Posted by: Travis | November 2, 2008

Theme Week Night Elf: The Plight of the Common Elf

One of things our dear readers will learn about me is that, being our resident lore monkey, I often have nits to pick with my fellow writers regarding their theories about how the races function from a lore perspective. Sean in particular has suffered my nagging at him with my comments outside of the blog, though that has more to do with the fact that he seems to concentrate on writing more about how the races function in lore and the ‘reality’ of the game, while Jess tends toward concentrating more on how the races function emotionally and psychologically. I keep saying that I’m going to go back and make my contributions to “theme weeks past” just to throw my two cents in and provide some different perspectives. I’ll get to it eventually.

Until then, and given all that, I have decided that, as a good reader and contributor to the Blogatelle project should, I’m going to start leaving my comments — in the comments section, so they can be shared across the board with everyone. Novel concept, I know. Alternatively, if I think I have enough to say, I’m going to actually make a post of my own. I have yet to decide whether or not this is wise course of action, but I suppose we’ll all find out together, won’t we?

Now, to my actual post in reply to Sean’s article declaring the Night Elf society as anarco-theocratic; I actually have very little to “argue” with. I think he has more or less pointed out the intricate balance that the Night Elf “government” is based on. Sean has the fundamentals down. I would like to add a few points, though, and maybe make a few interesting suggestions for outside-the-box Night Elf character ideas.

Historically, Night Elf society has been strongly matriarchal and gender specific. Until as recently as the end of the Third War, gender strongly influenced what careers a Kal’dorei was able to acceptably pursue culturally. The Church of Elune, and the Sentinels were reserved specifically for women, where the racial leaders of the Cenarion Circle accepted only men in to their ranks. Combine this sociological mentality with the fact that the Night Elves believe that Elune is the mother of Cenarius, and that the Church of Elune had a theocratic stranglehold of authority over the Kal’dorei culture before coming of the Druids, and I think it’s fair to say that the High Priestess of Elune theoretically has the last word in acting as “commander-in-chief” of the Night Elves. I say theoretically for the same reasons that Sean did. I believe Sean did a remarkable job of pointing out that underneath the surface, the actual functionality of authority in Darnassus is quite a bit more complicated. But I tend to believe you’re average, everyday Darnassian citizen, if put in to a situation where they had to choose between obeying conflicting orders from the Church of Elune and the Cenarion Circle, will bow to the wishes of the High Priestess before they would an Archdruid.

Which actually brings me to my second, more important point; Night Elf society is very caste oriented. Sean has pointed out three of the four castes, the three with the most influence; the holy Church of Elune, the primal followers of Cenarius, and the militaristic, pragmatic Sentinels. Sean alluded to the last caste but didn’t specifically point it out which I felt to be an oversight; the workers, the common man, and everyone else.

The “worker caste” of the Night Elves is by far the furthest reaching and most populated of the four internal factions of Kal’dorei politics, and clearly the least influential. They are fall under every walk of life; from merchant to architect to smith to gravedigger to chef. They are the unspoken cog that turns the wheel of Night Elf society and it is by their dedication and devotion that Darnassus continues to function at all. Anyone who has ever watched Babylon 5 can see where I’m going with this; there are a lot of great parallels between the Minbari and Night Elves. (My second Babylon 5 reference in all of two posts. I’m not obsessed, I swear.)

Cultural reinforcement prevents the worker caste from rising up against the warrior and two religious castes, but their overwhelming census and their control over necessary functions of the society make them important players in the fragile game of Kal’dorei politics. Should the workers ever choose to revolt en masse, there should be little doubt that they successfully wrest away the reins of power from their current owners and consume the other three castes by sheer strength of numbers. Albeit, with considerable losses. That, however, is an outside option; dedication and service to the society has been engrained to the Night Elf mentality for thousands of years. Violence on that level is more the way of the Sentinels and some of the more savage druidic circles. The worker caste has at its disposal a more effective, much less violent alternative for rebellion to make its collective dissatisfaction known; strike.

