The Lord of the Flies

Baal (or Beelzebub) is called The Lord of the Flies. Indeed, some people are attracted to piles of money, and fall under its allure and spell, like flies to heaps of excrement, wherefore it is said that “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Wherever there is decay or death, there is the Lord of the Flies. The Lord of the Flies is connected with Lewis Mumford’s cogent observation that what were formerly considered the “seven deadly sins” have been, thanks to the “Invisible Hand”, massaged and revalued as being virtues.  In traditional Catholic demonology, in any case, The Lord of the Flies is one of “the seven princes of hell”, and even the chiefest of the princes of hell.

It was the dreadful Grenfell Towers disaster in London, and following that story (which some are pinning on the consequences of deregulation, “cutting red tape”, and social inequality) that brought to mind The Lord of the Flies. William Golding’s famous book by that title is less about what could be than it is about what already is, and the Lord of the Flies is implicated, too, in Naomi Klein’s critique of “disaster capitalism”. I wouldn’t discount the view that the spirit of the age is that of The Lord of the Flies.


21 responses to “The Lord of the Flies”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    This is a very short, very brief piece by Clive James that I read this morning in The Guardian. The mood expressed interests me, though, as the response of a “Man of Letters” — literate man — to the “maelstrom” and “disintegration” going on around him (two words, in fact, that we associate with Gebser’s predictions for the fate of the Late Modern era).

  2. Scott Preston says :

    We’ve mentioned in The Chrysalis Charles Taylor’s views on “The Malaise of Modernity”. It’s not just about the West either. Here’s an excellent article by Nabil Echchaibi on the “malaise” of Islam. The “malaise” is pretty much global

  3. andrewmarkmusic says :

    Good composting toilets with sawdust and straw thrown on waste will lead to a very good compost. In the proper conditions, one will also find psilocybin cubensis which open pineal gland processes…So all is not lost although as long as the political class like those in Victoria B.C. find it acceptable to dump raw sewage……well, then, the shitstorms will not end anytime soon!

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Here’s a radical way to reduce your ecological footprint!

    Sounds freakish to live only on “the life force power of the universe” (in Bolte-Taylor’s terms) but not all that rare actually. There are quite a few “Breatharians”, especially in yogic circles in India.

  5. andrewmarkmusic says :

    That post calls for a debate between Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra…Apparently good friends…..
    What is a fact here: Indian universities have had at least 70 years to challenge scientific orthodoxy and to my knowledge have not succeeded in altering established knowledge.
    I’d agree with Shermer, though, this kind of spirituality is relatively benign compared to the tribalism of Judaism and Islam, and to lesser degree Christianity. I wonder if they believe that the earth is flat, too? Eric Dubay’s cosmology is quite similar to Wilber’s in many ways except for that one doozy…
    The point is that there is a significant variety of truth claims among those who have contortion like ability with the human body! Could we call it, The Gumby Factor?

  6. mikemackd says :

    Like many, I read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies when I was still a schoolboy (a time I was then told would be the best years of my life but, thankfully, up to now they were the worst). The social dynamics in that book were only too apparent then; to this day I remember an effeminate boy being mercilessly teased, and still wish I then had the courage to come to his aid.

    I wonder if those boorish bullies were children of the stern fathering referred to in this article of George Lakoff’s?

    I do so because when gentle teachers came to that stern school, where boys considered that you must be a sissy if you went a week without at least a few strokes of the cane, those teachers were themselves mercilessly tormented by the boys: only the brutal teachers got respect.

    These stern fathers have infested history; still they do not realise that you can’t toughen boys up, you can only toughen them down, and there is a severe blowback on society from children, be they boys or girls, abused in that way.

    Having been a father myself, I realise it’s not a one-way street; parenting is complex; what works for one child may not for another; what’s needed for one child may not be needed for another. Moreover, a child’s perception of a parent may not be anything approaching a mature understanding, but that perception operates more in the child than the reality. Moreover, life is even more complex than parenting, and one’s parenting, while of great importance, is usually not the be all and end all of a child’s life.

