Obedience As The Means To A Peaceful Life

1648 words - 7 pages

What leads a perfectly reasonable person to obediently follow the command to harm someone who has done no wrong to them? Why would someone follow orders to lace Kool-aid with cyanide and extinguish the lives of over 1,000 faithful men, women and children? Or to torture and degrade prisoners without provocation? Why would anyone follow directions to administer electric shocks of increasing strength as punishment for failing a simple memory test? While these scenarios may sound like the newest video games in which one assumes the character of another, people can and do commit violent acts like these in the name of obedience. Zimbardo, Milgram and Orwell show that obedience is a response to the role one assumes in life; to find personal satisfaction and inner peace, one must demonstrate obedience.
As found in the infamous Stanford Prison Study, the conviction with which people assume their roles, as well as the extreme behavior they are willing to go to perpetuate their role and demonstrate obedience to the perceived authority stunned even the designer of the study, Phillip Zimbardo. In this study, male college students volunteered to participate in an experiment in which one group was randomly assigned the role of prisoner and the other to the role of guard. With little instruction and few guidelines for behavior provided as to how to carry out the assigned roles, each individual reacted with behavior observed as appropriate to their position; prisoners rebelled against authority and guards retaliated with force. In just a few days prisoners decided to obediently follow the rules set out by the guards and to expect punishment if they did not comply. One of the prisoners reported that “…when I saw the revolt wasn’t working, I decided to toe the line. Everyone settled into the same pattern. From then on, we were really controlled by the guards.” (Zimbardo 394) The prisoners fully accepted their role and ceased to view themselves as free-thinking men as evidenced by the recordings of conversations between inmates. These men could have discussed any number of topics but their conversations were almost completely limited to prison related topics such as the quality of the food, plans to escape and ways to get into the good graces of the guards. (Zimbardo 394) The guards demonstrated their assumed role by exerting authority over the prisoners through demeaning tasks, threats, control of their meals as well as dictating if and when prisoners were permitted use the bathroom. The guards and prisoners weren’t the only ones to embrace their role in the experiment; parents, relatives and friends willingly complied with the stringent rules for visitation and submitted to the prison authorities. All the participants, including the research psychologists who played the part of prison warden and superintendent, later reported being so immersed in their respective roles that they forgot it was an experiment and not a real prison. All of the...

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