The presence of an authoritative figure is present in nearly even human being’s life; along with this, is the expectation of obedience to that authority. Through this obedience, many great things have been accomplished, as well as many instances of cruel and immoral acts. Defiance of the established authority, though, has also lead to great things, such as the creation and founding of the United States of America. In his writing, Obedience to Authority, Stanley Milgram examines the obedience to authority without questioning or taking responsibility and the problems that lie in it. Going deeper into that problem, one should examine what, in society, is conditioning people to obey an authority, even when they do not believe in what they are doing.
To begin, it is best to start at the beginning of a person’s life itself: childhood. It is here where the foundation for “conditioning to obey” is laid into the developing child’s brain. Children are taught that they must obey their parents, even if they do not like or agree with what they are told. Most often, these are simple things like cleaning their room, showering and brushing their teeth every day, eating their vegetables, and going to school. A child probably will not want to clean their room, nor will they be given a satisfactory reason as to why they should; yet they still must do this, in a way, against their will. While parents are trying to establish certain values and habits in their children, they are also teaching them that, when an authority tells them to jump, that the appropriate response is “How high?” and not “Why?”
It is also here, in childhood, and even more so in adolescence, where they begin to experiment with defiance of the authority. As they become more aware and developed in their individuality, they will test the authority figure, the parents, to find out how much control they really have. If a child does not clean their room, they may get a time-out, a physical punishment (i.e., spanking), or may not receive desert at supper. Alternatively, in adolescence, if a child is home late past their curfew, they may be unable to go out for an entire week or cannot use their parent’s car. It is through this that they are taught defiance causes punishment; punishment is bad, so therefore defiance is bad.
This basic model follows a person through the rest of their life: in school with teachers, at work with their boss, and in life in general with the government. People are...