Darkness of man’s heart
William Golding’s modern classic, ‘Lord of the Flies’, first published in 1954, is a masterwork on the corrupting influence of power. The novel sees a group of English boarding school boys crash onto a tropical island. The schoolboys setup a quasi-democracy, that eventually falls with the lack of authorities and institutions to keep the boys working together. The distribution of power and the wilderness of the island causes some of the boys to lapse into savagery, and the results soon prove fatal. It is not until a naval officer, symbolising the authority that had been missing, finds the boys that they are awoken to their evil, to the “end of innocence”, and the “darkness of man’s heart”.
If that brief plot synopsis sounds dark and disturbing it’s because it is intended to be — that is precisely why Golding wrote the novel. The story revolves around Thomas Hobbes’ philosophy of the Leviathan. The state of nature was a time before society, where people lived freely, without rules or laws. And what this ‘state’ looked like has been widely debated. In Hobbesian theory, the state of nature is a war. Without a government, the innate evil of people would lead them to turn on each other. This pessimistic view is the one that Golding depicts in Lord of the Flies, the boys turn from hunting pigs and ‘the Beast’ they believe to be stalking them on the island, to killing each other. If the island they find themselves on is the state of nature, it is a Hobbesian one.
But why would Golding be so pessimistic in his view? Why would he willingly accept Hobbes’ philosophy? Well if there was ever evidence that humans are deeply evil and intent on turning on each other, it was the atrocities of World War Two. Golding was writing almost immediately after the Holocaust. The systematic destruction of the Jewish race is evidence that humanity, anyone of us, could have committed these evil crimes, could have done unspeakable things to each other. And when push comes to shove, and law and order goes out the window, humanity can turn on itself, just as Hobbes argued. Not to mention also the use of nuclear weapons in 1945 — weapons that eviscerated countless innocent civilians, and the same reason why the boys in the novel end up on the island. Golding had fought in World War Two and said of his experience, “I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.”
On the other hand, for philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the state of nature is far more optimistic. It is solitary and peaceful — people would not necessarily come together, but neither would they turn on each other. Rather each individual would survive on their own with no hatred for his fellow man. The ills of humanity only came with the formation of society, not before it as Hobbes had argued. Rousseau dictated that decisions ought to be made for everyone, requiring people to follow a rule of law they would follow regardless. People are better without government because society means unfreedom and oppression. This optimistic view of humanity is the one refuted by Golding in Lord of the Flies.
So, if the death and violence of the Second World War was the inciting event for Lord of the Flies and Golding’s revelation of humanity’s base evil, might we have another piece of art coming out of our modern times? Of course, one may be quick to answer ‘No, because the extent of death and violence of the Second World War has not been matched since’, and while that is true, humanity continues to prove its possibility for evil and vile acts. If Golding’s classic was formed out of the atrocities of the Holocaust and Nuclear Warfare, a spiritual successor could be initiated by an analysis of the British government’s policy regarding Covid-19.
I would first like to disclaim: I am not saying that the faults of this government’s pandemic policy are worse or equal to the crimes of World War Two, those will forever remain a stain on human history, and represent the absolute minima of human compassion. However, I am analysing how systematic destruction influenced Golding to write his magnum opus, and thus may influence the novelists of our age to craft such a bitter, cynical piece of fiction/fable.
Upon initial inspection, the ineptitude of the government in regards to Covid-19 may appear to be just that, ineptitude — simply accidental and passive mistakes that have cost tens of thousands of lives. However, it may be more sinister and malicious than originally thought. Those with Covid-19, especially the elderly situated in care homes were said to have been ‘left to die’, a phrase implying that passivity led to their deaths. Indeed, passivity, in a time of crisis (such as a pandemic that threatens public health), is just as forceful and dangerous as violence, and indeed accountability and responsibility should not be hindered. Especially if those being ‘left to die’ so to speak we’re intentional casualties, not simple errors of a passive policy. To put it into a rather brutal analogy: A women is tied to a railway with a train coming towards her, and you are a mop-topped, Bullingdon Club member. If you are awe-struck and paralysed by the fear of impending doom for this fair maiden, you will of course have cost her life, but at least it could be excused on the grounds of fear. However, if you instead see the women, and decide to let the train hit her, so that you can get to a chest of gold on the other-side of the train track, as well as wiping away a few ‘undesirables’ from your path, then you are, albeit indirectly, responsible for the death of that woman. That responsibility, that guilt for the life of the woman, should not be washed away. Unfortunately it is not just the death of a single woman that this government has on their hands, but rather the lives of tens of thousands; of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. The most deplorable thing of all, this government denies responsibility — the PM and his peers would have you believe these people died because the government was too scared to do anything, but in reality it was because the government didn’t want to do anything.
