Mon, Mar 30, 1992

George Johnson
SCA Board of Directors
293 Warner Ave.
Logan. OH 43138


I am writing in response to your call for comment on expanded membership requirements. I will begin by answering your specific questions, then discuss the arguments you and others give in favor of such an expansion, and finally the arguments I see against doing so.

I believe that none of the things you list should require membership--membership requirements should not be increased.

You ask whether membership requirements should be increased but not whether they should be decreased (although you do include one item in your list-being an officer-for which membership is currently required); the questionaire is in that sense a biased one. My own view is that membership should probably be required for fewer things than it now is. Exactly what, other than receiving T.I. and the newsletters, should require membership depends on detailed legal questions-in particular, on whether we get significant legal advantages from having agents of the corporation, such as local seneschals, be members. My understanding is that one need not be a member of the corporation in order to be its agent, so it is not clear to me that there are any offices for which membership should be required, but that is not a subject on which I have any expert legal knowledge.

So far as the particular question of waivers, I do not think you have provided enough information for me or anyone else to judge what the correct policy is. What is given in T.I. is not an argument or a set of facts but a conclusion ("We have found that even the most carefully-designed waiver system is impossible to apply consistently when depending on volunteer efforts, and that we need to introduce a centralized system"). You do not say how badly the present system is working, what the consequences of its failings are, or what your reasons are for thinking that the decentralized system cannot be improved or that a centralized system would work better. Indeed, what you do say ("We haven't worked out the details yet, but it appears that ...") gives the impression that you do not yet know how or whether a centralized system would work. Under those circumstances, a response confirming what you appear to be arguing for would be not an opinion but an echo.

Concerning Your Arguments

You write, I think correctly, that most people at events think of themselves as members, and add that "unless they're on the membership rolls, people are really guests of the Society, not members." You do not mention that this situation is a result of a change in the Corporation's rules, not merely a mistake by the participants. When I first joined, one of the classes of member was defined as anyone who showed up at an event in garb. The attitudes formed then continued after the Board chose to withdraw membership from that class of participants.

You also do not consider the possibility that the person who considers himself a member may mean by that a member of the Society, not of the SCA Inc. The latter is a corporation, the former a social network of people bound together by common interests and a common game. It is possible to be a member of the Corporation without being a member of the Society--consider an isolated subscriber who never attends events. It is quite common to be a member of the Society without being a member of the Corporation. While few people make an explicit distinction between Society and Corporation, the fact you cite-that people who know they have not paid dues to the Corporation nonetheless think of themselves as members of the Society-is evidence that they are making the distinction at least implicitly

You write that both members and "guests" use the same services of the Society. This is not entirely true; a large part of the Corporation's expenditure goes for the publications, which non-members do not receive. Liability insurance provides protection, as I understand it, for the corporation, legal insurance for member participants, and no protection for non-member participants--although they benefit by the increased availability of sites. General administrative costs represent in part the cost of maintaining membership and subscriptions lists--from which non-members receive no benefit. Thus, while it is true that non-members get some benefits paid for by membership, it is not true that they get the same benefits.

You quote comments to the effect that other special interest organizations already require membership for participation. This varies enormously from one organization to another, and from one activity to another within organizations. The Red Cross does not require that you be a member in order to take its classes or even, if I remember correctly, to be certified (as a Senior Life Saver, for example) by it. I am told that Mensa encourages non-members to attend its events. International Folk Dancing, a hobby in many ways similar to the Society, does not even have a national organization of which one could be a member.

Concerning Other Arguments in Favor of Your Position

One common arguments for requiring membership, and one at least implicit in your comments, is the claim that non-members are getting a free ride. One problem with this argument is that membership fees represent a very small part of the resources that make the Society work. Most of what we do is done with volunteer labor-the people who cook the feast, clean up the hall, check device submissions, ... . On net, someone who pays his membership and does none of the work is free riding on someone who is not a member and helps cook feast at several events a year. It seems to me absurd and unjust to say that the former is permitted to get awards, fight, etc. and the latter is not.

If you find the free rider argument convincing, you might want to try turning it around. The basic argument is that non-members receive benefits that they do not pay for. So does the Corporation. The Corporation would have a considerably harder time getting members if Tournaments Illuminated contained no articles--and articles published by T.I. (and C.A.) are not paid for. Does that mean that the Corporation, in selling its publications, is free riding on the work of the writers? Should we bill you?

The answer, of course, is that those of us who choose to write for Society publications do it not because we expect to be paid but because it gives us an opportunity to write about things we want to write about, for people interested in reading what we have to say. We can accomplish our objectives in the process of helping you achieve yours. The same is true for members and non-members. Those of us who are members can get what we want-a lively, open, friendly, Society with new people coming in and a wide range of participants-by keeping it open to those who choose to make their contributions in forms other than membership payments. The fact that they benefit by the arrangement does not imply that we lose by it, any more than the fact that the Corporation benefits by having articles written implies that the authors lose by writing them.

The same is true of the Corporation's interactions with many people other than writers. Our particular group gets its usual site not because the Corporation has liability insurance but because some of our people are members of Students for Creative Anachronism, a student group we set up at the University of Chicago. I am not certain if the current president of that group is a Member of the SCA Inc., but my guess is not. If non-members are obligated to pay the Corporation for the liability insurance that helps get sites for events they attend, is the Corporation similarly obligated to pay for the time of the non-member students who provide our site--at which we put on events attended by lots of members?

My own view on the question of free riding is two fold. From the medieval standpoint, the flip side of free riding is the practising of the highly prized medieval virtue of generosity. A group works because people in it are generous with their time (and sometimes money), inspiring others to pay them back by in turn being generous, and so on through an upward spiral of emulation.

