The predicament of obedience is a critical element in the structure of our social life. In a community of people, there is a requirement of some form of authority that involves other people responding through disobedience or obedience to the instructions of others. People living in segregation do not require power as there is no one to compel or them to act towards authority. Being a function of our behavior, obedience is of specific significance to our time. There is evidence that millions of people have steadily been slaughtered on authority in the past many years. The idea of slaughtering millions of people, building and guarding death camps started from the mind of only one person but was carried out on a considerable scale just because many people obeyed orders.
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Obedience may be said to refer to the psychological instrument that relates the actions of individuals to political purposes. It is a dispositional strength that attaches men to the structure of authority. As argued out by different conventional theorists, the extreme foundation of society is intimidated by disobedience (Brown 178). As a result, they assert that even if the act that has been approved by the authority is wicked, it is better to do the act than to pull the structure of the authority. However, they dictate that any act carried out is not is the responsibility of the authority rather than that of the individual performing it.
On the other hand, we have the humanists who argue that individual principles should be given the primary concern in a case where the authority orders an individual to carry out an evil act. The humanists maintain that when moral judgments of the individual and authority conflict the authority is not considered (Miller 96). The lawful and theoretical characteristics of obedience are of massive significance however, an empirically grounded scientist and social psychologist Stanley Milgram, finally comes to the point where he desires to move from theoretical discussion to the careful observation of the real occurrences.
The scientist wishes to achieve this by conducting a study on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience which he does through an experiment. The experiments entailed putting a person in the psychological laboratory; the person was to do things that are not right with the conscience. The main question to answer in the experiment was how long the subject was going to comply with the experimenter’s instructions before deciding to stop the acts. Milgram came up with the idea for this experiment after studying the justification given by those accused at the Second World War for genocide. The defense of these accused was based on a submission that is to say that they were just being submissive to the authority of their seniors.
The study on obedience to power which involved Milgram research was conducted in the year 1974. In his study, Milgram aimed to find the effect of authority on obedience. The findings noted that common men and women were part of a memory study. In this experiment, every learner who made a mistake was to be given an electric shock by pressing a lever. With the increase of the shock, the learner protested in pain but the researcher asked the teachers to continue administering more shock. Even though the teachers became worried and troubled, more than two-thirds of them continued to execute the highest level of shock as they were directed by the experimenter.
In his study, Milgram recruited different subjects to participate. Milgram told the respondents that the research was to study the results of reprimanding on learning skills. This made them think that they had equal chances of being a student or a teacher, the process was manipulated that all respondents ended up being teachers. The student was a performer working as a group of the experimenter. Since the concern was on the learner (Levine 234).
The teacher being the real focus in Milgram’s experiment, after examining the student being spell bounded into a place is taken in the research room and seated before a shock generator of 30 switches ranging from 15 to 450 volts in 15-volt increments. The teacher is then instructed to execute the shock to the man in the room whenever he gives a wrong answer or fails to respond. The teacher is ignorant of the happenings while the learner does not receive any shock but just acts. The main goal of the research is to see how far the teacher will go on inflicting the pain on the protesting learner. The terrifying finding was, however, that most teachers continued to administer the shock as directed by the experimenter despite the cries of the protesting learner (Parker 46).
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Taking into consideration Milgram’s experiment, it can be noted that the Nazi crimes of the Second World War are easy to understand. From his experiment, Milgram suggested that one of the reasons for the occurrence of the holocaust was the ready tendency of people to obey authorities even when obedience was wrong.
It may not be easy to accept Milgram’s findings, but different researches have suggested that obedience to authority over conscience is unavoidable. The results indicate that obedience to authority depends on various suitable social norms (Blass 352). For instance, the subjects in the experiment responded to the newspaper advertisement and signed up as their subjects. They agreed with milligram by signing up so that instruction could be followed.
Even though Milgram’s experiment confirmed that people do obey the authority even if they are violating their conscience, the results also showed that the presence of the authority helps to increase obedience. After leaving the room before the experiment was concluded, the obedience dropped to sixty-five to twenty-one percent. This has been commonly seen in classrooms, factories, and offices (Milgram 29).
Moreover, Milgram discovered from the test that when the tutor was supposed to grasp the hand of the student on the shock plate, the obedience dropped from sixty-five to forty percent. This showed that the more direct the contact between the teacher and the student, the lower the submission would be. To experiment with the reverse of this theory, Milgram conducted another test where the tutor was expected to pull a lever to make another learner administer the shock. From this experiment, Milgram realized that the level of obedience increased from 65% to 93%. Generally, it can be noted that when the learner’s physical closeness was increased, the obedience of the teacher was reduced. The obedience of the teacher is reduced when authority.
From his study, Milgram found out that people either do obey out of fear or out of a wish for cooperation even if the act is going against their own better judgment and desires. From this view, Milgram came up with a conclusion that when people are ordered to do something by people whom they consider to be more authoritative, most of them will always obey even if doing so contravenes their conscience.
The conflict between obedience to those in power and personal conscience is indeed inevitable as the study finds out that people are always forced to carry out acts to show obedience to authority even if their conscience is being violated. Given that obedience is of significance to our lifetime, obedience to authority should be maintained however the authorities should not use this to inflict pain and suffering to the innocent.
Milgram, S. Obedience to Authority: The Milgram Experiment. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
Brown, R. Societal Forces in Compliance and Non-compliance. Social Psychology. (2nd eds). New York: The Free Press, 1986.
Blass, Thomas. The Man Who Surprised the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2004.
Levine, Robert V. Studying the Conflict: Milgram’s Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Miller, Arthur G. The Obedience Experiments: A Case Study of Argument in Social Knowledge. New York: Praeger, 1986.
Parker, Ian. Realistic Psychology: An Experimental View. New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2000.