That may seem a gross exaggeration, admittedly I doubt the government wanted all of those who died of the virus to do so. Indeed, if the PM did really have the virus, and it “could have gone either way”, that surely proves that point — but not entirely. This article is not promoting a conspiratorial claim that the Conservative Party manufactured Covid-19 to eradicate people — that frankly is absurd. Rather, when the pandemic arose, they saw an opportunity to carry out a (for lack of a better word) culling. Since it would have no perpetrator, the casualties could be chalked up to an unfortunate virus, with the Conservative Party paralysed in fear and unable to help. As previously mentioned, that still places a part of responsibility on them, but not nearly as much as if they had killed those they wished to themselves. Think of the virus almost as the Tory party’s ‘hitman’, they didn’t know he’d turn up, but when he did they carried out certain policies that would allow him get the work done.
So who is it that are on the government’s hit list? Well, simply put, anybody who proves costly. It just so happens that these people are the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Where the Holocaust was mainly from ideological hatred of difference, the prejudice of this government’s policy is based solely on cost efficiency and to a larger extent Social Darwinism. If you need evidence of that, look at the herd immunity policy that was initially posed by the Government. Those who would survive the virus and forge an immunity to it could continue to work and thus productivity and the economy would continue unhindered, while those who were weak and thus more costly to the government through care homes and prolonged NHS treatment would die. The issue with this policy for the Tories was not the moral implications of the deaths, but rather that it was too overt. If we return to the hitman analogy, a herd immunity approach would reveal the Conservatives as the shadow client — the men and women who ordered the hit. It wasn’t passive enough for them to deny responsibility and would only lower public perception of their party. They couldn’t risk another obvious attempt of eugenics such as Grenfell (done all on the cheap in a Conservative Borough, the wealthiest in the country, just to minimise cost). The Tory party really want us to forget Grenfell not because of any guilt or moral qualm they have, but because it made their intentions too obvious, evident by how they went after Norwood rapper Stormzy when he called Theresa May out in a song at the BRIT awards in 2018, “What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?” They then proceeded to attempt to silence him and created controversy around him the following year, funnily enough when he heavily promoted and supported the opposition leader.
So while they may have claimed they never proposed a herd immunity approach, they all but executed it. Without sufficiently supporting the elderly and care homes, this government was willingly and knowingly signing the death warrants of those who seemed to them an unnecessary expenditure. Much like many businesses are being made to reassess their expenditures and make cuts, this party had been doing so for the country before the pandemic. Indeed, this financial focus is epitomic of the Conservatives, and has been a part of the parties political identity since its inception. A look at the founding fathers of Toryism such as William Pitt, The Younger and Sir Robert Peel suggest this economic preference (money over human life), and indeed this costed lives in the form of the Industrial Revolution. Modern day Toryism is simply an evolution of this concept but on a larger scale.
In fact, this ideal can even be seen in the PM’s addresses to the nation, where he asks those who can’t work from home to go to work, and to get to their workplaces by any means possible. This government is only concerned about one thing: the economy. What upholds the economy? The working class. So if you or I don’t go to work, we are damaging the economy. Why do the Conservatives care about the economy? Two main reasons: a) if the economy is good, then for the most part people are happy, and therefore public perception of their party is high, and b) if the economy is good, then the disproportionate way it runs will benefit the pockets of those who fund the Conservative party. But why then would they bring out such an extensive and effective furlough scheme? Money matters, and to have their workforce get fired because businesses couldn’t keep them on would lead to a massive influx of people reliant on the benefits system, which (just like the elderly or those with medical conditions) is deemed an unnecessary expenditure. So instead they bring about the scheme and have workers still in jobs, ready for the quick resumption of work as soon as they get the go ahead, or even before the green light is shown in the case of construction workers.
