"As for adopting the ways which the state has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways." ~ Henry David Thoreau
The Culture of Obedience...Or Else!
Exclusive to STR
March 24, 2009
You remember Wayne Osmond, don't you? I hope I'm writing to people who actually remember The Osmonds, the clean-cut, conservative, Mormon rock sensation that now personifies the '70s; the band of brothers that got women screaming like they hadn't since The Beatles. To most people, Wayne Osmond would seem like someone who had it all: sitting on a pile of money, the adoration of his hyper-sexed female peers, and everything else that accompanies being at the height of popular culture.
Well, according to this documentary, Wayne really wanted to be a flight surgeon in the military. Imagine that. He was ready to give up money, fame, rock-and-roll, sex... well, the promise of sex after all, if he wanted to violate his own religion's stringent rules, and his parents' even more stringent daily regimen of rehearsal. But that's just it. He didn't. Or rather, he couldn't. Wayne simply could not stand up to his parents and leave The Osmonds to pursue any other interests. Exactly how does a son go against a father who gets him up every morning at the break of dawn with a bugle? His worldview is skewed by having a camera in his face before he reaches pre-pubescence, then add to that the pressure of being a Mormon, a lifestyle that puts tremendous demands on his personal behavior with a judgmental God peering down from above, topped off with authoritarian parents who have already take away childhood and freedom. What's left?
An Osmond boy has to be obedient to his agent, the family business, his father, his mother, his church leaders, his fans, and the God of the Old Testament, whose anger gets kindled rather quickly sometimes, and with little warning. Medical school is out; obedience is in... Or else! And the rewards, the incentives for giving up one's interests, one's very liberty, were in the millions for Wayne .
But the end result is the shocking information that is in that documentary I linked to above. Most of this trouble in the Osmond household is probably new to you, if you've only seen the show-biz side of them. But then there's Marie, a twice-divorced middle-aged woman who was molested as a child. Like her brothers, she was stuck in front of the cameras at a very young age, and made to give up her girlhood in a slightly less horrible but equally appalling, unnatural fashion. By her "God-fearing" parents. Egged on by a theology that teaches, as so many of them do, that one of the biggest commandments is to "Honor thy father and thy mother" (Exodus 20:12), even if they are unavailable as confidants so that a molested girl can seek protection, even if they shove her in front of millions of strangers and tell her to smile.
An extreme example, no doubt. After all, few of us get to live the extraordinary lives that The Osmonds did. But it is a very high-profile example of the Culture of Obedience that permeates into one's most private thoughts. That family, to this day, even with the death of both authoritarian, fame-seeking parents, continues to perform and sell themselves as the smiling, wholesome entertainment alternative, probably because that's all they know. Even panic attacks can't stop the momentum of it.
This is our culture, yet oddly enough, we are a culture that still celebrates The Boston Tea Party. Modern-day America could never handle a hoe-down like that. Imagine if the government gave special tax breaks to, let's say, Wal-Mart, and owners of mom-and-pop stores in one local area were feeling the squeeze especially hard. They band together in secret one night, in a gymnasium at the local school where one of them works part-time as a janitor, just to pay the government's extortion fees. The leader of the group coordinates their efforts to trash the local Wal-Mart after closing time, destroying every last item in the store, burning the building to the ground. Though not condoning it, I would certainly understand the root causes. The rest of the country probably wouldn't understand, and would condemn it outright. (Hell, they may even advocate more police protection from "mom-and-pop terrorists.")
But that's exactly what The Boston Tea Party was: a violent and destructive raid on a company that got preferential treatment from a loathsome government. As a believer in property rights and as a non-violent man, I cannot recommend such activity. Besides, local police, state troopers, and the federal government are far better equipped than colonial British soldiers were.
