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 Post subject: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 7:16 am 
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Now that I have your attention with a purposefully inflammatory title...

I'm not here to cause problems or drama. Rather, I'd like to present an argument for the replacement of the term serf on the server. In short, the term is not accurate, can be insulting, and is insensitive to those who suffered under serfdom for hundreds of years. The worst part of these in my opinion is the inaccuracy - we called serfs are not serfs by definition, with regards to history. I'll present a few main arguments here, then finally, a list of terms that we could possibly use to replace it with.

A serf was a person in the feudal system bound to landed nobility in a system of indentured servitude. The rights and freedoms of serfs varied widely. Some were freeman of free tenants who held their land via contract and were essentially farmers who paid rent to a lord. They were most numerous in feudal England, and only made up 10% of the population of serfs. They were very rare elsewhere. On the opposite end, some serfs were slaves. More common than freeman, I find no need to explain what their "rights" were. Most numerous were the "villain" They paid rent for their home, but were obligated to work for their lord perhaps only a seasonal manner. After all, in many places in Europe, the farming season is only 5-6 months long.

It is true that many serfs enjoyed some freedoms, however, serfs did not own land. They did not own their homes - except for a few wealthier serfs in England that were "freemen". They were bound to work for a noble most often through force or pure impoverishment. The process of becoming a serf was described as "bondage." Serfs did not possess political power.

The term serf with regards to how it could be used as an insult are obvious. The parallels to slavery can easily be made. Although my ancestors have no history of being slaves, it could be uncomfortable for members of certain socio-economic groups in many places in the world. I don't think I'd ever be accused of being a SJW, but this is at least in my book "not cool."

There are many alternative titles we could use to replace this term. First, I'll define what this rank is on the server, from my point of view, in lore terms: a lower ranked member of society, not a servant or a slave, that is the leader of a small tribe/village/community/ and/or a trusted member in charge of local projects who does not own land themselves, and has not been given a noble title. Here is a list of historical terms that could be an alternative:

Code:
Peasant

Villein

Laborer

Freeholder

Lord

Thane

Chieftain

Sheriff

Mayor

Alderman

Yeoman

Freeman

Townspeople/Townsperson

Cottagers


Most of these are far too restrictive in scope, and some others aren't entirely accurate. This thread will serve as a place for us to discuss an alternative. My personal favorites are Freeman and Freeholder, as these are ranks that were highest in the feudal system of England that did not own their own land typically. it's easy to say, remember, and is one of the more flexible alternatives.

In summary, I don't believe serf is an appropriate term historically. Worst of all, it is hardly better than straight up calling people slaves. Now, I'm sure some serfs feel that way depending on their vassal... but that is not the intention of the position.

Thanks for taking the time to read my novel.

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 8:28 am 
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I like the spirit of your argument, and I agree there is some scope to potentially change the term 'Serf', but I'm not sure there is much of a need to do so.
The label 'Serf' does seem to fit in mostly with the expectations of players on the server with said title. Serfs do not technically hold land and are indebted to a higher authority (Usually a liege of Duke or King status). Hermertian Serfs also do not hold political power. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but a serf may not hold elected office (Cabinet), vote in said elections, propose legislation or vote in our legislature.
Unless the lowest rank on our server were radically changed in such a way that the above was different, I don't see a problem with using the 'serf' term as it is a good fit.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it?

That being said, I'm interested to hear what others have to say

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 12:39 pm 
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Vegeuros Cersil wrote:
I like the spirit of your argument, and I agree there is some scope to potentially change the term 'Serf', but I'm not sure there is much of a need to do so.
The label 'Serf' does seem to fit in mostly with the expectations of players on the server with said title. Serfs do not technically hold land and are indebted to a higher authority (Usually a liege of Duke or King status). Hermertian Serfs also do not hold political power. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but a serf may not hold elected office (Cabinet), vote in said elections, propose legislation or vote in our legislature.
Unless the lowest rank on our server were radically changed in such a way that the above was different, I don't see a problem with using the 'serf' term as it is a good fit.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it?

That being said, I'm interested to hear what others have to say


I'm not sure you read my post at all, if you are asking those questions. I addressed all of these points.

Do you want primary sources detailing the nature of indentured servitude?

Do you want primary sources detailing how serfs would never be in charge of a village/county, or have any possibility of becoming a noble, or how it was very rare for them to even own the house they lived in?

