The Missing Clue: Four Case Studies In One

by Hector of the Black Height 

I regret that this is a true story. Names (except my own) are omitted to protect the then-stupid. Some of you may be able to guess at the names of the parties concerned, or may remember the incidents alluded to. Why bother? Letís all just learn from past mistakes and drive on. Please note that Iím human and, in retrospect, one of the biggest mistakes of the day was mine. Itís an interesting case study of when several people needed to get a clue.

Long ago at a Pennsic far, far away I was part of a Midrealm "military" group which was performing a mixture of ceremonial and practical duties in various camps. Several of us lined up, under command of our unit second-in-command, on the side of the road after doing some job or other. Our commander then inspected us. This worthy was decked out in the finery deemed suitable for a leader of men and women, including a riding crop (as medieval leaders of men must ride horses). We were lined up but our leader decided we were slovenly or our line wasnít straight enough, so our leader lashed two of us with his crop.

I stood still and accepted two painful lashes on the arm, in part because I thought it would look bad for the Kingdom if I publicly broke ranks and shoved a riding crop somewhere painful into our commander, and in part because I was in shock. I couldnít believe what had just happened to me. I subsequently informed our deputy commander that if the (self-)appointed leader decided to lash me again with his crop Iíd take it away from him and return the favour. The word seems to have got through to the commander, as he never lashed me again. He did lash publicly someone else, who had been lashed at the same time I had been, the next day.

As I have said elsewhere, if two people in the Society agree to enter into a relationship involving degradation or physical abuse and the relationship does not violate civil statute, Society or Kingdom by-laws, thatís their business. I also have seen "historical shtick" -- specifically a bunch of ancient Celts at a Pennsic, apparently crucifying a Roman legionary -- involving what appeared to be physical abuse, but was not actually causing harm or discomfort. In this case I stood still for actual physical abuse without giving consent. In retrospect, I see clearly that I was missing a clue that day. I was not alone, however. Letís look back on this distant event in the crystal clarity of hindsight and count the missing clues.

Clue one: I should have acted as soon as I was struck. Violence in return does nothing positive. I should have walked away, preserved my own dignity (and physical safety; it HURT) and ignored the nebulous needs of a Society sub-groupís reputation. If I was truly aggrieved, I should have gone to the presiding Seneschal of the event and suggested that such behaviour, as well as making the Society look bad, was possibly a violation of civil law regarding assault. Perhaps, if our leader was a detriment to the peace and good order of the event, he shouldnít have been attending a Society function?

Clue two: the other hapless victim of a lashing stood still for it TWICE. He could have borrowed the clue above. He should have at least informed the leadership, as I did, that he would never be mistreated physically again. Standing still for abuse just validates the purpose and/or the method of abuse in the eyes of the abuser.

Clue three: the deputy commander of our group, who saw the senior leader lashing people, should have stopped what was happening immediately. After the first incident Ė and I have no idea what remarks passed between my two leaders, but I know one spoke to the other Ė he should have made sure the riding crop never again saw the light of day at a Society event.

Clue four: the commander had the perverse idea that being "in charge" gave him the right to hurt people for his own amusement. I believe he thought that abusing people was a "period" way to treat underlings, and that lashing people made him look more authentic. I assume it also gratified his ego to think that he, as an "important person" could hurt others whoíd stand still for that behaviour. When I made it clear I would not tolerate such behaviour from him in future, he chose to continue his behaviour at the expense of someone who didnít speak out. In my opinion our leader lost his grip on reality; he decided a self-proclaimed leadership role gave him the power of arbitrary and undeserved corporal punishment over adult volunteers. I believe he thought he was being an effective leader by playing the part to the hilt. I believe the individual in question has learned a few things since then. On that day, I believe he was an utter fool.

I believe the individual who wielded the crop was the most guilty among us. The rest of us werenít guiltless, though. In particular, if I was willing to stand up for my own rights, why didnít I stand up for everyone elseís? Someone stupid enough to lash at people with a crop once may very will be capable of doing it again, as I and others learned the next day.

Above I describe four series of mistakes. What do their associated clues tell us?

Clue one; NEVER tolerate abuse. No one in the SCA has the right to cause harm. Also, the SCA is not an excuse for, nor a cover for, intolerable behaviour. Wrong is wrong and crime is crime; just because it happens at an SCA event doesnít mean it has to be covered up to protect the good name of the Society as a whole or some part of the Society. Better we root out people whose actions cause our culture harm and ensure that they cannot use the Society as a venue to prey on the gullible or vulnerable.

Clue two; you cannot assume someone else will be sensible. If you see a crime or other outrage being committed, stand up for whatís right. If you donít want to intervene personally, bring the event immediately to the Societyís legal representative at any event, the sponsoring groupís seneschal. If you complain of a violation of Society by-laws the seneschal is required to act, regardless of the rank or status of the violator. If you think a crime has been committed, donít waste time with SCA bureaucracy or politics. Find a phone and call 911.

Clue three: if you have influence in our Society and our culture, use it. Peers can do stupid, wicked things too. Sometimes, if challenged, they may be able to say "Yeah, but Iím a Peer" and get away with it. Stop wrongdoing being done to others and you serve the Society as a whole. There are old SCAdians who wonít listen to people unless theyíre Peers. There are non-Peers whose "Peer Fear" is so debilitating theyíll let more senior SCAdians walk all over them. Fine; if youíre a Peer, stand up for the right and the good. If youíre not a Peer and you donít think you can stand up to Master Blowhard, go to another Peer and ask him or her to intervene on your behalf.

Clue four: remember that the people youíre dealing with are your friends, not underlings. Treat them accordingly, or they wonít be your friends very long. Without friends, the SCA is a lonely place. There NEVER is an excuse for the mistreatment of others, especially within the bounds of a Society where chivalry and courtesy are supposed to be guiding principles.

A lot of time has passed since these stupid events occurred. Some of the participants are still active SCAdians. Others are less active due to work or life commitments. The fearless leader of my anecdote? He drifted away from the SCA. Occasionally he drops in on local events but never seems satisfied with the way we play. I regret to admit that I can live with his disappointment in us.

People in the Society can lose sight of reality once in a while. If you see somebody adrift in a sea of fantasy and heís looking silly or, worse, heís doing harm to someone else, do your friend a favour. Remind him that the SCA is NOT the real world, that the event will end, and outside the troll booth is a whole country with more to worry about than his authority granted by a King who lives somewhere in the suburbs. In extreme circumstances, remind him that Corpora doesnít over-rule the local liquor ordinances, smoking by-laws or even the Criminal Code. Do the right thing by your friend and maybe heíll do the right thing for the greater good of the Society. Give him a clue, and letís hope he uses it.

Oh, and I have no idea where that *&^%$#@!!! riding crop ended up.

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.