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Obedience and Disobedience

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Society dictates that all its members should follow societal laws and regulations to the letter. This means that obedience is a virtue while disobedience is the contrary- a vice.  Any member who does contrary to what the society dictates is seen is defiant.  Those who fall into this category are punished in ways predetermined by the society. Conformers, on the other hand, are rewarded accordingly.  To avoid leading solitary lives, a great chunk of followers in a group choose to follow, even blindly, what a group dictates.  Non conformers are always seen as rebels, selfish or even something worse. The idea of conforming or not conforming has been researched widely by both sociologists and psychologists. 

These two groups of researchers have found that sometimes disobedience may be beneficial. They have argued that sometimes we argue against disobedience at our own peril. Ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the Baltic, genocide against the Jews by Nazi Germany, Bombing of Hiroshima and so many examples are situations that could have been prevented if those who were taking orders from higher authority had disobeyed. Further, we have cases where religious fanatics commit mass murders in the name of obeying their religious leaders. The 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Towers and the constant suicide bombings witnessed in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan are scenarios that have resulted to massive loss of lives just because someone chose not to disobey.

Doris Lessing in her work “Group Minds” finds that followers of a certain group are always, or nearly always, afraid to speak their mind. She notes that people will, metaphorically, declare that white is black as long as this is the widely held view of other group members. In her essay, experiments conducted to find out whether people in a group tend to think in a similar manner are cited. One of the experiments cited is that where members of a certain group were required to state whether two pieces of wood were of the same size or not. The two wood planks were used in the experiment almost the same size but the little difference by which they differed was perceptible. To the experimenter’s surprise, those who were asked to state their opinion on the planks sizes from a group setting occurred with what the majority had said-that the planks were of the same size. From an individual setting, quite a different answer was given. Individuals could comfortably discern that there was a difference in sizes.

From this simple example, Lessing argues that school going children should be taught disobedience. She notes that obedience is shameful as this, in most cases, is done to please a group that people find themselves subjects. Her thought to have disobedience taught in schools is driven by the desire to have people being taught the importance of being autonomous thinkers. According to Lessing, there is a lot of hard information which should be used to improve the society, and ultimately individual that lives in it.

Erich Fromm in his piece “Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem” takes his time in describing how various forms of obedience and disobedience detrimentally affects the human race. From the beginning of his piece, he acknowledges that the human race started as act of disobedience.  Even though the author notes from the outset that disobedience is beneficial, deeper in the essay, he notes that disobedience helps in furthering the human race but not all disobedience is beneficial- some kinds of disobedience can prove to be detrimental to our existence. Fromm in his exploratory essay notes that total obedience is slavery while disobedience in an equal measure is rebellion. This author identifies two forms of conscience that lead as to obey or otherwise: authoritarian and humanistic conscience. The former, is equated to Freud’s “super ego”.

This is what makes a son or a daughter love a father out of fear. The latter, is what makes individuals human. It is this conscience that makes people knows what kind of authority deserves to be obeyed and what should be disobeyed. Further, Fromm identifies two forms of authority: rational and irrational authority. The example that he gives of rational authority is that of a teacher and a pupil. An example of irrational authority, on the other hand, is the one that develops from a relationship between a master and a slave. People are prone to obeying irrational authority because they fear and want to feel secure. Rationally, according to Fromm, people should obey rational authority because it furthers our humanity. In summary, Erich Fromm notes that freedom and the capacity to disobey cannot be divorced from each other and any institution that deprives its subjects of the power to disobey and yet talks of freedom cannot speak the truth.

After the analysis of the views held by Doris Lessing and Erich From, I now embark on describing a situation that I have ever disobeyed. Not long ago, my instructor assigned me numerous assignments that were supposed to be handed in within a short deadline. This act by the instructor was unusual because most of the times he assigns just a few take home assignments and with weeklong deadlines. I, just like a number of my friends felt that the instructor was being unfair and too exploitive on our part. According to my friends’ opinion, the instructor’s intention was to tax our brains for nothing. They argued that some of the assignments would not even help us in future and so there was no use in working on those assignments.

When I got home that evening, I tried to figure out what I ought to do. I finally realized that my friends were right; it was a waste of time in doing assignments that have no meaning to in furthering my future.  At the end of it all, I declined to do all the assignments, but I did what I felt was easy and convenient. When instructor later asked us to hand in our assignments, I submitted what I had done. He got really angry with me but there is nothing much he could do. I felt like a hero, I made fun of other students for having done assignments that had no meaning to our future. I felt I had won; the instructor could not take me anywhere far apart from scolding me and saying a few nasty words about me. My emotions at the time of my disobedience were not hurt.  I felt that I was on top of the situations and that everything was in control.

After going through what Lessing and Fromm say about disobedience, I sincerely feel that I could do what I did if given a second chance. Although I followed and though like a group, a fact that Lessing advises against, I feel that I rose above majority of other students who would wait and do all that is asked of them without hesitation. From Fromm’s point of view, I feel that what I did was still right. Fromm talks of a rational authority and gives an example of a teacher and his student. In my case, this was the scenario but from a closer look it is evident that my instructor’s act was not meant for my or other student’s furtherance. By assigning us excessive loads of assignments, the instructor wanted us to dedicate all of our time to studies leaving not even a second to leisure and recreation. I believe that leisure is important for personal growth and instructors should always consider this fact when assigning students with take-home assignments.

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