Links About Responsibility, Deliberate Living, Love, and Obedience

Some bits and pieces from here and there…

  • They’re still trying to refine the Milgram Experiment after all these years, and they’re still teasing new insights out of it, including this unsurprising nugget: “the author interviewed the participants afterward and found that those who stopped [administering the shocks as they were told to] generally believed themselves to be responsible for the shocks, whereas those who kept going tended to hold the experimenter accountable.”
  • The question is not “why do you obey” but “why do you support says Arthur Silber at Once Upon a Time…. He’s trying to untangle the tangled concepts of obedience and support when it comes to adults and political matters. He quotes Hannah Arendt on this topic as writing:

    In our context, all that matters is the insight that no man, however strong, can ever accomplish anything, good or bad, without the help of others. What you have here is the notion of an equality which accounts for a “leader” who is never more than primus inter pares, the first among his peers. Those who seem to obey him actually support him and his enterprise; without such “obedience” he would be helpless, whereas in the nursery or under conditions of slavery — the two spheres in which the notion of obedience made sense and from which it was then transposed into political matters — it is the child or the slave who becomes helpless if he refuses to “cooperate.” Even in a strictly bureaucratic organization, with its fixed hierarchical order, it would make much more sense to look upon the functioning of the “cogs” and wheels in terms of overall support for a common enterprise than in our usual terms of obedience to superiors. If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, as becomes glaringly obvious in the case of revolutionaries and rebels who disobey because they have withdrawn this tacit consent.

    In these terms, the nonparticipators in public life under a dictatorship are those who have refused their support by shunning those places of “responsibility” where such support, under the name of obedience, is required. And we have only for a moment to imagine what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act “irresponsibly” and refuse support, even without active resistance and rebellion, to see how effective a weapon this could be. It is in fact one of the many variations of nonviolent action and resistance — for instance the power that is potential in civil disobedience — which are being discovered in our century. The reason, however, that we can hold these new criminals, who never committed a crime out of their own initiative, nevertheless responsible for what they did is that there is no such thing as obedience in political and moral matters. The only domain where the word could possibly apply to adults who are not slaves is the domain of religion, in which people say that they obey the word or the command of God because the relationship between God and man can rightly be seen in terms similar to the relation between adult and child.

    Hence the question addressed to those who participated and obeyed orders should never be, “Why did you obey?” but “Why did you support?” This change of words is no semantic irrelevancy for those who know the strange and powerful influence mere “words” have over the minds of men who, first of all, are speaking animals. Much would be gained if we could eliminate this pernicious word “obedience” from our vocabulary of moral and political thought. If we think these matters through, we might regain some measure of self-confidence and even pride, that is, regain what former times called the dignity or the honor of man: not perhaps of mankind but of the status of being human.

  • Philip Brewer at Wise Bread puts it all together in a blog post that summarizes what he’s been trying to get across with his many writings on simplified, deliberate, meaningful, abundant living. If you don’t find something fantastic there, I’ll be surprised.
  • Francois Tremblay writes about a society based on love at Check Your Premises. It’s hard to summarize, so I’ll just invite you to take a look. Though the title sounds like it ought to be on the cover of some flimsy tract over a kitschy painting of lions and lambs frolicking with children in tunics, the contents are thought-provoking.