"The chant rose ritually, as at the last moment of a dance or a hunt. 'Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!'" -- William Golding, Lord of the Flies, 1954
Lord of the Flies is a classic 21st century novel that describes how a group of English schoolboys stranded on a desert island descend from civilization into savagery.
Initially, Ralph emerges as the natural charismatic leader, employing his reason and pragmatism to institute a system of smoke signals, plans for building shelters, and a process for democratic representation. Over time, Ralph's rival -- the violent and authoritarian Jack -- lures the majority of boys over to his leadership: the appeal of war paint, the hunt, and domination becomes too great for the group of boys to resist.
At the apex of the plot, the boys are all chanting, egging each other on to slaughter a wild boar with their makeshift weapons. Jack and his gang do indeed "cut his throat," and parade the pig's head around the island on a stick.
This well-known allegory offers two stark choices: Ralph or Jack; civilization or savagery?
An "innocent chant, not to be taken literally" may now be a bellweather for further division in our usually civil discourse.
The degeneration of political discourse that we have seen in the past few years offers nearly as stark a choice. Social media is now the main source of news for most people, with uninformed opinions, name calling, threats of violence and emotional melodrama characterizing a great deal of "debate." And now, the heart-wrenching spectacle of the U.S. election so recently concluded has finally filtered into Canadian politics.
What some have dismissed as an "innocent chant, not to be taken literally" may now be a bellweather for further division in our usually civil discourse.
It is possible that Albertans who called on democratically elected Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley to be "locked up" for fulfilling her mandate may not have meant their words literally. Perhaps they found it a relief, an amusement, to lift an American phrase from the last election, directed at another loathed public figure (who was also obliquely threatened with assassination, twice, by the president-elect).
It is possible that these are "just words" and "just anger," or "just a joke," although it hardly need be noted that unlawful confinement is a Criminal Code offence and punishable by federal law.
Threats like these can never be justified in terms of freedom of speech or "anti-political correctness." The self-indulgence, the underlying menace, and the thinly veiled barbarism of this chant are an attempt at intimidation, and undermine the democratic process and the civil discourse that guides our way of life.
It is not simply the "chattering classes" or "elites" whose sensibilities are rightly disturbed. It is everyone who has ever had any experience with a dictatorship or authoritarian regime; it is anyone who has ever had violence or forcible confinement threatened against them; it is anyone who has ever seen how the thin veneer of civilization can erode into anarchy.
Nor can the "lock her up" rallying cry ever be dismissed as harmless simply on the basis that people are out of work. Both sets of my grandparents (coal miners on one side, farmers on the other) were mired in poverty for most of their adult lives, yet I cannot imagine any of them using the shield of free speech to incite a crowd against an elected official who was fulfilling her democratic mandate.
Words lead to thought, and thought to action.
It is worth noting Lord of the Flies was written less than a decade after the Second World War by an author who had served in the British army and had seen first-hand the evil that humans are capable of. As a writer, Golding was acutely aware of the Holocaust, the continuing threat of nuclear warfare, and the threat of authoritarian dictators that arose during the post-1945 world order.
The economic instability of working class America has some features in common with the unemployment and economic depression of Alberta. But in neither case can hardship be used as a pretext for threats of imprisonment, violence and murder (which Notley has been subjected to since her election in 2015). Those who excuse and dismiss these barbaric words must remember the lessons of the 21st century, and how easy it is for a society -- big or small -- to descend into authoritarianism, anarchy, war and bloodshed.
Every society has a choice: do we take the side of Ralph and fight for civilization in the form of rules, morality and the rule of law, or do we descend with Jack and his animal savagery, his brute power and his raw thirst for domination?
Yes, these are "just words" so far, but words matter. Words lead to thought, and thought to action. Those who are suffering must always be given a voice and a platform; but it is up to all of us speak up in circumscribing the limits of barbarism.
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