Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why Should We Question Authority?

Okay so when I was thinking about what to write for the blog this week, the thing that came to mind is "why?" Why should we question authority? Are there times when we should not question authority and obey the government or other authority?

After reading Dr. Faustus, I couldn't help but think about his motives in questioning authority. He began to seek higher power by questioning the authority of God and making a pact with Lucifer. I feel like Faustus' civil disobedience was unnecessary and the power he gained became a corrupting influence. When Faustus actually gains the limitless power that he desires, his plans and ambitions are lowered. By gaining absolute power Faustus ends up performing meaningless tricks instead of the"great" things he planned before. Do you all think that Faustus questioning authority of God was for selfish reasons as well? When I think of Thoreau or MLK questioning authority, I feel like they had legitimate reasoning that would benefit more than just themselves. Are there any examples of individuals that have questioned authority for personal or selfish reasons?

12 comments:

akelly said...

I agree that Dr. Faustus questioned authority for selfish reasons because from the very beginning he claimed that he wanted to be able to raise spirits and command them at his will.

I believe that Hitler is a prime example of questioning authority for selfish reasons. Now I know it seems that this example is questionable, since you may be asking what authority he questioned, but hear me out.

He began a revolution against both the Jews and the United States, a movement that was inspired after the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. His hatred for Jews was mostly sprung up from Jewish leaders in the communist-party uprisings that occurred after World War I in Germany and only intensified the internal impoverished conflicts that were shaking Germany to the core.

Now I am not in any means saying that I agree with Hitler or his reasoning, but I am saying that it is a perfect example of questioning authority for selfish reasons. He not only questioned the authority of the United States by leading a campaign against them but he also questioned the authority of the Jewish leaders and the communist mentality that gave rise to post-WWI Germany.

This questioning served not only to create a large support group bu eventually a cult-like existence of a country in fear that seemingly bowed down to him for several years. He made himself notorious and also proceeded to take control of much of the world, gathering Japan, Italy, and other influential countries in his campaign against the US and against the Jewish way of life.

Again, these were all ideas sprung from his own hatred of particular incidents and persons and yet it led to a series of events that the world will not likely forget.

His questioning of foreign religious and governmental authorities was a very selfish cause that, much like Dr. Faustus' fiendish pursuit of knowledge and power, led to a short time of greatness followed by drastic punishment.

Another seemingly easy answer is that of the KKK, an organization which claims to pursue the good of mankind and equality for all of those worthy, which of course means the "supreme race" in their eyes.

This is another case of very selfish and arguably insane drive for power fueled by questioning the authority of other human races. They strive to elevate their own race so that they may benefit from it through power and wealth. This is again an example of when questioning authority is not for the benefit of humankind but rather the small group of rebelling individuals.

I believe that when questioning authority leads to the oppression or injury of a certain group of people for unjust reasons, then the questioning is not justified. That is not to say that violence is never necessary, because sometimes I believe it is humanly impossible to have an impact on such violent, unjust questioners without a certain amount of force. However, in the two cases above, I described times when both the violence and the questioning act itself were unnecessary and selfish, therefore being harmful rather than helpful to the overall good of mankind.

Jimmy Grieco said...

I believe that Faustus questioned God's authority for absolutely selfish reasons. He wanted to rule the land and have everything to himself. Usually the questioning of authority is regarded as proper when it is on behalf of a suppressed people. When done for selfish possession however, it is condemned by society.

Another example of type of selfish uprising would be when a warlord gets troops together to take over the local government for power purposes. The warlord wants to be in power and uses soldiers and unarmed citizens as his manipulative tools to aquire this power. Once he is in power, he neglects the promises he has made to his troops and supporters. They get left behind and their position says equally bad or worse than before. This has happened countless times in Post-Colonial South America and Post-Colonial Africa.

Christian said...

I think questioning authority is an important part of our society; it keeps us on our feet and the "higher powers" (so to speak) in check. And I feel that we should always be questioning authority and not just automatically do what we are told to do. However, if we are in agreement with the government's actions, then there is nothing left to question for that issue.


Dr. Faustus' actions were driven out of his personal yearning for power. He had no consideration for anyone but himself. I think that he wanted to put himself in a "godly" position and be better or higher than all other people. His questioning authority was ill driven and only for personal gain.

The prime examples that I feel questioned authority for selfish reasons are any of the incidents like the Columbine or Virginia Tech masscres. The way I see it is that they were trying to question the government's authority by disregarding public safety, as well as, questioning individual citizen's authority by putting themselves in a superior position to their victims. That is the most selfish example that I can come up with because they were solely driven by their need for revenge and superiority.

Meagan said...

