Tolkien’s Elves and r/K Selection Theory

It has been a habit of mine to mention the elves of Tolkien’s literary corpus as an aristocratic nobility of the second estate. One might ask, however, why would I choose such androgynous looking beings to be an embodiment of the clearly masculine warrior/aristocratic class. For starters, elves are wicked at fighting, and Tolkien clearly drew inspiration for his elves from the mythic aristocracies of super-humans such as the Celtic Tuatha Dé Danann and Norse alfar (source)The elves are also more resistant than men are to the dark powers of the ring.

 

The elf ultimately represents a higher type of humanoid being, being naturally immortal, aesthetically beautiful, not prone to disease, and possessing great keenness of the senses and wisdom.  As I have stated in earlier posts, the higher type of man, the Overman, is ultimately the product of an aristocratic society; as Nietzsche puts it “EVERY elevation of the type “man,” has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society and so it will always be …” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 257). The mechanism by which this occurs is something which I will explain at the end of this essay, but first, let us review r/K selection theory in order to understand the evolution of the higher man — the elf.

One source of my knowledge on this subject

r/K selection theory is something which many in the dissident right are aware of. r-selection occurs in an environment where resources are plentiful, but survival is not guaranteed due to the unpredictable forces of nature and predators; this is characteristic of tropical, and often subtropical environments such as coral reefs, rain forests, and warm floodplains and swamps. There is no advantage given to in-group cooperation, or high investment parenting in these environments, because offspring may easily die young, and no group cooperation is needed to secure resources to survive. Consequently, an r-selected species takes an evolutionary strategy of reproducing at a young age, and producing many, many offspring with little energy investment; this maximizes quantity over quality in the offspring. This strategy is suitable for organisms with a very short lifespan; it requires early sexualization of the young, and high promiscuity. This is the strategy of lower, simpler life forms –frogs, fish, most invertebrate animals, and protozoans. I would also add that this is the type of selection which would have been favored in Neolithic agricultural human populations living around river valleys. While these areas provided abundant food for humans, massive floods and droughts periodically wiped out vast numbers of people, thus r-selection was favored here because while many offspring could easily be supported, many could easily die off due to uncontrollable events.

Contrarily, K-selection occurs where resources are limited but the environment is stable, such as a dry or cold grassland or boreal forest, or perhaps a desert; this is where high investment parenting pays off, and discipline and in-group cooperation are necessary to secure resources and survive. A K-selected organism will begin reproducing at a later age, and produce fewer offspring; this maximizes quality over quantity. This is the strategy of organisms with a longer lifespan; it requires late sexualization of the young, and the reproduction tends towards monogamy and high energy investment in offspring; thus favoring quality over quantity in the offspringThis is the strategy of higher, more complex life forms; elephants, humans, great apes, and carnivorous mammals. In human populations, this type of selection would have occurred in upland hunter-gatherer societies where food was limited and required group cooperation to secure, but natural disasters such as floods were rare. So while fewer offspring could be supported in these hunter-gatherer societies, they were more likely to survive, and thus quality could be prioritized over quantity in reproductive terms, hence supporting K-selection.

In an older article I wrote on the biological origins of higher civilizations, I concluded that higher civilizations originate where evolutionary strategies from both Neolithic farmers and Paleolithic hunter-gatherers occur, such as (in the present day) Northwestern Europe and Japan; this is because of the convergence of r (Neolithic) and K (Paleolithic) evolutionary strategies which give society both willful assertive leaders and pacified obedient followers. This generally fits the Nietzschean theory on the origin of higher civilizations, which states that these civilizations originate from the phenomena of barbarians, with an unbroken will (K-selected; paleolithic strategy), dominating more peaceful human populations (r-selected, Neolithic strategy). I explore all this in more depth in the article I link to above.

image by kagalin

Now back to the main point of this discussion: what characteristics of the elves identify them as being K-selected organisms? Well, I ran across a rather amusing article regarding What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex. According to this website, Tolkien’s elves have a long pregnancy term compared to humans, 12 months, and this is clearly a high energy investment in individual offspring, biologically speaking. Elves also weren’t prone to have large numbers of children because their sex drive declined after procreation. Elves had extremely long lifespans; they were, of course naturally immortal. The elves also were highly monogamous; any kind of sex was a de facto marriage rite, and the elves never committed adultery. Elves did not complete their childhood and adolescence until they were 50 years old, which is much older than the human age of ~15-20 years old, at which point they were fully sexualized and began to look for a mate. The elves also possess the K-selected trait of being highly altruistic towards their own in-group (often a clan such as the Noldor and Teleri); this is an important trait for an aristocrat charged with protecting his domain from parasites. Elves also retained the physical form of their youth their entire lives and were thus neotenous. Neoteny is a characteristic of more highly evolved hominids; it is what grants humans the smaller maxilla and mandible in comparison to the rest of the cranium (it’s one reason we don’t look like our ape ancestors). Certain human races (collective phenotypes) are also more neotenous than others, but elaborating on this in the context of what I have just said would be equivalent to sparking a powder keg! My point here regarding the elven trait of neoteny is that it shows their more highly evolved biological state than ordinary humans. So, in summary, Tolkien, in his elves, described for us a highly K-selected, more highly evolved type of man; a biological aristocrat, and as we shall see in the paragraphs below, an Ubermensch or Superman, similar to what Fredrich Nietzsche speaks of in Thus Spake Zarathustra.

