Obedience to Authority

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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 every individual with a conscience needs to guard against.

The conflict between compliance with the demands of those in authority and individuals having private and sometimes different views, has been a subject of debate since ancient times in religion and philosophy. God’s command to Abraham to kill his son, being one such example. Many psychologists and writers have thought about, discussed and conducted experiments to understand this human characteristic. The psychology experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s and 70s to study obedience to authority among ordinary individuals are, perhaps, the most significant and startling. (“Baxter”)

These experiments were conducted at a time when the world was still struggling to understand the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War II. Milgram’s experiments, conclusively showed that such traits of obedience to authority as exhibited by the Germans, were by no means confined to them or even to a particular set of circumstances.

Milgram’s experiment consisted of selection of “teachers” from ordinary people who were asked to participate in an “experiment” in which the teacher was to ask certain simple questions from a learner. In case of...
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