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Depravity for the Sake of Obedience Essay

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On some level, whether it is to our teachers, bosses, or just the local government, the majority of us are obedient. According to Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, “Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to” (631). Society would lack order and be full of chaos without obedience. Authority helps society function; obeying that authority ensures stability. But at what point does obedience cross the line from advantageous to detrimental? Obedience becomes dangerous when it is harmful to one’s self or others.
A classic example of dangerous obedience is demonstrated by Nazi official Adolf Eichmann. Throughout his trial for war crimes, Eichmann proclaimed his innocence. He placed the blame on his superiors and said he was simply following orders: orders that involved sending millions of people to extermination camps and ultimately their deaths. In their separate writings about obedience, Milgram and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm both compare Eichmann to the ordinary person, someone we can all see ourselves in. While he may not be the ideal person to be equated to, Eichmann’s submission to authority is understandable: had he refused his orders, he most likely would have been arrested or killed, then replaced by someone who was willing to follow commands. So it’s quite probable that those millions of people still would have been executed, with or without Eichmann’s compliance.
Obedience is also seen by many as the path of least resistance; it isn’t as mentally demanding to follow someone’s orders. Assuming authority figures know what is best for everyone, it is simpler to do what we are told than to have to think for ourselves. But once we stop thinking for ourselves and begin following orders bli...


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... by greed, then humanity would not stand a chance at progressing. In her article “Group Minds,” author Doris Lessing’s general thesis is that humanity is “now in possession of a great deal of hard information about ourselves, but we do not use it to improve our institutions and therefore our lives” (653). By not utilizing everything we have learned throughout history, we are doing ourselves and others a great injustice.
Not all authority is corrupt, so therefore obedience is not always a bad thing. Following moral and just authorities will allow society to continue functioning for many generations to come. Standing up for what we believe in is one of the main reasons civilization has been able to advance throughout the years. There is a good chance that continuing to obey corrupt people and losing our backbones could eventually lead to the destruction of humanity.



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