|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Social psychology Human behavior Human development Leadership style|
Conformity and obedience are social behaviors and influences that appear in the way people interact and form groups. Conformity is defined as the tendency of a person, whether knowingly or unknowingly to act or behave in a manner similar to that of a group. Put differently; it is adapting to one's own attitude, feelings, and beliefs to match the beliefs or views of other people belonging to that particular group. On the other hand, obedience is the act of following instructions or directions without question or protest. Obedience results from authority while conformity from social pressure. The Peoples Temple is an interesting case study to examine conformity and obedience to a cult. At the height of the cult, close to 1000 people committed suicide by drinking lethal cyanide or being shot to death, following the orders of their leader Jim Jones. This essay examines how obedience and conformity evolved in the Peoples Temple cult.
Jim Jones used social divisions, driving people to conform. Jones used informers who told on rule-breaking, split families to prevent commitments and forced parents to offer their children to the Temple. He enforced conditions in which relatives' selection could not encourage helping between members. By dissolving marriages and forcing couples into extramarital relations, marital bonds were broken. Some members also had sexual relations with Jones. Jones is quoted to have said that families were part of the enemy system since they weakened an individual's dedication to a cause. Such divisions ensured members had nowhere to turn to or escape hence conformity. Jones was also a charismatic leader and captured his listeners in a fascinating and effective way. Max Weber used the term charisma to describe an irrational affection that followers had towards their leaders (Forsyth, 2006). Weber argued that charismatic leaders appeared as saviors at a time when people were dissatisfied with their position. Jim Jones preached equality and individual worth at a time when most US cities were plagued with racial segregation and bias. Moreover, the Peoples Temple cult emerged during the cold when the fear of nuclear attack was it at its height and when the apocalypse fears had also emerged as envisioned in Orwell's book "1984". The fears combined with divisions ensured that people conformed to the cult.
The Peoples Temple attracted obedience from the authority figure Jim Jones had cultivated. In Milgram's experiment, the study concluded that ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing (Milgram, 1963). Jim Jones was the undisputable leader of the cult and demanded absolute obedience. He demanded that he be addressed as "father" or "dad," which gave him a special father-figure status in the church. The unwritten rule of the church was that the father was not to be criticized and criticism towards the running of the church was unacceptable. Outside of the church activities, Jim Jones visited house members. In these visits, he would build strong connections with members demonstrating the quality of his leadership. Jim Jones reinforced authority by instituting punishment for rebels through public humiliation and spanking the guilty. Milgram (1963) noted that obedience was possible if people recognize their authority as legally based and authority. Jim Jones manipulated his position as the pastor to a self-proclaimed Messiah. This way, people believed he was God-sent. It thus follows that from this authority, he would command certain actions from his followers, which culminated to the mass suicide of 1978.
The Peoples Temple was a culture outside of the larger society both physically and ideologically. The Peoples Temple church was located in an isolated rural community that was Jonestown, Guyana. Jim Jones controlled information that was getting to the town. This way, media reports on cults and efforts by Conserved Relatives, an anti-cult group, to reach out to cult members were not fruitful. The assertion is evidenced by the killing of Congressman, Ryan, who had gone to investigate whether the members were held against their will. The killing signified efforts by Jim Jones to maintain the culture he had created from interference from other cultures. Punishment to rebels or escapees also served to achieve the same purpose of maintaining a closed society.
In today's society, political leaders also serve to make people conform and be obedient to the system. For example, the dominant political parties are less than four in number, which means you are either part of the parties or you are an outsider. Moreover, the war on immigration is pushed by political leaders who hold immigrants are outsiders and would dilute the American culture. This is despite immigrants bringing diverse cultures and approaches toward life and institutions. The charismatic figure that is Trump appeals to the view of making America great again at a time when the country's deficit is widening, and the country is losing its manufacturing spot. People who hold such grievances are likely to follow Trump, conforming to his ideology, just like the members of the Peoples Temple.
In conclusion, the essay has argued the case of conformity and obedience in the Peoples Temple cult. The essay finds that the charismatic leader Jim Jones and his authority, division among members as well as isolation of the church were responsible for conformity and obedience. The essay has also expounded on how today's leaders appeal cult ways.
Forsyth, D. (2006). Group Dynamics. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378. doi:10.1037/h0040525
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