When the workers stop, so too does the society. If as a group, the workers of Darnassus packed up, went home, and took a string of collective sick days, Kal’dorei society would come to a grinding halt. Who would pick and grow the food? Who would make and repair the Sentinels weapons and armor? Of the three other castes, the druids probably have the least to worry about from a worker caste uprising. The Cenarion Circle teaches self-sufficiency, after all. But the druids are by far the least populated of the four castes, and they have learned well from the natural world around them; even the fiercest predator knows better than to charge head long in to massive group of prey, lest it get trampled under their collective hooves.

I think that I’ve painted a fair picture of the importance the worker caste has in regards to Kal’dorei society at large, and why the Church of Elune, the followers of Cenarius, and the Sentinels all at least pay them political lip service. Sean, however, in neglecting to mention the workers as a caste, inadvertently pointed out a very important flaw in the Kal’dorei political structure; the other three castes are too focused on one another to truly acknowledge the workers, let alone consider them as peers. Without a leader to speak for them on a level of equality to the High Priestess, the Archdruids, or the General of the Sentinels, there is no reason to consider them equals. Each of the other castes believes themselves to be the voice of the workers, doing what they do for the benefit of the workers, and are thus elevated above the workers in station and importance by virtue of their beneficence.

The Kal’dorei society might seem to have some semblance of equality on the surface but we can see that the truth it is anything but. In function, it might be more accurately compared sociologically to what occurs when multiple packs of wolves gather in a given area. Each pack is likely to have an alpha wolf, and when packs gather, those alphas contest with one another until one alpha essentially becomes the alpha of the alphas. When acting as a collective group, the members of each pack, alpha or otherwise, are expected to obey that single, greater alpha. When separated from the cohesive group, they revert back to following the alpha of their individual pack. In that sense, the High Priestess of Elune is essentially the top dog, but the other alphas are certainly not without their own authority. The pack that constitutes the worker cast has no alpha and as such they are simply meant to fall in to line with the others. There’s no one to represent them, no one to challenge the other alphas on their behalf. They have no voice of their own, because everyone else is too busy speaking for them.

There is very little documented about the function of the Night Elves worker caste, but we can assume a great deal given how much we know culturally about the Kal’dorei, largely focused on gender issues. Firstly, I think it’s safe to expect that there are more men than women in the worker caste. Not a great deal, mind you. There aren’t all that many priestess of Elune, nor are the battalions of the Sentinels particularly bloated with recruits. But I do believe that it would be fair to call it a noticeable margin of difference. Secondly, I think it’s a fair to conclude that the women of the worker caste would have the better paying, more supervisory professions. Men have been, to some degree, relegated to a place of second class citizenry in Kal’dorei society and it seems well within the realms of possibility that the men of the worker caste would have a glass ceiling of sorts that they would be required to work against.

How does any of this apply to you? Good question. Perhaps your male Night Elf warrior, who is worker caste by default, wanted to join the Sentinels but was rejected because of his gender? Instead of going out and finding a trade as was socially expected of him, he rebelled and became a mercenary? What does your Night Elf priestess think about the men that have been allowed in to her order? Does she see them as commoners pretending at divinity, or does she welcome those of the worker caste in to the Church? How does your male druid feel about the Cenarion Circle’s recent choice to allow Night Elf women in to the fold? The Cenarion Circle used to be the only method a Night Elf male had of rising above his worker class station, after all. Is he offended or does he welcome it, seeing it as the first steps toward true equality of gender and station in their culture? Does your hunter wish to be the voice of the worker caste, so long unrepresented amongst the highest annals of power in Kal’dorei society?

Take it as you will.

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Responses

  1. I agree that I should have mentioned the workers more; they’re a very overlooked group by us players, but I disagree that they overlooked with their society. Indeed, in many ways, they’re the key to it.

    The simple fact is that you can’t run a society that is primarily military or religious, etc. Eventually practicality has to win, so the worker group always ends up numerically highest.

    As such, all the other groups depend on them. The Sentinels have the job, in a way, of monitoring their approval as much as is possible and making that swinging decision only when they’re sure they’ll have popular support. In turn, the druids/priesthood have a complex job of also monitoring it to try and keep them on side.

