Obedience is defined as “a compliance with higher authorities in a hierarchical structure” (Witt 131). Obedience is a baffling idea in which we are easily controlled and easily manipulated by an authority figure. Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment about obedience in the 1970’s. In this experiment he sent out a newspaper ad at Yale University and accepted a variety of participants of many occupations. The purpose of Milgram’s experiment was to test how easily people would conform to the instructions of an authority figure. However, Milgram disguised his experiment. He told participants that it was a test to see how effective punishment while learning would be. He had the participants sit in a room with a board that when they would flip a switch it would administer the level of electrical shock they were told to give to the actor in the other room. Although they could not see the actor who was pretending to be shocked, they could hear him scream or react to the shock. In many cases people would listen to the authority figure in the room with the subject and would keep administering the shocks even at lethal levels that could “kill” the actor whom was allegedly receiving the shock. However, sometimes the authority figure did not even need to be present to influence the subject.
One of the most perplexing social norms that we have is the idea of road laws. Although they may seem simple on the surface, it seems almost ironic that something as complex as the human mind can be controlled by something as simple as two solid lines on a road signifying that one person may not pass another person while driving on the same side of the road. The main underlying factors that cause people to not deviate from these simple traffic laws is the fact that they are all kept in line by fear. Although many of these traffic laws are made to keep people out of harm’s way, many people do not have much regard for their own safety. This is why it is necessary to have traffic police. They are the ones who enforce the necessary repercussions for when people deviate from traffic laws. Without police monitoring the streets and imposing necessary fear upon drivers, the drivers would have no reason to obey an inanimate object telling them to keep their speed below fifty five miles per hour. In some cases large groups of people may stray away from their obedience, ultimately overriding the law and creating a new social norm.
The thing about some laws or social norms is that people are not always obedient to them and if this happens on a very large scale sometimes anomie takes place. When this happens it is not uncommon for what was considered unlawful or deviant to become somewhat a social norm or at least become more accepted. This type of behavior can vary from different types of societies. An example of this would be underage drinking. Although it is against the law for minors to consume alcohol, in the media and amongst some parents it has become much more accepted. This is because as a society we tend to have the idea that “they are going to do it anyway so what is the point of attempting to stop them”. It is this type of ideal that in many cases can cause anomie. Another example of this would be the spread of American ideals to countries such as China. When my father went to China for business he brought back pictures that showed clear signs of this expansion (this social revolution can be compared to America’s flappers in the 1920’s). Many of the youth were wearing shirts that featured American rock groups. Although China is still considered to be communist, they have made little attempt to change the views of the youth thus causing anomie. The idea of obedience is drilled into our heads from a very early age causing our society to work in an uniform fashion with little turbulence.
Web. 24 Feb. 2013. <http://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/milgram-experiment-at-50-years/>.
Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. Ed. Gina Boedeker. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. 131. Print.