The Gollum Conundrum

Fred von Lohmann_Dark Cave_Batu Caves2

(Photo taken by Fred von Lohmann, “Dark Cave, Batu Caves,” courtesy of

Caves, shadows, and rings.

In his 1955 article for his high school newspaper, The Spectrum, Hunter S. Thompson wrote that “Security” was “another word for rut.” From what I have seen in my 10 years of higher education and 3+ years of teaching anywhere from 11 year-olds to 65 year-olds, I have found the most common “rut” is not in the secure job, nor the secure, boring middle class life, but in the secure idea. Many people, including scholars, hold their opinions so dear that they are willing to fail a class, fail a marriage, or even fail to survive in order to hold on to their sacred rut.

Gollum lived in a rut, stroking his beloved ring in the dark until someone stole his “Precious,” giving him a reason to leave the cave. As he cascaded down into the flames of Mordor, saving Frodo from his growing obsession with the same poisonous idea, it is questionable whether or not Gollum even cared.

In Plato’s cave allegory, the captive stepped out into the light and received a view beyond the fourth wall, beyond shadows and illusion, but stepping out of the dark–as Gollum, and many of his unwitting ilk demonstrate–does not always provide illumination. The path to illumination is likely determined by one’s method of leaving the cave.

The French have a saying called a folie à deux, which basically means shared delusion. This would be a rut or a cave that is comfortably inhabited by two. I would posit the possibility that a single cave mentality can be shared by as many people as are willing to live in the dark: say, a folie à millions or a folie à billions.

For anyone living in one of these caves, whether alone or with a snug group of fellow dwellers, I offer you a flashlight: Your personal Truth is not universal truth. It is subjective and yours alone. If you are wise, as you grow older your personal Truth will come to more closely mirror reality. If you are foolish, your personal Truth will remain static and fail to evolve. Either way, your personal Truth is not fact. It never will be. Science determines fact–and fact for now. Mathematics determines fact–also, fact for now. Experience, research, dogged pursuit of reality, these determine fact–for some, and that fact is itself ever-evolving, which means that for you to find and keep your light, you must become an adaptable seeker and relinquish the idea of absolutes.

I do not mean to say that there are no absolutes. I simply argue that absolutes cannot figure into our personal reality because we lack the ability to fully comprehend their existence.

So, relax your “Precious” opinions; accept that you can grow and change, and yet still never know the truth about reality. Find happiness in uncertainty. Certainty breeds ignorance and false conclusions. In short, certainty is what put you in this cave in the first place. Part of being human is your right to decide, and the necessity to find the courage to act if you decide you want or need change. Be aware, your choice to become could mean being shunned for leaving the cave. Being alone is difficult. Finding a personal Truth that is exorcised from the masses can be lonely and frightening. Yet, I find uncertainty and constant questioning more satisfying than the company of a gaggle of Gollums.

Don’t take my flashlight, however, and make a mad dash for the mouth of the cave. Fashion your own light out of limitless curiosity and lead yourself out. Find your own words, your own way, but seek. If you find your personal Truth is strong enough to endure a rigorous and fair-minded test-by-quest, then you have your way out. You will also have the strength to withstand all the sunlight (i.e. outer-cave ideas) that meets you when you emerge.


(Courtesy of

No, really…I need my flashlight back. I’m still trying to make it out of this damned cave.