Why Do We Obey?
by Eric Peters
If some random guy ordered you to submit to his will – or else – most of us would at least consider it assault. Many of us would try to escape – or defend ourselves. Very few would quietly submit. And almost no one would submit willingly.
But when exactly the same thing is done to us by a person wearing a uniform, most of us not only submit and obey – we do so without even questioning the rightness of the thing.
The uniform – and other totems of officialized authority – confer legitimacy upon the illegitimate. It is a startling thing. It reveals that most people are incapable of grasping the concept of a moral principle – that something which is wrong when committed by an unsanctioned individual is just as wrong when committed by a sanctioned individual – or a group of them.
If it is wrong to kill, then it is always wrong to kill. If it is wrong to steal, then it is always wrong to steal. Neither killing no theft nor any other intrinsically wrong act becomes not-wrong because it’s sanctioned, approved or euphemized by the state, or by a politician, or by a bureaucracy. Stalin reportedly once said that a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths a statistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. A million single deaths is an atrocity – as much as a single individual death is a tragedy. And you are no less the victim of theft if the theft is done by a collective or its purported agent – under color of law, or via the ballot box.
Theft is theft. The essential nature of the thing is not altered by how it is done – or by whom.
There may be shades of grey in many aspects of life – but not when it comes to questions of basic morality. Your life is yours – and it follows that you are entitled by right to be at liberty. Else your life is not yours, but rather the chattel property of someone else – to whatever extent that other person (or persons) exercises control over your life, and against your will.