Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Paradise lost

Published:Monday | May 15, 2017 | 5:00 AM

William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies was one of the more useful moral indoctrinations I was exposed to in my youth.

It tells the tale of a group of British schoolboys lost on a remote island after a plane crash during a time of intense global conflict. While marooned together on this land of abundant resources, and with no idea of how long they would be there nor the state of the outside world, the boys from various backgrounds, perspectives, and abilities attempted to structure themselves into a society with rules, roles, and the burden of enforcement after quickly realising they needed to organise and centralise in order to survive.

Exposed to intense elements and with the added desperation of looming starvation, base instincts were activated and things quickly disintegrated to the brink of savagery. With each escalating atrocity, a new threshold for cruelty was established, pushing the boys to their limits, and revealing the primal traits of each character as a metaphor for man's underlying innate nature.

There came a moment in the rapid devolution of their civilisation where the boys morphed into beasts and opposing forces battled fiercely for domination. In the midst of the melee, a soft-spoken boy named Piggy mustered enough courage to rebuke his brothers for their wayward behaviour, urging them to rely on reason if they hoped to prosper in the paradise on which they'd landed and would likely spend the rest of their lives.

While the innocent Piggy is delivering his sanctimonious speech to a rowdy crowd, one of the boys deliberately dislodges a huge stone from a cliff that falls from high above causing him a swift and gruesome death. The jarring image of Piggy's lifeless body strewn across the pristine beach like carrion signalled a new moral low for the inhabitants of that failed state, setting off a chain reaction of misplaced rage that eventually set the whole island on fire.

As a child in school, I had such a visceral reaction to Piggy's death that I had little further interest in the story from that point on. because I was so heartbroken at the wickedness of mankind as well as the complicity of the political animals vying for leadership.

The despair I felt for the unfortunate souls stuck on that fictional, barbaric island is an emotion I have since become all too familiar with as a resident of this violent paradise we call home, and it is a feeling I recently recalled with intense revulsion upon glimpsing the image of Constable Leighton Hanson dead in the streets of Kingston while schoolchildren tripped over his corpse trying to get a better shot.

Every week, as the commoners adjust to this country's new moral limits, the prosperous tribe relishes in perpetual celebration on the popular media before retreating to their enclaves of comfort and protection. The view is pleasant for those ensconced in their castles high in the sky, since the elite have no sight or sound of the peasants' blood-curdling screams from such a vantage.

If they catch a whiff of the latest societal stench on the nightly news, they might pause momentarily, dumbstruck like the lost boys staring in disbelief at the carcass of their deceased comrade, before continuing their jolly jig to the Promised Land led by the Prince and his cronies.

There have been many grisly killings that have given this society pause, from the unborn to toddlers to the pregnant to the infirm and the elderly; and each time we think things can't get any worse, something else happens to surprise even the most cynical among us. Each time we might think today's terrible incident will be the one to propel us in the direction of atonement, something else happens more shocking than the last that pushes us closer to the cusp of anarchy.

At regular intervals, and in an effort to soothe our fears, those in charge will warn the crime monster it can find no refuge on this island, before setting the bloodhounds loose to terrorise the villagers in search of the phantom they can never capture.

Similarly, in Lord of the Flies, the boys feared a beast with a taste for flesh that was rumoured to be lurking somewhere on the island and which forced their militancy as a form of self-preservation.

After witnessing the depravity that emerged from their unsuccessful attempts at self-governance, one intuitive child named Simon struggled to make a compelling observation with reference to this furtive beast, saying: "Maybe there is a beast ... .What I mean is, maybe it's only us."

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandycynic.