What makes a person obey someone?
The recent events in Chennai when we paid our last respects to the Chief Minister are fresh on all our minds. The fact that the much feared violence and riots did not happen made me wonder if the riots of earlier were not the real expressions of grief no matter how incongruous it may seem to others. It also leads to a sneaky doubt that there was no requirement to give an order for these kind of actions. At this moment I wonder when we vilify a leader we find that many of the actions attributed to him or her are actually done by the followers. For instance Adolf Hitler; we demonize him and accuse him of killing countless Jews in the Second World War but the persons who actually committed the acts were normal human beings like you and I. The use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima & Nagasaki was not an act of terror because it was done by the victors; even though it may have been sanctioned by the US President there was a long chain of command which obeyed this single act of mass destruction and ended with one pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Everybody simply obey the order.
When a ruler asks his people to wage war or kill his neighbour, ordinary people accept and obey. Why do we do that? Why does the need to obey supersede the need to do what is right? Why do we let our individual conscience become submissive to an outside call? Fundamentally what is about humans that they tend to obey a person at a higher level? Hitler would not have been Hitler if the people below him refused to accept his orders. Great warrior kings have been written about in history books but in reality they were successful due to the armies of foot soldiers who fought on their behalf following commands. The personal ideals and ideologies of the foot soldiers ceased to exist when confronted with an order. Can it be simple adulation for the leader or is fear of punishment or is it something deeper? The much feared Black Tigers, the suicide squad of the LTTE was known for their suicidal attacks ordered by their leader, young men and women gave up their lives for their leader or the cause.
One reason I can think of is our upbringing. From infancy children are taught to obey to listen to the elders and somehow the conditioning is restricted to doing what is being told rather than doing what is right. As the children grow they never forget that they must obey to the next person who is bigger than them. Have we denied our children and ourselves the right to question and decide if what has been told them is the right thing to do? Have we accepted that there is always someone bigger who will tell what is to be done and we will keep obeying? Have we accepted that life is all about obeying what has been told us?
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