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  • The Golding Rule

    Posted on August 2nd, 2015 jameslynch No comments

    fliesThis is another guest posting by Jim Lynch, our favorite English teacher from Bishop O’Reilly. I still remember reading this book in 1974 as one of our class assignments. I just purchased the Kindle version and I’m planning to re-read it on an upcoming vacation.

    The Golding Rule

    One of the standard assignments in my high school British Literature curriculum was William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Written in 1954, the novel concerns a group of pre-adolescent English boys stranded on a tropical island without adults, after an abortive attempt to evacuate them to safety during a nuclear war. Within a brief period of time, these children of a sophisticated Western European nation with a proud tradition of culture and civilization turn to bloodlust, savagery and murder.

    After the classes finished an exhaustive discussion of the novel, I always called for a personal and secret written response to a few pointed questions. On scraps of paper they’d respond to the following: 1. If you and your entire class were stranded on a similar uncharted island for the rest of your lives, without hope of rescue, name the person in the class for whom you would vote to be chief. 2. Excluding identification, is there any potential Jack Merridew (the antagonist who become a bloody dictator) in the class? 3. Without rescue, would the eventual outcome your stay on the island be positive or negative?

    Invariably, their responses led me to wonder if we had read the same book. In their eighteen-year-old naive camaraderie, an overwhelming majority of my students: 1. Named a popular athlete or student council president as chief, 2. Refused to allow for the possibility that any of their peers could become ruthless savages, and 3. Thought that their acquired wisdom would allow them to overcome and solve any difficulties that arose. “Gilligan’s Island” anyone?

    After each and every such class response, I’d attempt to bring my students’ utopian vision more in line with Golding’s theme. In the summer of 1972, I reminded them, Tropical Storm Agnes wrought devastation to the town surrounding the very school in which they now sat. Many of my students were evacuated from the flood zone. After the Susquehanna’s raging waters finally subsided, I rode through the town in a panel truck, picking up flat tires from huge pay-loaders and delivering repaired ones, as an employee of a local tire company.

    On every street corner, I’d continue to point out, were members of the National Guard carrying locked and loaded M-16’s, with orders to shoot looters on sight. Pennsylvania’s governor had declared a state of emergency, and the local police force was temporarily out of commission. Why would such an action be necessary in such an area filled with friendly family neighborhoods and small businesses? What could have been the governor’s reasons for such a move? After moments of silence, the only response ever offered was a variation of, “That was different.”

    I then would offer a theoretical proposition. Suppose, I said, representatives of the police in their municipality had gone on the local news and indicated that protracted and unsuccessful negotiations for a new contract had broken down. Consequently, all members of the police department would go on strike as of midnight next Friday. Would the crime rate in their town, I asked, go up, go down or remain the same on that weekend? Once again I encountered initial silence, followed by, “That’s different.”

    Reminding them that Golding crafted his story as a microcosm of larger society, I then asked why their parents paid hefty taxes to support a criminal justice system. Beyond police protection, I said, why do we need courthouses, magistrates, judges, lawyers, and prison facilities? Because there are bad people in society, they would respond, and we have to protect ourselves from them. And all those bad people, I’d remind them, once sat in classes just like this one and had every opportunity to work hard, play by the rules, and choose happy and productive lives.

    Ultimately, I would conclude class discussions of the book with my hope that my students would reopen the discussion at their 25th class reunion, and my belief that, by that time, the seeds planted in their consciousness by Golding would have germinated in the soil of their maturity. While I appreciated their idealism, I found their naivete unsettling. I only attended one such class reunion, but the alumni were having such a memorable evening catching up and sharing family photos that I was loath to raise the issue with anyone.

    I seriously doubt, however, that the needle would have moved to a great degree in the direction of a pessimistic view of the human condition. While the signs are abundant, most prefer to avert their eyes and focus on family and friends, rather than the larger world. Despite media websites, and twenty-four-hour cable news, people tend to push unpleasant intrusions into the background.

    Iran’s hell-bent quest for atomic weapons; Russia’s incursions into the Ukraine; ISIS’s mass beheading, burning and drowning, and its goal of a world-wide caliphate; domestic terrorism; a $19 trillion national debt with 93 million American adults unemployed; massive illegal immigration; race riots in St. Louis and Baltimore; soaring homicide rates in urban areas – let the people we elected deal with such things, while we are busy attending to our own problems. When it appears that crime is a little too close for comfort, we’ll simply have an ADT sign planted in our front yard and a deadbolt installed on our front door.

    Most people believe that if we live by the golden rule, we’ll all get along. And for those few in society who don’t abide by that principle, we have police departments and a criminal justice system. The ugly reality that we don’t want to face, however, is that only a larger framework of laws makes it possible for anyone to abide by such an idealistic rule. For those who choose to live by a more primitive code of behavior, the golden rule is a fairy tale.

