Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a book I read in high school. It is fiction. Experts say it is about loss of innocence and about the constant conflict between savagery and civilization. Heavy stuff. I was thinking about Lord of the Flies because I keep searching for explanations for current political behavior.

Maybe it was Lord of the Flies that formed me. Maybe it was Atlas Shrugged. Maybe I am giving away more about myself than I should. I also loved Hesse's Magister Ludi. But the point is that today we are suffering from an age of optimism. How can one suffer from optimism, you ask? 

Optimism is good. But we can suffer from optimism after events start to shake our foundations. In Lord of the Flies, an airplane carrying schoolchildren crashes on a deserted island. The children are very civilized English kids. But it doesn’t take long for the tea and crumpets to disappear and for raw human behavior to take over.

Which made me think about today. We are optimistic. We think of ourselves as being sophisticated and mature. We know we are much better than those savages that lived hundreds of years ago. We go to school for many years and we become experts on things. We can afford to buy and read books. We give money to worthy charities. We value finding balance between work and play. We take time to worry about those who are less fortunate than ourselves, and we devote time and thought to helping them.

We do all this because we can. We are not living in caves, and we are not constantly threatened by beasts lurking outside our caves. Productivity allows us to work less, and labor saving devices let us manage our non-work lives with minimal effort. We don’t have to grow our own food, and we don’t usually make our clothing.

We are incredibly civilized and nice. Think about politics and government in the US. In the past eight years, we devoted ourselves to equality and fairness. Okay, maybe we didn’t get any medals for achievement but the Obama administration and the Democratic Party reminded us continually about the unfairness that remains in our modern and rich society. And today as we discuss healthcare, tax reform, and government debt, we cannot escape expectations that any and all reforms be fair and not abandon those with lower incomes.

I am not complaining. I am just describing what is. We are a very optimistic, caring society. Those little English boys came from a very caring society before their plane crashed on that fictional island.

What then brought out their savage sides? The savagery arose when the society they used to know vanished and was replaced by fear and uncertainty. Living on a deserted island isn’t easy. It is downright scary. Living right before the great recession was not so bad. Economic growth, employment, and wages were good. Income inequality worsened but overall we felt pretty good.

But then the recession pulled the rug out from under us. Like landing on a far-away island, we “landed” on a new economy full of perils.  And worse than the actual dismal economic effects were the thoughts that our economic system had failed us. Every time the government added a new stimulus package and/or a new regulation, they sent out a message that said, "Times have changed for the worse, we don’t know where this is heading, and we are going to have to do very extreme things to save the day. But don’t worry, the government is here to save us all."

If that isn’t scarier than a plane wreck and a deserted island, then I don’t know what is. Obama’s team was cool as they went about turning this country upside down. Whether it was cars for clunkers or some crazy Dodd-Frank program that took a wrecking ball to small banks, they plowed ahead to forge a new world.

This is not to criticize either the Bush or Obama administrations. It is meant to be a description of what we have been through since 2008. Bam, there you are on a deserted island that only mildly resembles your previous home and bam, people start trying to fix things.

The result in Lord of the Flies was horrible. As the boys grappled with life-threatening issues, the worst of their personalities came to the surface. As the US economy struggles to regain its balance, we are seeing the same kinds of things. It’s not just our political leaders. It is all of us. We thought we were sophisticated but to me, it isn’t sophisticated to treat your friends and neighbors with disregard at best, rudeness at worst. 

Sadly, Lord of the Flies resolved nothing. The book ends when the boys are rescued by adults. They go back to being boys again. How is our book going to end? Who is going to save us from ourselves? When will we be able to go back to not walking on eggshells whenever we discuss current economic policies? When will we kiss and make up?


  1. Dear LSD. I was told not to kiss and tell.

    1. Good morning Tuna. Good Tunas never kiss and tell.

  2. Tuna is for Sushi. Great books. I read and reread them all. Now my wife, the physics major is reading them.I call our leadership self serving. Why? Because the majority of their constituents do not benefit. There are much better ways when politics is not so influenced by lobbyist. Florida shrunk the school budget and the economic development budget even though next to Mississippi Florida has the lowest paying jobs and third to last in education...which is needed to recruit companies to move. So leadership action makes no sense. Maybe it should not be called leadership at all......the boys on the island sort of kinda were beginning to form leadership either by brutality or gaining trust. People are unhappy that their leadership is really leaderless. Life has not gotten better or worse.

