NORTHUMBRIA UK - William Golding’s deeply pessimistic book ‘Lord of the Flies’ was thrust upon me in 1966 during a course in English Literature.
It was compulsory reading but I almost immediately rejected it.
After scanning reviews and flicking through its contents, I pushed it away unfinished because its bleakness about our human condition was too much to accept.
Golding described the fate of a troop of apparently “civilised” British schoolboys, sole survivors of an airplane crash, who drifted to an uninhabited Pacific island and set out to do the best they could to survive.
The author’s view was cynical. The boys’ early high hopes gave way to barbarity and, when rescuers eventually turned up, they discovered three of the boys had been killed by the others because ferocity, not cooperation, had prevailed.
I was dismayed that Golding’s cynical view - that inescapable selfishness and unavoidable reversion to a so-called “primitive” state was the lot of mankind.
Kindness, morality and cooperation were only a veneer. Unfortunately, this dark view was, and still is, widely accepted.
Perhaps this was because the book, written in 1951, was influenced by the revelations of unbounded institutional Nazi cruelty that affected Europe in the aftermath of the World War II.
So I was relieved to read this week an account of six boys from Tonga whose 1966 fishing expedition went disastrously wrong and they found themselves swept ashore on an uninhabited Pacific island called Ata.
They had not much more than the clothes they stood up in – but despite the difficulties they survived with their health and friendship intact after more than a year of forbidding challenge.
Their story, flagged as ‘The Real Lord of the Flies’, cheered me immensely because it was as optimistic as Golding’s fiction was depressing.
It was a testament to a view that humans, if not naturally and overwhelmingly cooperative and empathetic, are much more likely to show kindness to each other than revert to brutality and do harm to each other.
You can learn more by linking to this review of Rutger Bregman’s book, ‘Humankind – A hopeful history’, in The Guardian newspaper.