Siege Diaries 5/1/2021

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Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Do my actions–and my mind–match my philosophy?

I’m reminded of two May Days.

When I was growing up, we’d see the Soviet May Day parades.  May Day was–and is–a holiday celebrating workers’ rights, and so it was hugely important to the USSR and its Communist government.  But around the reign of Stalin, the idea of the Soviet Union as a workers’ paradise died.  Certainly, rhetoric and propaganda never abandoned that idea, but the Communist Party consolidated its own power and came to vest it in the person of an all-powerful dictator.  The workers, who supposedly had all the rights, in fact had none.  Instead, a stifling bureaucracy of the party elite took the place of the hated bourgeoisie, enjoying privileges normal people could never hope to attain.   The USSR’s political philosophy remained devoted to the ideas of Marx and Lenin, but in practice, they were something completely different.  And so the May Day parades because massive demonstrations of Soviet military power, with Politburo members jockeying for position on the dais.  The “workers” were forgotten.  Of course, I’ve also realized in retrospect that the United States’ hands were far from clean when it came to espousing one set of ideals and contradicting them through its actions.   What order of magnitude that difference was–or is–probably depends a lot on one’s own perspective.

The other is the anniversary today of the first tournament in the SCA.   It was originally just a backyard party hosted by a grad student for a few friends, with ties into fantasy fandom and California counterculture.  It grew into a huge, world-wide organization devoted–for better or worse–to the Middle Ages “as they should have been.”    It was a culture originally focused around armoured tournament combat that gradually widened its focus to study and recreation of ever-increasing segments of the pre-17th century past.  As its initial members aged from their teens into their 70s, the Society itself evolved from one focused on youth to something more balanced; from one where families were the exception to one where they were more common.   The umbrella opened wider, but underneath it, more and more niches appeared.  And the world also changed.  In the past couple of years, there has been a fundamental philosophical conflict between some who see the Middle Ages–and the SCA– as a place where their conservative European heritage could be celebrated, and a larger group who believe that the SCA’s historic focus on inclusion should take precedence.  The challenge here is that the SCA, until recently, never really defined its core philosophy–other than to say “follow a couple of basic rules–attempt at pre-17th century dress, and act as a lady or a gentleman–and you’ll be welcome.”  That is a very, very wide umbrella, and not surprisingly, it swept in plenty of people with real issues (some of them criminal).  It was very much a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture.  We welcomed “alternative lifestyles”–except we didn’t seem to know where to draw the line between consensual kink or swinging and non-consensual sexual assault.  We also accepted people whose “exploration of their heritage” very definitely crossed the line into racism and bigotry.  And because the SCA’s game is based around monarchy and where a great deal of power is wielded by people who did one particular activity (armoured combat) some places very definitely developed a culture where bullying was an acceptable norm.    But at the same time those with a more elevated vision have also grown, thrived, derived inspiration and growth from an organization that has nurtured them, cherished them, encouraged them.  I have seen the works of art, the works of service, and those who have bloomed and flourished.

I want the SCA to be OK.  I want it to be the organization that did all of these latter things for me.  I want the miscreants to go elsewhere, to know they’re not welcome, to let themselves out by the back door.  I’m sure they want people like me to do the same.  And that’s why, unfortunately, passivity won’t do any more if this is worth saving, and I believe it is.  Again, locally we are better off than most.  It’s generally a good bunch of people–which, unfortunately/fortunately means we have missed much of the ugly and can, as a result, underestimate it.  But it’s there.   And I think we have to accept the parameters of punk bars everywhere:  the day you allow the first quiet, polite Nazi in the door because he seems like a decent guy, you become a Nazi bar, because they bring their friends as soon as it becomes clear they will not be called out on their shit.  Is this fun?  No, it is not.  But it is necessary if a philosophy of true inclusivity is to be borne out in action.

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On a much lighter note, May Day is also the traditional gateway to the warm season, the “month of Maying”,  Morris dancers, maypoles, and all kinds of rituals with roots in fertility.   I just spent a fun, silly day with the “Making MAYhem” event, where entrants came up with “acceptably medieval” A&S entries.   That allowed me to spend time tripping down the great goofy tangent that resulted in me doing a 15th century Russian tetralogical-style illumination featuring Dmitri Shostakovich in place of St. Luke, and the other tangent that involved embroidering marginalia cats.  But I’ve talked about those here.  I got to hear one good friend give a paper in the “loud noises” category that involved a Dutch attempt to block a Spanish blockade with an enormous kaboom, while another friend shared her embroidery of psychotic ducks.  Another friend shared her progress in portraiture–which was remarkable, especially a “memento mori”-type painting of a skull and candle, and another portrait featuring a friend’s cat. There was also a lot of general geeking about embroidery, horrible puns, and, just visiting with people I haven’t seen in person, for the most part, in over a year.  It was fun to see all the unique and warped ways we’d found to be creative in the midst of a pandemic.  And I have one friend’s cousin in Vancouver who will hopefully be getting me a decent photo of the Marine Building elevator doors that I really want to embroider.

I’ve also come to the conclusion I’m not going to overly stress on perfecting any of my Latin poems for next week.  I’ve got the metre and stress marked, and that will hopefully be enough for my first attempt at reading them authentically.  (It’s not like anyone is likely to know the difference).  But it’s something I want to work on for the future for sure.  I am planning on rehearsing them all tomorrow, and then recording them Monday or Wednesday.

And…May?  Really?  Already?   We are 1/3 the way through this year.  And it’s not been easy.  Hopefully, May will bring good things to Canada as more vaccines arrive.  Our case count is very slowly dropping.  Part of me is glad it isn’t dropping fast enough for anyone to start tossing about ideas about “opening up” yet.  But of course, I want to get there.

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