Speaking as a modern economist, the system works because various sorts of reward to the individual participant--status, admiration, power within the organization, etc.--depend largely on other people's perception of what he has contributed. It does not work perfectly, in part because some contributions are less visible than others, but it works pretty well. The person who cooks the feasts is likely to have a substantially larger voice in what the group does than the one who treats every event as an entertainment put on by others for his benefit.

Requiring membership of officers seems, from this standpoint, a particularly odd idea. An officer is someone who is donating his time to help make the SCA work. Why should we require him to donate money before we permit him to donate labor? Similarly, why should we say that if someone has done the amount of work involved in earning a Pelican, we will refuse to give it to him (or, as some have suggested, stop acknowledging that he has it) if he fails to send his $12/year to the SCA Inc? That seems a clear case of requiring the person who has been donating a thousand dollars a year or more (in labor) to the Society to contribute an additional twelve dollars a year in money, in order to maintain the same rights as other people who contribute twelve dollars a year and nothing else.

Another argument I have heard made is that the Society only exists because of activities of the Corporation paid for by membership, and that everyone who participates is therefore morally obliged to contribute by being a member. The argument seems less convincing if you consider all of the other things it could be applied to. Whether or not the Society depends on the activities of the corporation, it certainly depends on large amounts of volunteer labor. So if the argument is correct, is it not equally correct to substitute volunteer labor for membership, and conclude that substantial amounts of volunteer labor should be required of all who participate in the SCA at any level? How about scholarly research? Administrative activity? There are many things that an organization requires, but that does not mean that everyone has to do all of them. Of things the Society requires, money in the hands of the SCA Inc. is one of the less important ones.

One final argument for requiring membership, especially for officers, is that they must be well informed, which requires that they get their kingdom newsletter and T.I. This is not very convincing. While that sort of information is no doubt useful, it is a small part of the information that an officer uses--and he can always get it by reading someone else's copies.

Concerning Arguments Against Expanding the Requirement

The first argument against requiring membership, especially for attending events, is that one of the attractions of the Society is its open and hospitable nature. It is hardly welcoming to tell someone that he must join before he can attend an event--or even that visitors are charged extra. Requiring membership to participate will probably increase the number of "members" but it will decrease the number of participants. We will tend to lose people who are short of money, such as many college students, people who enjoy participating only occasionally, and new people who have not yet decided whether they really want to be part of the Society. I think driving people away from the Society-people who are or might become valuable contributors to what we are doing-is a bad thing.

Some might argue in reply that we no longer need to be welcoming, that the Society is now "big enough,"perhaps even too big, so that keeping out new people is an advantage rather than a cost of expanded membership requirements. I would disagree. It is my observation that a continual flow of new members is an important element in the health and vitality of Society groups.

A second argument against is that requiring membership to participate is bad symbolism. It implies that what makes you really one of us is sending a check to the SCA incorporated, which is false. What makes you one of us is playing the game (showing up in the right kind of clothes and not discussing the current presidential election or world series too loudly) and doing things. Being a "member" is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition. In this respect, the old version of the rules got it right and the new version has it wrong.

The symbolism seems particularly perverse in the case of requiring membership to receive an award. Giving the award does not cost the rest of us anything--aside from the scribe, who is not the one the money is going to. The award is being given (or should be) precisely to record the fact that we are in debt to the recipient for the things he has done. Requiring membership to receive awards is like saying "I would like to thank you for helping me, but only if you first pay me $12."

My last argument against requiring membership for participation is a moral one. I quote from a letter that I wrote to the Board on this subject about ten years ago (the entire letter can be found in the Miscellany that my wife and I publish):

You may reply that the Society and the Corporation are different, but the former is the creation of the latter, hence the Corporation is entitled, if it wishes, to demand that those who participate in the Society pay their dues to the Corporation. My answer is that this is simply not true. The Society is the creation of several thousand people over some fifteen years. The Corporation did not invent the personae, sew the clothes, write the poems, do the deeds, start the wars, or brew the mead. Certainly the Corporation played an important role; it provided the bulk of the publications and most of the formal structure. But it did not do anything approaching all of the building, and it is therefore not entitled to tell its co-creators that the joint product belongs to it and they must pay for the privilege of participating.

Of course, it is appropriate to tell people that if they do not pay for membership they are not entitled to what membership directly pays for--T.I. and the newsletters. It is equally appropriate for the College of Heralds to tell those submitting devices that if they do not pay the fee they will not get the services of the college. It is equally appropriate for Raymond's Quiet Press to refuse to give its publications to those who do not pay for them. But to say that if Raymond does not pay you he is not committed to the Society and should be restricted in his ability to participate in it makes little more sense than to say that if you do not buy his books you are not committed to the Society and should not be permitted to participate in it.

Final Comment

Before closing this letter I would like to say that I am somewhat disturbed by what appears to be your current practice of publishing a set of arguments on one side of an issue, asking for comments based on those arguments, and then taking the response as evidence that the membership agrees with your position. As some evidence of the opinions people hold after hearing both sides of the argument I offer the discussion on the Rialto, the SCA special interest group on Internet. My impression is that the weight of opinion expressed there, by the time the question had been discussed at some length, was against expanded membership requirements. Participants in such discussions are far from a random sample of the Society's population-but that is equally true of people who write letters to you in response to requests for comment--and the estimated readership of the Rialto is not much less than the circulation of T.I..

Sincerely Yours

David Friedman


4919 S. Dorchester

Chicago, IL 60615

cc: Alyson L. Burnett, Secretary to the Board