How did we become a Lord of the Flies society?

October 10, 2019

Lord-of-the-FliesI know someone who believed the world was just like the island society depicted in the 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. In that novel, boys turned on each other with savagery that is incredibly primal. Left on their own, people will default to cruelty, my friend believed; it’s unavoidable. Human nature is by definition savage.

I scoffed. “Not so!  Most people are just not innately evil in that way.” Or so I believed at the time.

Grief for ethics, values, decorum

The novel’s character, Piggy, was the most vulnerable. Also the smartest and the one in the group who aimed to preserve some remnant of civilization. The only one. Author William Golding used him to represent the rational world. As the fictional society degenerates and boys die, Piggy mourns the loss of ethics, values, discipline and decorum that caused those deaths. (Does this sound familiar?) And finally, he falls victim to the same forces.

Like my friend, Golding’s novel takes the position that humans are innately brutal and will revert to that when left to their own devices. Can’t be helped. It’s the nature of being human.

A horrifying thought.

Like Orwell, Golding was prescient

That conversation was 15 years ago. Today, I look around and realize how prescient Golding was, and how right my friend is, because we see that savagery on display all over social media. How odd that it’s often perpetrated by people who don’t think of themselves in that light. And yet…that’s who they are.

I could begin with the man in the Oval, who uses social media to insult and degrade others in a cruel and depraved way.  I’m not sure he started that awful behavior, but he models it and took it to a new low.  Imagine a man in the highest office of our land behaving in such a manner.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine it–we see it daily in his public statements. Savage. Uncivilized. And supported by a shocking number of Americans. Few things shock me any more, but the support for this behavior–and how many now behave that way in public– does.

But it’s not just him. If you spend any time on Facebook or Twitter you’ll see more of that behavior and even worse.  First, no one really reads and they certainly do not recognize nuanced thinking. Just like that awful man in the Oval. So if they see something they think they disagree with, they immediately begin with insults. “Fu k you!”  “How dare you!” “I’m blocking you!”  “I blocked him, too!”  The piling on is vicious. Even when the original poster holds the same views–but expresses a different way of looking at the situation. Those nuances are lost on the mob.

Mob behavior rules social media

And that’s what it is. Mob behavior..

Civilized behavior, decorum and critical thinking have no place in social media, an environment in which only the baser instincts prevail and everyone chimes in savagely. “Off with their heads!” said the Queen. So to speak.

Straight out of Goldman’s novel.

Social media aren’t for thoughtful people. People scan the surface and run with their assumptions and their own beliefs, brutally clubbing to death everything around them. Often with great glee.

Is this indicative of society overall? Was Golding right?

Before social media we assumed there was at least a veneer of civilization. But I don’t even see that these days. No pretense. Just viciousness. The worst instincts of human beings unmasked in a way I could have never predicted.

I suppose I believed the world would become kinder and gentler as the years wore on, but as it turns out, the opposite is true, and like Golding, I find myself asking “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”

I don’t like the answer.

If you haven’t read Lord of the Flies, you ought to- you might recognize our current world. Here’s an affiliate link:


7 comments on “How did we become a Lord of the Flies society?
  1. Donna Hanton says:

    Carol, I, like many people, read Lord of the Flies in school and hated it back then. You have almost convinced me (almost!) to re-read it from the viewpoint of experience to find the more nuanced elements of Golding’s stance.

  2. Niculina McClanahan says:

    I think we are all of those. The problem is not the social media ( in my opinion, of course). Social media has helped bringing up to light the lack of strong values in our society. It just made things more visible, it peeled off the veneer of civility( I just loved the way you phrased it).This is why many of us are shocked that so many people exhibit their most primal instincts with a sort of nonchalance, and even with a sense of pride sometimes, which is quite appalling.Blaming social media may offer somehow a sort of excuse for this type of public shameful behavior but I’m afraid the real culprit here is the decline of moral values in our society, which lowered the minimum acceptable standard for public discourse, behavior, and such.. It comes down to what we as a society want to be: humans, animals or savages( which are also humans but the primitive, un-evolved kind).

  3. Laurie Stone says:

    Saw a Trump rally last week and its like a mob scene. So much hate and threatened violence. Truly horrifying.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Social media does make it easier to find your tribe. And that’s true whether that tribe is made of heart, mind, and soul or one made of hate, bullying, and vitriol. It all gets emphasizes through the social media lens and microphone. Unfortunately, those of the vitriol group yell louder so theirs is heard the most.

  5. This isn’t a new thing unfortunately I just think social media heightens our awareness and opportunities for people to be vile.

  6. I think social media is bringing the things that were hidden and covered up in society to the surface. It’s always been there but we didn’t really notice it. Usually, when things get crazy it brings change for the better. I’m hoping that’s true.It’s interesting to see who people really are, although, at the same time, it’s exhausting.

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