I'm trying to come up with a word to describe what happens in cartoons (and probably real life) when a traumatic event leads to a group of ordinary people (usually children) to fend for themselves. They then form a new society resembling a dictatorship ruled by bullies.

  • If you exclude the "traumatic event" part, then "anarchy."
    – Adam
    Feb 23 '11 at 4:09
  • "Anarchy" is perfect, thanks! Post that as an answer for +25 from me! Feb 23 '11 at 4:47
  • I went with it, thanks @advs89: "...the others would just sit and read magazines while the kids they were supposed to be watching fell into anarchy ruled by sugar-crazed, toy hoarding bullies" Feb 23 '11 at 5:08
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    Just to be pedantic, it's not anarchy because there is structure, and the rudiments of self-governance. If in the future you need a less casual word for it, I'd try dictatorship or ochlocracy.
    – Jon Purdy
    Feb 23 '11 at 7:00
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    I wonder if there are shades of gray with the "disorder" and "unstructured" parts of anarchy. It seems like there can be even a little order or structure, and still exhibit traits characteristic to an anarchy, like confusion, chaos, and (albeit some) much less order than a the previous situation, or the ideal situation.
    – xdumaine
    Feb 23 '11 at 13:18

If you exclude the "traumatic event" part, then "anarchy" works.

from dictionary.com,

4 : confusion; chaos; disorder: Intellectual and moral anarchy followed his loss of faith.

  • 1
    It's about time you made this an answer. +1
    – bye
    Feb 23 '11 at 6:52
  • haha, sorry about that
    – Adam
    Feb 23 '11 at 19:12

I'd call it a "Lord of the Flies situation". Lord of the Flies is a novel about some school kids on a field trip that are shipwrecked and wash up on an island with no adults, and form just what you described: a spontaneous, cruel society of neglected people.

I think nearly all somewhat-educated adult English speakers would understand exactly what you're talking about; we all had to read it in high school.


I would call this social atavism in general. The term for the form of government involved (rule by those best at causing fear, pain, injury and death) is despotism.

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