Obedience to Authority

1260 Words Mar 5th, 2010 6 Pages
Obedience to Authority

No human social organization can function without some degree of obedience to authority, as the alternative would be anarchy leading to total chaos. Hence we find some sort of a hierarchy in both the most underdeveloped and the most civilized societies where certain individuals exercise authority over others. Almost everyone will agree that some degree of authority in certain individuals or groups (and their obedience by other groups) is desirable for the proper functioning of a society. The problem arises when the obedience to authority is taken to extremes. Unfortunately, history has shown that this happens time and again, usually with undesirable results. It is this blind obedience to authority that
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These shocks were to start at a mild 15 volts and gradually increased to an extremely painful (and lethal) level of 450 volts. During the experiment the teacher was coaxed to continue giving the shocks to the learner. The results of the experiment were most disturbing: most (60%) of the “teachers” (who were ordinary people) continued to give the electric shocks right up to the maximum (lethal) level of 450 volts, just with a little bit of coaxing from the psychologist.

Milgram repeated his experiments in several other countries apart from the USA, like Australia, South Africa and several European countries. The response of the “teachers” in most of these countries was similar. In one of these studies, 85% of the teachers readily “obeyed” to give the maximum (lethal) punishment to the “erring” learner. (“Baxter”).

Although no such experiment can be 100% conclusive, the Milgram experiments do shed considerable (and disturbing) light on the behavior of ordinary people in obedience of authority. They also explain, to a large extent, the seemingly perplexing behavior of many ordinary Germans during World War II and some American soldiers in Vietnam. (“Milgram,” Obedience to Authority..).

Another writer who has carried out work of significance on the subject of obedience to authority is Doris Lessing. Although, not a professional sociologist or historian,
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