The Real Lord of the Flies

Scene from the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Flies

Although I somehow got away without reading it, a large percentage of high-schoolers read The Lord of the Flies, the story of a pack of adolescent boys stranded on an island. It starts off optimistically enough, with a democratic assembly and three rules: (1) have fun; (2) survive; and (3) keep a fire going to alert any passing ships. By the end of the book, the island is in ruins, the boys have devolved into warring tribes, and three of them are dead.

The novel’s dark view of human nature is the default view in Western culture. It is as old and pervasive as, well, original sin.

Fortunately, the book is only a work of fiction. This week, I learned what happened when a pack of boys was shipwrecked in real life. The outcome was quite different, as you can read here: The real Lord of the Flies. In a nutshell, the boys form a cooperative society. They start and end each day with a song and a prayer. (The Catholic school from which they had escaped would be pleased!) They fashion a guitar out of a coconut and salvaged wire, which they play to cheer themselves up. They allocate duties fairly and with a buddy system. When a quarrel does break out, they solve it with a “time out” rather than violence. When they are finally rescued after 15 months, they are astonishingly healthy and sane. I commend the whole article to you; read it and let your spirits be lifted!

Some people are real villains, but most of us want to do the right thing, even if we struggle at times.

Appendix: While rooting around the Internet for this post, I came across this account of a researcher who tried to construct a Lord of the Flies scenario artificially: A real-life Lord of the Flies: the troubling legacy of the Robbers Cave Experiment. Psychologist Mufazer Sherif manipulated some boys at a summer camp to try to make them fight each other. The first experiment did not go well — for the experimenters. The second experiment produced the result that Sherif desired and became standard reading in the field but, these days, should make us skeptical of all such experiments.

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