An act if obedience can be drawn back to the very early stages of human history.
From a very young age are taught to be obedient. We are taught to obey our parents, our teachers, and to a higher authority. The common belief has continuously been to obey authority at all cost. This act has never been questioned because authority corresponds to the common belief that valuing authority and obeying them will lead you to achievement in all phases of life. As human beings it’s natural for us to be obedient, and one is not obedient might be viewed as unusual. However, is being obedient at all times the precise thing to do? Obedience can undoubtedly be dangerous, particularly when harm is imposed upon another person.In “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem,” Erich Fromm (1963) argues that society will self-destruct without succeeding freedom through disobedience.
He begins with comparisons of Hebrew and Greek mythology showing how disobedience to a god freed humans. Using this correlation, Fromm shows freedom as a condition for disobedience, and vice- versa. Therefore, Fromm proclaims that without disobedience the human race could destroy itself within a generation.
Sometimes disobedience is necessary and good when rules fail us. It’s hard for a lot of people to justify disobedience because it often involves breaking rules, if not the law. There’s always at least a shred of incorrectness to disobedience, even if it’s committed for all the right reasons. For example, Harriet Tubman was a woman that was born into slavery in Maryland. She escaped to freedom in 1849, where she eventually becomes known for the construction the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her own life so that she could return her family members and over slaves from the plantation system.
She then led them safely to the northern slave-free states and to Canada. Although Harriet Tubman was disobeying the higher authority by escaping slavery and helping other slaves escape to freedom, she was disobeying for all the right reasons. Harriet Tubman’s story proves Fromm’s belief to be true; not all orders given by a higher authority are superior, but rather horrific.
Another example of how not all disobendience is wong, is the fictional American Television series aired on Showtime from October, 2006 to September 2016 called Dexter. The series’ main character is Dexter Morgan, a forensic technician that specializes in the blood splatter pattern analysis for the fictional Miami Police Department. Dexter Morgan also leads a double life as a serial killer who hunts down murderers that have slithered through the flaws of the justice system. Although, Dexter does kill he is not an “average” murderer, he kills only the people who fit a “moral code” taught to him by his father. At the end of the day, Dexter can be portrayed as a hero, even though he is disobeying by breaking several laws throughout the television series. Obedience can go hand-and-hand with conformity. Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group. Conformity can also be modestly defined as majority influence, or group pressure.
Solomon Asch conducted a series of psychological experiments during the 1950’s. These experiments exposed the degree to which a person’s own thoughts are influenced by those of groups. Asch found that people were willing to pay no attention to reality and give an incorrect answer in order to conform to the rest of the group.
During his series of experiments, Asch asked participants to complete what they thought would be a simple and perceptual task. The participants were asked to choose a line that matched the length of one of the three lines presented in front of them. When the precipitants were asked individually, each participant would choose the correct line. When the participants were asked in the presence of Confederates who purposely would choose the wrong line, about seventy-five percent of the participants conformed to the group at least one time.
This experiment is the perfect example of how participants would change their answers and, would instead conform to the group in order to fit in with the group. We tend to view anyone going along with the construction of society as conformity. Social influence describes how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors respond to our social world, including our tendencies to conform to others, follow social rules, and comply with to higher authority figures.
Imagine you are in History class and your Professor asks you if you remember the capital city of Arizona. Your first thought is “Phoenix “, but someone else in the class room speaks first and answers with “Tucson.” At that moment you notice several other students nodding their heads and agreeing with the other student. Most people in this situation would start to second guess themselves- am I wrong? What is the right answer? Would you pull out your phone and double check? The frequency of searching for a quick answer though your phone’s web browser high-lights how uncertain we are about everyday information. Our everyday lives are filled with uncertainty. Even though we can quickly look up information on our cellular devices, we still rely on conformity to cope with an uncertain social world.
Another instance of conformity is the story of how my oldest daughter was born. I was a 15-year-old attending Clyde High School. One night a friend and I decided it would be cool to hang out with some friends at their place. We had just met these friends a few nights earlier, we didn’t have much knowledge of these two friends, but since they lived in the same area-they must be cool, right? Boy, were we wrong. My mother always told me that if I were to ever go out and drink with my friends, to drink responsibly and absolutely to not wonder off with any guy, WHAT SO EVER. She would tell me to always stick with a friend.
After a few drinks, this “friend” told me to come outside with him into the garage because he said he wanted to talk to me somewhere quiet. I didn’t want to, but since my girl-friend said it was okay-I did. Eventually a simple conversation turned into the guy touching me, which ultimately turned into him having his way with me. My friend was inside having a great time, and I was in this dark, cold garage all because I wanted to drink and fit in with everyone around me. I am no longer distraught about the situation because I received the greatest gift from the most horrific situation, my beautiful baby girl.
In Fromm’s “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”, he begins with a point of view that “obedience is a virtue and disobedience is a vice.” Obedience is a virtue which our parents and grandparents teach us; however, sometimes disobedience becomes a virtue too, as it proves one’s ability to stand against something that is wrong. An individual often does not think to evaluate the group they simply want to fit in and to be part of something. A person links with a group because of the similar thought process, however, a group tends to influence a person’s thought, but to disobey these and stand out for your own thoughts become a thing of courage. This is the fine line between obedience and disobedience. Fromm states, “In order to disobey, one must have the courage to be alone, to err and to sin…acquired the capacity to think and feel for himself.” Of course, it is always convenient to say yes, nevertheless it is okay to be one of those people that say no to one of a higher authority and stand up for their own thoughts and beliefs.