Why Conformity and Obedience are important to the Public Services
Conformity and Obedience form the basis of every Public Service. Without them the internal discipline and hierarchal system wouldn’t be able to work effectively. These Public Services require their Officers to conform to the role that is expected and to follow orders irrespective of whether they believe them to be right or if they have a better suggestion. But it should be said that there are limitations to the effectiveness of Conformity and Obedience within the Public Services and that there have been situations where Officers adhering to these expected behaviours have instead committed the wrong action.
Every Public Service Officer, irrespective of their Service, all conform as part of their role. This is shown through many different examples within the Public Services. One example would be the fact every Public Service Officer has to wear the same uniform. By doing this they are conforming to the behaviour expected by their superiors but also by the behaviour of their fellow Officers. If one Officer was to wear a different uniform, they would stand out from the others and not fit in with the group.
A real life example of this would be the conclusion drawn from a Conformity experiment conducted by Solomon Asch in 1951. He used 50 male students to participate in a vision test where they, and others, would have to match the correct length of a line. The only thing was that the student was the only person unaware that the other group members were told to purposely answer wrong. Asch discovered that on average, about 32% conformed to the group answer. He concluded that apparently people conform for two reasons. One because they wanted to fit in with the group and the second because they believed the group to be better informed than they were. Simple Psychology 2016 Asch Experiment
An example of what would happen if you didn’t conform to the views and behaviours of others in the Public Services could be performing in way which is believed to be “prejudicial to good order and discipline” in the British Armed Forces. The punishment for this charge could be anything from a reprimand to imprisonment for upwards of 2 years. If an individual was to disobey a “lawful command” or “is reckless as to whether he disobeys a command” from a superior Officer, they could face the same punishments as stated above but the prison sentence could be upwards of 10 years. Armed Forces Act 2006
An example of what the consequences of obeying illegal orders could be the punishment on Adolf Eichmann for his crimes during the Second World War. During the Nuremberg Trials of 1945, Adolf Eichmann was a high ranking Officer in the SS. He was responsible for the transport and extermination of over 6 million Jews and other undesirables in the holocaust. Consequential to the fact he played an active role in many of the atrocities committed, he became widely known as the ‘chief executioner’ of the Third Reich. Eichmann did not have any in-built racial hate. He learned to hate and did what his job demanded of him and to the best of his ability. He was later tried in the Nuremberg trials for war crimes and executed. USHMM 2016 – Adolf Eichmann
Hofling (1966) designed a study of obedience which would look to see whether unaware Nurses would follow orders from a Doctor even though it would break several hospital rules. Hofling found that 95% of the Nurses were easily influenced into carrying out the orders when they were not supposed to. Hofling’s experiment showed that people are very unwilling to question supposed authority even when they might have good reason to do so. Simple Psychology 2016 – Hofling’s Nurses
In relation to obeying illegal orders, both these examples state how the majority of individuals would be unwilling to question the order given by a superior even if they believed it to morally or ethically wrong. Adolf Eichmann during his trial stated that “There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders”. This shows how he believed himself innocent because he was merely following orders given to him by a higher authority. The consequences of his actions led to the extermination of over 6 million Jews and his execution in 1962.
In conclusion I believe that the use of Obedience and Conformity play pivotal roles within the Public Services. For one they help install the behaviors expected of those serving within each service. But it can also lead to the following of commands and orders which perhaps may be considered unethical or morally wrong. A key example of when orders go wrong would be the consequences of Adolf Eichmann simply following his superior’s orders. Because of this we have been able to learn from humanity’s mistakes and implement legislation which would stop terrible situations like the holocaust from happening again. Soldiers in the British Army are expected to be able to differentiate between the power to give out an order and whether or not such an order has a morally justifiable purpose. The events in Nazi Germany go a long way towards proving that when corrupt human beings get hold of power and mix it with authority disasters can happen. But with legislation like the Armed Forces Act 2006, it prevents the abuse of conformity and obedience within the Public Services.