There are more than K-selected traits of the elves which show their status of the as superhuman creatures. The spiritual characteristics of the elves also bear resemblance to those of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch or Superman. Now let’s see Nietzsche explicitly introduce his concept of the Superman in both evolutionary and spiritual terms.

And Zarathustra spake thus unto the people:

I teach you the Superman. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?

All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man?

What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.

Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes.

Even the wisest among you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and phantom. But do I bid you become phantoms or plants?

Lo, I teach you the Superman!

The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman shall be the meaning of the earth!

— Fredrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra,  Prologue, Chapter 3 (emphasis mine)

Observe how Nietzsche describes the Superman as the meaning of the earth. He further explains this then warns us not to look for hopes beyond the physical realm:

I conjure you, my brethren, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not.

Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!

—  Fredrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra,  Prologue, Chapter 3


I go not your way, ye despisers of the body! Ye are no bridges for me to the Superman! 

Thus spake Zarathustra.

— Fredrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra,  Part One, Chapter 4 (emphasis mine)


Hearken rather, my brethren, to the voice of the healthy body; it is a more upright and pure voice.

More uprightly and purely speaketh the healthy body, perfect and square-built; and it speaketh of the meaning of the earth.—

Thus spake Zarathustra.

— Fredrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra,  Part One, Chapter 3 (emphasis mine)

In the above passages, you can see Nietzsche’s emphasis on the body, that it is not to be despised, and in order to arrive at the Superman or Ubermensch, it is necessary to be accepting of the body, and of life, because the Superman, as we saw before, is the meaning of the earth, the physical realm. This also agrees with the concept of the Tolkienian elf being a type of Superman, as an elf who dies do not go to some unknown spiritual plane, as the souls of men, but their soul (fëar) is bound to Arda (earth) (source). If an elven soul so chooses it may go to the halls of Mandos, located on the continent of Aman, and may be reincarnated into a body (hröar) identical to the old one. So the elf, like the Superman of  Nietzsche is an earthbound creature. Of equal importance, the perfect and healthy body, represented in Tolkien’s elves (who are not prone to disease, physical flaws, and aging as men are) preaches of the meaning of the earth, just as the Superman described by Nietzsche’s character Zarathustra. There are other characteristics which the elves share with Nietzsche’s Overman, particularly their role as creators of values, which I discuss in my article The Ubermensch as an Archetype; this aspect of elven personality is particularly pronounced in the examples of Fingolfin, Feanor, and ThranduilTherefore, in summary, the elf is essentially an icon of the Superman (I borrowed this use of the word “icon” from the commenter pseudo-Chrysostom). As an image of higher man, the elf encourages the striving of man towards higher man, just as an icon of a saint encourages a theosis towards sainthood for the devoted Orthodox Christian.

image by kagalin

Now, the passages I have presented from Thus Spake Zarathustra bring up the issue of the immortality of the soul. Nietzsche did not believe in the immortality of the soul, but, as we have seen, Tolkien is able to synthesize the concept of the earth-bound Superman and the immortal soul in the elf. This is what many early religions (Indo-European polytheism, the Israelite religion etc.) did before Christianity and Islam with their concepts of heaven came about. In these earlier religions, the soul was simply assumed to be bound to the physical realm, and went to Sheol or Hades after death; in some religions, the soul might reincarnate into a new earthly body, just as certain elves are able to do in Tolkien’s universe.

So, as we have seen, the disparity between Tolkien and Nietzsche is smaller than many would think. I believe this is because we all internally know, you, me, Nietzsche and Tolkien, what the characteristics of higher man are; we know deep inside, what we are to evolve into, and it is necessary that we have an intuitive drive to evolve into higher life forms in order for the Cosmos itself to evolve (this is the basis of the panentheistic religion of Cosmotheism). This drive towards the Ubermensch seems almost like something placed within us by a divinity, and it is stronger in some individuals than others. I could claim that those with more of this drive are the elect of the divine presence permeating the universe (perhaps I am inclined to believe in an esoteric Calvinism as a nod to my puritan ancestors, even though their iconoclastic values screwed up the United States). This election is different from an Abrahamic covenant in that it does not involve a conversion or affirmation of faith; it is something deeper and more naturally present in the individual which he or she may not even consciously realize is there.Thus the answer to the following question should be clear: if I seek to be a Nietzschean creator of values, an Ubermensch, then why do I require the metaphysical system of Cosmotheism to justify my values? The answer is that I do not require a metaphysical system to justify my values — I already valued the beauty and intricate complexity of life and the Universe before learning about Cosmotheism. Cosmotheism articulated these values so clearly and completely that I choose to describe myself as a Cosmotheist.

