committee behind this
proposal.


In the first meeting (July 2019) as the second item of business we were
informed by Dan Watson and Greg Regnier, citing the opinion of the Board
given at some point in the past, that “naked Patents of Arms” were a
non-starter and would not be discussed - a consulting order, they insisted,
was required. We were also informed that the committee would not be
discussing the formation of specific peerages (e.g. the proposed omnibus
martial peerage) - in keeping with the remit from the Board.


The third item of business at the first meeting, on which we spent most of
the time, was planning a survey (separate from the Census) to be
distributed to the membership to gauge sentiment regarding peerages in
general and potential systems for creating new peerages. We began
brainstorming questions for this survey and discussion of them continued at
the August meeting, where we also considered whether or not to incorporate
them as part of the census instead of a stand alone survey.


At the third meeting (September 2019) the planned agenda was set aside
without comment and instead Dan presented a fully fledged proposal for a
pan-activities peerage to spawn spin-off peerages that is essentially the
same now put to the membership. For the next two months the meetings were
devoted to discussing how to present Dan’s proposal to the Board. None of
the planned preparatory data collections that we spent two months
discussing occurred.


After February 2020 meetings were placed on hold pending results from the
Census. I was removed from the committee before meetings resumed, so I do
not know if any other solution was discussed or information was gathered
after August 2020.


I do not see the Order of Everything as the ideal solution, and as a result
of the Peerage Committee’s process (jumping straight to this proposal with
no data collection and only brief discussion of alternative options), we
have very little evidence or information to the contrary to convince me
otherwise. Calling for an up-or-down commentary on the proposal, without
ever systematically collecting broader member input, is out of order.



Regarding the process:



   1.

   The discussion was limited by fiat to only a few possible solutions: a
   path for petition without a pan-peerage, or a path for petition with a
   pan-peerage. And, as noted, Dan and Greg were insistent that a consulting
   order was needed.
   2.

   We were instructed not to consider other options, then presented with a
   fait accompli that directly contradicted the remit of the committee and the
   instructions we had been given by the chairperson.
   3.

   Up through August 2020, a wider array of solutions was never considered.
   Support for the various possible solutions was never measured. Pros and
   cons were never discussed past that first meeting.
   4.

   The membership is now being asked to give an up-or-down response on Dan
   Watson’s ordained solution, with no input regarding other solutions
   solicited.


It may well be that the Order of Everything is the ideal solution, but the
committee during my time on it did little to establish that fact.



Regarding the contents:



   1.

   Prior to the creation of the Order of Defense, one of the most common
   objections raised to including rapier fighters in the Order of Chivalry was
   that the members of the Order of Chivalry did not feel they’d be able to
   give informed counsel on a rapier fighter candidate. The proposed Order of
   Everything would face this same problem, but orders of magnitude more
   complicated.


Rapier and rattan fighting share all of the principles of timing and
distance that are required to master combat. A peerage that would lump
Helgaball Peers, Archery Peers, and Being an Awesome Person Peers has no
overlap in activities on which to judge prowess.


Proceeding with the new Order as proposed either:



   1.

   Gives the lie to the Chivalry who claimed they would be incapable of
   giving informed counsel on rapier fighters


or



   1.

   Creates an order where informed counsel is impossible. In which case a
   consulting Order is not just unnecessary, it’s a fiction.



   1.

   Per the proposal, a “Helgaball Peer” signing the petition to spawn an
   Archery Peerage would become a member of that peerage whether or not they
   had ever pulled a bowstring. This has the risk of an unscrupulous Helgaball
   Peer self-promoting without a check - No polling would occur on their right
   to sign the peerage. While we may hope no peer would be so unscrupulous,
   there are sufficient examples to dispel that hope.


A possible check is a Royal veto on signatories. However, this would
empower a Royal to veto all signatures, or just enough signatures, to
scuttle what would otherwise have been a successful new peerage creation.



   1.

   The “10 members in all but 2 kingdoms” standard for spinning-off new
   peerages is arbitrary. I understand it is not the final standard.


