Golding’s point, as Garrett Hardin’s point about the tragedy of the commons, was not that this would happen, it was it could happen if people didn’t heed the warning and reform society to avoid it.
Though normally as on the mark as he is entertaining, I have to wonder about Hightower here; along with Bregman he misses almost everything important. Isn’t it obvious the book is not about children, but about adults acting out their dysfunctions in society? Adults are made dysfunctional by society and their dysfunctions make society what it is. It comes as a set. And as Paul Shepard points out in Nature and Madness, mental illness often takes the form of caricatured childishness. By putting his allegory in the form of a story about a society of children in the wilderness, Golding unleashes the mental illness at the heart of our society, making it starker and drawing that connection in reverse—deconstructing civilization. Unfortunately, like most people he didn’t understand psychology and so couldn’t deconstruct enough to help much.
Healing and sickening crises of illnesses happen in waves, though civilization and we in it are never healed much, but are mostly held by the ratchet of a slightly less ill society (like the function of Democrats in the Republican drive toward fascism). It keeps us from recovering much even during the best times, ensuring there will be more bad times. During the worst times–not necessarily materially hard but often worsened by such stress—individuals and society take a nosedive into damnation, the worst case scenario and inevitable end of this illness. Children aren’t born infected; they’re born with a template of development that has to be filled in by caregivers, from the personal (parents, other close caregivers and “authorities”, siblings, friends, etc.) to the great and impersonal (politics, the economy, war, religion…).
Tasks of development–achieving what’s called “agency”, for example, or being attuned to the child so s/he can learn to attune and connect–require responses within a certain narrow range out of all possible responses, or the abilities that come from fulfilling the task are stunted, warped or detoured. That makes completing subsequent developmental tasks harder, and while there can be recovery from this with enough wise and loving help, in our society, sick and stunted from top to bottom and from myths to news, it’s much more likely to go ever more wrong as the child grows.
Adults too often end up lost, feeling out alone on a limb, even so far out they’re Republicans, where lack of attunement (aka empathy) can be mild or severe, on a continuum. The worst cases can be classified as Wetiko disease, aka malignant egophrenia (Paul Levy).
Driven into chaotic rule by warlords by children infected with an especially virulent strain of Wetiko, Golding’s society is on its way to fascism because the children don’t have the experience or institutions to prevent it. Neither do we, any more, a fact almost but never quite usefully or with understanding pointed out by the many recent articles about the after-effects of Trump’s reign. Golding’s allegory has lessons for us, though they’re not enough to avoid its horrors.