What does it mean to be obedient and loyal? What does it mean to defer and submit? Is it always virtuous to be obedient, loyal? Is it ever virtuous to defer and submit?
After ordering his sailors in the longboat to all follow the mate’s order, and to do nothing without his consent, Harris called upon each crewman to individually acknowledge this instruction.
In the nineteenth century a man was his word, only as good as the promises he kept. Here, each had given his vow to the captain to accept Rhodes’s leadership without question. A seaman who disobeyed a captain’s explicit order faced corporal punishment or worse. Insubordination–questioning a superior’s command–could earn the lash or keelhauling. To refuse an order was mutiny, pure and simple, and in those days mutiny was capital offence. The offender could be immediately shot or hanged from a yardarm, on the captain’s order. When Captain Harris made each seaman individually promise to acknowledge Rhodes as the captain, he knew they would be doubly bound by both personal oaths and the impersonal laws of the sea.The Wreck of the William Brown, Tom Koch p.57
There were only 47 people who secured a seat on the longboat when the William Brown struck and iceberg and sank. 31 went down with the ship. The longboat struggles to stay afloat, it was never built to carry 47 people. Rather than rowing, because of a broken rudder, all their efforts are put into bailing. It’s an endless job that can stop, the water keeps coming in and must stay out to keep the boat from the same fate of the William Brown. The first mate, who is now the acting captain, tells him crew the must lighten the load by decreasing the number of passengers in the boat. Four crewmen then proceed to throw overboard 17 passengers to an icy cold watery grave.
They are being obedient to their acting captain. Is obedience always an act of virtue? Is being loyal to your “captain” always honorable? Are the crewmen responsible for their actions or just the acting captain who told them to do it?
Obedience and agency should never be separated. You do not forfeit your agency to be obedient. Obedience is honorable and virtuous when it thoughtful, not mindless. Obedience is honorable and virtuous when it embraces your integrity. When your obedience conflicts with your values, integrity, and your best judgement, it lacks value, moral courage, honor, and virtue. If you choose to obey, you are also responsible for that choice. Honorable obedience is about choosing to follow the direction given to by another because you see value and worth in doing so and because you see it as the most right decision in that situation.
January 11, 2019
Time writing this: I don’t know, at least 30 minutes.
Total time writing on this blog: 172 hours and 30 minutes