Thoughts on peerages

On “Ask the Masters of Defense” Tibbie asked:

Members of the populace often have misconceptions about the established peerages and negative attitudes about peers in general. Do any of you Masters see the new Order as a chance to overcome negative perceptions of peerage?

My slightly glib, but also accurate, response was:

Geek Social Fallacy #1 (slightly modified): “Excluders are evil” Peerages are by nature exclusive. We are an organization of geeks; we think that exclusion is evil behavior. We don’t like to be told we aren’t good enough. The Order of Defense cannot change any of this.

For the remainder of this essay, I’m going to assume that everybody in a peerage is in it for the right reasons and doing their job. I know this is not the case. Humans fail, that’s okay. But for once I’m not here to talk about how to fail.

These things aren’t something I realized in the last two weeks. I think I first picked up on the demands of leadership six or so years ago, watching the trials-by-fire of first Roz and Gaston, and then Girard and Guenievre, as baron and baroness. As a White Scarf I got a taste of the job of a peer, even though it’s not a peerage. The below is based on those observations.


What the peerage isn’t

The peerage isn’t the cool kids club. I know it seems like it from the outside. Every club seems like that from the outside. Because every club is exclusive on some condition or another – see above GSF. That GSF, though, isn’t just for geeks. It’s human. The Masons aren’t trusted pretty much because they’re an exclusive club (and, you know, the Illuminati thing). “College Intellectuals” aren’t trusted by a certain segment of our population because until gen X’ers and millennials only around half of high school grads even went to college, and the whole admissions process is an exercise in being excluded (I only got rejected by my first three choices, which is apparently not bad).

It can look like the cool kids club, or like you only get in if you’re friends with the peers. Sometimes people mess up and do just poll their friends in, but more often it’s a function of human dynamics. High end fighters hang out together. They see each other at the same events. They hang out and talk fencing. They have one thing in common, but they have it a lot, and more than anybody else around them. They share an obsession few others share. There can be cliques or generational divides within these groups, and the peers should be reaching across those divides, but it may still to the outsider look like you have to know a secret handshake to get in. Which, in a way, you do. Just, as the old joke goes, it’s a handshake done with steel.

Want to be part of that “Cool kids club”? Hang out with them at events. Sit and listen, chime in when you want. Ask if you can go to dinner with them after. That’s what I did. Show them that you, too, share this obsession.


The peerage is a job…

…and the requirements of the job are, for the most part, things geeks hate (really, in most cases you can replace “geeks” with “people”)..

  • Politics – Politics at heart are about the persuasion and coordination of many people. Geeks dislike the idea of manipulating others, but it’s a necessary part of the job.
  • Forced social interaction – You don’t pick who’s in the peerage. You still have to work with them. You don’t get to pick who’s in the rapier community. You still have to lead them, train them, and help them.
  • Judging – You have to judge people, even your friends, and detail their faults. Geeks like judging by social group (see “jocks are stupid”) but they get uncomfortable judging individuals.
  • Disagreement – Geeks especially like to believe there is a universal, easily identified truth (which should be GSF#6). In many if not most situations there isn’t, and then geek hackles rise. There’s rarely a single truth. There’s almost never a single true path. We don’t like uncertainty.
  • Confrontation – You have to confront people, politely, over disagreements and errors. Worse, you have to confront people who mess up, constructively.

Peer (and WS) meetings and discussions boil down to a lot of these activities. They really aren’t that fun. Leaders step outside of the warmth of geek love. They self exclude. Consider you may not want to be a peer (I have a feeling some scarves and/or peers who are less participatory tired of having to deal with these little unpleasantries).
How to become a peer

Be willing to fail, and be willing to learn from it (dangit, ended up talking about failing after all). As mentioned elsewhere, failure’s a learning experience. But sometimes we fail and can’t learn from it (see college rejection letters. And most job application rejections. And dating). These  rejections are frustrating. Geeks like to learn. A rejection is just pain, no stupid leaving the body.

Peerages don’t reject, but they do exclude. Peers want to help you join their ranks, they don’t want to exclude you. They want you to be included, they want to help you included. If you feel rejected, ask why you were excluded. Sometimes, though, that means hearing that you’re not good enough (yet), or you’ve done wrong. People tend to react defensively when they hear these things (and peers, being geeks, aren’t always good at telling people these things constructively). We all want to be good enough as we are.

Peers have to deal with unpleasantness, and one of the best ways to prepare to be a peer is to accept an unpleasantness: You aren’t good enough.  See the above list of jobs; you may be on the receiving end of those duties. Nobody likes unpleasantness, but we can address it or we can avoid it. If you don’t feel like addressing unpleasantness, maybe reconsider whether or not to pursue a peerage. However, you can be good enough, if you want to, and peers are here to help.


Okay, it’s not all bad

So far.

3 comments to Thoughts on peerages

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Insightful. Interestingly, the unpleasant job requirements for marshaling are somewhat similar, though at a lower level.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    When you’re teaching other people to become peers someday, how do you prepare them for the unpleasant parts of peerage?

    • Wistric

      At some point in everybody’s path they encounter something they don’t want to do. If they have a good teacher, said teacher will point out they don’t really have a choice. Their teacher should also help them figure out the best path through. This does not mean tell them the best path; instead the goal is to develop the student’s ability to assess a situation, the hurdles to overcome, and the ways to overcome or go around them.

      Since everything is fencing:
      Consider the way you approach an opponent. You assess where they are well-defended, you assess how they prefer to defend, and you identify the weaknesses in their guard. A teacher must teach you how to do this assessment, not just say “Against Wistric, if he’s in Lazy Wistric, close the low inside line, feint to trigger his lunge, shut it down and stab him in the face.” This is useful only against one opponent, not against any opponent you confront.

      Taking that analogy, if you’re working on physical conditioning, you identify the hurdles. The hurdle isn’t “working out is hard” (just like it isn’t “Wistric’s good”). The hurdle is figuring out how best you stay motivated – individual motivation or social motivation? Progressing through a pre-set series of goals? A concrete reward for progress (“If I work out three days a week each week this month, I get a new sword/dinner at that fancy restaurant/a big plate of brownies to shove my face into.”)?

      The same applies in social interactions, but it gets much more complex and sounds pretty sinister.

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