The Dumbest Thing To Ever Be Important

Earlier this semester, Dr. Schacht, Ken, and I had a side discussion about whether we would consider J.R.R. Tolkien a contributor to the humanities for his epic tales. We spoke about how his significant impact on literary fiction made him a relevant topic in humanities.

Wikipedia defines literary fiction as “a term principally used for certain fictional works that hold literary merit. In other words, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.”

Tolkien’s epic tales absolutely fall under this definition, but now in a new way.

The New York Times published an article yesterday (December 4th, 2015), titled Is Gollum Good or Evil? Jail Term in Turkey Hinges on Answer

Apparently, a Turkish physician, Dr. Bilgin Ciftci, lost his job with the Public Health Institution of Turkey for jokingly comparing the appearance of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to that of Gollum, the slimy, bug-eyed character in Tolkien’s Middle Earth – a crime punishable with jail time in Turkey. gollum

Because the Judge has admittedly and unfortunately not read Tolkien’s works, or seen The Lord of The Rings in its entirety, a panel of “experts” was assigned to assess the question “Is Gollum good or evil?” before the next phase of Ciftci’s trial begins in February. Turkey’s team of experts will include “two academics, two behavioral scientists [psychologists], and a film-and-telivision aficionado,” according to NYMag’s discussion of Turkey’s predicament.

In a statement to The Wrap, Peter Jackson, director of Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, along with two screen writers (Fran Walsh & Phillippa Boyens) who worked with Jackson on the films, pointed out:

“If the images below are in fact the ones forming the basis of this Turkish lawsuit, we can state categorically: None of them feature the character known as Gollum. All of them are images of the character called Smeagol.”

Hilariously, they’re right.

Simply put for those who don’t know, Smeagol is Gollum’s less devious, arguably innocent alternate personality (it’s actually a little more complicated than that) – though this does not mean Gollum is definitively evil.

So with regards to what defines the literary fiction and the humanities, this ridiculous situation Dr. Bilgin Ciftci found himself in is another indication of Tolkien’s works being contributions to the humanities. It is an assessment of the human (or former hobbit) condition within Tolkien’s epic tales, and provides deliberate social commentary.

Diderot Doesn’t Tell Us Who Is Right

Because maybe both parties are correct (according to what society rewards).

In Denis Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew, we are introduced and forced to think about two opposing views on lifestyles. The combatants, ME and HIM, argue morality vs. social parasitism. Our group (2) discussed how most of us would side with ME because of an obscure, not entirely universal biopsychosocial pressure to act morally. Perhaps, it’s a pressure we adapted to function better as a society. However, this led to a conversation about social parasitism. We unanimously agreed that the moral route was the preferred lifestyle, but also questioned why we felt we couldn’t side with HIM. Realistically, following HIM would be personally advantageous, and he is not the the only person to act in this manner. We discussed the self-centeredness of human nature and whether everyone, if possessing HIM’s intellect and manipulative abilities, would act in the same fashion; to work less and live parasitically.

Doesn’t everyone just want what they want, when they want it, without having to work for it? This is what makes the debate so troublesome. Understanding what HIM is doing, why am I not doing the same? His methods make perfect sense for self-advancement, yet we have this pressure to live morally.

Thinking about it, it might seem as though the social evolutionary advancement to keep societies together has been one-upped by another evolutionary advancement: ignoring moral pressures.
Therefore, why don’t we all ignore our pressures and live off the rest?

Large businesses regularly express this type of moral disregard. Though not to the same extreme, businesses camouflage their parasitic-like approach to increasing profits behind successful marketing. You need their product, so they’ll simply look for the cheapest mode of production, entirely at your expense. For example, chemical manufacturers’ lack a legal requirement to reveal their product’s chemical composition to the public. This proves to be increasingly problematic when dealing with pesticide and flame retardant manufacturers, constantly battling to increase profits while maintaining effectiveness. Pertaining to flame retardant manufacturers, previously phased-out harmful flame retardant chemicals (e.g., organophosphate compounds) are currently being reintroduced to home and industrial settings. This is an issue because it is absolutely imperative that we treat our homes with these chemicals for fire-safety, regularly exposing ourselves and our children on a day to day basis. Instead of investigating safe alternatives to teratogenic compounds, manufacturers parasitically profit off our necessity, keeping their chemical compositions a secret to prevent being forced to spend more on research and development of new, safe compounds.

Whether you side with moral ideals or parasitic advancement, is either party inherently correct? Morality is thought to be correct because society rewards our moral behavior with sustained unity. Can we also say social parasitism is correct because society rewards parasitism with personal advancement? If what is inherently correct is what society rewards, who won the argument in Rameau’s Nephew? If society does not exclusively reward what is inherently correct, what is correct?