There was no Culture of Obedience instructing these men to do what they did (at least, there was no Culture of Obedience to Government Authority). I do not lament the inability of modern-day Americans to vandalize at the slightest sign of governmental injustice. I do not believe that violence is the answer. What I lament is that the government has barfed up the words "freedom," "liberty," and "justice" so much that all our popular culture can produce at this point is the inanity of Britney Spears's political views. (God, another child prodigy who lost her innocence far too early!) Just watch soldiers go through boot camp. These men are not being taught to use their intellects. Watch them toe the line. This, ladies and gentlemen, is unity... Or else! I don't believe in this anymore; I believe in individuality.
Obedience is not about doing what's right; it's about control. Parents who think it's the moral duty of the child to obey them don't understand this. I shudder to think what kind of parent does understand, yet still demands obedience!
On the other hand, we've all seen spoiled brats in action. I knew a girl who had her freedom as a teenager. Well, some freedom anyway. She and I were stuck all day long in the same government school. She used her mother's car without permission to go somewhere she wasn't permitted to go. She carefully covered her tracks, including filling the gas tank to the exact level it had been prior to her escapade. Once discovered, all her mother had to say to her was, "How clever of you!" I'm not saying that her mom should have punished her or given her a guilt trip by going on about how her feelings were hurt. With real love in her heart, her mother should have realized that there was a troublesome situation brewing here. Did she not see that her daughter was sneaking around rather than being forthright and confident, and trying to hide her actions through deception? What about confronting her young adult daughter, as an equal, and asking her (since it obviously wasn't that important that she had borrowed the car without permission and gone to some forbidden place) why she felt the need to be dishonest? That, after all, would be striking at the root of the problem, which has little to do with cars or "dens of iniquity."
Most likely, her mother was raised in the same Obedience Culture as my parents, where children were to be seen and not heard. Perhaps thinking she was a modern woman who should give her daughter more freedom than she had had when she was young, her feeble compliment was supposed to sound like love and freedom. I seriously doubt her daughter understood it that way. Kids (especially kids who are aware that they're not really kids anymore, but merely treated as such) can see right through that. A reply like that is a sign of weakness and ineptitude as a parent. It is also a copout, from a woman who would rather not deal with the pain of her own failure, and the hurt she is carrying from her own childhood.
George and Olive Osmond were no less inept as parents. The ability to make tons of money off of your enslaved children, then coat the crime with pretty colors of religious moral conviction and material success, is no better than casually saying, "How clever of you!" and ignoring the real issue. It is the ugly determination of an adult to get what he's always wanted, at the expense of a future adult. Now, how would this play out if that adult-to-be finally obtained power over others, enshrined in a pseudo-sacred bureaucracy sustained by intellectuals and authority figures of all political and religious persuasions as valid and permanent?
It plays out with a president, steeped in law and brought up in the Culture of Obedience, narrowly defining the word "is." Because of the dichotomy between the requirement of obedience and the desire to escape punishment, a man raised in this harmful way will desperately search for any loophole to be set free. That's when the most desperate of men will suddenly discover that the word "is" has a separate, legal, even jaded definition.
God told Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit. No explanation. Just obey... Or else! In disobeying, Eve did what anyone else raised in such a culture would do: She hid. It would have made little difference if, once He had discovered her, God had merely said, "How clever of you!" If God had to actually stop for a moment and think about Eve and her actions, He might realize that there is deeper trouble in the relationship than He knew. What would happen to our Judeo-Christian heritage if such enlightenment occurred? Would God realize He is not infallible, or would we realize He doesn't exist?
Probably most of us can think of times when we skirted getting permission from some authority simply because we didn't want to hear the word "no," as if its utterance somehow magically prevented us from acting upon our desires. Yet from someone as despicable and untrustworthy as ex-President Clinton, to the more respectable yet mythological Eve and the slightly less mythological Osmonds, the notion that it is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission is borne of the cynicism that is nurtured in the Culture of Obedience.
May we leave this rotten, poisonous culture behind as we disobediently walk away from the state, in any quiet and peaceful manner we can.
B.R. Merrick lives in the Northeast, is proud to be a classical music reviewer at Amazon.com and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.
The Culture of Obedience...Or Else!
by B.R. Merrick