by Ben Jones
Joining the Marine Corps was probably the worst decision I ever made in my life. Although I’m sure most people who join a gang when they’re young and survive the experience have these regrets later on. Thankfully a late night Ron Paul video spree spurned a radical philosophical change in me a few years after I left the Corps, and I’ve been free of the cognitive dissonance ever since. The only good I that I can glean from my military days is the perspective and inside knowledge I have from languishing inside the belly of the beast and getting to know the stench all too well. I think that the experience of martial servitude, especially the initial training of Marine Corps bootcamp, has given me a unique understanding of the very nature of government as a whole.
You see, when you experience this kind of intense training and indoctrination, its like witnessing the big bang of authoritarianism, or watching the first government crawl its way out of the primordial soup of evil and manipulation. Bootcamp is like a pristine laboratory where young people are packed into a petri dish and methodically transformed in to a glob of conformity and collectivism. So while my contempt for authoritarianism remains, I do find it fascinating that I can look back on the experience and recount step by step how the state is formed, and what I can see or confirm about its nature.
Who needs results when you have good intentions?
I’m going to share a little secret with you that may come as a bit of a shock. Marine Corps bootcamp isn’t hard. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks, but its not hard. Winning an athletic competition is hard. Creating a viable business is hard. But bootcamp is just a gang initiation. The experience is not going to be pleasant, but there’s nothing ‘difficult’ about it. Its going to suck, but all you have to do is obey and do as you’re told. Competence doesn’t reward you in these situations, only effort and obedience.
In fact, demonstrating too much competence in these situations just makes you a target. The drill instructors can’t allow you to think that you are better than the recruit/marine next to you (equality and all). Shooting stars must therefore be shot down. Demonstrating too little competence certainly makes you a target as well, but it can be made up for with the lifeblood of authoritarian structures: the expenditure of work, resources and effort.
You see, when you’re in the military, and particularly in the initial stages of training, you have to do a lot of bullshit. It is difficult for the thinking man to do bullshit, because he wants to accomplish his tasks with competence and efficiency. But there is no way to competently or efficiently achieve bullshit, but it’s….well….just a bunch of bullshit. The point of making you do so much bullshit in the statist petri dish is to instill unquestioning obedience, and expend maximum effort in service to your owners. There were many times when a recruit would fail or struggle, but the DI’s would be noticeably more lenient if they could see that the recruit putting everything he had into the task. On the other end of the spectrum, those elevated to leadership positions weren’t necessarily the most competent, but they were definitely the most obedient, and usually the loudest. Demonstrating motivation, effort and enthusiasm, false or otherwise, is what you are rewarded for in this environment regardless of skill or competence. If you are a shooting star that that lacks obedience and can effortlessly accomplish the same or more, expect to be shot down and eaten alive.
Punishment is just part of the training schedule
‘Field week’ in bootcamp was a week of training dedicated to…well…field training. Tents, hikes, and all things outdoorsy. During this time we always had our packs with bedrolls laying in a straight line going down the squad bay in front of our bunks, ready to go. Getting the packs and bedrolls perfectly aligned seemed to be an obsession for our DI’s that week. One night, we were informed that we had done a terrible job of aligning these packs and must therefore pay for our mistake. The drill instructors unleashed a flurry of violence on our packs, and then made us throw them all into one giant pile along with most of our other belongings. We were then informed that the packs would be aligned perfectly by a certain time, and everyone would have their gear back and in its proper place, or bad things would happen. This kind of thing had happened before on a smaller scale. Have 60 dudes throw their shit in a giant pile, and make them unfuck it later. This was just the largest scale of shit-in-a-pile that we had ever seen, and unfucking it was no simple task.
The next day, I was talking with a friend (we had joined the marines together) who’s bunk was closest to the drill instructor’s hut. As it turns out, right before the giant pile of shit happened, one of the DI’s from another platoon walked up to our DI, whispered “we’re doing mount Suribachi tonight”, and walked off. After talking with members of other platoons, we confirmed that in an amazing coincidence, every platoon in the company lost their minds, did a horrible job of aligning packs and had to create a mountain of mixed up gear. Our packs were no more or less aligned that night than any other. Were were punished for doing poorly because it was on the schedule, not because we actually did poorly.