You've also entirely ignored how some people might find the term offensive, even equivalent with the term slave (however inaccurate that may be, and depending on the system of slavery and depending on the type of serf). That's not my beef with the term, rather, I find it entirely historically inaccurate - not even in the top 25 terms I'd prefer to use for the lowest ranked member of the Mercurian Empire.

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 1:24 pm 
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Quote:
'm not sure you read my post at all, if you are asking those questions. I addressed all of these points.

Do you want primary sources detailing the nature of indentured servitude?

Do you want primary sources detailing how serfs would never be in charge of a village/county, or have any possibility of becoming a noble, or how it was very rare for them to even own the house they lived in?


I think only used one question mark in my last comment, and not really in the context of a question.
I did read your original post and I am well versed in the various tenets associated with Serfdom.

Given the historical usage of the term serf, and also your summary provided in your first post, the restrictions placed on members of the server in the 'Serf' rank are similar to those often placed on historical serfs.

As a serf in Hermertia, you do not own any land. The land you are currently working on is owned by your liege. If they were so inclined, they could order you to change your focus to a project of their choosing or ask you to build in another location they control. I will admit that this is unlikely given the nature of gameplay but it is often easy to forget as a serf that your area/land/county/etc is essentially 'on loan', it is a restriction, in theory if not in practice.

I'm aware not many (If at all) lieges currently require a tax or debt to be repaid by their serfs in Hermertia, but I am informed that taxation in the form of work/resources to a higher authority is not without precedent. Another potential restriction

While historical serfs were often indebted to their manor/lord for life, it is not unheard of for a serf to earn their freedom. This could be done by an act of valour during combat, escaping to another area and remaining un-captured for a certain amount of time or simply paying their lord compensation for the lost servitude and productivity upon leaving. This is in line with Serf status in Hermertia. Granted, I'm not aware of any serf which earned their freedom and then went on to become part of the nobility, but the notion of climbing the social ladder was an option.

I again draw a direct comparison to the political rights and responsibilities historical serfs had and Hermertian Serfs; Neither had any political rights.

Given the above comparisons, its not a massive leap to say that the 'serf' label is appropriate .

Quote:
You've also entirely ignored how some people might find the term offensive, even equivalent with the term slave. That's not my beef with the term, rather, I find it entirely historically inaccurate - not even in the top 25 terms I'd prefer to use for the lowest ranked member of the Mercurian Empire.


I'm not sure that the potential offensiveness of the term is really an issue to be honest. While I agree that the parallels to slavery are obvious, the term 'serf' is not as politically charged as 'slave'

Other members can feel free to chip in and say otherwise, but I'm not aware of anyone here who is personally offended by the term.

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 1:28 pm 
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I have a detailed response coming - it's a good issue to raise and discuss - but wont be able to post for a couple of hours. Watch this space!

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 1:39 pm 
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Vegeuros Cersil wrote:
Given the historical usage of the term serf, and also your summary provided in your first post, the restrictions placed on members of the server in the 'Serf' rank are similar to those often placed on historical serfs.

As a serf in Hermertia, you do not own any land. The land you are currently working on is owned by your liege. If they were so inclined, they could order you to change your focus to a project of their choosing or ask you to build in another location they control. I will admit that this is unlikely given the nature of gameplay but it is often easy to forget as a serf that your area/land/county/etc is essentially 'on loan', it is a restriction, in theory if not in practice.


Right, but no serf was in charge of an entire village in any capacity. That's it. It just doesn't make any sense whatsoever. A serf was someone who labored for their manorial lord, not a community leader one good project away from becoming a count/baron etc.

Vegeuros Cersil wrote:
I'm aware not many (If at all) lieges currently require a tax or debt to be repaid by their serfs in Hermertia, but I am informed that taxation in the form of work/resources to a higher authority is not without precedent. Another potential restriction


I can think of a few serfs on the server who've been subjected to something similar now that you mention that...

Vegeuros Cersil wrote:
While historical serfs were often indebted to their manor/lord for life, it is not unheard of for a serf to earn their freedom. This could be done by an act of valour during combat, escaping to another area and remaining un-captured for a certain amount of time or simply paying their lord compensation for the lost servitude and productivity upon leaving. This is in line with Serf status in Hermertia. Granted, I'm not aware of any serf which earned their freedom and then went on to become part of the nobility, but the notion of climbing the social ladder was an option.