    People likely to ignore criminal law are only restrained by the penalties involved in breaking the law. When the laws cannot be enforced due to natural or man-made disasters, all bets are off, and the ranks of those few begin to swell. According to historian Will Durant, “Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence.” Those “relics” of our emergence as a species, he cautions, are still firmly embedded in our DNA. The systems of laws that have evolved over millennia were put in place to protect us from ourselves.

    While most us are focused on mortgages, soccer practice for the kids and paying the bills, however, those laws are beginning to fray around the edges, along with many commonly held social mores and practices. As the federal government looks the other way in the face of millions of illegal immigrants streaming across our southern border, and of mayors establishing sanctuary cities in defiance of federal law, society has also changed its views on acceptable behavior. The melting pot has been replaced by separate, “multi-cultural” groups with individual agendas.

    Even when people do venture outside their home and work bubbles to offer an opinion on larger issues, they are subject to censure for being politically incorrect. They aren’t successful because they have invested time and energy in education and career, but because of their “white privilege” (African-American success is often attributed to being an “Uncle Tom”). In the absurdity of political correctness, domestic Islamist terrorism has been transformed into workplace violence, illegal immigrants have become undocumented immigrants, drug addicts are dubbed chemically-challenged, prostitutes are renamed sex workers, and an illegitimate baby becomes a love child.

    On many university campuses, students are warned about “micro-aggressions” for using “trigger words” which remind the hearer of past traumatic events: “Selling someone down the river” is a racist reference to slavery; acting like a “hooligan” and being put into a “Paddy Wagon” are slur terms for those of Irish ethnicity; calling a rioter and looter a “thug” is code terminology for the “N word.” If you have doubts about man’s role in climate change, you are branded a “global warming denier” (with the added insinuation echoing a holocaust denier). Charlton Heston aptly referred to political correctness as “tyranny with manners.”

    Durant’s comment on this phenomenon is instructive: “Civilization gives way to confrontation; law yields to minority force; marriage becomes a short-term investment in diversified insecurities; reproduction is left to mishaps and misfits; and the fertility of incompetence breeds from the bottom while the sterility of intelligence lets the race wither at the top.”

    What too many fail to recognize or acknowledge in the sophisticated, technologically-advanced 21st century is that civilization is a razor-thin veneer. Despite our scientific discoveries and breakthroughs, we remain captives of our primitive ancestors in our essential nature. Man is only an evolutionary link between primitive apes and truly civilized human beings.

    Having served in the Royal Navy during World War II, Golding witnessed the worst of human behavior, with the cost of more than 60 million dead – six million of whom were cruelly obliterated in the concentration camps of a cultured and Christian European state. The trauma he witnessed occurred a mere twenty years after the seemingly minor and avoidable events leading to the outbreak of World War I, which claimed 37 million military and civilian casualties.

    Golding knew that those civilized British children in his novel represent the distressing reality about where humankind actually stands in its slow development as a species. Through his work, he speaks to the necessary, if unpleasant, fact that the golden rule is only possible within the context of the Golding rule: we must never fail to recognize and remember that civilization is built on the rule of law. Treating one another with generosity, kindness and decency is contingent upon our willingness to subordinate ourselves to the hard-won lessons of history. Without that commitment, we run the horrific risk of setting, not an island, but the world on fire.

    Jim Lynch
    Fleetwood, PA
    August 2, 2015
    If you’d like to provide any feedback to Mr. Lynch, he can be reached at jimadalynch(at)gmail.com. You’ll need to fix that email to use it, by substituting the @ symbol for the (at) characters.

  • Looking for a Twitter app…

    Posted on March 13th, 2009 Lee Devlin 4 comments

    In order to improve my productivity, I am looking for a Twitter application with the following automation features:

    1. Tweet a quote from some famous person every 5 minutes. I have a book of over 2800 quotes and it would be ideal if it could be scanned into a database and direct the contents into my Twitter stream. It will take about 23 days to cycle through all the quotes at that rate. After it’s over, I want it to loop continuously for the benefit of my new followers and in case someone missed one of the quotes.

    2. Check the local weather and send a message to all my peeps about what it looks like outside my window, at least 5 or 6 times a day. It should also tell people when it’s getting dark in my neighborhood.

    3. Connect to a pillow sensor so that when I’m hitting the hay, everyone will know, as I’m sure they are curious. It should issue a random yet clever statement with the word ‘pillow’ somewhere in it.