  3. Dear LSD. The LOTF boys re-civilized when the adults showed up and restored balance, values, and discipline. Though we’ve had leaders for centuries the current cadre are not adults . . . . recently they’ve allowed discipline and social/civil values to take a backseat to political correctness, political expediency, and diversity/multiculturalism. Prisons are overflowing, laws are not enforced, cops are hunted, too many graduates can’t even use spell-check much less spell or write a cohesive sentence or balance their checkbooks, aren’t educated enough for good-paying entry-level jobs, etc. . . . . almost anarchistic. Gosh, I just characterized the LOTF.

    Until leaders become adults . . . enforcing laws and disciplining/de-incentivizing unproductive behaviors we will remain stranded boys . . . or we can start behaving like civilized adults and “shrug off” our leaders.

    This tuna is off to get some sushi. Yum.

    1. I'd prefer a nice meaty chicken wing with Buffalo sauce myself.

      Anyway, dearest Chicken of the Sea, I am not sure that your logic is complete. I can agree we have all those issues but I do not see the connection between those social ills you name and the breakdown in civilized behavior among politicians and other successful people who are not so afflicted by those social issues. Why do nice law-abiding, rich, successful people act like the boys on that island? Why will enacting and enforcing the laws you mention lead to a return to civilized behavior? Seems to me that might make things worse because some outspoken folks don't think such a return to enforcement of laws is unfair.

    2. I meant to say at the end "fair". Not unfair.

    3. Dear LSD. The social ills I name are not limited to pols/successful people . . . but to the general populace. I can’t say if enacting/enforcing laws would restore order and civility completely . . . . certainly not doing so has resulted in today’s dismal state-of-societal/civil-affairs. You might recall a famous quote, “ . . . . . doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity.” --- or something like that. Seems like your logic is: Do nothing ‘cause it’s unfair (or so some outspoken folks say) and continue the trend of societal breakdown; or do something (enact/enforce) and get more of the same. Folks are acting uncivilly ‘cause there is no or little consequence. Change that and we might see agreeable behaviors . . . nothing attempted nothing gained.

      The sushi was yum. A little fishy, though.

    4. I'll stick with the chicken wings. I didn't propose any of those things you ascribed to me and you didn't answer any of my questions. I think the Genie is out of the bottle. Folks are acting uncivilly because they have very strong feelings that are supported by parties, the press, and so on. Restoring the discipline you favor will only exacerbate or intensify the differences and would probably lead to something akin to civil war. My guess is that people will feel less threatened on both sides
      of the issues if we were to get some real economic growth. There's nothing like economic success! But even that solution won't guarantee anything today. The opposites are so well entrenched that anything short of civil war seems like a retreat.

    5. Dear LSD. You didn’t propose—I inferred since your statement seemed to suggest partiality to folks’ “unfairness” of enforcing laws/regs and doing so would further exacerbate the situation. So, either way a return to civility will likely not occur. My point is to enforce/disincentivize undesirable, non-productive behaviors. At least try. If the unavoidable outcome is continued incivility then at least an effort was made—the genie might very well be out’a de ol boddle. I thought my reply answered/addressed your questions. So I’ll try again.

      Why do nice law-abiding, rich, successful people act like the boys on that island? Because they can. Because anybody can—not just the privileged folks—act poorly without consequences. Social ills are not limited to pols/successful people . . . but to the general populace.

      Why will enacting and enforcing the laws you mention lead to a return to civilized behavior? Here’s my previous reply: “I can’t say if enacting/enforcing laws would restore order and civility completely . . . . certainly not doing so has resulted in today’s dismal state-of-societal/civil-affairs.” I think that addresses, but not definitively answers, your question.

      If you think it’s futile you might want to consider building/buying a safe house and stock it with lots-O JD, checkers, jacks, and board games.

      No wings or sushi today—just a good ol fish sandwich, the chosen food here in Key West.

    6. Here's the issue. Nice, Law-abiding rich successful people always could act like spoiled brats. The question is why they think it is perfectly respectful to do so now. Why do people who used to behave civilly, now not behave that way? I don't think it is because of a lack of law enforcement of late. I think it is because they find themselves on a scary island. The left is scared of the right and vice versa. Because we find ourselves in a very deep hole with no easy answers neither side wants to own that -- they'd rather blame the other guys. It seems to me that a teensy bit of faster economic growth would be a step in the right direction.