Indeed, all very good points, but this isn't the nature of a person with the title of serf in the Mercurian Empire. We don't earn freedom, we already have that. We're not stuck to one piece of land to always farm, or always mine, or always fight. We build communities, interact socially with nobility, and are capable of working on a variety of projects. We earn nobility and the status of the landed gentry under the Council of the Crowned. No serf ever went from serf to landed nobility. Even the highest status of serf, the freemen, could only buy their freedom or their house and a small plot of land. Those that earned their freedom in such a manner were in the smallest minority, and really this was limited to a small class of serfs during a small period of time in feudal England.

Vegeuros Cersil wrote:
Given the above comparisons, its not a massive leap to say that the 'serf' label is appropriate .


Of course, but it's not accurate.

Vegeuros Cersil wrote:
I'm not sure that the potential offensiveness of the term is really an issue to be honest. While I agree that the parallels to slavery are obvious, the term 'serf' is not as politically charged as 'slave'


As I've said before, this is correct, but it's not much better for the majority of slaves. Not everywhere were serfs treated as they were in England. In Russia, serfdom was far more brutal.

Even at that, people have had objections to this term from reading this forum and the subreddit. People in commons have mentioned their uncomfortable with it. People even have objected to terms like peasant, which includes a far greater variety of people than feudal serfs.

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 3:04 pm 
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will read this fully when home. watch this space!

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 7:23 pm 
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There are a lot of excellent and insightful points being made here. Many are in fact ones we have taken into deep consideration since the beginning of the New World; others are newly illuminating.

I feel as though there are two central points of contention, both important: 1) the accuracy of the term 'Serf' within Hermertia and 2) the historical connotations of the term. I'll explain my take on each issue separately:

Hermertia's Use of "Serf"

First off, one aspect of this discussion that you might not necessarily be aware of is that the term 'Serf' was adopted specifically for the creation of the New World; before that, in Old Hermertia, the term 'Freehold Lord' was actually in fact the one used. It was an accurate term then, but we changed the name when we traveled to the New World explicitly to reflect the changed dynamics of land claiming and the process by which newcomers start out in Hermertia.

I have talked in several places about how the Old World did not require newcomers starting out under a liege - this system was implemented in the New World as a direct result of avoidable tensions coming from players scrambling for plots of land and preassuring each others' borders in an increasingly disorganized world. When we adopted the vassal system for newcomers - this one has itself suffered some controversy, but I do think that on the whole it is an improvement; I'd be more than happy to discuss this matter as well but perhaps in another discussion - we recognized that a new term was needed to reflect the changed dynamic resulting from new players no longer being able to claim land freely but instead creating their first works on the land of their liege.

So this is the origin of the term and the rationale behind it. Now, in regards to accuracy:

I will propose the idea that the Nobility structure of the Mercurian Empire does not seek to emulate real historical hierarchical structures, but instead merely co-opts historical terms in an attempt to provide a somewhat relatable structure of rank that nevertheless comes with its own distinct and different interactions and relationships. Bear with me.

So, we employ the historical terms of Serf, Count, Duke, and King - yet we adapt the historical definitions to suit our in-game purpose in crafting the lore of the world of the Mercurian Empire. These terms are thus molded into new concepts and given new definitions different from strict historical accuracy. Duchies and counties and kingdoms across the Europe of antiquity varied greatly in size, while the constitution of the Empire lays out specific sizes for these areas. Dukes and Counts could be appointed or take hold of power, but nothing resembled the international Council of the Crowned which appoints in unanimity our independant nobles.

So if we accept that we are purposefully altering the strict historical definitions of these terms to better suit our world, I feel as though we are able to do the same with the concept of a serf. We are in complete agreement as to the historical nature of serfs across Europe - but we are creating a new definition for this term to better fit the relationships between Hermertia's newcomers and nobility and this in my opinion means that we are not beholden to historical accuracy.

There are also a couple of misconceptions in this thread I'd like to quickly address, specifically concerning the practical power of serfs in Hermertia. The legal protection of serfs is well established and does not need to be expounded upon; when you are voted in to the server you become a member of Hermertia, equal under the law. Furthermore, I am absolutely committed to the active participation of every member of Hermertia in our social and political processes: to this end, serfs are not only guaranteed the right to participate politically, vote, and introduce legislation, they are absolutely encouraged to do so. The entire purpose of a recent reorganization of parliament was to provide a clear avenue for serfs to contribute - in "Proposed Legislation" every voice is equal and if this is being misunderstood we must surely take steps to address that. Serfs can also vote in Cabinet elections - the only restrictions on political participation are a) running for a Cabinet position and b) the separate voting powers of the legislative houses themselves.