    There are no simple answers such as a stern father attempts, he being one along the spectrum of the Terrible Father in Neumann’s greatly flawed yet still great work, The Origin and History of Consciousness. If it’s a choice between “very, very strict or very, very uninterested” parents on the one hand, and one strict or uninterested parent and one nurturing parent on the other hand, the latter is far preferable:

    As Mumford stated in The Conduct of Life (Chapter 1, around page 11), man must make a leap; like the leap I should have made about 55 years ago to defend that effeminate boy. Odds are that none of those bullies still alive will have the courage to make the leap, because they may have been arrested or fixated at a boy’s idea of what a real man is, rather that ever come to learn what a real man really is. However, that is none of my business: my business is, have I made, and if I have not, can I make, that leap myself?

    “Today man is like a mountain climber who must leap at his peril over a formidable crevasse, in order to continue his upward way; and to make the physical jump he will have to draw on all his personal resources. If he be too weak or cowardly to make the effort, he will freeze in his present position, unable to climb up or down, until cold or terror or fatigue, or some combination of all these, forces him to lose his grip and fall to his death. No small reluctant efforts will overcome the conditions that threaten not simply the advance, but the sheer animal survival, of the human race. True, man has never made this leap and there is no guarantee that he will reach the other side: but the upward ascent now beckons as it never beckoned before, and above the parting clouds we can now discern the nearest of the sunlit peaks. If we have faith, we shall reach the other side. But first, we must take the measure of our dangers; for a half-way leap will prove as mortal as no leap at all.”

    From later in the chapter It seems that up to now we have been too weak or cowardly to make that leap, which is to the third alternative Mumford described below:


    Logically speaking, three main courses are now open to modern man.

    First: All the existing institutions may continue to carry forward the methods and forms of the past, without any effort either to reconstitute the overall pattern or to re-orient any single institution. Since, dominated by our present purposes, these forces and institutions have already shown themselves capable of unparalleled destructiveness, there is no evidence whatever that the vital and upbuilding elements that are also at work will, without further effort, gain the upper hand again. On the contrary: the present indications are as clear today as they were to Augustine in the fourth century A.D. with regard to Rome. If we continue on our present downward course, at the accelerated rate that marks the last half-century, the end of Western civilization is in sight: very probably the end of all civilization for another millennium: possibly even the extinction of life in any form on this planet. For the first time in history, man has the means in his possession to commit collective genocide or suicide, on a scale sufficient to envelop the whole race. The end of the world is no longer an apocalyptic hyperbole, now that an atomic chain reaction might bring it to pass.

    Second alternative: Western man may make a compulsive attempt at stabilization and fixation, without bringing about any radical renewal or reorientation. This was the method of totalitarian fascism as practiced in Nazi Germany: a deliberate regression to tribal ideals and infantile practices, an attempt to throw off the complex inter-relationships, the patient co-operations and accommodations of a developed society, and return to fixed custom, to a servile conditioning of responses, to untrammeled aggression on the part of the ruling classes. Though soviet communism began its revolution with a eutopian vision of freedom and brotherhood, it has in the course of a single generation descended to almost the same level of barbarism; and if the present tensions between “communist” (now actually fascist) Soviet Russia and the non-communist states continue for any length of time, there is now plenty of evidence at hand, particularly in the United States, to show that a similar retreat to barbarism will take place in the very effort to ward off Russian domination. In America the forces of reaction, already utilizing irresponsible slander and legal coercion to silence rational opposition, may easily, under the rabid leadership of privileged Senatorial demagogues, pass on to the stage of active violence unless those who believe in freedom and democracy quickly recover the initiative. No new philosophy, no personal transformation, no untried mode of action is required for such stabilization by regression: all that is required is a release from civilized inhibitions and a cringing submission to the criminal and psychotic personalities who rise to the top in such a situation.

    Fortunately, this second alternative is ultimately self-defeating. In their fear of dangerous thoughts the heads of such a regime tend to call all thoughts dangerous; so, given enough time, they must succumb, as the Nazis did, to the general stultification of science and common sense that results from the very effort to achieve protection. But unfortunately, the violence and quackery and fear, which cause totalitarian rulers to plunge into a succession of blunders as great as that which Stalin made in his treaty of collaboration with Hitler, may also wipe out society at large in the very act that causes barbarism’s own downfall. What is worse, despite the fact that its ultimate fate is sealed, a totalitarian regime may well last for at least a century or two, as Russian Czarism did, before it is corrupted beyond repair by its evils.

