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GRE Issue 18 - The Well-being Of Society And Questioning Authority - With A Free Essay Review
PROMPT: "The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority." Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.
The statement claims that when many of its people question authority, a society will be enhanced with respect to well-being. The statement sounds a little bit absolute, from my perspective. The well-being of a society may or may not be enhanced according to different circumstances, periods and what purposes of people who want to question authority.
Throughout history, the well-being of a society is likely to become better when people question authority, the government, if their aims are to pursue freedom and civil rights. African-American Civil Rights Movement is an excellent example of this point. Although the Confederacy was finally defeated and slavery was outlawed everywhere in the United States, African Americans did not enjoy equal rights as American citizens. For the sake of fighting against racial discrimination and restoring voting rights, Martin Luther King, the leader of the movement, held demonstrations against unequal treatment. Finally, because the nonviolent protest, such as boycotts, engendered great pressure on government authorities, the authorities finally enacted laws to ban segregation and discrimination against African-Americans. As a result, the well-being, especially the well-being of African-Americans, was enhanced by questioning authority.
Even though the movement mentioned above was a successful example, in some cases, under a different social circumstance and government authorities, despite the well-intentioned aims of many people who doubt authority, the well-being might decline rather than improve. Consider the protest against authority of the Soviet Union. Due to the fact that the quality of life deteriorated from year to year, many people gathered together to oppose the policies and plans of the government. Instead of taking great pains to ameliorating the well-being, the authorities arrested and persecuted most people and suppressed any demonstrations violently and ruthlessly. Consequently, the well-being of society became even worse as more rigid regulations were promulgated to control the daily life of people.
It is perhaps true that the well-being became better ultimately by means of questioning authority which put an end to Soviet Union. Nevertheless, we cannot still conclude that the well-being will definitely improve when people question authority. Sometimes, the purposes of many people who doubt authority are undesirable and immoral. They just want to foment commotion so as to satisfy their selfish needs. Take England riots for example. Admittedly, the intentions of protest might be good from the beginning. However, some people taking advantage of this movement created chaos. Not only many cities and towns suffered widespread rioting, robbing and arson, but also a large number of citizens, especially those who are shopkeepers, suffered a tremendous loss. Thus, that the well-being of a society will be enhanced when many of its people question authority might not be true in some cases.
In conclusion, the question of authority does play a crucial role in enhancing the well-being of society as it sometimes serves as a stimulation, encouraging authority to reform and abrogate some inappropriate laws. However, in some cases, due to the different social environment and underlying purposes of protests, the well-being instead will deteriorate through questioning authority.
This is a reasonably good response, and the only thing that I think is missing from here is a more general sense of the kind of things that questioning authority can achieve or the kinds of problems they can cause. You look at some good examples where specific instances of questioning authority had positive (MLK) or negative (USSR) outcomes for the well-being of society, but these examples do not help you make a general case. Of course it is true, as you claim, that whether a specific instance of questioning authority would promote the well-being of society depends on circumstances, but it would be helpful to identify the general issues that one ought to consider, irrespective of specific circumstances. The fact that questioning authority might lead to awareness of social injustices is perhaps one such issue. But what are the others?
Let's assume, for instance, that we live in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed. What are the possible general advantages of many people exercising the right to question authority in such a case? What are the possible disadvantages? What constraints might questioning authority place on those in power? What abuses of power might be prevented? Of course, even in societies where freedom of expression is a protected right, it may often be the case that questioning authority has no or little effect. So one might also consider the case in which questioning authority is a normal part of political engagement, but where public policy continues to be more greatly impacted by those whose interests are not aligned with those who question authority.
Of course there's only so much one can do in a short essay in a timed examination, and it would be a mistake to devote all of your time to speculative discussions. But I think you should aim to strike a balance between what might be called theoretical discussion of the topic and elaboration of the implications of specific examples.