    I otherwise completely agree, and there’s definitely a heavy tyranny of the majority at work among the workers. (The thing anarchy does really poorly is handle minorities.) But they’re not an ignored part; they’re at the heart of it all.

    Otherwise, I totally agree.

  2. We might have to agree to disagree on that aspect.

    I have a hard time believing that the Priesthood of Elune, the Sentinels, or the Cenarion Circle pay much more than political lip service to the workers. I think they full acknowledge their importance to the function of society, and they act for them in the same way all politicians act for the betterment of the public at large.

    But at the same time, I don’t see either of the other three castes brooking much stake in the actual opinions of the worker caste, and I think that is pretty clear by their overall lack of representation. They want to keep them placid, certainly. Functioning, producing, keeping the cogs of society grinding along. But I don’t see any of the three other castes coming to workers and asking, “How do you think we should do this?” or “If you were in charge, how would you change things?” The Kal’dorei lack fundamental equality and don’t even pretend it. It is, as you said, anacro-theocratic.

    I tend to think that the other castes see the workers as a nameless, faceless mass of milling ants. They try to keep the ants content, and in response, the ants continue to toil and make anthills and do the things they should. But as long as the workers are content, they can focus on their own agendas, they can safely be tucked away in the back pocket and forgotten about. They view the worker caste as the loyal puppy that they always expect to obey. They know that they have to feed and pet the puppy every now and again to keep them in line, and so they do. And they reap the benefits of the puppy’s loyalty and companionship. But when it comes down to when the puppy gets walked, which park they go to, or what exactly it gets fed, the puppy isn’t consulted. It’s genuine opinion isn’t factored in, or if it is, it’s in a most tertiary way.

    I do think that the Church of Elune, the Cenarion Circle, and the Sentinels each believe they do what they do for the benefit of the average citizen. I think their ideals lead them to that conclusion. But its in a political sense, overall. And I do think that more often, each of the other three castes are more concerned with their own agendas, and the agendas of the other two “ruling castes”, then they are with the workers from whom they expect loyalty.

    That’s an important part of it; I think the loyalty is expected. I think it’s a cultural imperative. I think, like my wolves analogy, they simply expect the lesser wolves to fall in line behind the alpha and work to benefit the pack as a whole. Like an alpha, they have provide leader and do their part, but in general, the isn’t a whole lot they have to do. It’s an expectation.

    That’s painting with a very broad brush, I know. Individual priests, druids, and Sentinels will vary.

    I think ultimately we’re saying the same thing, just that you see the society with a slightly more optimistic view. You seem to see the other castes as focusing more on the population as a whole, where it has been my experience that the function of the Kal’dorei less compassionate and more primal and insular even amongst themselves.

  3. Wow, that was a great entry from you I must say. 😀

    Not only does it put you in the mindset of the worker caste very well, but it in general puts you in the mindset of the night elves as a whole. I think with this entry and Sean’s before it, people can have a very strong grasp of just how night elves are when it comes to their social/government structure.

    Now for my thoughts on this. As you put very well, the three other castes have the self imposed position to speak for “the people”. And to add insult to injury, they openly express a general disinterest in them pretty much. But as you also said, if they decided to stop being pushed around, then their sheer numbers and importance in running the society would thrust power into their hands for a change.

    And with all that, comes the recent events of the Third War, which ultimately resulted in the sacrifice of the night elves immortality. Now, this was a huge thing to the night elves of course. But more importantly, this decision was made fairly quickly and surely without the approval of most night elves, particularly the working caste. And as such, this may serve to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Because, its bad enough they had no voice for over ten thousand years really, or that their societies leaders don’t think too highly of them, but now the other castes have gone so far to effect their race’s lifespan. And really, the working caste, as well as even members of the other caste who were kept out of the loop too, must be mighty mad and are looking to change things up especially with the druids recent drastic action of creating Teldrassil.

    “My second Babylon 5 reference in all of two posts. I’m not obsessed, I swear.”

    Hey, Babylon 5 is actually very helpful with such things, due to their great development of the race’s and their interactions with each other on the show. And I do agree, that the night elves are very similar to the minbari for sure. Especially, when considering all you went over in this entry as well as Sean’s before this.


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