In Norwich there’s going to be a meeting in August about creationism, and don’t ask me how I came across that, but I did, and it started me thinking and doing some light research mainly on Google News.
I don’t know how established creationism and Intelligent Design is here in the UK, but my instinct tells me that it is a very marginal thing. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t prominent creationists though, and the speaker at the Norwich meeting is a Fellow at the Geological Society here in the UK.
That led me to a recent article that says that nearly half of Americans believe in creationism, or more accurately, they believe that the Earth is less than 10 thousand years old, and that God made the Earth.
And that allows me to dive into a long, convoluted argument, so bear with me, and we’ll start with literature!
The central theme of Lord of the Flies is that civilisation is a thin veneer that is easily scraped off. William Golding joins many writers in civilisation criticism, aimed in particular at English civilisation, which was the dominant one at the time.
It’s easy to forget that when Golding wrote his book in 1954 the British Empire was still a force, although deconstruction of it had started. India had been lost only a few years earlier, and the dismantling of the Empire in Africa had started. It was a maimed and wounded empire after the Second World War, sure, but still a force.
And maybe the narrative was still that it was the dominant force in the world. The United States was just beginning its ascendancy, having been isolationist up until the start of the war. Up until the war, the Empire had been the largest ever created in human history.
Many writers on the 20th century criticised colonialism. Golding writes in the shadow of authors like Joseph Conrad, who wrote “Heart of Darkness” already in 1902, which explored the same kind of questions. While Conrad tackles colonialism, Golding examines civilisation. And civilisation was one of the reasons – or justifications – for colonialism.
The narrative said that the white man’s burden was to educate the savages, but Golding explores how the pillars of that narrative too easily become savages as well, if we just scrape a little on the surface. The pinnacle of the English class-caste system, the boarding school boys, is the ones that quickly descend into savagery.
If regression is that quick, what hope is there for humankind? Not much, as the main character in Lord of the Flies breaks cries hopelessly when the rescue arrive in the form of a naval officer, the symbol of both civilisation and, as seen in the recently concluded war, the most extreme violence. Savagery and civilisation join into one figure in that ending.
Like in “Heart of Darkness” the concepts of home and civilisation, and even humanity, becomes a hypocritical narrative that people swear allegiance to out loud, but which they ultimately ignore when it is convenient and when it can bring benefits.
Colonialism and civilisation is a key part of tribalism because colonialism puts one tribe ahead of others, and civilisation becomes the narrative of the tribe, relative to other tribes. Civilisation becomes justification for a sense of tribal superiority.
Civilisation in a colonial sense becomes a narrative that structure the world’s cultures into a hierarchical order, and it follows that cultures or groups that aren’t as valued must submit to the “more advanced civilisation.”
Conrad talked about the price that both the subjugated and the subjugating tribes paid for the colonial system, and Golding explored how quickly loyalties can unravel and how quickly groupthink can emerge in the most negative way. Once loyalties are reduced or removed, then there is a fierce struggle for a new structure. Sort of like the wild boys in Lord of the Flies try to set up a new order based around Jack’s rule.
Golding hints that civilisation is propaganda, and that the heart of darkness lives in everyone and that it only takes pressure for it to emerge. Ralph realises this at the end of the book, and that’s why he cries in grief, instead of being happy about finally being rescued.
The thing is, though, that if civilisation can be removed easily, then it must also mean that it can be established easily, at least in a prototypical form. People read Lord of the Flies as a warning against falling into anarchy, but the boys around Jack live in no anarchy. The rules and authority of Jack is complete, which mean that Golding also say that a new form of narrative can, with pressure, be established quickly.
Which sort of brings us back to the first section, and the apparent growth and stability of anti-science and anti-reason sentiment that persist even among highly educated people such as a fellow of the Geological Society.
In “The Selfish Gene” Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ as a way to model the propagation of cultural ideas, habits, speech and other imitable phenomena. Dawkins wanted a monosyllabic term like “gene”, and took the ancient Greek word ‘mimema’ but shortened it to ‘meme’.
Memes don’t really challenge thought; it just reinforces thoughts, and replicates thoughts. In an echo chamber like any culture inevitably is, with its shared and uncritical assumptions, it seems to me that an idea like creationism isn’t really challenged, because the echo chamber makes the cultural assumption that it is an acceptable view.
While all the evidence points to the idea of creationism being wrong, the meme of creationism is reinforced by uncritical repetition. I don’t see a way around that. And it becomes a worry because if a sizeable minority believe an obvious myth as the literal truth, then much more contentious issues like same sex marriage and LGBT right would have a fairly dismal future, considering that most people aren’t invested enough to worry about it.