The Lord of the Flies was written by a dude who ran a boys boarding school, he based the story on the natures he saw and the basic question, what would these kids become if left to their own devices? After spending the better part of two years at a school full of boarders and day students I’m left believing The Lord of the Flies was a documentary built on a tragic reality – we are worse than animals.
I heard a commentator remark on there being a fundamental difference between someone who had committed a brutal atrocity and the rest of us. He had the self-righteous insight to state, “Most of us are incapable of committing such acts.” This struck me as a profoundly stupid statement, what exactly did he think the difference was between himself and Nazi death-camp guards or the civilians who clung to ignorance, the father who killed his own children in an attempt to avoid being hacked to death by the LRA, the child soldier who took up arms for the murderers of his family and rapers of his sisters rather than suffer the same fate he saw inflicted on his own, etc? The only difference I see is most people never find themselves in these situations. To think we are incapable of atrocities is to ignore the lessons taught us by those who prove themselves capable.
We are worse than animals, not because we commit greater atrocities, though sometimes we do, but because we believe in something better, and yet so often still do them. Though disgusted by hyenas eating the entrails of still struggling wildebeest, we don’t judge them, they act according to their nature, they don’t know any better – we do. We train ourselves, and our children, to live according to higher standards; nature doesn’t determine our ethics, something else does. An animal doesn’t contemplate good and evil, it’s only concerned with survival; it doesn’t contemplate self, it simply is.
Whether or not you place stock in the Eden story, we do possess knowledge of good and evil. In many ways it has been our downfall. Through it we are made aware of our own wickedness. This usually leads to lies, denials, greater atrocities, and blinded justifications.
What makes us different from animals is not just our capacity for wickedness, but our potential for good. To know the difference between good and evil is to be offered a choice. Most of us never suffer this question in any significant way, and those who do often fail. When we rise to the challenge and choose something beyond nature, we accomplish something beautiful. We begin to reflect the nature of the one who made us capable of the choice.
As annoying as it is, it doesn’t surprise me when kids steal my food, money, reading light, etc. break things, resort to violence, or lie with complete disregard. Most of the time most kids are animals. What surprises me, in a good way, is when they choose something better… especially when the threat of a beating isn’t held over their heads. Our knowledge of good, of the higher, makes us capable of so much more – even in those little creatures we call children. Though Good and evil can both be active, only evil can result from passive choices. To think our natures or cultures will protect us is foolish, history proves it's always been this way.
How then do we choose good?