It reflects the cultural perceptions of the members of the peerage
committee - or at least the proposal’s progenitors - most of whom are from
large kingdoms where the possibility of 10 Un-recognizable
Peers-in-the-same-Activity is realistic. I'm not sure I can think of 10 off
the top of my head in Meridies - much less 10 that show mastery of the same
activity, though that could just be my own ignorance.


The 10/2 standard probably won’t be the final standard - we can talk about
the “N/K” (“Number”/”Kingdoms”) standard instead. However, whatever Number
is settled upon by the Board will be as arbitrary as N = 10, and equally
informed by the cultural perceptions of the majority of the Board. There
will be those kingdoms that, by dint of their population, clear the bar
easily. And, there will be those that scrape over it, or fall short, by
dint of their population.


Furthermore, the authors of the proposal had, and anybody proposing any
value of N or K likely will have, a specific activity in mind. The size and
global spread of that community will be reflected in the proposed N and K
values.



   1.

   That arbitrariness will result in pain.


For example, a Helgaball Peer who happens to be a middling archer, but
whose skill with the bow does not warrant peerage-level recognition, could
be the potential 10th signature on the Archery Peerage petition of the 18th
kingdom (using the numbers from the proposal). This Helgaball Peer will be
presented with a choice:



   1.

   Sign the petition, accept an accolade (Archery Peer) they don’t deserve,
   and live with that knowledge. In so doing, they would lower the bar of
   “mastery of archery” for the new order.
   2.

   Don’t sign the petition, and deprive at least 179 archers from
   recognition as Archery Peers. Here, too, our hypothetical 180th signatory
   will live with pain, compounded by the resentment of others.


As a result, the proposed process makes it likely that the middling archer
will sign the petition for the sake of the greater good. At some point,
some person (or persons in multiple kingdoms) will be the tipping point.
Those who say “I’m not deserving and won’t sign” - and in so doing scuttle
the effort - will suffer. Those who say “I’m not deserving, but will sign
for the greater good” will undercut the quality of the Order in their
kingdom and in the Society.


The arbitrary standard guarantees pain down the road for those its meant to
recognize.



   1.

   If the Order of Everything is homogenous within a kingdom - say,
   Helgaball Peers - and the proposal for the Order of St. Helga should be
   created, it will leave the Order of Everything empty. Then the Emptied
   Order of Everything would be inherently incapable of being a consulting
   order, or reduced to one or two voices - at which point “consulting” is
   undermined by perceptions of individual bias unchecked by other voices.


This situation will be encountered immediately upon creation of the Order
of Everything - it will start in the Emptied Order state, with no members
to consult.


The Royals could choose, in the case of the Emptied Order, to consult
members of the other peerages (including the Order of St. Helga). However,
if they could do this for an Emptied Order, they could do this for awarding
naked Patents, rendering the Order of Everything moot.



The Order of Everything as proposed is over-complicated and it contains too
many points of failure.


The quality of new peerages will be suspect due to the self-selection of
members of spin-off orders and the lack of real consultation.


It will not be a consulting order, even though opinions may be gathered.
The opinions will be uninformed due to the same arguments put forth by the
Chivalry six years ago. And, in the scenario of the Emptied Order,
consultation with the Order will be inconsistent and potentially suspect.



Regarding the Consequences


I have since my first days heard the SCA described as being supported by
three pillars: Service, Arts, and Fighting.


There is a single peerage for Arts and a single peerage for Service. When
the Board created a second martial peerage, it put a crack in that third
pillar. No longer are there three equally important pillars.


No longer are the peerages all equal - one peerage, one activity, was
deemed sacrosanct and pure above all other peerage-worthy activities.


The most likely first spin-off peerage from the proposed Order of
Everything would be an Order recognizing archers (and possibly other
martial activities) - another crack in that martial pillar, another
testament that not all peerages are equal.


Perhaps you might look at the minutes of your meetings from the past year
or two and consider the consequences of a mindset that one community is
superior to all other members.


Accounts from members of the APEC indicate that similar “don’t consider
other options (e.g. inclusion in the Chivalry)” guidance was given to them
as was given to the recent Peerage Committee, directly resulting in the
split pillar - two martial Orders and a movement to make yet another.
Perhaps here, again, the Board might look at history and choose not to
repeat the same mistake.