    Now history shows that even the most successful efforts at stabilization by fixation and compulsion, such as that begun under Constantine the Great in the Eastern Empire, or under the Papacy in the West, do not offer anything more hopeful than a long period of hibernation. Perhaps the happiest effort, since it re-trained many humane attributes, was that which took place in Rome under the Empire, from Augustus to Trajan. An even more successful effort was that which took place in the Roman Catholic Church, from the thirteenth century on, in its effort to preserve and perpetuate medieval civilization: the state that was ideologically crystallized in the Summa Theologia of Thomas Aquinas. Relying upon compulsion because it now lacked the power to conjure up faith or impel consent by more patient rational methods, the Inquisition became the typical organ of this kind of effort. In the end the Church saved itself, but only at the price of losing hold over the rest of Western society.

    Third alternative: But today another course opens: this is comparable to that which opened in Rome in the fifth century A.D. when the Christian Church laid the basis in faith and thought and practice for a new society. Out of the immense vitalities of our present civilization, a dynamic integration and renewal may still take place. This will not come by following the path of least resistance; nor will it come by effecting a succession of small, unco-ordinated, day-to-day modifications and reforms: it involves nothing less than a change in the total pattern of life, working simultaneously throughout every institution, group, and person in society: not at first necessarily commanding a majority, but at least taking hold of a “saving remnant,” whose new vision and new practices will in time be transfused through every part of the community. Such a change does not come about purely by rational decision: it will come, probably, only as the outcome of a crisis so threatening, so calamitous in its possibilities, so empty of easier alternatives, that something like a spontaneous collective decision will be possible — much like that which roused the British people after Dunkirk. At that point, the bounds of possibility will be widened: that which ordinarily could not be done will be done.

    Even now, the fateful constellation of forces I have been describing has probably come about; and if we are not to bow passively to catastrophe or cower under the totalitarian compulsions that will, so to say, freeze catastrophe into the stable form of our society, we must make the personal decisions and undertake the heroic duties and efforts that will bring about a collective regeneration. To understand the nature of this situation, to extend the knowledge and to re-create the values necessary for our survival and our salvation, is in fact the main purpose of the present book.

    Such, then, are the alternatives we face today. We may either follow the downward cycle of de-building, devaluation, and disintegration, till life is not either attractive or endurable, or we may achieve a brief, illusory reprieve by committing the latent forces of life to the process of fixation and stabilization: a negative kind of renewal, in which the lower forms of life will supplant the higher, in which mind and spirit will be sacrificed to power, in which organized criminality will become the established government.

    By this second process we may outwardly arrest the present diseases of our civilization and keep them from spreading; but only by creating a kind of living death for everyone. And as the patient whose limbs are in a plaster cast may by his relief from pain have the illusion of improvement, before gangrene sets in, so a nation that has arrested the processes of decay by stabilizing on a low level, may have, as in Nazi Germany or in other totalitarian countries today, the sense of being the healthy exponents of a new form of life. This is but a momentary illusion. The totalitarian drug is as fatal as the infection it arrests. Thus the inertia of “progress” today leads swiftly downhill; while the attempt to achieve stabilization by collective compulsion and social arrest likewise leads to the same destination — death.

    Only one road lies open to those who would remain human: the road of renewal. Each one of us must dedicate himself, at whatever effort, with whatever willing sacrifice, to such a transformation of himself and all the groups and associations in which he participates, as will lead to law and order, to peace and co-operation, to love and brotherhood, throughout the planet. Since the terms of this transformation are familiar ones, it is the situation itself and the method we bring to it, that will make the difference, changing the empty professions that have so long gone unheeded into operative principles and tangible goals.

    • dadaharm says :


      The third possibility in the Mumford quote is awfully close to Oswald Spengler’s concept of second religiosity. Something also promoted by John Michael Greer (renewal of religion). As I understand it, the explanation of it seems to be as follows:

      The worldview on which the civilisation is based has degenerated and become a dead and rational ideology. The ideology still functions for the elites, but for ordinary people it is dysfunctional. Ordinary people start to search elsewhere for meaning.

