According to Confucius and Jesus, obedience to the authority is requisite for a civil society. While both in Confucianism and in Christianity, it is allowed to suggest and make comments on the leaders' actions, it is requisite to obey them to your best ability.

The direct result of disobedience to those that should be obeyed is a conflict of power, and war, and bloodshed. Both Confucianism and Christianity admit that in many cases, it is okay to disobey when there is a conflict of interests. (For instance, if the gov't say "Go to war" and your dad says "No, stay at home", who do you support?)

Good leaders are able to motivate their followers to obey them because they want to. Bad leaders have to use physical force or emotional abuse to convince people to do what they say.

The key phrase in jgardin's writeup above is "those that should be obeyed". This implies that there is such a thing as a legitimate power structure in which it is right for some to have power over others.

Accepting this premise necessarily begs the question of from where authority derives and what exactly constitutes its legitimacy.

This question has been answered in many ways over the millennia. Some of the most popular answers have been:
The Mandate of Heaven - the idea that the gods/God/supernatural entities have chosen a particular person or group of people to be set above others. The supposed will of these entities being paramount, people have no correct choice other than to obey their rulers and, by extension, their supernatural superiors. This is also manifested as the divine right of kings.
The Will of the People - The theoretical basis for democracy; the concept that "the people" (the society, the community, the body politic) choose to surrender a measure of their personal power to the community at large via the agency of the state and the elected representatives which constitute the state. An outgrowth of the ideas expressed in Rousseau's Social Contract. An individual in an "enlightened", rationalist society obeys his/her rulers because he/she feels that the rulers' authority derives from the will of the people.

In our day and age, the latter of the above two legitimizing philosophies is considered to be more correct, rational and acceptable than the former.

However, the first philosophy cuts closer to the true source of authority and the basic reason for obedience to it: violence.

Authority = power, and power = a superior ability to inflict violence, regardless of what form the violence takes (physical, economic, emotional, psychological, etc.). At heart all systems of authority, all power structures devolve into that old adage: might makes right. Even the most democratic of states operates on the principle of the will of the majority: there are more of us than there are of you, so do what we say.

The feeling that power must be obeyed stems, probably, from the parent-child relationship. As children, we are compelled to submit to the will of our much more powerful parents. We are inculturated to bow to the greater force.

And so we have a society based obediance to authority. We've even whipped up the collective myth that there must be power structures, or there would simply be chaos (again, fear of violence). This ignores the massive human potential for mutual respect and mutual aid. A society based on cooperation is entirely possible and, considering what our current social organization has inflicted upon the world, entirely necessary for the survival of the species.

Obediance is the result of internalizing the idea that might makes right. Might does not equal right; might simply equals might. The mighty are nothing without those willing to submit.

Experiments on obedience find that people who are told to do something distasteful are more likely to do it than they otherwise would have been because they feel that it is not their actions, rather they are just carrying out the will of someone else.

Scenario: You enter into an experiment, not knowing what it is. You are told that the experiment is simply to see whether or not punishments affect the ability to learn. They sit you in front of a large machine that provides shocks of a range of 15 to 450 volts, with a verbal range of word designations such as shock, strong shock, very strong shock, DANGER, etc. The test you are giving the second person is simply a word-pair test, like happy days, jump rope, blue dog, etc, and the person has to indicate whether or not the words were previously paired together. You are told to increase the shock by one level every time he gets something wrong. However, as the experiment proceeds, the other person registers more and more pain on his face, and ends up begging, pleading to be released from the machine. The experimenter orders you to continue, however. Do you do as he says, or say no?

Here's how the experiment turned out:

"Before the experiment was carried out, people were asked to predict their own performance. The question was put to several groups: psychiatrists, psychologists, and ordinary workers. They all said virtually the same thing: almost no one would go to the end.

The results were very different. Despite the fact that many subjects experienced stress, despite the fact that many protested to the experimenter, a substantial proportion coninued to the last shock on the generator. Many subjects obeyed the experimenter no matter how painful the shocks seemed to be to the other person, and no matter how much the victim pleaded to be let out. This was seen time and time again, and has been observed in several universities where the experiment has been repeated."

What could cause these people, disregarding the one or two sociopaths in the experiment that I'm sure enjoyed it, to do this to their fellow man? For a fully socialized adult, there is a readiness to defer to authority that is astonishingly powerful. There are many factors involved, that were sudied, in whether or not the people obeyed, including: the effects of closeness to the victim, the importance of the institution that was doing the test, and showing other people obeying or following the same authority. Many times the person would ask "Am I responsible?" hearkening back to my previous statement about considering the actions not his own will. Once they were placated, they could proceed more easily.

While the conflict between the conscience of the person, and their feelings of desiring to oblige authority gives rise to strain, many psychological mechanisms can be viewed that help the people deal with the stress. For instance, some subjects only complied minimally: they touched the switch of the generator lightly; this gave them the feeling that they were really good people, and that they were just doing what they were told. Sometimes they would argue, but it served simply as a relief that in the person's own eyes they had opposed the orders. This relief in tension allowed the person to continue on with the experiment anyway. Many times the person would become engrossed in the minutia of the procedure, and attempt to lose sight of the consequences of their actions.

