I again joined YeahWrite.me‘s Super Challenge #3 Flash Competition. This Challenge was nonfiction and I’ve never done anything like it but, after winning their Super Challenge #2 fiction competition a few months ago, I decided to give it a whirl. I hope you enjoy my essay!
I hope you enjoy my essay!
Persuasive Essay (1,000 words)
Prompt: When, if ever, is it appropriate to disobey authority?
Saturday, January 21st, 2017. They came in droves, by the thousands. Some marches across the United States numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In Washington D.C., if estimates are correct, there were half a million people. The Women’s March on Washington was the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history.
The underlying theme was, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”. The idea was to advocate for legislation regarding numerous human rights issues that many in America feel have been targeted by the newly sworn-in president, Donald Trump.
American protesters weren’t alone on that historic Saturday but were joined by men, women, and children of many nationalities and religions who participated in Sister Marches around the world. They did so to show their solidarity with their cousins in the so-called Land of the Free. They marched in hundreds of cities, in dozens of countries, on all seven continents. There was even a protest of about thirty people in Antarctica.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘protest’ as “a solemn declaration of opinion and usually of dissent” and “a usually organized public demonstration of disapproval.”
Many saw the actions of the millions of people who marched on January 21st as disrespectful to Trump. They felt that the protesters, those millions of protesters, were sore losers who were being insolent and disobedient. But were they?
History is peppered with people who disobey authority because they see that authority as unjust. Thomas Jefferson said, “If a law is unjust a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. agreed with this sentiment. “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” Dr. King said in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ As noted in an archive article at http://www.thekingcenter.org, Dr. King’s sense of moral responsibility led him to commit acts of civil disobedience, which is defined as “the active, public, conscientious breach of the law to bring about a change in law or public policy.”
The term ‘civil disobedience’ was coined in 1848 by Henry David Thoreau who believed that laws that conflict with one’s morals were laws that should be broken. We know of many well-known figures who were involved in civil disobedience: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, and Rosa Parks, to name a few. Indeed, entire movements have arisen to promote the idea, such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the anti-Vietnam War protests, and of course, the Boston Tea Party.
Humans are conditioned to obey authority and the laws it sets forth. But there are times when we have a moral obligation to rebel against that authority. As Dr. King also wrote, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
If we take that statement to heart, then as creatures of morality, we must reject the reasoning used by members of Hitler’s Nazi party during the Nuremburg Trials. Adolf Eichmann was an SS lieutenant-colonel who in his 1961 defense of his role in the death of millions during the Holocaust said, “The orders were, for me, the highest thing in my life and I had to obey them without question.” He obeyed orders, without question, that were morally repugnant because in his mind, it was unthinkable to do otherwise.
Eichmann wasn’t the only defendant at the Nuremburg Trials to justify their crimes by saying they had just been following orders. Due to the prevalence of this defense, and to determine whether the German people had a propensity to obey authority figures and disregard moral law, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in 1963. The Milgram Study featured volunteers who were ordered to administer what they thought were increasingly powerful electric shocks to a subject who answered questions incorrectly. While many of the volunteers questioned the instructions, an incredible sixty-five percent obeyed an order to give a 450-volt shock to the unseen subject after numerous incorrect answers.
No such shocks had been delivered to the subject, who was himself involved in conducting the experiment, though the volunteer wasn’t aware of that detail during the study. In fact, during the experiment, the volunteers could hear the subjects screaming in pain. Incredibly, the majority of volunteers continued to obey orders and dispensed the maximum voltage. Milgram’s conclusion as outlined in his 1974 article ‘The Perils of Obedience’ stated that “relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
As horrifying as that conclusion may sound, it’s encouraging to know that resistance begets resistance. Philip Zimbardo, creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment in the seventies, talked about ‘intelligent disobedience’ in regards to Milgram’s continued experiments. In the foreword of Ira Chaleff’s 2015 book, ‘Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do Is Wrong’, Zimbardo mentions continuations of Milgram’s social experiments in which ninety percent of participants refused to deliver painful shocks when they first observed others refusing. He said, “That means we are prone to obey authority, but also affected by the behavior of our peers. Thus, we are all social role models, and what we do—for good or for bad—has a ripple effect when other people observe us.”
When other people observe us.
What’s the importance of this statement? Why is it significant? In the context of today’s political climate, it tells us that our actions can affect the actions of others. If we sit idly by and allow the demolition of human rights in America, others will also stand by. However, if we resist and refuse to obey, others will rally to our cause and we can enact positive change. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
Five million protesters marched for human rights on January 21st. Five million.
Other people are observing us. Morality demands that we not be silent while under the threat of certain oppression.
We must disobey. We must resist.
Update 02/21/17: Judges’ feedback
What the judges really liked about Resist:
- The essay does a good job integrating history, news and argument. It does an even better job stressing the importance of being among the first to visibly resist, and showing the ripple effect of resistance.
- The part of the essay where the point is made that resistance begets resistance is strongly constructed.
- There is good use of supporting evidence of when disobedience was used in the past.
Where the judges found room for improvement:
- The author’s central example, a permitted march that is essentially a parade, is not actually disobedience; a brief attempt is made to show that Trump’s supporters “felt” that the marchers were disobedient but not in what way. A clearer example would have been the nonpermitted protests leading up to the march. If the central thesis is that it is important to disobey unjust laws, an example of actually disobeying an unjust law could have been given, with an explanation of why the law was unjust and what benefit disobedience reaped.
- The essay spends a little too much space on introductory remarks, taking up space that is needed for supporting the argument.
- The use of the examples of the shock study and the prison study did not feel necessary to this essay and they detracted from the subject of civil disobedience.
Update 02/22/17: No advancement to the final round.