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      by Tom Plonski

Obedience means we must do what someone else tells us to do. Obedience means we must do what someone else tells us to do instead of what we want to do. Obedience is about rights and duties.

Obedience recognizes who has the right to make a decision and who must follow orders. When a person has been given the right to make a decision, we say that person has the "authority" to make the decision. When we say, "Speak to the proper authorities" we mean to speak to the persons who have the right to make the decision in the matter.

The idea of subordination is related to the idea of obedience. In the army subordination is made very clear. In the army this idea of subordination is called "chain of command." A private must obey all soldiers of higher rank. A sergeant must obey a lieutenant but the sergeant need not obey the private. In the USA a general must obey the president. The president does not have to obey anyone in the army. In the USA, if the people no longer want to obey the president, they may impeach him or elect a different man to be president. But the people still must continue to obey the current president until he is properly replaced.

Obedience presupposes subordination.

Obedience and subordination are not goals in themselves. Obedience and subordination are recog- nized as necessary in order to accomplish a goal. For example, in a football game, someone has to decide which play to run next. The players huddle, one member makes the clear decision of which play to run next. Then the other players all obey and run the play. It would be impossible to win the game unless the team members subordinate.

In all societies there is this idea of obedience and subordination. Without obedience and subor- dination there is chaos. It is very important for a peaceful society to have each person understand and accept his responsibilities in this chain of command. In a country the citizens must obey the law. If a country allows its citizens to persistently disobey the laws, that country will lose its right to govern itself and there will be chaos. Persistent disobedience of the laws requires consequences. In the USA persons who persistently disobey the laws are put in jail. In some countries persons who disobey the laws are executed.

Sometimes we do not want to obey because we do not like the order, or it is inconvenient, or it is uncomfortable, or we do not like the person in authority. But none of these reasons give us the right to disobey. For example, Democrats might not like having a Republican as president but they still have the duty to obey him while he remains in authority.

Do we ever have the right to disobey someone in authority over us? Yes, sometimes we do have that right. We have the right to disobey if the person in authority over us has ordered us to do something that is immoral or illegal. That is the only time we have the right to disobey.

The idea of obedience and subordination also include the idea of rights and duties. There is never a duty without a right and there is never a right without a duty. If we want the right, then we must also accept the duty that comes with that right. For example, if we want to keep a job, then we must obey the boss.

In a public school the teachers and staff members must obey the principal and vice-principal. The principal must obey the superintendent. The superintendent must obey the school board. If people no longer want to obey a school board member, then they elect someone else for the position. If a teacher no longer wants to obey the principal, then the teacher may resign. If a teacher persistently disobeys the principal, then the teacher can be fired. If a student does not want to obey the teacher, then the student may ask his parents to place him in a different school but in the meantime the student must continue to obey the teacher. If a student persistently disobeys the teacher, then the teacher may ask that the student be expelled. If the teacher has the duty to teach, then the teacher has the right to expect obedience from the student.

Without obedience and subordination, civilization would be impossible. The world remains civilized, safe, and orderly only because so very many people have agreed to subordinate and obey.

Tom Plonski
January 17, 2003

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Last modified: September 11, 2018