April 15, 2024

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Science It Works

Lord of the Flies: Where Mother Nature and Human Nature Collide

You know that guy at the grocery store whose shopping cart was hanging out in the exact center of the frozen food aisle, and he was so oblivious that he wouldn’t move it out of your way even though you were clearly in his peripheral vision? Have you ever wondered what it was that kept you from grabbing the nearest bag of frozen pizza rolls and bashing him over the head with it? Your conscience?An innate sense of right and wrong?Perhaps.But then again, maybe not.

In Lord of the Flies, William Golding explores the subject of our animalistic impulses. Our society is so structured – there are so many rules and regulations – that it’s difficult to perceive how we might act if our natural instincts weren’t so repressed and our revised behavior wasn’t so molded by instruction.

In his book, Golding places a group of young boys on an island without supervision and lets them run wild. Indeed, ‘wild’ is exactly what they become. Their actions become brutally sadistic and they seem to lose much of what we tend to label our ‘humanity.’ But would this really happen? Could a group of previously civilized individuals really fall so far so fast?

As you might learn in an AP Psychology class, humans have something called ‘brain plasticity’. Aside from this meaning that your brain can be recycled (be sure to leave it in the blue bin out front when you’re done with it), brain plasticity implies that our minds can adapt and change to our surroundings and given set of circumstances. So even though you may be dealing with a group of intelligent, polite, kind-hearted children, once they are thrown into a dire situation and are forced to take drastic measures in order to preserve their lives, they can become quite different creatures in a very short period of time.

In fact, a psychology professor named Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment in 1971 that tested a similar sort of thing, and he came to the conclusion that indeed mankind can quickly degenerate into lawless, unfeeling beasts when placed in positions of authority in unfavorable conditions. Of course, Zimbardo performed his test on college students, and the way his subjects behaved during the experiment was admittedly not that far off from stripping a freshman naked and chaining him to the door of the dean’s office. So I suppose we should take it with a grain of salt.

Golding paints a terrifying portrait of a world without a sense of morality, and hopefully none of us will ever have to experience anything like it. However, if you think about it, being stranded on an island wouldn’t be all bad. At least you’d have a good excuse for avoiding doing your ACT Prep.