I am also, however, greatly cognizant that this discussion of co-optation of historical terms leads us right to:

Negative Historical Connotations

So, let me start out by saying that we as a community have always been aware of the historical connotations of the term. One of the first questions in the FAQ - which I wrote - addresses the issue:

Quote:
Does a rank of Serf mean I’m a slave?
No. As a serf, newcomers to Hermertia are afforded the full legal protections and responsibilities of a member of the Mercurian Empire. This rank simply states that you have not yet had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in Hermertia; with hard work and commitment, you will not need to be a serf for a long time if you don’t want to be.


Now, the question and answer mostly discuss the term as it is relevant to Hermertia, and while this goes a way to addressing historical connotations inside Hermertia it does not address the general negative connotations that may be felt by the use of the term itself. This is, of course, a fair criticism. From what I can recall of the original conversation that led to this term being adopted, it was very much in the purpose of selecting a general historical term that was both common and described in some way the relationship between land and individual. It was very much in the agrarian theme, even if Hermertia doesn't exactly fit that mold, and I can promise you that slavery was never even thought to be implied - as our FAQ excerpt shows. But here we are in a bit of a pickle, because I have just described our general thought process as never leading to the kind of subjugation, oppression relationships that characterized historical serfdom while also knowing that the presence of these kinds of relationships in historical serfdom is unambiguous.

What it comes down to in the end is our belief that our marked subversion of the historical term is/was enough to prevent those negative connotations from affecting the use of the word. I can't deny that the possibility is there, but de drew from a fair sample size in the form of our community when we made the decision and received no indication that the term might be a mistake. I am of course always prepared to accept alternate opinions.

So, I do hope that this goes some way to articulating the thought process and addressing your concerns and questions. I have no doubt missed some, but this is a discussion that should be continued. And if this is term that we decide must be revised, we - including the serfs - have the ability to do that.

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 7:49 pm 
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Nicholas wrote:
There are a lot of excellent and insightful points being made here. Many are in fact ones we have taken into deep consideration since the beginning of the New World; others are newly illuminating.

I feel as though there are two central points of contention, both important: 1) the accuracy of the term 'Serf' within Hermertia and 2) the historical connotations of the term. I'll explain my take on each issue separately:

Hermertia's Use of "Serf"

First off, one aspect of this discussion that you might not necessarily be aware of is that the term 'Serf' was adopted specifically for the creation of the New World; before that, in Old Hermertia, the term 'Freehold Lord' was actually in fact the one used. It was an accurate term then, but we changed the name when we traveled to the New World explicitly to reflect the changed dynamics of land claiming and the process by which newcomers start out in Hermertia.

I have talked in several places about how the Old World did not require newcomers starting out under a liege - this system was implemented in the New World as a direct result of avoidable tensions coming from players scrambling for plots of land and preassuring each others' borders in an increasingly disorganized world. When we adopted the vassal system for newcomers - this one has itself suffered some controversy, but I do think that on the whole it is an improvement; I'd be more than happy to discuss this matter as well but perhaps in another discussion - we recognized that a new term was needed to reflect the changed dynamic resulting from new players no longer being able to claim land freely but instead creating their first works on the land of their liege.

So this is the origin of the term and the rationale behind it. Now, in regards to accuracy:

I will propose the idea that the Nobility structure of the Mercurian Empire does not seek to emulate real historical hierarchical structures, but instead merely co-opts historical terms in an attempt to provide a somewhat relatable structure of rank that nevertheless comes with its own distinct and different interactions and relationships. Bear with me.

So, we employ the historical terms of Serf, Count, Duke, and King - yet we adapt the historical definitions to suit our in-game purpose in crafting the lore of the world of the Mercurian Empire. These terms are thus molded into new concepts and given new definitions different from strict historical accuracy. Duchies and counties and kingdoms across the Europe of antiquity varied greatly in size, while the constitution of the Empire lays out specific sizes for these areas. Dukes and Counts could be appointed or take hold of power, but nothing resembled the international Council of the Crowned which appoints in unanimity our independant nobles.

So if we accept that we are purposefully altering the strict historical definitions of these terms to better suit our world, I feel as though we are able to do the same with the concept of a serf. We are in complete agreement as to the historical nature of serfs across Europe - but we are creating a new definition for this term to better fit the relationships between Hermertia's newcomers and nobility and this in my opinion means that we are not beholden to historical accuracy.

