A while back I noted that we naturally trust fiction more than fact, even though fiction can be contrived to say any nonsense an author might want it to say. Robin Hanson today describes how Lord of the Flies grossly misrepresents ‘state of nature’ humans in order to glorify our own civilization:

“This famous novel [Lord of the Flies] suggests that only our “civilized” rules and culture keeps up from the fate of our “savage” ancestors, who were violent dominating rule-less animals.  But though this may be true regarding our distant primate ancestors of six or more million years ago, it is quite unfair slander regarding our face-painting forager ancestors of ten thousand or more years ago.

While our kids are segregated into schools where light monitoring lets them terrorize each other and form dominance hierarchies, forager kids are mixed among forager adults, who enforce their strong social norms against violence and domination.  At school, our kids are rated and ranked far more often than most adults will tolerate, even though this actually slows their learning!”

I particularly liked this (hopefully true) story from the comments:

“When my oldest son was subjected to this book in high school, he got in quite a bit of hot water with the teacher when he responded to a question about what Lord of The Flies tells us about human nature with the observation that as a work of fiction it could say anything at all that the author chose to make up, and therefore it may tell us nothing.”

Parents: warn your kids to beware English teachers, who would try to teach them to value fiction as the equal of fact.