Between Us and Total Chaos

Lord of the Flies:  Sir William Golding’s epic novel of the relationship between human nature and society, and the breakdown that occurs when the safeguards that society creates to  protect itself start to crumble.

I first read the book in junior high school, as the waves created by 1960s American social change and protest began to crash into my consciousness. I came of age in a time when “law and order” bumped into personal freedom, and what would seem, at first glance – maybe – to be two very complementary concepts clashed as, at their extremes, one became an oversimplified icon of police-state thinking and the other became a caricature of lack of accountability and seriousness.

And the book resonated. Where was the middle ground? The sweet spot between the glue that held society together and the anarchy of doing whatever you wanted – more important, what would happen if the bonds loosened? What would I do? What would you do?

The real question – as I see it – relates to absolutes – primal imprints – do we need laws or does human nature automatically take over and self-correct, so that we stay centered and behave in a manner that separates us from our nonhuman neighbors. Do we become the very monsters we fear or do we transcend?

If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it and will leave you with this thought quoted from the manuscript – “Maybe there is a beast….maybe it’s only us.”

Maybe it’s only us – clearly there is enough proof in the past century and this one too, to suggest that way too often it is us – and sometimes us with laws to justify our actions…maybe the worst combination of law and order and anarchy – in fact, since the dawn of time such has been the case.

On a smaller scale, it’s evident in personal and business relationships when self takes precedence and “the end justifies the means” becomes the normative operating philosophy.

So again – the question is, what really stands between us and total chaos? Clearly laws alone don’t cut it – and in fact, can be perverted for evil as well.


“Laws control the lesser man.  Right conduct controls the greater one.”  Chinese Proverb

And there you have it – right conduct – an absolute – a primal imprint – a filter by which to judge what we do, what we support, what we champion.

We need laws – for sure – but as we know, laws are easy to break or ignore or worse, enact for the wrong reasons.

The book ends – “I should have thought that a pack of British boys…would have been able to put up a better show than that.”

What kind of show will we put on?

What do you think?

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