The most common notion of the day is “Obedience is a virtue and disobedience is a vice”. However, looking at history we see a clear trend that it was through disobedience that we were able to accomplish what we have accomplished so far as good. Nevertheless, through obedience we as humans only managed to create chaos and discomfort to all other humans.
The lifestyle of the pigmies of Kalahari is the most primitive source of lifestyle we can find in today’s modern society. These people resemble the lives of the early man that walked in the earth way before Christopher Columbus landed in the American hemisphere. Despite all the war and changes in the world these people appear to be the happiest people living in what we call as hell, the unforgiving Kalahari Desert. They do not know of obedience to any system or man, they live in a symbiotic relationship with nature and through time, they have learned to enrich this relationship to a point where they can find water in the desert and live a very peaceful life isolated.
Now looking at the other side of the dice, we with everything at our convenience has trouble being truly independent. Because the society has created us as a wheel of this self-destructive society run by embedding “Obedience” in all aspects of our life, than to make us an operator of this machine called society by allowing us to be independent and disobedient. The problem lies when the social operator turns the machine to a direction all wheels will follow one after the other in obedience and no one to stop, leading to the ultimate end of days.
The common notion is, “Obedience is a virtue and Disobedience is a vice”. However, as we look into our history to understand how we as humans came to be what we are we see that the common notion on obedience to be a virtue untrue. As the famous psychologist and author, Erich Fromm says, “Human history began with an act of disobedience” (Fromm 246). Through the ages from a Paleolithic man to a Neolithic man, owing to various acts of disobedience such as defying the knowledge Paleolithic man possessed as a hunter and a cave dweller we managed to accomplish our growth mentally and spiritually to reaching the peaks of space age.
Additionally, looking at this from the religious aspect we see that throughout the bible it was due to disobedience man started to become free. King David’s disobedience regarding the association with Bathsheba started the bloodline of Jesus who is the ultimate symbol of freedom and all that is good. Furthermore, throughout the bible we see Jesus consistently defying the law of Israel to free the people of Israel from the pharisaic law (Garrett Luke 23:1,23:24).
Besides religion, looking at the world sociopolitical arena we see that due to various acts of disobedience by a handful enabled many people to enjoy freedom. George Washington and John Adams who branded by the British as traitors for disobeying their law created what we know as America; Abraham Lincoln, against the majority consent almost dividing the country and creating a civil war abolished slavery. Likewise Martin Luther king Jr. disobeying the common notion of segregation made our fellow African Americans free which enabled us to have an African American President in 2009 opening a new era in American History.
Yet, we still stay bond to the theory of obedience as a virtue. Looking back in history, we see that our bondage to obey at all cost or “Go with the wave ” mentality resulted in ending of civilizations. The destruction of Troy VII (Thompson), beyond the myth we see as a decision made by the minor city states of the Greek Empire to overtake the best trade post and have the monopoly of trade in the Aegean Sea that ended the golden age of Athens (Thompson). Furthermore, during the roman era the murder of Gaius Julius Caesar by Brutus, despite what Shakespeare says, was an act of obedience to the senate, which led to the death of a great leader and a16 years of blood bath that concluded the roman era off the pages of history (Richard 175).
One can write volumes of books based off the subject of how much obedience has contributed to the end of days to many strong civilizations and systems. Therefore, what makes man more prone to obey than to disobey? The human is a social creature, during the childhood man learns from copying what others around its environment does. When the mother points at the father and says “daddy” the baby with time points as the male figure who is always around the mother and says “daddy” not knowing whether this male figures is truly it’s father or not.
Same way, it is during the child hood we learn the art of people pleasing and giving up our independent thinking. Doing something that makes mom and dad happy, you get a reward, and when you please your teachers, you get through school easily. This relationship between a student and the school is a perfect example of molding us to be obedient and not disobedient; a sticky thorn on the heel of people that keeps us in boxed paradises of others. As the child grow up it has become so dependent of other people that its whole life has become a mirror of someone else. The fact that the type of hair cream, the car we drive, our partners we chose, even the toilet paper that we flush down the toilet reflects the needs of our friends, and it keeps us chained to the false sense of security and obedience. For one to be truly free and be independent one must “have the courage to say no to powers (and) to disobey”. (Fromm 249).
