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Human beings are all born with free will and the ability to choose for ourselves which actions to undertake, however this ability has been modified over time as we are trained to obey figures who we perceive to have authority over us. This process begins in childhood when our first understood authority figures, namely our parents, inform us about what behaviors are appropriate within a given social context and which behaviors are inappropriate. We are trained to understand that behavior is contextualized by the social setting, by the characteristics of the population around us, and by our own the rules and regulations of the society as a whole. The way we are taught to behave is wholly dependent on our perceived authority figures. If there is an individual or group that we believe to have authority over us, then we internalize their orders and their versions of acceptable behavior. Conversely, if we reject the authority of another, then we will not believe them, and will reject their dictations about our behaviors. The ability and propensity of obeying orders has led to the creation of civilizations and the destruction of whole populations, to the apex of human endeavor and the depth of human failure. According to the chapter "Obedience to Authority," "If the conclusions of researchers are to be trusted, it is not psychopaths who kill noncombatant civilians in wartime and torture victims in prisons around the world but rather ordinary people following orders." Researchers Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo all examined the intersection between free will and obedience and through their findings we can put together a composite of reasons why we obey authority, often overriding our own preferences.
As early as the 1950s, researchers including Solomn Asch were examining atrocities of modern history to try to understand how normal human beings could choose to commit acts which have been described as "evil." He found that any person's opinion could be easily modified by applying even the presence of an unseen authority figure, namely by attributing a position on an issue to someone who is generally held in high regard. The mere suggestion that the individual's own preferences are different from a person who is supposedly more important than they are will psychologically force that person to reevaluate their own position (Asch 352). If something as small as an opinion on the quality of a piece of literature can by altered by the influence of another person's name, then it is understandable that the larger the amount of pressure by authority figures, the larger the acquiescence will be on the part of the person being pressured. The number of people involved in the equation will increase the level of participation of individuals in obeying orders from the authority figure (Asch 353). There is an expression that states people will do things in a group or mob that they would never do on their own. One person might be able to turn down the suggestions of a leader if she or she disagrees with what that person is demanding. However, if dozens or hundreds or thousands of people around them are obeying those orders, they are pressed upon not only by the authority figure but by the authority that has been granted to that person by the people around them. In the experiment Asch performed he noted that there were several reasons people gave for going with the group despite their own inclinations, from acceptance that they must be wrong to not wanting to spoil the experiment by giving an outlying response. Asch writes, "More disquieting were the reactions of subjects who construed their difference from the majority as a sign of some general deficiency in themselves, what at all costs they must hide" (355). In this scenario, even the idea of being a dissenting opinion from the masses is terrifying because of the implication that the individual is deficient as opposed to simply being a difference of opinion. The experiment showed the lengths people will go to in order to obey rather than be viewed as an individual which equated with being wrong.
Whereas Asch's experiments showed a real and highly upsetting worldview in regard to opinion, the work of Stanley Milgram proved the dangers of obedience in an even more visceral sense. Human beings, when faced with the knowledge that the following of orders as given will lead to the real infliction of pain another human being will still follow…[continue]
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