In which we eavesdrop on a Hobbit with a Mannish house-guest, having the aspect of one from the wild lands beyond, in times of great and somewhat anachronistic change in the world.
H: Recently there has been a great deal of talk about the Elves’ continued forging of greater and greater rings of power. I’m no wizard, but it seems like using rings to enhance your ring-forging power could have some pretty absurd outcomes.
M: It is nothing short of terrifying, yes
H: It, uh, that is, it doesn’t seem, um
M: You’re not afraid? Perhaps you know little of the ways of the Elves, protected as your people are from the world beyond your pleasant corner of it
H: I’m not quite sure whether that’s an insult or a compliment
M: The thing is, Elves mean well
H: One could hardly think otherwise, unless every word they have ever spoken and every action they have ever taken were all part of one vast ruse.
M: But meaning well is not enough with such power. For instance, it would be easy for one who means well to remove all need for hard work and struggle from the world, which would leave it empty and meaningless
H: You, ah, that is, that’s somewhat, or, that is to say, I don’t really, um, you see, you lost me completely
M: It seems pretty simple. If the shadow in the east were banished forever, if the wild orcs and men of the hills were driven away or made civilised, if the horse would obey you without beings broken in… what would be left to do?
H: … Everything else? There’d still be the garden in each of its season, the pantry and the wine cellar, and of course we have the young master Proudfoot’s wedding soon, which is sure to be one to remember.
M: Meaning the least possible offense, dear hobbit, but that sounds incredibly boring
H: I will admit I have little knowledge of the stife of the wilder world. Maybe you could tell me a little of what I’m missing?
M: Ah, it is grand indeed. The clash of will against will, the thrill of real danger, the vividity that comes with knowing that you are truly and totally responsible for your own fate-!
H: Meaning the least possible offense, dear man, but that sounds unbearably awful.
M: And yet everyone must struggle for their existence in some sense. On the frontiers, it is simply more obvious.
H: I think that the Elves are not unreasonable. If they grow to such powers and there are still those who want a dangerous frontier on which to test your mettle, it can exist for them and them alone. The life-and-death battle can be over for everyone else.
M: It is less bad, maybe. Fractionally. But it needs to be real, you see, not some game of glamers. What meaning is there to an effort made to accomplish a thing that some point-ear can do just by wishing it done?
H: This “meaning” you pursue so ardently seems like a very odd thing. What makes it so insistent on blessing only those actions that are done when you don’t know that your hands are being held?
M: More so than that – the hands must really, truly not be held. Not even by invisible angels whose touch you cannot feel or remember. Certainly the people in such a supported world would feel like there is meaning to their lives, but sitting here now and looking forward, I can see that it wouldn’t be true meaning, and would act to prevent the loss of meaning in their lives-yet-to-be.
H: Goodness. It is a fragile thing indeed, this meaningfulness.
M: Hence so worrying that certain folk might gain the power to irrevocably damage it – for once someone assumes omnipotence, can you really trust that they haven’t put safeguards in place to see that no one suffers true and lasting harm, the kind that lends weight to life?
H: I really don’t want to suffer true and lasting harm, if I’m honest
M: Nor do I. It is the intensity of that desire that makes only such things truly meaningful.
H: But some people would have to, wouldn’t they? It’s a competitive world, after all.
M: Perhaps we could do without the ‘lasting’ part, but consider me dubious.
H: Overall it still just doesn’t sit right with me. Could we not have the option to opt-out of the meaningful pursuit of real accomplishment? I’m quite happy with my plans for retirement, and don’t much fancy having to run the water-mill forever just to stay afloat.
M: It seems fine on the surface, maybe. But what is the meaning of striving if at any time you can simply abandon the field and not be held to account for your cowardice?
H: It sounds like you’re saying the only way you can be happy is if everyone else has to be miserable
M: Nonsense! And an insult! I want that everyone should be as happy as I am, working together or in competition to achieve meaningful, real goals by their own power.
H: You are right, I apologise. But some people do not want to do these things you ask of them. They will be unhappy if you make them – or, allow them to continue to be so compelled.
M: They would grow to be unhappier still, if their burdens were forever unmade and they were left idle for eternity
H: I am not so sure of that. Is it really not worth a try?
M: It would be foolhardy to risk so much just to try it. Recall, once such a great power has been loosed, we would forever have to wonder, and never again be sure in our pursuit of the meaningful parts of life.
H: Ho hum. I feel like maybe you – ah, nevermind
M: Oh? Do go no
H: Well, it annoys me no end when people try to second-guess my motives, and I’d rather not do that
M: Good of you, but go ahead anyway.
H: I feel like maybe, on some level, you just don’t see any advantage to be gained by professing laziness and a desire for a simple and pleasant life free of truly, meaningfully tiresome burdens. It’s much more politcally advantageous to say you’re in favour of working hard and competing sincerely, than to say you’d rather sweep it all aside and live a life of idleness and hedonism. So the hidden inner parts of your mind contrive to make you think you love to struggle with everything on the line, so that you will profess that this is so.
M: Humph! I have to admit, I do see what you meant about second-guessing motives feeling unpleasant. Have you considered that you- ah, but I should offer the same courtesy
H: Do go on regardless
M: Have you considered that your hidden inner mind sees nothing to gain from professing a love of a contest that you will lose? And so you advocate for an end to the struggles of existing, because you are not, and inwardly cannot believe you ever will be, one of those who will succeed at it?
H: Well. Cynicism paid for cynicism offered, I suppose.
M: And yet we’re no closer to an answer as to what the ring-makers should do. Bother.