Saturday, September 04, 2004

Lord of the Flies

In the Middle East, we see young people between about 15 and 35 years old throbbing in crowds, fists in defiance. They douse themselves in blood, burn flags and hand Kalashnikovs to their children. Sometimes the defiance is against America, other times the Zionists, and at times even against their own Arab masters.

In America, we see at the Republican Convention young Americans literally drawing lines in the street, daring the other side to cross. And sometimes there's violence in the transgressions they goad. To say that these people are spitting mad is an understatement. If there ever was comity between opposing political adherents, it is certainly gone the way of chivalry. Especially among the youth.

In Europe, the natives are restless, and the immigrants are marauding. Europeans identify with a self image of post-historical repose; they want to show the world that they have given history its funeral, and now they pursue benign socialist pastimes. They pretend that all life's problems can be thwarted by eating really good cheese and drinking fabulous wine, while fattening the termites chewing at their civilization’s foundation with entitlements. But their splendorous self image is a delusion. Synagogues burn; swastikas appear in the dead of night; hostages part with their heads. Look at the faces of the restless in Europe, whatever their cause: Young. Inexperienced. Ferocious. Ideological. And mad---very, very mad.

In China, look at the caldron of people who seem to be stomping and clambering over each other into one vast human pyramid of 1.3 billion souls. Perhaps a human pyramid best describes their lot; the losers are at the bottom, who are the vast majority. Only the top of the pyramid touches the light. And those souls are enraged too, caught in a merciless drive to---well, somewhere, they all hope.

In North Africa, in places like Darfur, Sudan, Arab youth of the north harry and butcher negroes from the south. Descriptions of the genocidal attacks sound almost like children at play, but gone terribly wrong. For the killers, there is some kind of release taking place. There is more than killing and butchering. There is glee.

On the network news, 'Left' and 'Right' are deliberately arrayed in opposition for maximal entertainment value, as though in a cock fight. The most polarized opinions (formerly known as people) are carefully hand-picked to represent the most conflicting issues of the hour. Shows entitled Hardball and Crossfire delight in the debased spectacle of their own making. Ratings climb. Sides are reinforced. Opinions proliferate at the expense of unanimity. The media reinforces the mob, not the electorate.

Mob rule appears to be the enduring social movement enabled by contemporary media, across the world. Perhaps the information age is at the root. As chivalry gave way to barbarity beneath the tank treads of Verdun, comity and debate has given way to mobbing beneath the satellite dishes and broadband connections of the Internet. We live in a densely populated world of young people, who were promised a golden future over some very clever media in their childhood. Take a stand, strike a pose---be defiant, an army of one. All or nothing. To be extreme is its own reward---so let it be nothing.

The 21st century world might be best described by William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Chapter 4 describes how Roger’s eventual cruelty to his mates began:
Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.
The children are still constructing their culture, guided by civilized instincts that dominate their bestial instincts. Roger wishes to torment poor Henry with stones, but he is held back by the remnants of socially imposed behavioral codes, preventing him from caving-into his savage impulses. Eventually, Roger and most of the children lose their respect for civilization’s forces, resorting to violence and savagery.

We can look at current events in a similar light. Slowly, the curtains of civilization peel away. Timidity gives way to temerity as the deconstructionists steady their grip and yank the curtains down. How many curtains that remain is anybody’s guess. And what is on the stage may only be fury, and the sword.

From Chapter 4:
His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.
Jack’s mental state after killing his first pig marks another milestone in the boys’ decline into savage anarchy. Jack exults in the kill and is unable to think about anything else because his mind is ‘crowded with memories’ of the hunt. Jack’s exhilaration mixes with his feelings of power and superiority. Jack is excited for having ‘outwitted’ another creature and “imposed” his will upon it. The previously more civilized Jack claimed that hunting was important to feed the boy castaways; but his obsession with hunting merely satisfies his primal instincts---it has nothing to do with contributing to the common good.

Subjugation feels good, and is a means to an end. Jack could be the Palestinians, the Jihadists and the Ba’athists; or the nihilists of the West---even the bullhorn pundits mounted front-and-center before our living room couches. Living rooms, indeed.
Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.
Near the end of the novel Ralph sees the rescuing naval officer. His sudden realization that he is safe and will be returned to civilization plunges him into a reflective despair. The rescue is not joyous; Ralph realizes he will never be the same. He has lost his innocence and delighted in the evil that lurks within all mankind.

We have come to the end of innocence. 9/11 in a networked world accomplished what no other despot could throughout history: Our savage instincts have come up from the bottom of history, up here to the ‘end of history’. And so there really is no end of history, only a new beginning.

Our savage instincts lurk within all of us, even at civilization’s apex. Fringes everywhere seem to have found a new voice, having obtained empowerment that is afforded by modern means. The fringes become mobs; their flames are fanned by a world made small in the Internet Age. We can only pray that there is an officer of civilization en route to rescue our world from the growing anarchy.