    4. Each morning when I arise, it must proclaim that momentous event and simply send the phrase, “Mornin’ Peeps!!!”

    5. Whenever Guy Kawasaki tweets anything, which happens about 300-400 times a day, the app should be the first to Re-Tweet it, ideally within 30 milliseconds so I can get my mug to appear in the Tweet stream before his next posting, if possible. For an extra bonus, remove any gratuitous references to alltop.com.

    6. It should monitor for any DMs sent to me and forward them to my spam bucket, because, frankly, I just don’t have the time to check my Twitter DMs.

    7. It should search through Google’s newsfeed and tweet the top headlines as they change every 3 minutes. It should insert ambiguous and random catch phrases that go something like “This is cool!”, or “Can you believe this?!” in front of the tinyurl link.

    8. Harvest the entire Twitter member database and follow everyone.

    9. Auto-follow anyone who somehow manages to follow me before I can follow them. It must then send them a Tweet, an email, and a phone text telling them how much I appreciate their follow and how I intend to hang on their every word.

    10. If anyone should ever stop following me, notify me about it immediately, so I can launch a marketing campaign to get them back, ASAP, unless it’s someone who doesn’t Tweet every hour, because I really could care less about those kinds of people.

    11. Send out some blip.fm song link every 10 minutes that will make my followers think I have very sophisticated musical taste.

    Have I left any out? Feel free to add your own ‘must have’ Twitter automation features in the comments…


    UPDATE 2009-03-21: Just in case the satire didn’t shine through, I think that automation in social networking is a slippery slope that eventually ruins the experience. People who engage in the techniques above make me want to ‘unfollow’ them on Twitter.

  • The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

    Posted on May 21st, 2008 Lee Devlin No comments

    I’ve read Dan Pink’s previous books, Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind and enjoyed them thoroughly and wrote reviews of them. Just recently I read Dan’s latest book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. This book contains several important career lessons that it helps to be reminded of periodically. I liked its creative approach of using Japanese Manga comic style for a business book. It makes the lessons much more memorable and fun to read. The book has 6 lessons, namely:

    1. Your plans and jobs will change, so don’t try to plan out your entire career in advance. Each position will help you learn what you’re good at which can help to direct your career. Positions will sometimes change or move away, so you shouldn’t get too attached to a pre-conceived notion of what your long term career plan must look like to be successful. Despite what your parents may have told you, there are no safe “fallback careers” anymore. Also, if a job is safe but you can’t stand it, then it is no way to spend your career.

    2. Find positions that focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses. If you work in an area that requires you to do things that don’t resonate with your strengths, it will be nearly impossible to be successful. There are some good resources recommended about finding your strengths, such as the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. Knowing your strengths will allow you to better choose positions where you spend more of your time doing things that you do well and enjoy.

    3. Your career is not about you, but rather about what you do to help customers, clients, and co-workers to be successful. Using your strengths and enjoying your job is important, but they must be applied to helping others, not just yourself.

    4. Persistence is more valuable than raw talent. Your career isn’t a sprint, but more like a marathon. You need to continue to show up, practice, and never give up.

    5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who never try anything. When you do make mistakes, make sure you learn from them. If you make a really big mistake, you’ll know because it may be named after you (This has something to do with the choice of the main character’s name).

    6. Leave an imprint. When you look back at your career, you’ll want to be able to know that you made a difference that mattered.

    There are a lot of business/career books out there that have useful information, but you’d be hard pressed to find one that has as much great advice concentrated in as few words as this book. I was able to read the entire book during a lunch break. One of the common objections I hear from my colleagues who tell me that they don’t read business books is that they don’t have the time, but that excuse won’t work for this one.

    This may be the “last career guide that I’ll ever need,” but I’ll certainly look forward to any future writing Dan Pink does on the subject.

  • Mixing technology with politcal punditry

    Posted on August 3rd, 2007 Lee Devlin No comments

    I unsubscribed from Robert Scoble’s blog today because I decided I don’t much care for his politics. Scoble is an ‘A list’ tech blogger, or at least that’s what he should be doing, as a mouthpiece for Podtech. It’s not very smart to go airing one’s politics in front of an audience that subscribes to your blog looking for information on technology, yet Robert Scoble did it in spades with this posting. It’s not the first time he’s delved into politics either.

    I think that part of the problem with tech bloggers is that a few of them think they are experts on everything, including on how to run this country, and want to pontificate about it. Political punditry is for political bloggers and I avoid them because the ones I disagree with annoy me and the ones I agree with are preaching to the choir. It’s most unwelcome to find political commentary in a blog that should be politically neutral.

    The country is nearly evenly divided by political beliefs, which is why the last few elections have been so close. Tech bloggers should respect the opinions of those who disagree with them because it’s likely to be half of their audience. That means when it comes to politics they should avoid those topics or risk alienating about half of their readers.