Monday, May 19, 2014

Authority and responsibility

Execution pole, Poperinge, Belgium (West Front): Place where soldiers sentenced to death were shot.

Last week I wrote about the case of Grischa who had been condemned to death and who had been shot death, although he was not guilty of what he was accused of. But who was responsible for the execution? I think that most people would say: Schieffenzahn, the chief administrator on the Eastern Front of the German army, who had the power to reverse the verdict. But how about the responsibility of the others involved in the execution? For it wasn’t Schieffenzahn who shot Grischa but the firing squad did. Isn’t it so then that the firing squad was actually responsible for the death of Grischa? For hadn’t these soldiers fired, Grischa would have stayed alive. Nevertheless, many people would say that not the firing squad was responsible for the execution but that Schieffenzahn was. This would imply, however, that one can perform an act without being responsible for it. How can this be? Isn’t it so that in the end we all are responsible for what we do and for the consequences? Of course, I know that many answers have been given to this question but has it been solved? I would call it the problem of obedience to authority. In my last blog we have seen that authority can be blind, but as for instance Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo have shown obedience to authority can be blind as well (see old blogs). One reason is that it needs more courage to obey than not to obey, as we can see every day around us.

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