There are also a couple of misconceptions in this thread I'd like to quickly address, specifically concerning the practical power of serfs in Hermertia. The legal protection of serfs is well established and does not need to be expounded upon; when you are voted in to the server you become a member of Hermertia, equal under the law. Furthermore, I am absolutely committed to the active participation of every member of Hermertia in our social and political processes: to this end, serfs are not only guaranteed the right to participate politically, vote, and introduce legislation, they are absolutely encouraged to do so. The entire purpose of a recent reorganization of parliament was to provide a clear avenue for serfs to contribute - in "Proposed Legislation" every voice is equal and if this is being misunderstood we must surely take steps to address that. Serfs can also vote in Cabinet elections - the only restrictions on political participation are a) running for a Cabinet position and b) the separate voting powers of the legislative houses themselves.

I am also, however, greatly cognizant that this discussion of co-optation of historical terms leads us right to:

Negative Historical Connotations

So, let me start out by saying that we as a community have always been aware of the historical connotations of the term. One of the first questions in the FAQ - which I wrote - addresses the issue:

Quote:
Does a rank of Serf mean I’m a slave?
No. As a serf, newcomers to Hermertia are afforded the full legal protections and responsibilities of a member of the Mercurian Empire. This rank simply states that you have not yet had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in Hermertia; with hard work and commitment, you will not need to be a serf for a long time if you don’t want to be.


Now, the question and answer mostly discuss the term as it is relevant to Hermertia, and while this goes a way to addressing historical connotations inside Hermertia it does not address the general negative connotations that may be felt by the use of the term itself. This is, of course, a fair criticism. From what I can recall of the original conversation that led to this term being adopted, it was very much in the purpose of selecting a general historical term that was both common and described in some way the relationship between land and individual. It was very much in the agrarian theme, even if Hermertia doesn't exactly fit that mold, and I can promise you that slavery was never even thought to be implied - as our FAQ excerpt shows. But here we are in a bit of a pickle, because I have just described our general thought process as never leading to the kind of subjugation, oppression relationships that characterized historical serfdom while also knowing that the presence of these kinds of relationships in historical serfdom is unambiguous.

What it comes down to in the end is our belief that our marked subversion of the historical term is/was enough to prevent those negative connotations from affecting the use of the word. I can't deny that the possibility is there, but de drew from a fair sample size in the form of our community when we made the decision and received no indication that the term might be a mistake. I am of course always prepared to accept alternate opinions.

So, I do hope that this goes some way to articulating the thought process and addressing your concerns and questions. I have no doubt missed some, but this is a discussion that should be continued. And if this is term that we decide must be revised, we - including the serfs - have the ability to do that.


Thanks for your post Nicholas, and yes, I do understand all of that. Many of this I've seen posted before, and I understand the original viewpoints.

I still stand by my original arguments, and even once I've progressed beyond a "serf" myself, I will be a champion of a change in this title.. The titles of King, Duke, and Count can more easily get away with not being 100% like history - they aren't potentially pejorative terms. Serf, no matter how the Mercurian Empire may try to define it as something that doesn't heavily imply servitude, still carries that connotation.

Here's my final statement on the issue, and then I'll hope that whomever can actually propose changes within the frame of the Indoles Carta proposes a change:

There are less demeaning, more accurate, and friendlier terms that could be used in place of the rank of "serf."

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 Post subject: Re: The Serf's Rebellion
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 8:18 pm 
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Mark Stefan wrote:
The titles of King, Duke, and Count can more easily get away with not being 100% like history - they aren't potentially pejorative terms. Serf, no matter how the Mercurian Empire may try to define it as something that doesn't heavily imply servitude, still carries that connotation.


Mark Stefan wrote:
There are less demeaning, more accurate, and friendlier terms that could be used in place of the rank of "serf."


Fair points, absolutely.

So I'll turn the question around, because, hey, I'm not opposed to change and this type of popular and communal groundswell is exactly our goal in creating a lasting community. What terms could potentially replace that of "Serf"?

I feel as though we can't turn back to some variation on "Freehold Lord" for a couple of reasons: it is associated with a specific and different definition from our time in the Old World and it does not quite describe the connection between newcomers and their lieges. So we'll need a new term, preferably something at least semi-familiar (i.e not a created term) and semi-accurate (describing in some form the relationship between newcomers, the land they work on, and the liege of the land).

I do quite like Yeoman in some respects - it bears at least some historical relevance and is both distinct from the nobility while connoting a bit more agency and influence. The only issue might be the slightly awkward gender suffix.

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