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Feudalism and Memetics
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jducoeur
Thanks to baron_steffan for the pointer to this fascinating article on the subject of feudalism -- or more precisely, the falsity of feudalism. This eight-page discussion concisely explains how a post-medieval concept got quickly turned into a be-all-and-end-all explanation of how the middle ages worked, and how, over the past few decades, scholars have begun to recognize that it is oversimplified to the point of being more hindrance than help. (Summary: feudalism as usually understood in the SCA was more the exception than the rule; the "feudal system" as an overarching principle simply never existed. Reality just wasn't that neat.)

The article is doubly interesting as an example of applied memetics, though. This is historiography, not history -- the article is mainly focused on how this idea got entrenched, and how hard it is to dislodge the notion now that it's widespread. Once people set up a mental pattern, it tends to stick, and this is a great example of how reisistant people can be to recognizing that the world doesn't conform to their preconceived notions...
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As a 16th century Scotsman I strive to be as historically accurate as possible. In regards to feudalism, I guess to be historically accurate, I would have to believe in feudalism, as I was from the time period where the confusion was made. And since the 16th century Scottish historians convinced future generations of their false ideas about feudalism, to be as historically accurate as possible I would have to do the same thing.

Therefore, in the interest of historical accuracy, I need to communicate historically inaccurate ideas and propagate those ideas as far as possible. To be anything but historically inaccurate would be historically inaccurate.

You play a Scot in the Victorian Middle Ages? Cool!

Whereas I play a SCAdian in the 17th century. Seriously: the way that I resolve my middle-class persona with my upper-class rank is by injecting The Known World Tourneying Society into 1610 France. I teach dance and provide advice to various mucky-mucks; in return, they have graciously given me some titles within the club. That and two sous will get me a pasty, of course, but it's fun getting to hobnob.

It's a confection of rationalization, but works for me...

Indeed. _lackey_'s principle* is applicable in other intereseting ways. For example, to be perfectly authentic, I ought to pronounce most unfamiliar names -- by which I mean anything not English, Welsh, French, Italian, or Latin -- in a "normalized" Anglo/Latinate way... if not just wildly incorrectly, full stop. Queen Aikaterine II? Er, no. To me, she'd be Queen Katherine V.**

*...and this probably will go into Silverwing's Laws as "Lackey's Principle"....
** Go ahead; ask me why %^)....

"Once people set up a mental pattern, it tends to stick"

Don't even get me STARTED on "The British are coming!" by Paul Revere. First of all, that was before the Revolution - we were ALL British. Second, what he was really communicating was that the army was on the march, and probably would have said, "The regulars [regular army] are out."

But people LOVE the old quote. *sigh*

They got the line right in the PBSkids educational TV animation about it. Or closer to right, anyway; they had them shouting "The regulars are coming!" Unfortunately, without also pointing out the popular misconception, most people will probably just think they got it wrong; I was very confused about what they meant until just now.

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