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  • Reverend James Squire

The Lord of the Lies

Political Ethics is fundamentally about the distribution of justice and power. Who has it? How do I get it? I always showed the old original version of the Lord of the Flies movie at the end of the unit on political ethics which mirrored the book by that title by William Golding in 1954. It was a place where students could actually see the issues that we studied regarding the ethical systems of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.

Since the insurrection I have been surprised that the book and movie have not gotten more attention and traction in understanding what occurred on that ill-fated day. My students were familiar with the story as it was required reading for many. It is a story that demonstrates what happens when a group of English school boys’ plane crashes on an island where they have to form a government for their survival as there is no guarantee that they will be saved. It is filled with symbolism. One character named Piggy symbolizes science, the boys themselves represent the embodiment of civility with their English accents, groups form, tension reaches a pivotal point as bullying takes hold. Ultimately the boys turn to madness and murder as a result of leaving them as an innocent group of young people on an island.

You should have no difficulty seeing what occurred on January 6 and the boys on the island of innocence turning to murder and mayhem. We also examined what would happen if it was a group of girls or a group of both girls and boys.

Political ethics requires several things. First, you have to make a decision about how you see human nature or what makes people tick and how they attempt to govern in response to how we see human nature. Golding fundamentally believed that people were inherently evil. He made that statement as a description of humanity not as a judgement. He also wanted to reveal how groups of people change when left untethered by ethics and law. Are groups good or evil?

Thomas Hobbes, an Englishman, during the turbulent 17th century, saw his country filled with disorder. He concluded people were “insecure, competitive, and glory seeking” as individuals. Put those people in a group and watch out for what will happen in society. He indicated that the only solution to the distribution of justice and power was for the group to set aside a person known as the “Leviathan” or “Mortal God” (Trump). The people would be required to give him all the power as a one-way street for the people could not get the power back. The upside of this form of government was that it is easily put into place (this was exactly what was done as a first step in the Lord of the Flies). The downside is absolute power corrupts absolutely and is unstable. To counter the instability the Leviathan always had a standing army to protect him from revolution. Think benevolent or malevolent dictator.

Next up to give an opinion about political ethics was John Locke who focused on two considerations. The first was social contracts and property were sacred. Second, this grew out of his view of people as essentially good and likewise good when they formed a group. The driving force in his theory was that all people are created equal. The difference here is that he believed in the right to peaceful revolution or change. You will recognize this as the basis of democracy where our peaceful revolution is voting. The English boys tried this as well, but it failed. You can see that Trump and his loyalists on January 6 attempted to take our fundamental ethical basis of power and justice away from all of the American people.

Time ran out for the boys on the island to grasp the concept of “he who governs best, governs least.” That was the position of Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, a philosopher and expert on manners, and government. His view of human nature was beyond that we were good to our core, but that we were great if left to our own devices. He referred to people as the “noble savage.” Note, he didn’t have the horned man prowling the Capitol in mind. “God,” said Rousseau, “is the power for good. How do I know this? Because I feel it in my heart.”

There are important questions that need to be raised. The January 6 Commission is gathering quite a bit of information regarding January 6 which they should do. However, we shouldn’t miss an opportunity to go through the thinking of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau for they point to where good government should start. How do I regard the human nature of my neighbor? How do I think about the human nature of people in groups? We as a society have to address those ethical questions no matter what constraints we put into place to guarantee that our democracy will flourish and the insurrection will never happen again. Are we insecure, competitive, and glory seeking like someone we know? Are we good or bad intentioned when in a group? Are we driven by a commitment to equality for all? Are we good or evil at our core? If we are good and evil, what is the best way to the engage the distribution of power and justice?

Knowing the facts of Trump and January 6 are vital. Answering the above questions is just as essential for a future that we can be proud of as well. We don’t want the Lord of the Lies to continue and create a Lord of the Flies.

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21 gru 2021

“Are we insecure, competitive, and glory seeking like someone we know? Are we good or bad intentioned when in a group? Are we driven by a commitment to equality for all? Are we good or evil at our core?“

The Trump supporters that I know believe, truly, that they are standing up for American values. They truly believe they are on the “good” side. I don’t know how to even talk to them anymore.

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