This is the exact same dynamic that you face in civilian life when you have to pay a fine due to a speeding ticket, or violating some regulation or non-criminal law. Right and wrong are irrelevant and morality is not applicable, but you are being punished all the same. You have done nothing bad, but it is important to the state that you feel like you are bad on a regular basis. If you are in the wrong on a regular basis, how can you challenge your impeccable overlords? If the master can get you to mentally self-attack, you are less likely to lash out at him.
You are a sinner
Speaking of self-attack, the idea of government can be thought of as the most dangerous of religions, and any religion worth its salt has an original sin. You are bad. You were born bad, you will always be bad, and you must continually atone for being bad. One of my particularly sadistic drill instructors had a favorite saying – “I believe every man should have a chance to pay for his sins”. On a fun side note, the most sadistic or overzealous DI’s usually came from administrative/clerical backgrounds. The infantryman don’t have as much to prove.
In the political spectrum, the political right generally attributes your original sin to an actual religion. On the political left, there are more modern religions that pin your evil nature to your carbon footprint or ‘greed’. In Marine Corps bootcamp, your original sin boils down to one word: individual. Recruits are conditioned to despise that word. To be accused of being an ‘individual’ is a horrible thing, and would always be met with vehement protest. You came to the Corps a fallen, selfish, weak individual and you must atone for you blasphemous individualism for three months, until you are nothing but a part of the collective – ‘a marine’ like everyone else. The state, like the Corps, works very hard to make sure that the underlings self attack at the very thought of being individuals with independent thoughts, feelings, needs and wills. With the right conditioning, citizens and soldiers will attack themselves and each other long before they turn on those in charge.
The state is horizontal
I am not the first to make the argument that the sate is kept afloat by slave on slave violence, but I would like to reiterate that this is the single most important fact to recognize when analyzing the nature of government. Drill Instructors go to great lengths to appear terrifying and can usually subjugate recruits with sheer intimidation and willpower. However, that is not the secret weapon. The secret weapon is always doing its malicious work in the background, but is rarely brought to the forefront for everyone to see. But a perfect example of that weapon being broken out can be seen in the movie Full Metal Jacket. The scene unfolds as follows:
Drill instructor is conducting the nighttime inspection. Low and behold, private Pyle’s footlocker is not secured. And inside the unsecured footlocker is…holy Jesus…a JELLY FUCKING DOUGHNUT. This is the last straw. It is time to break out the secret weapon. Drill instructor laments his own failure, and informs the platoon that THEY will be punished, while private Pyle enjoys his doughnut. Later that night a party is thrown in private Pyle’s honor that finally breaks his mind, setting up the climactic end to the bootcamp portion of the movie.
I saw this exact tactic used multiple times during my indoctrination. When the sheer force of the drill instructor’s personality did not work or was met with something truly rare like open defiance, the problematic recruit would sit down off to the side while the rest of us were punished. But it is important to remember what I said earlier: although it was occasionally brought out in the open, the weapon was usually doing its insidious work in the background, slowly grinding at everyone’s nerves and building animosity within the group.
My older brother, who was also in the Marines, tells the story of waking up from a dead sleep one night in the middle of bootcamp to the sound of bodies literally hitting the floor. It was an all-out platoon brawl. There is no way the drill instructors didn’t hear it, but they didn’t interrupt their own handiwork. This is exactly what they want. They fuel the flames of conflict within the group, pitting everyone’s original sin of ‘individualism’ against everyone else’s, turning every clique against the others until it all comes to a head. Eventually, one or many sides break, and a consensus is reached. The collective officially forms, and any further resistance is futile. That is the long game. This is how drill instructors and politicians turn human beings into compliant, collectivist husks. Get the slaves to fight among themselves and despise one another’s original sin of individuality, and they will never turn against the people that are so obviously manipulating them.
While I wish I could get those years of my life back that were squandered by the Corps, I have at least gleaned information from this rather unique journey that I can share here. Like the end of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I floated through a world-building factory, and witnessed the step-by-step process of how a government is built on top of a group of individual human beings. I don’t relish the experience, but I am happy to have the opportunity to offer this insight.