Cosmotheism was also agreeable to me because it carries no necessary conflict with polytheism; the various forces and gods which one might believe to inhabit the Cosmos are ultimately just parts of the Cosmos just as we are, but only the Cosmos, the Whole is the original Creator. It is a religion in which one’s ethics are centred around completing the great sacrament we call life for the sake of the evolution of the Cosmos; from eating, to exercising, to choosing a mate, and having sex, to becoming a teacher and mentor for the young when one is old and experienced at life. As a codified religion, it is, in my opinion, perhaps the most practical solution to nihilism for those who are unable to become creators of values themselves.

Now returning to the drive towards an Ubermensch which is ultimately part of the will of the Creator towards cosmic evolution, The Anonymous Conservative seems to have a similar realization that I do which he describes in Chapter Twenty Six — What is K? — of The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics:

In the end, K is something programmed into the computer code of the universe — a fundamental fore integral to the world, and designed to arise spontaneously, due to the designed nature of it. Once arisen, it guides the evolution of every self sufficient organism’s form and function. K may even be the fundamental force really driving the universe’s organizaiton, if not the underlying purpose of thhe entire Creation. In its most basic form, K is about the fostering of a specific quality within the Universe’s organization. The quality can be loosely be described as “greatness,” – encompassing such variables as complexity, ability, resiliency, sophistication, creativity, adaptability, etc.

If one examines the world around them, they will quickly come to the realization that, over the long haul, it favors K innately, and that this is likely an engineered design. God does not want to crack the hood on His Creation, only to look out upon a Universe of a worlds that all look like the world in the movie Idiocracy, filled with imbeciles denigrating the lone eloquent smart person. Indeed, were the universe designed to favor r, evolution would never have even made it that far. All God would see in a perpetually r-universe would be ever more rapidly expanding blobs of goo, each unit of goo competing fiercely with the others, to see which can expend less  energy on greatness and complexity, to focus on repoducing more of an ever less-evolved goo.

— The Anonymous Conservative, Chapter Twenty Six — What is K? — , The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics

So now when we speak of a “eugenic” goal, if we are to have one, we see that is its the goal that the Cosmos already has; there is no need to wander in the dark, or to simply pick a single man-made quantitative parameter such as IQ (which eventually results in Ashkenazi Jewish supremacism), because K-selection is essentially what drives the evolution of the Cosmos into something more complex and beautiful.

How is K-selection accomplished in the present day? We already have the resource limitation provided by overpopulation, but we also need to create stable environments where an evolutionary strategy to produce fewer offspring of higher quality is successful in the long-term due to a lack of predators (so-to-speak). This requires the creation of what we call civilization, which must include a wise and noble aristocracy for its preservation against invaders and deceitful parasites. The Hestia Society is in a sense correct in saying “The only morality is civilization”. Civilization creates an environment where, when fewer offspring are produced, but of higher quality and complexity, they will ultimately survive, reproduce, and pass on their highly evolved phenotypes to the next generation. Where the civilization is ethnocentric this evolutionary process is able to occur without corruption and uncontrolled genetic dilution. And is not the refinement of civilization what the true right is aiming for? Yes, it is, and now you see that our purpose which we will is ultimately the purpose of the Cosmos which drives the higher evolution of the Cosmos. We are the elect of the Cosmos. Those who attempt to destroy us and our purpose are reprobate.

But what happens when the Cosmos destroys itself, and these highly evolved life forms with it, when the sun dies, the earth perishes, and our galaxy and many others are swallowed up in a black hole? Well, now you see the dionysian side of the Creator which complements the apollonian side. There is beauty in impermanence. This is understood well in Buddhism and the derived Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi. It is also expressed in Nietzsche’s idea of an aesthetic justification of life which is embodied in Greek tragedy. As a destroyer of value, Time is dead — we have killed him.