A full 65% of the people went to the very last button on the machine, the 450 volt one. While the people on the other side were simply actors (albeit really good ones), this statistic is pretty disturbing.

Stanley Milgram, the conductor of this famous experiment, concluded that these experiments showed conclusively the psyche of those nazi soldiers involved in the holocaust, and the vietnam soldiers that killed so many villagers. To them, they were just following orders. While to us it may seem atrocious, we might not have done any differently had it been us in their place.

Much credit goes to The Oxford Companion to the Mind, edited by Richard L. Gregory

"Obedience" is an essay by French post-modernist philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, on the theory of music. It was written for a conference given at The Sorbonne in 1986. It was published as chapter 14 of his book "The Inhuman".

Do you remember 1986 in music? In popular music, "classic rock" had already been codified and become stale. Pop music styles like new wave that used synthesizers, while initially exciting, were becoming vapid. Rap music, once thought to be a fad, was transforming into something serious, and KRS-One and Public Enemy had been recording their first albums. And two high school friends had formed a Credence Clearwater Revival tribute band in Aberdeen, Washington. We all have different memories of music, and popular music isn't everything, but...

I have a mixed relationship with Jean-Francois Lyotard, who could say amazingly insightful things but could also go on for pages in the most incomprehensible way. Usually what I do is find one quote that doesn't make sense to explain what the writing is like:

"But above all, the opposition between the two currents is illusory. If it is true that that in both cases the aim is to return the ear to listening, it is naive to believe that it is enough to make a sound with anything at any moment to obtain the sound-feeling; and it is dangerous and frivolous to privilege technology, whose end is to test cognitive hypothesis bearing on sound and its hearing, the danger consisting in the temptation of a pure experimentation of acoustic possibilities in which the anamnesis of sound-feeling is forgotten on principle (not a rhetorical principle this time, but a scientific one)."
I have been reading the works of Lyotard for almost 25 years at this point, I am conversant with his special terminology, but boy howdy, I can not make heads or tails of any of that. The essay's title seems to take its meaning from a pun between the French and German words for "to listen" and "to obey". Listening is following dictates. Or something. But while I was reading it, what was more clear was what it was missing. I knew the names of three musicians he mentioned: John Cage, Claude DeBussy, and Ravi Shankar. And he describes the current division in music between:
For example, it would be useless to place Minimalism, arte povera, happening, performance, Cage, Morton Feldman, or John-Charles Francois on the 'poor' side, and on the 'rich' side abstraction, conceptualism, Nono, Boulez, Xenakis, Stockhausen or Grisey.
Okay, maybe that would be a useless thing.

I don't expect, in an essay prepared for the Sorbonne, for Jean-Francois Lyotard to mention his collection of Pixies Bootlegs. But it is surprising that in 1987, he can write a paper on musical trends while managing to ignore over thirty years of popular music. Even if he just wants to confine himself to experimental music, this was written 20 to 30 years after Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Jazz had transitioned from being "entertainment" to "art" when Lyotard was still a young man, but jazz innovations, let alone folk or rock and roll are not mentioned here.

And it might be argued that Lyotard was working in a different tradition. One of France's foremost philosophers wasn't trying to write for Rolling Stone. But the problem with that is that Lyotard's entire philosophy was based around reappraising Western culture. We can call that post-modernism, or we can call it something else, but in general, his philosophy was based around questioning or even dismissing the "grand narratives" of Western culture. And yet while he is busy dismissing or subverting or inverting them---he also doesn't seem to consider non-Western traditions to be worthy of much notice. Especially since many of the musical developments of jazz and related forms were developed by people of African descent, as well as by Latinos, it seems somewhere between ignorant and prejudiced to not include reference to their innovations.

It might seem like a bit of hyperfocus to criticize a single essay, by a single writer, from 1987. But the problems here are also a problem of other post-modernistic or deconstructionist philosophers: while taking stances in "opposition" to mainstream "Western culture", they also seem to be almost purposely unaware that other traditions or viewpoints exist. Ironically enough, much of post-modernism fails to take into account anything that happened after 1950.

O*be"di*ence (?), n. [F. ob'edience, L. obedientia, oboedientia. See Obedient, and cf.Obeisance.]


The act of obeying, or the state of being obedient; compliance with that which is required by authority; subjection to rightful restraint or control.

Government must compel the obedience of individuals. Ames.


Words or actions denoting submission to authority; dutifulness.


3. Eccl. (a)

A following; a body of adherents; as, the Roman Catholic obedience, or the whole body of persons who submit to the authority of the pope.


A cell (or offshoot of a larger monastery) governed by a prior.


One of the three monastic vows.

Shipley. (d)

The written precept of a superior in a religious order or congregation to a subject.

Canonical obedience. See under Canonical. -- Passive obedience. See under Passive.


© Webster 1913.

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