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Ostracism the Just
[05/23/2008] [Randall]

"I am tired of hearing him everywhere called, 'The Just'." - an illiterate Greek citizen voting to ostracize Aristides

In the aftermath of the banning of Lord Pole Army Guy from Darkshore, there has been some discussion over the authority of the populace, as represented by their monarchy, to pick and choose who they wish to play Amtgard with. My initial stance on this is that it's dangerous to create an environment in which it's acceptable for monarchs to ban folks they just don't like, but a good counterargument has been presented: that monarchs are chosen by the people and, representing their will, should be able to tell people who make Amtgard worse that they should just go away. On the face of it, this seems like a bit of a dangerous precedent to set, but perhaps it's not so scary. As a committed monarchist, I find it tempting on many levels, and my only aversion is a fear that it will be used by the cool kids to oppress the uncool kids.

Our society bases its legal system on the Althing, which has a basis in Norse Icelandic history, but perhaps the traditions of Athenian democracy are a more accurate and useful way of seeing how Amtgard democracy functions. A viking election consisted of drowning the old king in a river. We are more like the Athenians, with our open forums, our vested members, and our leaders elected to temporary power.

The Athenians had an interesting practice called ostracism. Without a strongman to brutally crush dissent, the rolicking Athenian democracy-lovers could often wind up at each others throats over their various disputes. Their solution was to vote to get rid of one side or the other - not forever, mind you, but just long enough to let things settle down. For the Athenians, this was ten years.

My favorite story about ostracism involves an Athenian hero named Aristides. He was a general, a hero, and a statesman, and his lack of any desire for wealth or power earned him the nickname of 'the Just'. After the battle of Marathon, Aristides found himself in a struggle with another faction in the city, and it was decided that one side would be ostracized. All citizens voted on this by writing the name of the person they wanted to be exiled on a fragment of pottery which served as their ballot. An illiterate man found Aristides walking through the streets and, while judging from his dress that he could read and write, did not know it was Aristides - and so he asked him to help fill out the ballot. Aristides asked who he wanted to ostracize, and the illiterate man said Aristides. While filling the ballot as requested, he asked why the man voted to ban him. The guy replied that he had no idea who Aristides was, but was tired of him calling himself 'the Just' all the damned time. Aristides lost the vote and got exiled for ten years, although his exile was cut short when Persia again attacked and his military skills were needed.

The Athenians would often use ostracism to wipe out the leadership of a political faction. In this way, they could settle affairs and keep the peace between opposing groups. They would also interestingly use ostracism pre-emptively, to head off problems before they emerged. Ostracism didn't concern itself with guilt or innocence, or even right and wrong. It wasn't meant as a punishment. It was specifically a tool to . . . well, to send away tools: people who had committed no crime, don't nothing wrong, but somehow made themselves unbearable to the majority. This is striking similar to what happened with PAG.

Certainly, Amtgard would suffer from constant exiles of entire political factions because it would lead to splinter parks, and hard experience has taught us that splinter parks lead not to competition and growth but rather division and collapse. And Amtgard tends to have its own version of self-imposed ostracism after a few elections go against a vocal political minority - they just stop playing. And yet we should consider that each reign only lasts six months, giving a worst-case scenario of 6 full months of ostracism, only extended if a monarch is re-elected or if the next monarch agrees to extend a ban. That would require wide-spread and deep support for a ban, which would give the decision added credibility.

PAG ain't Aristides, and Amtgard isn't Athens. Our members are generally committed rather strongly to the idea that everybody, regardless of popularity, should be permitted to play. And yet maybe the Athenians were on to something when they judged that being unable to fit in without pissing people off was wrong too, and the solution might be to send the offending people to timeout now and then.

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