I do not see the Order of Everything as a good, much less ideal, solution,
and as a result of the Peerage Committee’s process, we have very little
evidence or information to the contrary to suggest otherwise.


Calling for an up-or-down commentary on the proposal, without ever
systematically collecting and considering broader member input, is
inappropriate at this time.



There are better solutions.


First:


Stop the bleeding, mend the pillar, roll the Order of Defense into the
Order of Chivalry. Then, have those martial masters judge the martial
prowess of participants in all of the martial activities. Where they feel
incapable of providing quality feedback on a different martial activity,
they should do their duty as a peer and educate themselves - as Pelicans
and Laurels must - or have faith in their fellows in the Order.


Many of my fellow MODs dislike this idea intensely. I can’t say it thrills
me. But it’s the price that needs to be paid for the SCA to stand firm on
those three pillars. I would give up my white collar if the Board would
repair that broken pillar instead of taking the sledgehammer to it again.


And perhaps those MODs who have lost faith in the Order of the Chivalry
would be able to make it worthy again, in their eyes, were they inside the
circle rather than shouting from the outside. They are no longer the lonely
fencer who would be the turd in the punchbowl. There would be an entire
Order’s population, empowered by the past six years of demonstrated
worthiness, with the Chivalry now acclimated to thinking of them as peers.
And, based on their experience six years ago, they would hopefully be aware
enough of the pitfalls of “tradition” and chauvinism to resist pulling the
ladder up behind them - instead advocating on behalf of those masterful in
other martial pursuits.



Second:


There is a fourth pillar: The People.


There are people who are my peer who do not fit into any extant patent
Order. As documented above, the Order of Everything fails to achieve the
goals of equal esteem and Royal consultation.


A naked Patent of Arms, with the Royals required to consult representatives
of the other Patent Orders (or whatever the solution would be in an Emptied
Order Scenario, including the means for determining the first members of
the Order of Everything), would be equally meaningful at that point if not
moreso since it would not be undercut by certain quality control issues and
points of failure, discussed above.


Further, this would reduce quibbling over whether a specific activity was
Order of Everything-worthy - either a Peer would be recognized, or not.



Third:


What about the Order of St. Helga, or other peerage-worthy activities
outside of martial/arts/service?


Let the 20 Kingdoms (or some portion of them) sign the treaty creating the
Order of St. Helga, open only to those who have a Patent of Arms and have
mastered Helgaball (the same scroll can award the Naked Patent and the
Order of St. Helga if needed).


Such an Order of St. Helga would not be the first kingdom-level Patent
Order. The Order of the Rose is Patent-level in some kingdoms, but not in
others. In each instance the Board has left to the discretion of the
kingdom whether or not the Order should be Patent-level, and in only a few
(one?) kingdoms is order consultation part of the criteria for inclusion.


Members would be recognized in each signatory kingdom - which would de
facto be all those kingdoms that felt mastery of Helgaball was worthy of
recognition. Whether or not to sign would be up to each kingdom or the
signatory kingdoms in consultation. Whether or not it required consultation
would also be up to the signatory kingdoms. The standard for critical mass
and sufficient mastery would be decided by each kingdom, and could adapt to
the circumstances of each kingdom.


This is an already proven model: It’s similar to the process the Order of
the White Scarf followed, which laid the groundwork for the Order of
Defense. Similar treaties for the equestrian and missile weapons
communities already exist, as well.


No Board-determined arbitrary standard would be needed. No
Board-administered surveys would be needed. In fact, no Board action would
be needed at all beyond permitting the award of naked Patents of Arms and
establishing the process to award one.


New Patent Orders would spawn and grow organically as needed and as
desired, and their formation’s deleterious effects would be minimal -
instead of the cannibalistic effects of a new order spun-off from the Order
of Everything. Perhaps most appealing to you: You’d never have to read
another letter about an omnibus martial peerage again.




Yours in Service,


Baron Wistric Oftun, OD, OP

mka Owen Townes
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