The article is focused on how people think about and react to authorities. The author in particular chronicles his own experiences and a stranger’s experiences in terms of defying authorities and obeying authorities. But at the end of the day, the author admitted that even when defiance to the authorities can be a principled move, it is likewise as dangerous as obeying the authorities. He is asserting that obedience and disobedience to authorities have almost the same advantages and disadvantages.
While obedience to authorities may pose dangers such not being able to think for oneself and stand for ones principles, disobedience likewise has the same dangers as obedience has. At the onset, the article talks about the published work of Stanley Milgram entitled Obedience to Authority. In the study, Milgram has experimented ordinary people in a psychological experiment. The experiment aims to determine the effects of punishment on learning. The people who participated in the experiment were ask to deliver an electric shock of 15 to 450 volts to a man who will make a mistake in learning pair of words.
There is deceit going on in this experiment because the man who is supposed to have been delivered with electric shock is only an actor and is pretending to have electric shocks on him. This experiment yields in a result that about two-thirds of the people who are invited to participate in the experiment which is understood to be a representative of the whole population were prepared and willing to give a complete stranger with the shock even when they are aware that it is harmful, and painful to the person. This is for no other reason that they are told to do so by an authority, namely, the psychologist.
The experiment is after all not about punishment and its effects on learning but on the influence of authority to people’s actions and feelings towards one another. Moreover, this experiment proves that obedience to authorities lead people to behave in specific fashions. Milgram even explain violent actions such as anarchy and tortures as a product of obedience to authorities. He contends that tortures and other violent acts are possible because people are coerced to follow particular sets of behaviors imposed by authorities.
The author then followed that experiment of Milgram by narrating two of his experiences of the opposite of the earlier assertions. First is a stranger’s assertion that that as a social worker, she has always been against authorities because she said that they have suffered too much because of the authority imposed by the Catholic Church. However, the author has let her think the opposite regarding the authority of the pilot but she still persisted that she is against all authorities.
This defiance is understood to be a blanket opposition to authorities which represents a moral heroic stance because it is a preconceived idea that to oppose authorities is an act of principle, and to obey authorities would be an act of cowardice. The author in his young days has also been a non-conformist when it comes to authorities but only on thoughts. He relates that as a young doctor when he was working for a physician who was intensely dedicated to the welfare of her patients, he has always disagreed with her.
He was extremely very obedient when it comes to taking orders from her but deep inside he would question these orders. But at the end of the day, despite his non-conformist thoughts, he would obey her because he sees himself as far way inexperienced than her. The author believes that for authority to work there should be supremacy and hierarchy. For instance, in the hospital scene he mentioned earlier, he believes that someone has to take responsibility to take care of the patients, a person that junior doctors cannot disobey. He also contextualized blind obedience and blind disobedience.
He situated it in the same platform. He contends that those who have problems with authorities are seldom successful in life. They are unable to apply themselves in school, unable to succumb to orders and pressure at work, and are unable to maintain a pleasant and harmonious personal relationship with others. This is because they accept no rules including the informal ones that are not necessarily imposed but are understood and accepted as a natural course of things. However, this attitude, the author contends, shall be remedied through a conduct or a threat of an arbitrary superior or violence of others.
The work of Dalrymple is effective in introducing the concept of authority and defiance or obedience to it by citing scholarly works such as that of Milgram, a stranger’s perspectives, and his own experiences. However, the explanation is way too vague because he was not able to elaborate his points in an understandable manner. There were too many examples that were given which were not given proper ground in order to drive a point. For instance, the example of the teacher-student-parent situation was not properly grounded. It sounds like it has been uprooted from somewhere and placed in a desert where it cannot thrive.
However, his argument about authority and superiority is pretty much convincing. It is indeed true that for authority to work out there should be an established hierarchy where people could acknowledge superiority. His views that disobedience and obedience have the same consequences are equally true. However, I still believe that adherence to authorities has more benefits than defiance to it. This is for the reason that life is so much easy when there is peace and there is no chaos. Life will run smoothly with a pattern and with a path. Only authority can do that.