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obedience

By coltonbarty Jan 20, 2015 1222 Words
Obedience
Stanly Milgram and George Orwell present individuals who ignore their own moral codes when they are confronted by authority figures. In Milgram’s experiment people continued to shock other test subjects continuously despite their reservations against it. Even when the participants in Milgram's experiments did not want to continue with the experiment, the authority figure in the experiment was able to convince them to continue. Likewise, in Orwell’s autobiography “Shooting an Elephant”, Orwell shoots an elephant to satisfy the expectations of a crowd of onlookers. However, subjects in Milgram’s experiments were trying to satisfy an authoritative figure; Orwell was trying to maintain his authority amongst the crowd. Human beings are programmed to obey authority figures out of the fear of the consequences that could come if the authority’s wishes are not met. In the famous Milgram obedience experiment a subject continuously administers electrical shocks to another subject to please an authority figure. In the experiment there is a teacher, learner, and instructor. The teacher is a volunteer who is told to give a series of questions to the learner and if he answers them incorrectly he will be administered an electrical shock that increases in voltage with each wrong answer. The learner is put in a separate room and is not actually electrocuted, but instead is part of the experiment and purposefully gets every answer incorrect and then screams in agony to test the teacher. The instructor is the authority figure in the experiment. If the teacher ever showed any desire to stop the experiment it is the instructor’s job to persuade the teacher to continue to ask the questions and administer the electrical shocks with simple phrases such as “it is essential that you continue the experiment” and “you must continue.” Although a lot of of the test subjects showed great remorse in shocking another person, the instructor was able to make them continue with little effort. Many expressed their concerns for the learner, who was screaming in another room but they continued after the authority figure told them the shocks were harmless and they would not be held responsible if anything were to happen to the learner. The test subjects showed great distress throughout the experiment and were very hesitant in pushing the button again, but more than half continued all the way the highest voltage, 450, and some even continued to press the highest level over and over again when they were told to continue with the experiment. When the learner inside the room stopped screaming at every shock, most of the volunteers continuously insisted on checking him, but the instructor would always tell them they were fine and to continue the experiment, and the teachers reluctantly continued, even while thinking the worst had happened. The presence of the authority figure greatly increased peoples obedience in the experiment along with the fact that the study was being held by Yale made many of the test subjects comply with what the instructor was asking. Also the participants did not know each other and the results may have differed if the selected subjects were friends or foes. In every test people felt morally obligated to check on the learner and halt the experiment but simply continued to satisfy the authority in their presence. In Orwell’s famous autobiographical essay “Shooting an Elephant,” Orwell is placed in an uncomfortable position when he succumbs to the surrounding authority figures and shoots an elephant. He is a European police officer in Burma and the Burmese people do not like him or any of the Europeans in their country. George expresses his displeasure with his job and wants to leave as soon as he possibly can but before he gets the chance a tame elephant breaks its chains and escapes captivity. Orwell is called to the part of the small town where the elephant has been running rampant, and he finds a man who has been killed by the wild beast. After fetching a rifle, which Orwell says is merely for self-defense, he tracks down the elephant to a rice field where it is peacefully grazing on the grass. After seeing the elephant, which he describes as no more harmful than a cow, he knows that he does not want to kill this misunderstood gentle giant, but as he looks around he sees an enormous crowd watching him. The crowd is expecting him to shoot the calmed elephant. In the town Orwell is the physical authority figure, but in front of the massive crowd full of unsatisfied natives Orwell is the minority with little power. He articulates this in his writing when he says, “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.” Orwell felt the pressure of the crowd pushing him against his own will. In his eyes it was almost a commitment of murder to kill such an enormous creature, but the crowd wanted to see the elephant killed and would consider it cowardly if Orwell backed away. Orwell was pushed against his own will, and to please the growing crowd and maintain his authority amongst the people he aims his rifle and shoots the elephant. Though the elephant did not die instantly, Orwell tried to put the dyeing creature out of his misery but after many unsuccessful attempts he can no longer stand the sight of what he had caused and leaves the beast to die. Orwell obeyed the crowd’s wishes because they would have seen him as a fool if he had not. The pressure of a crowd surrounding you can be immense, and while not shooting the elephant would have lost him and the Europeans even more prestige within Burma, Orwell feared even more of being laughed at by the Burmese people. He states that his life in Burma was “one long struggle not to be laughed at”, he is even afraid of “testing” the animal to see if it is still enraged by walking up to it because he fears being trampled because it would have given the crowd just as much entertainment as killing the elephant. Orwell could have defied the crowd in the rice patties but instead he chose to go against his own beliefs out of fear of being ridiculed even more. In both situations, the subjects in Milgram’s experiment and George Orwell and his own personal experience, the authority figure was able to manipulate individuals to go against their own ethical beliefs. The instructor in the Milgram experiment convinced people to shock another individual at incredibly painful and possible fatal levels just by telling them that it was okay and to continue the experiment when they expressed their desires to halt the tests. Likewise, Orwell was convinced to kill an elephant by a large crowd of natives even though he saw it as a slaughter because he feared the people of the town making fun of him or thinking he was a fool. Authority figures have a dangerous power over individuals because many will go against everything they stand for in order to not go against the authority’s will because they fear the consequences that could come from it.

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