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.
When I was a baby-faced teenaged boy, I was in a department store and a sales clerk asked, “Can I help you, ma’am?” Talk about humiliating! When I responded in my teenaged-boy voice, the clerk realized his mistake and was as embarrassed as I was.
I was recently in a jewelry store where I wanted to buy a semi-custom item. I described what I wanted and asked the woman behind the counter, “Would you be the one to help me with that?” I cringed because I knew she was probably thinking, “He would not ask a man that question. It’s only because I’m a woman that it enters his head that I might not know what I’m talking about.” Of course, that was not the case. I didn’t know if she was a sales clerk or an actual jeweler, so I had to ask the question before I rambled on and wasted both our time.
Now imagine that for your whole life people have assumed you are less than you are, just because of your race. That was the case for retired professional Major League Baseball player Doug Glanville, who is African-American.
As a successful man with a full career after 15 years as a baseball player, he had plenty of money and lived in one of the “nicer” neighborhoods in Hartford, Connecticut. One day he was shoveling snow in his driveway. Here is his account of what happened next:
A police officer from West Hartford had pulled up across the street, exited his vehicle, and begun walking in my direction. I noted the strangeness of his being in Hartford—an entirely separate town with its own police force—so I thought he needed help. He approached me with purpose, and then, without any introduction or explanation he asked, “So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people’s driveways around here?”
As the controversy over Confederate monuments played out this year, I came to believe that Muslims had it right: don’t render an artistic likeness of anyone, least of all our heroes, lest we slip into idolatry.
If we had followed that principle, we would still have the dispute over whether General Lee was a good man, but there would be more room to be honest because all sides could admit that he was good in some respects but flawed in others. A statue makes the issue more black-and-white: either we pull the statue down, or we leave it up. Nobody wants half a statue. And the statue itself is only going to portray the general in a one-sided manner, most likely in a noble pose on a stallion.
Here’s one more post (for now) on the philosophy of actor Jim Carrey. He said,
There’s a virtue in hopelessness. I’m not kidding. You’re off the hook and you don’t have to worry about what’s coming. “Okay, the world freaking ended. That’s great. Now what?” Give up! Surrender to the idea that things are bad and yet still, from 3,000 feet up, we don’t matter. Things are happening and we’re going to happen along with them whether we like it or not. But we don’t matter. …Once you lose yourself, you’re pretty okay. Just get out of the way.
Some of us struggle to be sure of our facts, to make sure they all fit together, and to figure everything out. Others are able to simply receive what life has to offer. Actor-turned-painter Jim Carrey is in the latter category. Here is his painting, Jesus Electric, followed by his commentary on it in a short documentary about his paintings.
You may think of Jim Carrey as the ultimate happy-go-lucky kind of guy and maybe a bit of a goofball. With his toothy grin and outsized personality, Carrey was a natural lead for movies such as Dumb and Dumber and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (toothy grin highly modified for the latter).
But it turns out that his movies with a more philosophical bent such as Liar Liar and The Truman Show reflect the real Jim Carrey. It also turns out that he is a phenomenal artist.
Only eight posts ago, I lamented that the more important our decisions are, the less thought we seem to put into them. We only invest enough thought to find what makes us feel good, I said, and I wished we would apply more rational thought to our big choices.
Maybe I was asking too much.
Philosopher L.A. Paulsays that when it comes to truly life-changing decisions — ones that transform the way you think or your mode of being — there’s no way we can be entirely rational, because on the other side of those decisions we will be so profoundly changed that our present selves can have no idea what our future selves will think.