I’m under orders, under someone’s authority, if I’m a subordinate: I am of inferior rank than that of the authority giving the orders. That’s what is meant by being of the rank of subordinate – being under orders.
But being under orders has a wide variety of meanings. For instance, the phrase represents the start of a race, where you’re ‘under starters orders’ until the race commences; not until the race official has carried out full control of the start procedures can a race’s end results be validated. It’s stretching the definition it a little, I know, but a horse and jockey are subordinate to the race officials if they want to take part in a race. Their subordinacy is a determinant of their success as well as their identity as a race winner, or as an also-ran.
Likewise, we are all subordinate to a whole range of orders, some of which we’d recognise as orders, and some we wouldn’t. At work I’m under orders to fulfil my employment contract; as a driver I’m under orders to obey the rules of the road; as a user of certain services, such as this blog, I’m under orders to uphold the agreement I entered into to obtain the services in the first place. But what orders pertain to being a citizen, or being a scholar, a father, a devout believer, a dissident, or an asylum seeker? Does it still make sense to say of these roles that they are obedient to an order, or a set of orders, even when for some of them (the dissident and the asylum seeker) their existence is dependent on not obeying orders, or on fleeting certain orders?
I’d say even this diverse set of roles are still carrying out orders which determine who they are, though we probably wouldn’t regard these so-called orders as authoritative commands, such as those of the race official. If the term ‘order’ still makes sense here, then it’s of the grander type of world order or of order as a recursive and dominant ideology.