Sunday, 15 May 2011

Torturing Gollum - the implications

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The three main heroes of Lord of the Rings torture Gollum at some point:

1. Gandalf: "I endured him as long as I could, but the truth was desparately important, and in the end I had to be harsh. I put the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him, but by bit, together with much snivelling and snarling."

2. Aragorn: "He will never love me, I fear; for he bit me and I was not gentle. Nothing more did I ever get from his mouth than the marks of his teeth. I deemed it the worst part of all my journey, the road back, watching him day and night, making him walk before me with a halter on his neck, gagged, until he was tamed by lack of drink and food, driving him ever towards Mirkwood."

3. Frodo: "Tie one end to his ankle" (...) Sam tied the knot. The result surprised them both. Gollum began to scream, a thin tearing sound, very horrible to hear. (...) "It hurts us, it hurts us", hissed Gollum. "It freezes, it bites! (...) Take it off! It hurts us." - "No, I will not take it off you", said Frodo, "not unless" - he paused a moment in thought - "not unless there is any promise you can make that I can trust".

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Tolkien is one of my main mentors: I take him to be a man of great wisdom; certainly much greater wisdom than my own.

In general, and specifically here, I read Tolkien to learn from him - not to critique him.

In the context of LotR, Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo are presented as having behaved properly in the above situations, and I accept that they did behave properly.

So why mention it?

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In this instance we can perceive that Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo's behaviour illustrates the falsity of the mainstream modern ethical principle that relief of suffering ought to be the primary moral principle; and the common moral belief that torture is impermissable under any circumstances whatsoever.

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The examples illustrate the way that morality works. Moral dilemmas arise when there is a clash of moral principles - and they are resolved by choosing the higher over the lower principle.

For a mainstream modern Liberal/ Leftist who subscribes to the principle that torture must be absolutely forbidden under any circumstance whatsoever, the actions of Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo would be classified alongside those of orcs who enjoy the 'sport' of torturing captives.

But for anybody who holds a primary moral principle other than that of minimizing suffering, there may arise situations in which - as Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo exemplify - it was permissable, indeed it was necessary - to torture Gollum.

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Poor Smeagol. Poor Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo. Poor all of us.

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