I believe that we should question authority because if we didn't, it is likely that our source of power (the government) would turn into a totalitarian government. The president and all government officials (in the USA) rely on the people for election so that they can make a difference, or whatever their slogan is. Most politicians sell a certain image when trying t get elected, but it is the people who question authority who are the ones that keep the public informed about what the stance of these people really are and therefore allow a more honest vote when it comes to election day. Now I'm not saying that all people vote knowing all the facts, many people, I'm sure, take their campaign ads at face value, but what I'm trying to say is that in the end it is the people who question authority who weed out the apples in the bunch that keep this government dependent on the people and not transforming it into a totalitarian state.

Dr. Faustus definitely questioned God for selfish reasons. All he wanted was complete power within his own hands, and he wanted instant gratification, so he turned to the devil. Good, honest people, have to work for their place on top of the pyramid, but Faustus was greedy and didn't want to put in the effort, so therefore he sold his soul to the devil. (Not very smart if I do say so myself).

There are plenty of examples of people who question authority for selfish reasons. Many examples have already been brought up: Hitler, the KKK, warlords, mass murderers. I think an example of this are people who use the government for their own personal needs. A lot of people are on welfare and programs such as that, and a good majority of these people are hard working citizens who do their part but still can't make ends meet so they are on this program. But you hear stories of people who exploit this system and don't even try to make of living of their own. One example was in the movie Million Dollar Baby (yes I know it's a movie; background info: a girl who is practically living on nothing wants to become a boxer, so she finds an old trainer to help her). Anyway, so in the movie when she finally starts making sufficient amounts of money, she buys her mom and her sister a house because they had been living in a trailer before, and the mom's response is that if owning a house is going to mess up her welfare (sounding immensely ungrateful to someone who just bought her a house). It is people like this who question authority for selfish means everyday. They complain that the government isn't doing enough and then they manipulate the system so that they don't have to do work. (In the movie, the boxer's sister also still pretends that her baby is alive so that they can get welfare.)

I believe that there are modern day Faustus's everywhere, just maybe not selling their souls in the same sense.

Amy said...

There's several reasonable reasons to question authority but the foremost one is obviously to right an injustice - if the colonists never threw all that tea into Boston harbor, where would we as a nation be? Injustices can be find so many diverse forms not only limited to political oppression. Questioning authority is also about finding something that you're passionate about so that you can more effectively find ways to counteract that specific injustice since you'll be more motivated to do so.

Dr. Faustus was absolutely motivated by selfish reasons. Sure, he wanted to re-shape the world but he wanted to do it for his own benefit rather than that of anyone else. As everyone so far has also already noted, he did nothing with his new power because he is so overwhelmed with literally having everything at the tips of his fingers. His ambition is gone because he no longer has to strive for anything, and anything he is inspired to want is banned from him because of his pact with the devil. This is an instance where he should not have questioned authority, or at least he should have questioned it by his own means rather than reaching out for some greater power to hand everything to him. Ultimately this demonstrates why one should only question authority for the good of the majority rather than your own selfish motives.

In such a selfish society, it's really not hard to find people questioning authority for personal motives. How many times have we heard about people dodging taxes?

Ben said...

I definitely agree that Faustus's questioning of authority came out of selfish motivations. He even says on page 6 (speaking of magic), "O, what a world of profit and delight,/Of power, of honor, of omnipotence,/Is promised to the studious artisan!" This quote shows that Faustus is really only thinking about himself (and himself in the short run at that because all the devils seem to speak as if they wouldn't do it because of the consequences that Faustus ignores).
I think that Amy has a really good point about people questioning authority for selfish reasons through dodging taxes or breaking laws they don't like (or agree with) for some reason or another because I think that it is very widespread in our country.

akelly said...

I do want to say one interesting thing though as far as Faustus' questioning authority: I do not believe he did it in the same nature as individuals who wanted to gain control. For Faustus it wasn't really about controlling others but rather having the ability to awe them in order to get attention and become infamous. He did not really seem to be after the wealth, though he gained much of it, he seemed more after the gratitude and recognition from powerful figureheads. His many visits with royalty showed that he enjoyed the performance more than anything. He was eager to please because it brought him fame.

It also seemed to be a hobby of his to exploit certain types of authority. An example of this would be with the Pope. That entire scene exemplified his relationship with God. The Pope is an extremely important symbol of the Christian religion and the fact that Faustus was taunting him signifies his relationship with God and death. He was taunting death, saying for a long time in the beginning that he did not believe in the afterlife and that he welcomed death after having lived in excess. He faced his fears with indignity and shameless humor which in the end led to his demise. This is the mirroring of the idea that leading an unholy life will eventually result in eternal punishment, a thought that is integrated in many religions and overall a lesson hoping to instruct humans not to be selfish.

The paradox of the situation is found, however, in the belief that by not being selfish one saves oneself: arguably a selfish cause. So even if he had repented and lived by God from the beginning, he would have been doing so selfishly in the hopes that he would benefit by going to heaven. This encapsulates the inevitable question of whether or not humans are capable of being selfless.

