By Nasreen Pejvack
What did I do? Who did I kill?
Why didn’t I challenge the orders?
The discipline of Psychology teaches us that Blind Obedience is a behaviour
whereby people do as they are told without thinking for themselves on whether
what they hear is true or whether they should obey orders.
In combat, soldiers are trained to follow orders without question, but this allows
their commanders to have them inflict atrocities that most civilians would view as
unethical. This conformity and obedience can lead to more killing than is
necessary, and to psychological traumas. Soldiers may return home with severe
PTSD or have misgivings about the ethics of conformity.
- What did I do? Who did I kill? Why did I go? Why didn’t I challenge the orders?
. . . is it really harmless to raise generation after generation of blindly obedient followers who end up rejecting any scientific understandings that don’t conform to their beliefs?
Many people may believe the only place blind obedience is acceptable is in the
armed forces. Is that true?
Let’s look at another venue of blind obedience – religion. Again, it’s the young who
blindly follow authority figures, in this case their parents, into a belief that their
Torah or Bible or Quran is holy and infallible, without asking what those terms
even mean. All aspects of their faith are assumed to be true, while extinguishing
any doubts for fear of ending up in hell.
One may think these people are harmless, just following their godly rituals and
compliances, and living their lives. But is it really harmless to raise generation
after generation of blindly obedient followers who end up rejecting any scientific
understandings that don’t conform to their beliefs?
These people thus remove themselves from contributing to advancements in
medicine, technology, fact-based policy-making, etc. They can even create political
barriers to such progress by bringing the superstitious scribblings of Bronze Age
oblivious people into the halls of power as a basis for legislation.
And of course, there is also the problem of religious leaders taking advantage of
the blind obedience of their followers to have them wage wars and commit
atrocities in the name of their invisible gods, believing that what they are doing is
thus morally and legally right. History is full of such examples of people blindly
hating the Other on the advice of sinister leaders pointing to “holy” scriptures.
Well, we all were born into a religion or a religiously dominated culture and were
raised within that environment created for us. My hope for everyone is that when
we reach a certain age, we can develop our own beliefs wisely, and then do
differently than those before us. Unfortunately, many remain within the worldview
of their childhood upbringing out of love and respect for the family or cultural
Things are no different in politics as presidents such as Trump, Putin, Duterte
and Modi talk up nationalism, isolation and suspicion at rallies and in tweets, in
order to build up and consolidate a base of supporters who, unfortunately,
sometimes act on what they say to an extreme that results in many attacks
against, and even massacres of, that blindly accepted Other.
One recent example is the assassination of Soleimani, an Iranian general. Iran is
the evil Other of the day so, based on unsubstantiated claims that the general was
plotting to attack embassies in the area and kill Americans, Trump felt free to
input orders into a military machine designed to blindly follow commands from
above, and had Soleimani dramatically executed. The result of his careless action
risked bringing yet another catastrophic war to the Middle East on the backs of
the common people of the area, as usual, mainly so the world’s self-serving bullies
can protect a supply of oil that is not theirs. Sure, Soleimani never was an angel,
but hey … glass houses.
Where else will our theme take us? How about the workplace? All of human
history is witness to injustices, power imbalance and abuses there. And for fear of
losing the job or sabotaging a career, a blind eye is turned, and wrong doings
become company culture to be thoughtlessly submitted to. Paying the bills and
social status beat out ethics and justice.
We live life as it is presented to us.
We are conditioned to obey.
What about obedience in our daily lives? Without really paying attention, we are
doing as the corporate masters say. We buy what their persistent advertising says
is good for us and keep us busy by living through their black boxes, watching
their take on entertainment, based as it is on consumption, dominance and
exploitation. We live life as it is presented to us. We are conditioned to obey.
We now even socialize with corporate-run social media platforms which, though
they seem to be free, manage to make millionaires of their owners by using
people’s information to make them the personalized targets of advertising exactly
those things which they enjoy most. It would appear that we must be blindly
obeying the fine-tuned tweaks of some clever array of strings in order to make all
Look at Cambridge Analytica, whose sole purpose was to use those same
platforms to form people’s opinions on how/what to think and who to vote for,
again the result of masters behind the scenes seeking blind obedience. We often
don’t even know any more if our thoughts are controlled.
Meanwhile we happily post our ineffective daily memes, just to be in the circle or
feel that we are having a discussion or exchanging ideas and news so that we feel
we are “doing something.” But we don’t see much change in the world, as our
globally fractured and unorganized activities cannot generate the power needed to
challenge the status quo.
The most brutal effect of social media is herding away people from real education
and knowledge about our history, or a better understanding of our world’s
political structures, economy and ecosystems. Those same invisible hands hope to
guide people’s knowledge and understanding of the world around them to a place
where they don’t think or analyze at all, if at all possible. Keeping blindly busy
with our bits and pieces on social media without knowing what is really going on,
we are too preoccupied to educate ourselves on, for instance, the history of the
Middle East, repetitively chaotic as it is ever since Oil was discovered there.
Despite being home to some of the most ancient civilizations on Earth, much of its
population has not stably flourished like Europe or North America did. Why is
As an example, not too long ago in 2003, the invasion of Iraq happened, even
though the people of the world were on the streets to prevent it. They were
ignored, and the Bush administration attacked the country anyway, leading to
sustained chaos and destruction. All these years later the conflict is ongoing, but
the Oil seems to be flowing just fine and here in our safe havens we all seem to
have forgotten and moved along, blindly buying the line that “oh, they are always
fighting over there.”
How do we not grasp the deep dysfunction of the world, even as the bullies
ransack the planet’s resources and upend people’s livelihoods, ceaselessly causing
problems in every corner of our planet?
Also, for me, I find it sad that many high-profile advocates for human-rights or
environmental sanity are not the scientists who can actually inform us, but
standup comedians who insightfully cast barbs at our follies. Ah, people love to
laugh. We shake our heads and briefly connect the dots in understanding much of
what is happening. But then we leave the event and soon forget, instead of deeply
learning about the painful calamities in the world. People seem to disregard the
value of serious study, and of accepting that real understanding of our world is a
Well, there is no mystery about blind obedience today. We are being fed calculated
information. Much disjointed feel-good news and entertainment has been set up
all around us. We suffer from an extreme lack of proper information; therefore
knowledge. We have become a society of uninformed people, heedlessly following
sanitized news, corporatized books and entertainment, and religions which stunt
our growth. Not knowing is less painful, while learning takes time and effort. The
result is a laziness that makes it easier to just blindly accept the societal cocoon
that has built up around us.
So you see, our obedience is not so mysterious.
Nasreen Pejvack is a former Programmer/System
Analyst and Counselor/, who has worked in
Ottawa, California, and Vancouver.
As of 2014, she is an author whose historical novel “Amity” was published by Inanna Publications in 2015. Amity was a finalist for BC’s 2016 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Following Amity’s success, she published a book of short tales inspired by her experiences of life in Canada, “Paradise of the Downcasts” and also a book of poetry, “Waiting,” both published in 2018. Nasreen was also a judge for British Columbia’s 2018 Fiction Prize.