Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wasting Time with You

This morning I was catching up on some reading when I ran across a post by +Alexis Smolensk titled Age. The post is about how Alexis deals with age limits on demi-humans as compared to humans. Now in the post Alexis makes the follow comment:
". . . Tolkein's elves . . . sit and sit and wait and occupy themselves with unaccountable tasks - singing, I suppose, or other art forms that are only obliquely addressed.  Over 1,000 years, it doesn't seem like much of a life.  Why they don't develop the technology and skills mankind invented within 800 years after the re-education of Western Europe is never explained.  If we are going to talk about skills, it doesn't take 800 years to learn to use a sword better - it doesn't even take 800 years to replace the sword entirely with gunpowder, cannon and rifles - but the elves seem uncommonly maudlin, unambitious creatures . . ." (Age
The answer to why elves haven't advanced far beyond the understanding of humanity - or even simply developed a more modern technology - is procrastination. Procrastination affects all of us, and there is no reason to suppose that it would not affect a creature who lived a thousand years to a greater extent.

We see the effects of procrastination in our everyday lives as we put off planting flowers, building decks, and finishing series we've been writing. It permeates existence and has caused the trite saying, "There's never enough time," to be the standard lament of every elderly person to appear on film in the last twenty-five years. So when the question is asked, why haven't the elves advanced technologically beyond the scope of human understanding, the answer is clear: procrastination. In other words, Elves haven't advanced beyond our keen because they've always got tomorrow.

Humanity advances, in part, because we view our lives as these short little things that have to create a greater importance for ourselves than a simple existence would allow. We alter the face of the earth and endlessly toil with mechanical chores to make our lives easier so that we can do more. Cranes can move more earth than a man with a shovel. Guns kill game and our enemies better than a rock ever could. Books whisper our words through the ages to people who will remember our names a thousand years from when we put pen to paper. 

Your thoughts?

14 comments:

  1. alex's idea of realism is spreadsheets and painfully boring - how about like kabbalistic angels they are incapable of innovation and change like humans take for granted - pretty much doing same thing they were at the earliest times with possibly necessity or new threats stimulating them

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    1. I'm not a big fan of spreadsheets period, but the idea of elves being similar to kabbalistic angels is an interesting idea. I'm going to have to look into that.

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  2. Elves aren't humans they have different priorities. It could be as simple as elves may have 1000 years of development in those poems, songs,and such each generation because that's what they care about.
    Elves are often attributed to being more magically in tune than humans and often a people in transition, often a decline. The elves we are typically dealing with in RPG aren't in the apex of their civilization, they are in the fall (or even ruins) of their civilization; the world of man is a post-apocalyptic wasteland for the elves.

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    1. So we're the savages circling the desert of their Mad Max future? Man, that makes humans so much cooler!

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    2. The elves of Middle Earth are packing it in to get away from humanity for some reason.

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    3. I seem to remember the line "Their time is at an end" being in there somewhere. I've always felt like they're the sort of people who leave the building an hour before Last Call. I hate those people.

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  3. Well they did explore and found nations in a brutal wilderness. Their architectural achievements above and below ground were as massive and extensive as they were beautiful. And all the while opposed both directly and insidiously by actual-and-accounted-for evil god.

    What is there to match them in brooding Tyre or garden-girdled Babylon?

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  4. Alex has a point in that if elves (and dwarves, for that matter) live so long, why haven't they invented higher technologies and taken over the world by now? But these are fantasy races and as Konsumterra says they are likely divinely created with a certain role/function/fate which makes them different from ordinary humans. This sort of plays into the OD&D race-as-class where both races are locked into who they are because, well, that's just who they are in that fantasy universe.

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  5. I like the points made about the Elves and Dwarves being in a state of decline. There's that sense that the Elves "already did that" when compared to Man -- why do Men have cranes and steam engines to do work for them?

    Men don't live as long and they want to see it done while an Elf is content to see a river carve out that same rock for him. Sure, it'll take a thousand years but they HAVE that much time.

    I can see why Elves might get a little annoyed when Men come along and dam up the river. The Elf is all, "You busted up my construction project, yo." And the Man is all, "I got here first." And the Elf is all, "The hell you did."

    I think the Dwarves are a good example of why it's a bad thing for the long-lived races to pursue those steam engines and stuff. "They dug too Deep." With a capital-D Deep. When the long-lived races pursue anything faster than erosion, they tend to wake the Great Old Ones.

    --Dither

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  6. In my D&D-But-Not campaign universe, Elves are primarily motivated by two factors.

    Reverie and Returning.

    The latter of the two first.

    The Elves aren't from here. They don't, by and large, belong in this realm of existence. They were once fae, faerie, the bright folk, the good neighbors, and they became stranded in this plane of ours, where time is all linear and we have awful things like iron.

    A good deal of their focus is angled toward the goal of going home. Since they don't get time the way we do, we wonder how they don't develop better swords and machines and such. They don't. Unless it gets them home, they don't really care about such things.

    The second element is Reverie. Each night, when Elves 'sleep', they actually enter a trance like state wherein they relive their entire lives from birth to the moment they went into Reverie. This is why they have such excellent memories of their long lives.

    Directly related to this is the reason most Elves try to pack their waking ours with as many pleasant memories as possible. They sing, dance, eat and make merry because that is a much more welcome experience to recall each night. If you were an Elf and saw a loved one die in a war 12 years ago, you will see it again, and again, and again, every night thereafter.

    These aren't the only factors that explain the situation above, but they are among the most basic and important for my PCs.

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  7. I've always had a different view of elves. It's not about how long you live that leads to innovation - its how many generations you turn over. Humanity proceeds at a breakneck pace because we turn over three or four generations per century. Each generation begins with a foundation of the previous generations' work and knowledge, and builds on top of that as a basis. Elves, on the other hand, not only live incredibly long, but they produce offspring less frequently (otherwise there would be an all-elf population explosion). IN addition, old ideas transition out as older generations pass on. With elves, the older generations are still around thousands of years later. The status quo is strongly enforced - as is the general nature of older generations.
    I had a world where the elves were an Amazon-river-basin-like culture, immortal and unchanging because they had no incentive to change. Their world view is solid and unchanging. Remember, not every culture sees "advancement" as the goal of life.

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  8. Sorry about the comment on an older post.

    I think the misunderstanding here has to do with need. Elves make great works, for certain, and take their time doing it. But they have little drive to "make" the way humans do, and also don't have any attachment to industry. Elves bake to eat and enjoy life. Humans bake to survive.

    Where's the drive?

    Dwarves are more manlike in their desire to create and advance, and showed (in Tolkien's works) a stronger sense of innovation and development than the Elves. But when the Elves did put their mind to making something, they crafted magic rings which can influence the very spirits of the world (the Great Rings).

    I guess my complaint is Elves look lazy because we drag them out of Tolkien, where humans didn't make cranes and guns, and then criticize them for not using that time to build crap they don't need.

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    1. No worries about commenting on an older post Ian!

      "I guess my complaint is Elves look lazy because we drag them out of Tolkien, where humans didn't make cranes and guns, and then criticize them for not using that time to build crap they don't need."

      Well said!

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