Subsequently, we cannot say No to the powers at hand whether it is religious, governmental, education or any other, because of the sense of power we feel with being obedient to it and the sense of security we feel. Furthermore, the experiment of the three lines discussed by Solomon E Asch in is article “Opinions and Social Pressure” where an individual subject, when placed under pressure by a majority on an opinion of right or wrong. The subject tends to error on his or her opinions by trying to satisfy the majority opinion despite being right on their individual opinion (Asch 207). This clearly shows us that social pressure also plays a big part in why we cannot say no.
The importance of being independent in our opinions and decisions is not only beneficial for us as individuals but also to the whole world. Studying systems such as the Third Reich designed to reach all aspects of every social level, we see that when man obeys authority without question it’s effects can be devastating not only to the individual but to the whole world. The ending of World War II in November 25, 1945 started the final chapter to Hitler’s Germany, which was the ultimate structure of obedience, and the first chapter in humanity. The Nuremberg trials where all the war criminals faced charges to their involvements with the Holocaust, gave us a good overview of the extreme capacity of obedience human beings posses even to kill 5 million people because the hierarchy authorized it.
During the trail, not all the defendants pled guilty, yet except for few handfuls, all defendants were guilty of count three, and count four (Crimes against humanity) (Taylor and Kent 14), after the prosecution provided witnesses and evidence including the shrunken heads from Buchenwald concentration camp. When asked, why the defense committed these monstrosities the common summarized answer was “I was obeying orders”. Taking Commandant of Auschwitz Rudolf Hoess’s testimony to Dr. Kauffmann at the Nuremberg trails (Monday, April 15, 1946) it is more than evident to claim despite one’s own disturbing conscience killing so many men, women, and children was justified by obedience to the orders given by the state (Stackelberg and Winkle 374). Furthermore, when Adolf Eichmann faced trial in April 11, 1961for his partaking in the final solution known to us as the holocaust his answers to the questions of why he did these monstrosities were simple, ” I was a soldier and was following orders”, “I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors.” (Eichman)
Nevertheless, one can be obedient to a system or a person if it is “all good, all wise: (the system) must become all knowing” (Fromm 249). This is where Jesus and his ministry come as a great example. “Jesus was not only violating the law but defining what law should be” (Crawford 35), He was obedient to God who is all knowing and perfect. However, the world we live in and the leaders we decide to follow from church to government are not at perfect as god, despite many leaders preaching freedom a free system cannot exist without disobedience, taking away the freedom to disobey take away the freedom itself.
Finally, just like the times when the industrial revolution kindled the boiling pot that led to World War I and II, the modern day space and nuclear technology is kindling the next boiling pot. With many countries including the world powers being at war with each other consistently, all it takes is one obedient soldier and one stubborn obedient commander and there is bound to be a nuclear holocaust, Hence it will not be through an act of disobedience, but through an act of obedience that will cause the end of days.
Asch, Solomon E. “Opinions and Social Pressure.” Behrens, Laurence and Leonard J Rosen. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 3rd. New York: Pearson, 2009. 206-212.
Crawford, Curtis. Civil Disobidience A Case Book. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973.
Fromm, Erich. “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem.” Behrens, Laurence and Leonard J Rosen. Writing and Reading Across Curriculum. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 245-250.
Garrett, Dr.Duane A. New International Version Archaeological Bible. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.
Richard, Carl J. Twelve Greeks and Romand Who Changed The World. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
Stackelberg, Roderick and Anne Sally Winkle. The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
Taylor, Richard Norton and Nicolas Kent. Nuremberg. London: Nick Hern Books, 1997.
Thompson, Diane. The Trojan War: Literature and Legend from the Bronze Age to the Present. NC: Mc Farland, 2004.
Trial of Adolf Eichmann [VHS]. Perf. Adolph Eichman. 1961.
Source by Samanga P Amarasinghe