Sam said...

I also agree that Dr. Faustus questioned authority for his own selfish reasons. There is nowhere in the story which ever gives any selfless justification for his actions.

People around the world question authority for similar reasons. Questioning authority, whether for the common good or just for personal gain, is necesary to keep our world functioning and advancing. If we all just accept what we have, then humanity never would have advanced to the pont we are at now. It is essential that people continue to push boundaries. There is, however, a boundary to how far one can question authority before the positive effects become overwhelmed by darker ideas for personal gain.

Also, I think that there are very few instances where questioning authority has not been for personal gain. Would MLK have been as passionate or successful if he had been white? His movement was for the common good, but everybody fighting for racial equality had something personal to gain, albeit something they should've already had as basic rights of human beings. In that mindset, there is no such thing as selflessly questioning authority. People fight for what they believe is right which means that they have to fight against the opposing ideas of others. There are two sides to every conflict. An example of this comes from the other topic for this week. Egyptians are fighting against an undemocratic regime. The United States is the world's advocate for democracy and yet they consider Egypt's current president to be a key ally. So what do we do? Do we fight for what we believe is right and aid the protestors, or do we fight to keep a friendly government in power? There are excellent arguments for both sides. Mr. Mubarak is questioning the authority of his people by staying in power, and his people are questioning his authority by trying to remove him from that power.

Anyway, I feel kind of like I've gone just a little off topic here. If humanity did not question authority, then there is no way that we could be as technologically, socially, economically, culturally, and politically advanced as we are today. We question authority everyday simply by living our lives the way we, as individuals, want to. There is nothing that controls our lives. Every decision we make involves questioning authority because for ever decision there are two or more options and there will always be somebody or something which could present a strong argument for the other option.

Carly said...

I agree with what Sam said about selfish motives being present behind all questioning of authority. Every person who questions authority does so because he or she believes that his or her idea of the way things should be is better than the way they actually are (I know, that sentence sounds confusing, but it made sense in my head). That being said, I think there is a huge difference between purely selfish actions and actions that will benefit others as well. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. had something to gain through the success of his cause, but it benefitted millions of others as well. Faustus, on the other hand, was solely after personal gain, which only led to his downfall in the end. It is difficult to fight for a cause if you have no personal connection to it, but there is a point where selfishness corrupts the cause.
I think we should always question whether or not the authority over us is working the way it should, but it doesn't always need to be a radical movement. Even just pondering an issue on your own or talking about the issue with a group of friends counts as questioning authority and upholds the democracy that we try to maintain in America.

bridget said...

I agree with Jimmy that Faustus questioned God's authority for completely selfish reasons too. He did not question it on behalf of other people, which is typically what questioning authority has been. When you look at MLK he questioned authority for something that was actually worth fighting for. Faustus did not have any valid reasoning for questioning God's authority.

Eric R said...

We should question it because we would all benefit from the constant reformations that would occur after questioning. Questioning authority is what keeps it in check, keeps it from going to big, and keeps it changing for the better. As far as people questioning authority for selfish reasons, i believe everything has selfish connotations and reasons. Everything we do in life will some day come back and benefit us. So an example, George Washington questioned authority for a selfish reason. His family and friends would benefit, thus gratifying himself.

Jesus said...

The reasoning behind questioning an authority should be one of ideas such as justice, truth, freedom, ideas that are not merely defined in one way, but as V says in V for Vendetta "they are perspectives." Questioning authority should be about showing the world that the perspective on an idea like these that the authority is currently upholding is flawed in some way. However, in Dr. Faustus I believe that Faustus is not merely questioning the justice, truth, or freedom that God provides us with, but rather if God should be someone to respect at all. In his pact with Lucifer, he merely gives up any authority God may have had over him in exchange for complete authority of Lucifer and temporary indulgence in his own vanity. This lack of providing a new sort of perspective on an idea, and rather questioning the authority of a supreme being over his own life and soul makes Faustus' question a selfish one and leads to his ultimate downfall. He did not trully have a reason to question God other than the fact that he could have more in his human life by doing it.
In our everyday lives we question authority for very selfish reasons. For example, why obey the speed limit? Why listen to what an older person tells us if they arent our parents? Simple things where we question the authority of someone so that we can get what we want, just as Faustus did, although we very frequently face the consequences just as he did (ex: speeding ticket, getting the cops called on you).
However, there are many moments where we do this questioning due to other feelings of our perspective on justice, truth, and freedom. When we question why that rapist of a 10 year old should be allowed to walk the streets after 20 years, or when we ponder why a group of killers has so easily joined forces with police forces all over Mexico making the lives of all its inhabitants a life of fear. These are the questions that are justified, unselfish ones that question perspectives around us. Faustus failed in questioning God because his motives were selfish.