Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fear of Anarchy, the Classroom and Lord of the Flies

Bring up the possibility of a stateless society, anarchy, and you'll typically get the response, "But who would build the roads? And what about crime? There wouldn't be any order!" Where does this assumption come from and does everyone believe that society without the state is impossible?

In the US, and probably most other western countries, students are daily exposed to the necessity of order. When a teacher leaves the room, they tell the class to behave, study their lesson and be quiet. As soon as the door shuts behind the teacher pandemonium ensues. When the teacher returns, order is restored. This is a lesson that survives into adulthood, just like algebra and English. Without authority there is chaos. The idea that people mature and act differently as adults than they do as children isn't recognized.

That's why William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, and its two cinema interpretations have proven to be so popular in the government-sponsored classrooms. Golding's first novel, originally published in 1954 to less than enthusiastic reviews, eventually became one of the most read works of fiction in US high schools and colleges. A group of British schoolboys are marooned on a tropical island when the plane carrying them away from an atomic war crashes. No adults survive the crash and the boys, ranging in age from 7 to 12 are forced to fend for themselves. There are four main characters, Ralph, the responsible type; Jack Merridew, a budding alpha male; Simon, the focus of the story's metaphysics; and Piggy, a myopic asthmatic who also attempts to use logic and reason in the boys' attempt at survival and hopefully eventual rescue. In a Hobbesian progression the boys begin a rapid descent into barbarism and murder until finally order is restored with the arrival of the Royal Navy. While there is certain amount of character development in the story, the basic premise is that without authority (the state) and in a condition of anarchy, humanity will devolve into bestial savagery. There's no evidence, historical or otherwise, that such a thing would ever occur under any circumstances but to think contrarily runs counter to statist beliefs.

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