How can corruption survive and spread? An important subject in this context is the matter of obedience. Experiments have been done on the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Surprisingly, the result was that very few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
The theories resulting from those experiments contain roughly two key factors:
1) Lack of ability or expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis.
Someone who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group is the person’s behavioural model.
2) Identification with the authority figure, giving responsibility over.
The essence of obedience by identification is the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument for carrying out another persons wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow.
As to the first point, it is quite clear we have to teach our children to think for themselves and make their own decisions, so they have the necessary ability and experience. But as to the second: Why would people see themselves no longer as responsible for their actions, when obeying orders? Some blame being a tool without a conscience and giving responsibility away on manipulation, and see us as the victims of a supposed group of authorities taking control over our mind. Yet this still leaves the question, why is such control possible?
A most simple explanation is the fact, it hurts to get signals from our conscience when we (plan to) do something wrong, it generates shame and guilt, and gives uncomfortable feelings and negative thoughts about ourselves. To escape those feelings, we give the responsibility away to the one in charge, which feels as a relief: This way, wrong actions are no longer ours, so we don’t have to face and admit them, as the other one carries the responsibility. So now, in fact, we cannot make mistakes as long as we simply follow the orders.
Yet we should be happy, the marvelous human system gives us the pain of shame and guilt as a warning signal, just like we are warned by physical pains when something is wrong with the body. It is a sign of a healthy conscience. So feeling shame and guilt is a moral quality, that guides our actions.
Blaming others – or outside factors – is also a form of obedience, of giving responsibility away. But if we loose the aversion against the pain of feeling shame or guilt, it will come natural to dare to take our own decisions and then maybe make mistakes, but to admit them and to correct them, and to expect the same from others. It will generate honesty, while at the same time we will complain and stand up against wrongdoing, instead of complying and obeying. Which means there is no longer the danger of giving individual responsibility away to an extent, where we carry out actions incompatible with our standard of fundamental morality.