OPINION – If you were walking down the street and a total stranger politely instructed you to alter your pace or to jump in place, would you do it without question? Most of us would require a solid reason to obey.
Now, how would you react if that stranger was wearing an official-looking uniform? Would you question the stranger or would you comply simply because you’ve been raised to be obedient to authority?
The difference in how many people would respond illustrates a curious and potentially dangerous shift in how we think. It’s a shift that has occurred in plenty of other societies before us and it almost always leads to great suffering.
Few of us would associate the desire to be obedient with human suffering. Nonetheless, a connection exists.
From mass murder to human rights violations to political or religious persecution, there is a common thread linking the most egregious historical examples of man’s injustice toward other men.
That link was summed up by mathematician and philosopher W.K. Clifford who said: “There is one thing in the world more wicked than the desire to command, and that is the will to obey.”
This means that true power does not reside within the person or persons issuing commands. Instead, unquestioning obedience is the real foundation for abuse of power. Think about what that means in a society where we are conditioned from childhood to defer to symbols of authority.
To see what this looks like in action, take four minutes to watch this hyperlinked video in which a man wearing a very official-looking costume, asks passersby to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. Some he asks to walk in a different path, others he asks to litter. Some are asked to jump in place and a few are asked to use violence against a total stranger.
More than half the people do what the man in the uniform tells them without hesitation. But when the same individual tries to instruct random strangers without his uniform, no one gives him the time of day.
With his costume, the public’s obedience is swift and without complaint – regardless of morality. They’ve been conditioned to obey when they see symbols of the state and its power.
More likely than not, they also understand that failure to comply will bring violence against them. These are the actions of people who have become converted to a belief system where the law has come to represent the religion of the state.
This civic religion is most visible in the church-like courtroom where the judge officiates from an elevated position while wearing priestly robes. Also, sacred symbols of the state are prominently displayed, archaic language is spoken, and rituals and ceremonies are performed. During these proceedings, the public’s reverence is strictly enforced.
Unlike traditional religions which seek converts through persuasion, our new civic religion has no problem with converting us to its dogma by force.
At one time, the law served the people in its intended purpose, as described by Frederic Bastiat, “to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.”
Today, however, the law is rapidly becoming an instrument that primarily serves the interests of the state by magnifying its power over the people.
Man-made administrative laws cannot change the laws of nature, but the state still enforces them with the same gravity and violence as the good laws that actually protect our natural rights.
Laws based in natural law, such as prohibitions against murder and theft, have been overtaken by the creation of administrative rules creating licensing, administrative checkpoints, and prohibitions on consumption or ownership of certain arbitrary items.
Obedience to such laws is not the same thing as being virtuous. It simply makes a person compliant to the civic religion. Obedience to corrupted authority is what enables its corruption to spread and consolidate its hold over the people.
Over time, society has been trained to measure the state’s actions in terms of legal or illegal rather than right and wrong or moral and immoral.
We have allowed ourselves to buy into the ridiculous notion that just because the ruling class makes a law, it must be obeyed – even if it is a bad law.
For generations now, we have been conditioned to bow down and submit to the state and its authority, no matter how corrupt or how questionable it may appear. The state encourages the adoration of its costumes and symbols to the point that even questioning it is considered heretical.
True freedom requires more than just reflexive obedience to authority figures whether they are in or out of costume. It requires respect for proper and legitimate authority.
That means the kind of people who understand right and wrong and are willing to withdraw their consent when commanded to act against their better judgment.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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