      They come to believe that only true spirituality can prevent human corruption. Of course the institutionalised religions within the civilisation are also corrupted. So it requires a new religious movement.

      Of course, this second religiosity has never prevented the collapse of a civilisation in the past. That seems to be the point where Mumford (and Gebser) differ from Spengler.

      (Of course, comparing Gebser’s notion of integral consciousness with Spengler’s second religiosity is rather wild. But I think it makes sense.)

      • mikemackd says :

        Hi dadaharm,

        Your insight into the influence of Spengler on Mumford is supported by
        Costello, P. (1990). The Goals of the World Historians: Paradigms in World History in the Twentieth Century. History. Montreal, McGill. On p. 239 he writes:

        Mumford later disavowed Spengler’s “disembodied Platonism,” especially his artificial separation of a spiritual ‘culture’ and a materialist ‘civilization,’ both of which exist as elements in a dialectical balance in any society. His later criticisms of Spengler as the prophet of Nazi barbarism cannot gloss over the certain sympathy that Mumford felt for Spengler’s view of the fall of the West and to which he connected his own version of a sort of conscious barbarism, one which required a cleansed slate for an Emersonian renewal or Nietzschean revaluation, but which would be established from the start on humanistic principles. While he condemned Spengler’s imposition of his martial values in history as pasting his own photo on the lens of history, he applied his own humanism in its place in his call for renewal.

        References to Spengler appear in several of Mumford’s works. For example, later in The Conduct of Life (around p. 218), Mumford wrote:

        More than one encyclopedic philosopher of history in our time has exerted much effort to understand how and why a cycle of culture or civilization develops, flourishes, and comes to an end. Spengler, using the simplest but most deceptive of analogies, suggested that all cultures went through the cycle of the seasons: forgetting that, if he took his figure seriously, he would have to account for the possibility of cultures situated in regions without any marked quarterly contrasts between cold and heat, growth and dormancy. Toynbee, building on Spengler, has gone exhaustively into various aspects of growth, arrest, and disintegration, with far more concrete detail and a more generous allowance for contradictions and discrepancies than Spengler. Unfortunately, at the end, Toynbee comes forward, if I understand him, with the suggestion that the mission of a culture in its final stages is to produce such a state of collapse and torment and irremediable disintegration as to make people give up all hope of earthly fulfillment. This leads to the development of a new type of Heaven-centered society — inconceivable, it would seem, to the whole and healthy — directed toward Eternity and functioning “out of time.” On Sorokin’s interpretation cultures fluctuate between ideational and sensate types, the first mystic, inward, otherworldly, the second pragmatic, externalized, positivist: a view which, despite the wealth of scholarship that supports it, seems to combine the weakest features of Spengler and Toynbee, though it tries to avoid the arrogant dogmatism of the first and the anti-historical otherworldliness of the second.

        • dadaharm says :

          Hi Mike,

          Thanks for your clarification concerning the influence of Spengler on Mumford. Of course, Spengler’s “Decline of the west” was very popular in those days. But I did not know that Mumford started off as somewhat an admirer of Spengler.

          Spengler’s book at least inspired people like Mumford and Gebser to think deeply about the problems facing Western civilisation.

          It seems to me that the combination of neoliberalism and the Trump presidency are currently doing their best to indeed make true the statement:

          that the mission of a culture in its final stages is to produce such a state of collapse and torment and irremediable disintegration as to make people give up all hope of earthly fulfillment.

    • mikemackd says :

      Decades ago, for most of the previous decade, I used to lead what have now come to be known as soft adventure tours. Sometimes they became hard adventure, but that’s another story. I led such tours through about 60 countries; in those pre-internet days, the job included studying the countries and transmitting the information to the passengers. It also included looking after all their needs – food, accommodation, borders etc.

      Some of those trips lasted two to three months. With those, I was the courier, and worked with a coach driver/mechanic, whose job it was to get us through often very challenging conditions, and get the coach running again when it broke down, sometimes in very remote areas.

      From a Mumfordian/McGilchristian frame, I consider Mumford’s leap to be over the gap between hemispheres, such that our life journeys are to be run by our right hemispheres (our couriers), and driven by our left hemispheres (our drivers). With Mumford’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, as posted here some time ago, that means Caliban letting go and letting Prospero, towards a second, combined hand-in-hand leap, of both letting go and letting god.

