Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Social System V: Those who choose not to conform

Those that want to be independent need to pay close attention to kinship, social status and religion as well as the law. If you don't then whatever passes for law enforcement (here in the 15th Century it is the Lord's, Town's or Bishop's men at arms) will physically subdue you and bring you to trial. The 15th Century is not big on the prison system, so unless imprisonment serves a political or religious end, the exits from imprisonment are either banishment from the jurisdiction, a very quick and public death or possibly acquittal.

The more central and public a place you have in social life, the more you must conform to all social expectations. The degree to which anything you do challenges the social order determines the likelihood that something bad will be done to you. The three principles for successfully not conforming are: 1. Don't get caught or keep your activities as far away from proper society as possible. 2. "Facts" are open to interpretation and quite a game goes into determining what counts and what doesn't. If you want to not conform, find a convenient way to to let people permit it so that even if they "really know" you are up to no good, they have a good excuse to let it go. 3. Violence speaks, as long as you can avoid anyone bigger and stronger, you can get away with anything. However, Christendom can, and often does, work as one to crush specific targets, so you better pay attention to number 2. as well.

As noted above, the price for not paying attention to kinship is probably only social disapproval and perhaps the odd beating. Unfortunately bloodlines reproduce themselves and a family grudge or feud can and usually does wait around until it gets a chance to do something more tangible to your or your descendants.

Social status is more serious, essentially, you will be made to conform immediately and everyone has a strong material and religious interest in maintaining the social order. You must understand, that just because the social order is not so good for most people two factors prevent it's overturn: 1. people fear change 2. more importantly, few people have nothing to lose and the way in which our 15th Century society works gives everyone right down the chain the opportunity to "lord it over someone else". If anyone has any ability or power to achieve anything at all, they have by definition such a stake in keeping things the way that they are, that they will work to ensure that the outcome of any social interaction reinforces this social order.

Religion is the most serious of all. The worst thing that could happen to an individual is to come under religious sanction. Not only will this lead to all of the bad things that happen when you do not conform to the demands of social status, but the strong ability of religion to motivate, will lead everyone to go out of their way to do these bad things and more. People take religion seriously, there is a widespread sense of religious danger, both the personal danger of damnation and the danger to society as a whole through consequences of Gods anger. If you offend a religious requirement, you will be marked out as cursed and curses can be contagious. If you hold some position in society, you will now be close to losing it as you have created opportunity for rivals to game against you. So you must be wondering why the Church doesn't just rule everything?

In the eternal story of the struggle between Emperors and the Popes, there is a lesson to be learnt: One intelligent and powerful Emperor so offended the Pope in their conflicts that he was excommunicated. His rivals the Electors and the great nobles took advantage of the opportunity to gather enough support to have the Emperor deposed. However, the Emperor walked barefoot in the snow, accompanied by his wife and children, to the house in the Alps where the Pope was trying hard to be out of reach. When he reached the door, he humbly knelt down in the cold snow outside and begged the Pope to come out and forgive him. The Pope had no choice but to do so and the Emperor had defeated the Pope once more.

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