Image Credit: Miranda R. Wyoming, MI
Authority. It's present it every human beings life, young and old. Not only does it enforce our laws, but it controls the way we live our day to day lives. It's helpful when it comes to keeping us safe and ensuring justice is served, but does authority have the power to change someones morals without that person even knowing, until after the fact. During class I watched a documentary on the Milgram experiment. In this experiment participants were asked to be a teacher and administer a vocabulary memory test to students. Little did the teachers know that the student where paid actors. The learner is brought to a room where he?has his arms strapped down in a chair, and an electrode attached to his wrist. He is told he will be hearing vocal words that he must repeat. If he gets them wrong he will be shocked at 15 volts then it will increase by fifteen volt intervals. After the teacher has seen the student strapped down he is brought to the next room and put in front of a shock generator, ranging from 15 volts to 450 volts. The teacher is told he must administer the test to the student in the other room. If the student responds incorrectly, the teacher is to give him an electric shock. The teacher can also decline and drop out of the experiment regardless of completion.
It seems like an easy task to complete, but many of the teachers had difficulty administering the shock after hearing the student cry and complain of the pain inflicted on them. Although the teacher was aware of the pain he was inflicting he could not grow the courage to say no to the man in the lab coat conducting the study. The teacher is generally naive and does not see the actually affect of manipulation by the authority figure. 75% woman continued shocking the student to the highest voltage before stopping. Only 63% of men shocked the student to the highest voltage. This goes to show that, the stereotype of woman being more sensitive then men is off. Because there was man in a lab coat sitting behind them, many felt pressured to continue with the shocks. Only 1/3 of the participants did not continue shocking the student.
I find this very scary that the human race is expected to obey authority even if they feel it's against their morals. It amazes me that only 1/3 of the subjects quit the study early. These people obviously saw authority as something that can have flaws. Obedience is a basic skill that is taught to every human being as a baby. We are the most submissive creatures that walk this earth. At birth we're taught to obey the rules whether or not it suits our believes. Obeying is easier then rebelling. Generally our minds are caught up in the moment, instead of going through the reasons why it's against our morals. In our society, rebelling can lead you hurt, in prison, alone or even worse death.
As we grow up we realize what's acceptable behavior from unacceptable behavior. Rebelling is frowned upon because as we've learned there is consequences. Just like time out was our worst enemy as a child, other peoples thoughts and opinions are now the worst enemy of an adult or adolecent. We want to obey because we don't want to be judged. Following others is a way to blend in with the crowd and not be judged. Judgement is good for us though. It teaches us who we are and the limits we can push. Once people realize that being judged is the criticism of followers they can disregarded the the judgments and become a stronger, more down to earth person.
In the book slaughter house five by Kurt Vonnegut, it clear that the main character is somebody who does not question authority. As a prisoner of war, held captive by the German Nazi's Billy Pilgrim, finds himself obeying the Germans without questioning why, or how. The one image that stands in my mind as a perfect example of when Billy obeys instead of questioning is when the prisoners of war are being transported on trains to a war camp.
"A man in a boxcar across the way called out through the ventilator that a man had just died in there. So it goes, there were four guards who heard them. They weren't excited by the news. And the guards didn't open the car with the dead man in it. They opened the next car instead, and Billy Pilgrim was enchanted by what was in there. It was like heaven. There was a cannonball stove with a steaming coffeepot on top. There was a table with a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and a sausage on it, there were four bowls of soup. (Vonnegut 68)"
Billy was stuck in a crowded boxcar with one ventilator, in which feces and urine where passed out, and food and water where being passed in. After experiencing his living conditions and seeing how the Germans where ridding, Billy should have begun to rebel. The thought of somebody treating him unfairly and abusing their power right in front of him made Billy feel small and insignificant. In a moment like this is when you have to rebel. Rebelling in this situation can either lead you to trouble or with followers. People who feel the same passion about the issue. People who want to stand up, but can't because they are scared. It's a risky chance but it worth taking, especially in Billy Pilgrim's case. Even if you feel odds are against you I think it's important to listen to your morals. Doing what you feel is right is the only way you can become successful.
In conclusion I feel authority is a necessity that has lost its meaning to humans. With authority comes punishment and the deciding factor of the punishment is if you follow the authority. Nobody questions it anymore. It's something that we just accept without really understanding what we are being put through. This is dangerous because people just follow eachother, they don't stop and think of their other options. These options could allow people to do less conforming and more revolting. Revolting which could lead to new ideas, lifestyles and believes.
Get Teen Ink’s 48-page monthly print edition. Written by teens since 1989.