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Compare Middle Earth’s elves and men

Is it better to live a single, short life as the master of one’s own destiny, or spend 10,000 years completely bound by fate?

Humanity: Middle Earth’s best hope.
Humanity: Middle Earth’s best hope.

Dear Hipster:

What is the meaning of life? Is it all just a bunch of frothy beverages and salted caramels, or is there more to it? Will the tie-dye revolution ever dismantle the oh-so-fashions of yesteryear? Or are we to be subjected to another day of white socks ankle high? Any insights you have on this matter are welcome.

— Anonymous, via email

From a purely existential standpoint — and you’ll have to excuse some serious nerdiness here — I’ve always thought Middle Earth had the best take on the question, “What is the meaning of life?” That take is found in the comparison between elves and men, which I swear I can relate to something more practical if you hear me out. On the one extreme, you have the elves. They live forever as physically perfect specimens, but they’re totally chained to the fate of the world, and, for all the amazing things they can accomplish through great wisdom and millennia of effort, the fate of the world determines their lives, not the other way around. On the other extreme, you have mortal men. Men lead short lives marked by the “gift” of mortality. They lack the wisdom and beauty of the elves, and they are more susceptible to corruption in various forms. But, unlike the elves, they have power over their own fates instead of being pawns in destiny’s eternal chess match. For all their power, the elves cannot save the world when it needs saving; men prove to be the more “perfect” people in this regard, despite their superficial flaws. It’s ultimately better to live a single, short life as the master of one’s own destiny than to spend 10,000 years completely bound by fate.

From that perspective, it’s a false dichotomy to put frothy beverages and salted caramels at one extreme, and something “more” at the other. The choice itself is the important part of the equation, because it’s not so much what you choose to do with your life but the fact that you get to make that choice in the first place.

Philosophical, theological, and scientific naysayers love to question the existence of free will as a concept, but hipsters are very big on it. Hipsters reject the whole idea of going along with what everyone else does, because that ultimately doesn’t amount to much more than being a passive participant in life. The ultimate tragedy of following the mainstream is how it thwarts the idea of free will, or at least of self-determination. Nothing is more powerful than the opportunity to carve out a you-shaped niche in the world, as opposed to having your lot in life cast by someone else. All that is to say this: the purpose of life is to be yourself, not somebody else.

Of course, such an opportunity is a total luxury not enjoyed by, say, medieval peasants who simply endured whatever crappy situation they had the miserable luck to be born into. It’s hard to suffer existential angst over delayed self-actualization when you are busy trying to avoid cholera, starvation, and more or less constant violence. Pondering the meaning of life, or more accurately, having the free time and resources to ponder the meaning of life, is one of the greatest luxuries of modern living. Hipsters, perennially concerned with living meaningful, non-mainstream lives, are the chief citizens of this counterintuitive leisure class.

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Humanity: Middle Earth’s best hope.
Humanity: Middle Earth’s best hope.

Dear Hipster:

What is the meaning of life? Is it all just a bunch of frothy beverages and salted caramels, or is there more to it? Will the tie-dye revolution ever dismantle the oh-so-fashions of yesteryear? Or are we to be subjected to another day of white socks ankle high? Any insights you have on this matter are welcome.

— Anonymous, via email

From a purely existential standpoint — and you’ll have to excuse some serious nerdiness here — I’ve always thought Middle Earth had the best take on the question, “What is the meaning of life?” That take is found in the comparison between elves and men, which I swear I can relate to something more practical if you hear me out. On the one extreme, you have the elves. They live forever as physically perfect specimens, but they’re totally chained to the fate of the world, and, for all the amazing things they can accomplish through great wisdom and millennia of effort, the fate of the world determines their lives, not the other way around. On the other extreme, you have mortal men. Men lead short lives marked by the “gift” of mortality. They lack the wisdom and beauty of the elves, and they are more susceptible to corruption in various forms. But, unlike the elves, they have power over their own fates instead of being pawns in destiny’s eternal chess match. For all their power, the elves cannot save the world when it needs saving; men prove to be the more “perfect” people in this regard, despite their superficial flaws. It’s ultimately better to live a single, short life as the master of one’s own destiny than to spend 10,000 years completely bound by fate.

From that perspective, it’s a false dichotomy to put frothy beverages and salted caramels at one extreme, and something “more” at the other. The choice itself is the important part of the equation, because it’s not so much what you choose to do with your life but the fact that you get to make that choice in the first place.

Philosophical, theological, and scientific naysayers love to question the existence of free will as a concept, but hipsters are very big on it. Hipsters reject the whole idea of going along with what everyone else does, because that ultimately doesn’t amount to much more than being a passive participant in life. The ultimate tragedy of following the mainstream is how it thwarts the idea of free will, or at least of self-determination. Nothing is more powerful than the opportunity to carve out a you-shaped niche in the world, as opposed to having your lot in life cast by someone else. All that is to say this: the purpose of life is to be yourself, not somebody else.

Of course, such an opportunity is a total luxury not enjoyed by, say, medieval peasants who simply endured whatever crappy situation they had the miserable luck to be born into. It’s hard to suffer existential angst over delayed self-actualization when you are busy trying to avoid cholera, starvation, and more or less constant violence. Pondering the meaning of life, or more accurately, having the free time and resources to ponder the meaning of life, is one of the greatest luxuries of modern living. Hipsters, perennially concerned with living meaningful, non-mainstream lives, are the chief citizens of this counterintuitive leisure class.

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