Obedience to Authority
Obedience to authority is a basic organization of the society that is created on the ground of hierarchy, where some people are subjected to others. The most obvious examples of obedience to authority are the obedience of students to their teachers, obedience of society to police, obedience of soldiers to their commanders, etc. Obviously, obedience to authority is not a desire of just one person. Also, it is very difficult to make people obey, as each individual is an independent human being with his/her personal vision of the situation. Usually, it is difficult to make people do what they do not want to do. There is an opinion that in order to make people obey, it is important to create a grounded argumentation of the behavior with the reference to legitimate instructions; the authority must explain why people have to do what they are told to in a very argumentative and explanatory way (McLeod pare. 3). However, there are several examples, which contradict this statement. People sometimes obey to authority, trying to secure themselves from additional decisions and taking the responsibility. It might be better to rely the responsibility on others, rather than make personal judgments of the situation and bear the responsibility for personal actions. The paper is going to argue that the obedience to authority is a convenient position for people, who do not want to make decisions themselves and bear the responsibility for the actions.
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The first serious studies of obedience to authority started in 1970s, when scholars began to analyze the problem of obedience to authorities. The major reason for starting the research in this direction was the Nazi genocide against humanity. Considering the situations from the perspective of human behavior, it is difficult to understand why people were ready to kill others. It was Hitler, who told them to do it, but he did not stand in front of each German soldier and did not follow their actions, he did not kill all those people, as others did it. However, the whole world considers Adolf Hitler responsible for the crime against humanity and in the genocide of particular nationalities. Such particular statement is based on the assumption that people did not have the choice but to follow their leader. It is predicted that the level of propaganda in Germany reached incredible level and people did not have another way out but to obey without having a choice or even intention to think another way round. Still, such statement can be easily contradicted as each person is an individual with some opinions and judgments. Every individual can always decide whether to resolve adhere to the authority or make personal judgments and bear the responsibility for them. In case with Nazi soldiers, they decided themselves to accept propaganda and take the weapon. They always had a choice to disagree with the regime. However, in that case, they also would have to accept the consequences.
The issue of obedience to authority and human behavior was a serious social concern after World War II (Russell “Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiments” 141). Stanley Milgram was not the first scholar who studied the problem, but he was the first one whose experiment helped to create the paradigm of human actions and develop the theory of human behavior. Trying to analyze Stanley Milgram’s experiment and explain the idea of his experiment, it is important to read his book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View published in 1974. The main idea of his experiment was to show the level of human obedience. The experiment was held for teachers and learners who had to answer the questions. In case the response was incorrect, teachers were allowed to press the button and the learners received electric shock administered by the teacher. The teachers were asked to raise the shock level after each incorrect response. The highest level of shock allowed was 450 volts. The trick of the experiment was that the teachers were the volunteers and the learners were the participants of the research, who did not get any shock in reality. In the flow of the experiment, the learners were requested to remain silent after 300 volts while the teachers were instructed to consider no reply as an error, and they had to raise the shock level. The experiment was held in several stages. On the first stage, a teacher and a learner were in different rooms without seeing and hearing each other. However, during the second stage, a teacher and a learner were still in different rooms but they could see and hear each other, and, on the final stage, a teacher and a learner were in the same room.
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The findings were shocking; 26 out of 40 teachers reached 450 volts in the first case, the same amount of teachers reached 450 volts in the next experiment even after they were informed about the consequences to heart condition of the learners in case of using high volume of volts. Finally, staying in the same room with the learners, 30% of teachers used the highest level of voltage. This experiment proves that people are ready to make different actions when told by the authorities as in this case they do not bear any responsibility for such actions. Milgram’s experiment has shown that people are ready to harm human health in the request of the experimenter without any obligation or appeal to legal or moral norms. People were ready to harm others in the voluntary basis (Cardwell 3). Therefore, being allowed by the authority to make some actions, people do them without asking whether such actions meet their personal ethical and moral considerations. Most of the people do not think about the consequences of the actions if they are asked to accomplish some task. They voluntary assume that their actions have already been analyzed by the authority, and they should not analyze any actions. Authority is considered as the final element for many people, who are asked to accomplish some tasks. When people are told something, they consider it as the instruction for action without any obligations. In the Milgram’s experiment, people did whatever they were asked to and did not think for the consequences being sure that the experimenters have already weighed everything (Russell “Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority” 209).
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Therefore, it should be concluded that obedience to authority is not human decision; it is more about human behavior. Having received an instruction to do something, people do not weight their actions, but just obey to the authority, no matter what is to be done. People do not think about the consequences of their actions as they are sure that what they have done will be used by the authorities as their actions, thus, they have to bear the responsibility. Obedience to the authority is a very negative issue in the society as people do not evaluate their actions and can commit some unnecessary and even harmful actions just to make sure that they have accomplished the task. The responsibility is shifted to a person who has made an instruction. However, this is wrong since each person should be responsible for personal actions, and each instruction should be considered from the position of personal and legal commitment.