Postscript: why the consequential low birthrates of K-selection are not necessarily bad:

The Ubermensch as an Archetype

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The Ubermensch or Superman of Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra appears as a goal towards which humans in their present state are supposed to evolve. However, I suggest that the Ubermensch is something much more deeply embedded in the human consciousness. It is literally the goal that we internally understand we must evolve towards, an archetype which reappears over and over again. A video I link to here briefly summarizes Nietzsche’s Ubermensch as having the qualities of the self-creation of values, independently thinking, strategic selfishness, pagan values, lack of resentment of other’s success, acceptance of suffering, recognizing their strength have gentleness towards the weak, and delight in their own abilities. Watching this video does not replace reading Nietzsche, of course, and there are other minor characteristics of the Ubermensch which I have not listed here, but the ones I have listed are sufficient to show, in the following examples, that the Ubermensch is not just a reality we are destined towards, but some innate, perhaps divine, idea implanted in our consciousness guiding us to become who we are.

Let us first take for example self-creation of values, which is a recurring theme of Nietzsche’s worldview. We should all consider the fact that none of us are truly free until we grasp the self-creation of values. This is perhaps the centerpiece of a (dare I say) Aryan (i.e. free or noble) worldview. It can clearly be seen in the character of Thranduil from The Hobbit, whose values are not swayed by the opinion of others. Instead, he independently forms opinions regarding the situations and persons he comes in contact with.

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Thranduil’s self-creation of values remains a constant theme from his imprisonment of Thorin to his declaration of war on Erebor, and eventual respect for the deceased dwarf Kili. Over the course of the entire narrative, however, this self-creation of values usually manifests itself through another characteristic of the Ubermenschstrategic selfishness. Thranduil is selfish, but not in a rash, unorganized manner. He systematically uses his own power to prevent Thorin from entering Erebor and obtaining gems which belong to him (see this video). Once Thorin manages to enter, he strategically attempts to reclaim his gems in the mountain through trading the Arkenstone (which fails). Then when orcs attack Erebor, and he must ally with the dwarves, after much futile fighting he wishes to recall his forces from the battle and let the dwarves die to save the blood of his elven kin. However, Thranduil also has a compassionate side; his gentleness towards the weak, in fact, appears twice; first, when he supplies the impoverished former residents of Laketown with food, and when he comforts Tauriel after the death of Kili. Thranduil also seems to delight in his own abilities; his skill at sword fighting is superhuman, and one almost gets the sense that he enjoys slicing the heads off of orcs.

To match this, his speech is almost always poetic and has the same well-honed effect of his physical sword. It is clear from these attributes that Thranduil and perhaps many other elves who show similar qualities at times (all elves are by nature superhuman), such as Galadriel, are outward manifestations of the Ubermensch, a deeply buried archetype, which is here expressed through Tolkien, and the film contributors associated with Peter Jackson.

The archetype of the Nietzschean Ubermensch does not only spring up in Western, Indo-European cultures, however. An example from Japanese anime, Haruka Nanase (Haru) of Free! , exemplifies many of the attributes of this archetype. Like Thranduil, Haru constantly exercises the self-creation of values. From the time he is a child he insists on only swimming free and continues to resist being held to external standards up to the time that he takes up swimming as a career. He clearly lacks the strategic selfishness of Thranduil, and this helps to make the character more ‘cute’ and child-like. However, he exceeds Thranduil at not resenting the success of others. Thranduil is obviously resentful of Thorin’s power, yet Haru is never resentful of the success of his rival Rin Matsuoka. Even when Rin beats Haru in a race and brags about it to Haru’s face saying he will never have to swim with Haru again, Haru does not become angry or resentful. Instead, he is very calm and controlled, and thus amazingly exemplifies one of the softer qualities of the Ubermensch, gentleness towards the weak. Later when Rin’s unstable psychological state causes him to swim very poorly in a race, Haru recognizes the emotional weakness within Rin and does what he can to help Rin overcome his emotional burden by inviting Rin (against the rules) to swim in a  relay with him.

Haru also shows some traces of pagan values in his personality, for instance, he has an animistic view of the water in which he swims, and wishes to interact with it as though it were a conscious entity. Pagan values are a recurring theme in Free!, being set in Japan, where Shintoism is a strong part of the culture.

If you watch all the episodes of Free! including the movie Starting Days it seems clear that Haru’s persona as a “superman” is quite evident to the other characters. One character in Starting Days, Asahi Shiina, is so impressed with Haru’s talent at swimming that he even has trouble believing that Haru is a normal human, capable of dying if someone tried to kill him, until one day Haru passes out from low blood sugar. Another character in this movie, Ikuya Kirishima, seems to see Haru as an Ubermensch in much the same way I describe the archetype here, as someone to emulate, or a “guide” or blueprint for the development of a more advanced self.

There are many more manifestations of the Ubermensch as an archetype than the ones I have described above. These two, however, demonstrate the somewhat universal, cross-cultural, nature of this archetype, which dwells in the depths of our consciousness, constantly pushing us, and our biological kin, towards arete, excellence in every sense possible. Thus, though Nietzsche proclaimed “God is dead”, he seems to have supplied us with an eternal God, as real as the evolution of life in the universe, and the universe itself.