This was not a “sleepwalk” into disaster, as the Sunday Time’s Insight team argued in their well-renowned piece, but rather a deliberate crisis with the aim of cost efficiency, and the alibi of passivity as a cover. To claim that the government simply unconsciously entered a crisis is debatable, and there is a plethora of evidence to the contrary. Why did Johnson skip 5 Cobra Meetings? Why did the government fail to implement any contingency planning such as ordering PPE, the manufacture of ventilators and testing kits? Why have they ignored the advice of scientists (i.e. SAGE claim that it is still too early to reopen schools, while this government would have had primary schools reopen on the 1st of June)? It was not out of ineptitude and passivity, but rather the long term aim of cost effectiveness, specifically evident in chief advisor Dominic Cumming’s intents for NHSX.
NHSX is an application that would seek to conjoin healthcare and digital identifiers, combined with Artificial Intelligence to tailor medicine specifically to you and your data. This of course doesn’t sound so bad, if the government becomes more effective at preventing widespread diseases such as the one we are currently experiencing, that is surely a good thing? And if it is only possible through machine learning and AI, then so be it. Except for the fact that this data collection would be incredibly invasive, and as we saw from Cambridge Analytica, may prospectively result in unlawful applications. But worse than that is the underlying eugenics movement in the NHSX scheme. The NHSX unit relies heavily on genetics — specifically genomic profiling. This genome sequencing carried out by the NHS Genomic Medicine Service is said to help the NHS prevent diseases as the taxonomy revolves around the idea that genetics and disease are inherently linked. While this may be the case in regards to inheritable diseases and certain forms of cancer, there is little evidence that the “underlying drivers of disease” are primarily genetic.
Many years ago, Cummings presented how his vision for NHSX would evolve into preventing diseases before birth, whereby genomics would prove pivotal. This is effectively a nod toward the selective breeding techniques at the core of eugenics. If this was only to be used for the prevention of diseases, that might be partially acceptable, but Cummings also spoke on his blog about how it could be used to enable precise predictions of “natural advantages” such as “general intelligence”. If any doubt remained that Cummings vision was inspired by the pseudoscience of eugenics, he cited two primary sources: educational psychologist Robert Ploman (who has a history of association with the eugenics movement) and physicist Steven Hsu (who was involved in an application that assisted in the genocide of the Uighur population in the Xinjiang province in China) who openly advocated for genetics breeding programs. I raise this point of Cummings’ eugenics-influenced plans as further evidence that this government do not at all feel morally unjustified in killing people for their cause. Yet again, Cummings’ eugenics movement is not brought forth by any inherent racial or ideological differences in contrast with the Nazi Party, but rather simply spending, and the reduction of costs. To prevent diseases from birth, is to reduce the toll those born with severe diseases have on the Exchequer.
In many ways, the Coronavirus crisis is reflective of Cummings’ pre-existing ideology, and if Boris is really the Tsar to Cummings’ Rasputin, then it would be good news to us all if the controversy over him breaking lockdown leads to a resignation, although he refuses to even consider stepping down. And the rather sombre truth is that even if Cummings does leave, the ideology of economic eugenics is deeply inoculated into the Conservative Party.
So, how does Golding’s Lord of the Flies come into this? The Hobbesian theory Golding promotes in the novel is extremely pessimistic and argues that humanity is intrinsically and instinctually malicious, I would argue that is untrue. Yes, I have just gone on a long tirade about the innate evil of the Conservative Party, and discussed how the events of World War Two proved to not only Golding, but the world, the evil of man. Humanity is not black and white, wholly bad or wholly good, instead it has the possibility to commit horrendous acts of violence and hatred, but also phenomenal acts of kindness and love. Indeed, that point rings true for every individual. It seems Golding realised this later in his life, writing in his unpublished memoir for his wife Ann, of the terrible crimes he had committed, such as an attempted rape of a 15 year-old girl while he was a teenager, as well as the physical abuse of his children, and the setting of his students against each other during his time as a teacher, as in Lord of the Flies. Golding calls this part of himself, “monstrous”, and while it is true, a separation of the art from the artist is necessary. Regardless of Golding’s sins, he was a man who had witnessed humanity at its worst, and he interpreted it as proof that man was solely evil (he may have thought that even due to his own character). That interpretation was false (hopefully), yet his novel still stands as a reminder that mankind can do these vile things to each other. So, now that we can see humanity’s propensity for ill rearing its ugly head yet again, it is necessary for writers of our present and of our futures to write these reminders, these fictions that awaken us to long forgotten memories of humanity’s potential for evil, and fables that assert man’s opportunity for good.