Monday, May 11, 2020

Survival instinct

Lord Of The Flies has exerted a powerful grip on the popular imagination ever since its publication in 1951 - so it's little wonder that a similar real-life scenario, discovered and subsequently recounted by Rutger Bregman in his book Humankind, has garnered a great deal of attention since this excerpt was published in the Guardian on Saturday.

There are significant differences between the fact and the fiction. While William Golding's novel paints a bleak and unsettling portrait of "the darkness of man's heart", tracing the swift descent of the marooned children into vicious savages, the six Tongan schoolboys stranded for more than a year on an uninhabited island in the mid-1960s all worked together for the communal good, displaying remarkable resourcefulness to survive in adverse conditions.

In the article Bregman openly admits that he needed to challenge the apparent truth that stands behind Lord Of The Flies - that humans are inherently selfish - if the thesis of his book was to have any credence. The Tongan tale fits the brief perfectly.

Indeed, perhaps a bit too perfectly. As consoling as Bregman's positive reading is, author Sarah Perry is among those who have taken issue with it: "doesn't the fact that a group of Tongan boys NOT raised in toxic imperialist private schooling made a better job of survival than Piggy and Ralph sort of prove Golding's point"? Bregman quotes the comment of the naval officer who rescues the castaways - "I should have thought ... that a pack of British boys would have been able to put up a better show than that" - but (in the excerpt, at least) fails to acknowledge the implicit indictment of a specific set of cultural values rather than of humankind as a whole.

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