, Research Paper
Someone has always been there to tell you what to do in life. As a young child, you were told to behave properly and not to eat too many sweets. As you grew older and older, it seemed as if the responsibilities became greater and greater in number. Even as an adult, there was always an officious boss telling you what to do. There was always some higher force that bound your actions. Authority was the major theme in the novel 1984, by George Orwell. Authority was also a profound factor in Stanley Milgram s experiment conducted in 1974. It seems that authority has been around longer than any of us can remember, and it is authority that dictates the way we act.
Authority is based on instinct. When we receive an order, we intuitively react and follow the command. At first, we do not think, nor contemplate the effects that come as a result of our actions. In 1984, we get a sense of a greater authority in Big Brother. Although we never come to know if Big Brother actually exists, the power and authority that this idol holds over the people is unimaginable.
The people of Oceania are divided into two classes, the members of the Party and the proletariat. The Party members are like machines that do the jobs of the government. In this world, never has anyone thought any different of his or her place in society. Due to this authority that attempts to control the human train of thought, paranoia among the people became common. Nobody would talk to each other. Bonds between one another were broken, and it was never thought to be any different than before. To hold on to what makes you human – emotions and the ability to speak freely – was considered a crime against Big Brother. Of course, with authority comes punishment. To break from traditional views essentially asks for some form of retribution. For Winston, this resulted
in undergoing a painful stay at the Ministry of Love.
In the experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram, the power of authority over one s personal conscience was laid bare. Subjects were asked to apply shocks to another person at increasing levels if questions were answered incorrectly. Although equipment was specious, 63% of the subjects followed through with the experiment and delivered the shocks at the highest intensity. I was just following orders, was the excuse of many of the subjects. Jack Washington implied that he would have behaved in whatever manner the experimenter required. He expressed total faith in the experimenter and accepted everything that was said. This strong faith stems from the experimenter s powerful beliefs in the experiment.
To be a strong authority, you have to forcefully believe your own words. In 1984, O Brien certainly was quite passionate about his beliefs. He gave me the impression that he truly wanted to see Winston changed and reintegrated. I feel that O Brien did not enjoy shocking Winston at high voltage levels, but did so only because he felt it necessary to the task at hand. He seemed not to be serving a greater authority, but only himself. In the Milgram experiment, belief played an important part as well. It was the experimenter s adamant retorts that made the difference for a hesitant subject. The experimenters had to have made themselves believe that participation in the experiment was absolutely essential, and that the shocks were not at all dangerous. Because the experimenter sounded genuinely assured in giving his commands, many subjects obeyed. We see a good instance of this with Fred Prozi. Despite his numerous, agitated objections and continuous dissent, Prozi continues to administer the shocks as ordered by the experimenter. After receiving determined answers from the experimenters, the subjects gained faith in the experimenter s knowledge. If it seemed like the experimenters were lying, I think that many people would not have followed through with the experiment, and stopped right away.
In both instances, 1984 and the Milgram experiment, we have someone going against what they believe in at the hands of authority. In 1984, Winston finds himself in a precarious situation. O Brien wants him to picture five fingers on his hand when O Brien is only holding up four. Winston cries out desperately as the pain increases, I am trying to see five! But the only way Winston can truly see five fingers is if he believes it. That means Winston would have to change his integration, or his explanation for the way the world operates. A change in integration can be devastating to one s soul. Remarks on the Psychological Appeal of Totalitarianism brings this idea to clarity, One feels like a traitor to one s most cherished ideas. In Room 101, Winston was terrified that rats would be his fate, and he cries out, Do it to Julia! It is only after he has left the pain behind him that he realizes that he truly wanted the pain to inflict upon Julia. He reflects, Perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn t really mean it. But that isn t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. After vowing never to part with each other, greater powers prevailed, and Winston and Julia betrayed each other in the end. Milgram s experiment was a prime example of how one can completely go against their morals for the sake of obedience to an authority. For many, applying the electrical shocks to the learners was a depressing and painful experience. Some felt that once the experiment had started, it became their sole responsibility to administer the shocks till the end. Jan Rensaleer, one of the few that did not continue with the experiment, felt that the experiment made such a deep impression on him that he became convinced that social sciences and psychology, are much more important in today s world. One can only imagine the inner conflicts that were running through his head. After the experiment, he described the mood, I did want to stop at that time. I turned around and looked at [the experimenter]. I guess it s a matter of authority.
It was clearly evident in the storyline of 1984, and was an outlining theme of Milgram s experiment. Authority has always been with us; its laws are instilled within us. Most times, we know what is right and what is wrong. It is wrong to steal, and authority punishes us for doing so. It is wrong to disobey the government, and authority again punishes us for doing so. These truths are imposed upon us. Authority not only dictates the way we act, but it also changes our outlook on life. Ordering someone to apply shocks to another person is one thing. Making someone change the way they have viewed the world their whole life is something that authority has the power to make you do.