      Irrespective of the personal qualities of my drivers’ and my respective hemispheres and their integrations, I see those trips as a metaphor for that life-process. The more power over a megamachine our inner driver/Caliban has, the tougher it may be to listen to what our inner courier/Prospero requires. And the more power they have together, the tougher it may be for both to make that second leap, beyond themselves to serve the all along Mumford’s road of renewal.

      • mikemackd says :

        Re-reading the above, I realise that it should have begun “‘Over two’ decades ago”. No need for anyone to assume that I am even more ancient than I am.

        I would also like to add that wealth is one form of power. I think the above might relate to Jesus’s saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Power seduces the soul; disproportionate power can do so fatally.

  7. andrewmarkmusic says :

    I tapped into the noosphere without knowing about Illich and have come up with an idiosyncratic version of The Global Commons Civilization. It’s premised on extracting Maslow’s basic needs from capitalist systems of unnecessary exploitation and coercion; it also, coincidentally, allows one not to break the only thing that matters in all religion: The Golden Rule. I’ve called them The Four Pillars: Housing, Food, Education and Healthcare. The only way it can be implemented, though, is to cut out cancer at the root and that is the forced fiat currency systems. A public utility non-debt ‘positive money’ distributed equally to all at creation would be a primary necessary condition to implement such a system.
    Once implemented, a stripped down capitalist system could work where it is most needed: solving intractable problems….
    This, IMO, is also a compromise between the very destructive dichotomy set up between Marx, Smith, and Rand….

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      • Steve Lavendusky says :

        The idea of an evolution of consciousness, though unorthodox, is not as strange today as it may have seemed when Barfield first presented it. Since then it’s been argued by several thinkers, notably the philosopher Jean Gebser in The Ever-present Origin, and the Jungian theorist Erich Neumann in The Origin and History of Consciousness. But Barfield’s take on it is peculiar, and perhaps his most startling idea is a reversal of the standard materialist account of mind’s emergence from matter. Rather than a fluke product of material evolution, Barfield argues that consciousness itself is responsible for “the world.” That’s why there’s no answer to questions about the “origin of language” when asked from the orthodox position. Asking about the origin of language, Barfield says, is like asking about “the origin of origin.” Language didn’t come about as a way to imitate, master, or explain nature, as it is usually assumed, because “nature” as we understand it didn’t exist until language did. According to Barfield, the polarities mind/world and language/nature are the result of splitting up “original participation.” To understand language, Barfield tells us, we must imagine ourselves back to a stage at which human consciousness hadn’t yet separated from its unconscious background. At that point there was no “nature” and no “consciousness” – at least not as we understand it. “Nature,” Barfield tells us, didn’t exist until human consciousness came into its own. The “world” we see is the result of millions of years of work by the human mind.

        Off some website.

  8. Charles Leiden says :

    Very articulate writing. Mumford, Spengler, Barfield, Illich, and Vico.

    I appreciate the comment about Mumford and the Seven Deadly Sins. Six of the seven were turned into virtues. Th exception was sloth which is commonly misunderstood to mean physical laziness.

    Andrew Bard Schmookler (Out of Weakness)suggests ideas that are I feel are insightful. His “parables of the tribes” insight. In talking about the tragedy of history. “parables of the tribes” is ironic because what was a gift being a human became its opposite.
    He talks about the ecology of animals – though each creature is free to follow the law of its own nature, the evolutionary process that has inscribed that law fits into an overarching order that protects the whole living system. The biological order nature, though it has no ruler, is far from anarchic. For nature imposes limits.
    Those limits fell away with civilization. …but when, ten thousand years ago, human beings began rearranging the ecosystem for their own purposes, they became the first creatures to invent their own way of life. All things became possible and created open-ended possibilities for social innovation..
    The irony is “this apparent freedom is not what it seems…living entities were compelled to interact unregulated by any life-serving order. He writes that Hobbes “misnamed but analyzed correctly
    Hobbes called it the the state of nature whereas it is a state of unnature but peculiar to civilization and those who who live in it are ‘compelled to engage in the fearful “war of all against all.” Power has contaminated most of known history.

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