It’s all fun and games, until you break your nose

Yesterday, my nose was broken for the first time. Here’s how it happened.

Buildup
Cpl Whiskey was scheduled to run a martial arts course with the intention of training Marines who currently hold a Grey Belt in MCMAP up to Green Belt proficiency. At the end of this course, we were to test out with an actual Martial Arts Instructor to be awarded our new belts. I was part of this course along with about a dozen other Marines. Yesterday was the first day of training.
Cpl Whiskey had duty in the barracks, meaning he could not be there when we commenced at 0630. That being the case, Sgt Bravo was there instead. We started the day off with calisthenics – albeit in our camouflage uniform with boots and “flak” vests on (so not ideal running gear). After warming up with a half-mile jog, we did a circuit course of Sgt Bravo’s design. We had cones set up to designate certain “stations,” if you will. The cones were set up in a rectangular fashion, and I’d say the short sides were about 20 yards apart and the long sides about 40 yards apart. We started by sprinting the 40 yard length, then doing twenty push ups. We sprinted diagonally (so, slightly more than 40 yards) to another cone where we did 20 “4-count mountain climbers.” (Mountain climbers are an exercise where you get into push up position, and alternate bringing your knees up to your elbows. Starting with your left leg, when your left knee comes up near your left elbow, that is 1 count. On the next count, you kick your left leg straight and cock your right leg up, so the right knee is near your right elbow. That’s the 2nd count. On the third count, you kick your right leg and cock your left leg. On the fourth count, you kick your left leg and cock your right leg – that is one “4-count” mountain climber.) After the mountain climbers, we sprinted the 40 yards and did twenty more push ups, then sprinted the other diagonal and did another set of 20 4-count mountain climbers to complete the circuit.
We ran 4 circuits in total before getting a five minute break to catch our breath and get some water. (Note: Sgt Bravo did the circuits with us, in case anyone was wondering.) During this time, Sgt Bravo rearranged the cones into a tighter circular pattern (and added a few more cones). He explained the stations each cone represented and how we would move from station to station. We would move from the first station by low crawling (“belly on the deck” at all times), from the second station by high crawling (hands and knees), and the third station by bear crawling (hands and feet); then the cycle would repeat. Our first station exercise was 15 8-count body builders (1st count is to go from standing to crouching with your palms on the deck, 2nd count is to kick your legs behind you and be in push up position, 3rd count is to kick your legs out and have them spread wide, 4th count is to kick them back in to push up position, 5th count is to go down as when you are doing a push up, 6th count is to push back up, 7th count is to kick your legs back up so you’re nearly in the crouching position from the 1st count, and the 8th count is to stand up). The second station was to do 15 4-count dying cockroaches (sit on the ground with your legs off the deck and your knees bent in to your chest. 1st count is to shoot your legs out, 2nd count is to bring them back to a bend, 3rd is to shoot them out, and 4th is to bring them back in). The third station was 15 “Marine Corps” push ups (Marine Corps push ups are simply push ups done on a 4 count, so 15 Marine Corps push ups is pretty much just 30 push ups). The fourth station was 15 air squats. The fifth station was 15 diamond push ups. The sixth station was 15 “scissor jacks” (an exercise where you perform a lunge, but instead of stepping each time, you jump into position each time). The seventh station was 15 “dive-bomber” push ups (a sort of push up that involves a snaking motion – hard to explain). The eigth station was 15 sit ups. Then we went back to the starting station and finished off with 15 more 8-count body builders.
After we completed this (all told we spent about an hour to do everything I wrote up) we went over to the gym. From here we reviewed martial arts techniques from the lowest level of proficiency – the Tan Belt. Things like stances, angles of movement, upper and lower body strikes, chokes, throws and takedowns. We did this for about two hours until Cpl Whiskey showed up. Once he showed up we reviewed a few more techniques until we put on boxing gloves and face protection and did some light sparring (body shots only). Each Marine sparred for 4 minutes (broken up into 2 minute rounds), and for those of you who’ve never been in a fight or anything like it, 2 minutes can feel like an awful long time. I took a couple of shots to the bladder I would describe as “less than fun” to receive. After the sparring we went back to reviewing more techniques and learned two maneuvers from the Green Belt syllabus (I’d already seen these moves before from another Green Belt course I’d been on – perhaps a story for another time).
How It Happened
After learning the new techniques and taking a break, Sgt Bravo informed us we were to do some ground sparring (sometimes called “grappling”). As always, proper safety protocols were in place – Marines would stay on their knees at all times, tap-out procedures applied, strikes were prohibited, no eye gouges or small joint manipulations (IE, don’t grab another Marine’s finger and try to tweak it to get them to submit). The format was to be “bull in the ring,” meaning each Marine would take turns being in the middle of a circle and would have to face up to three opponents in 1-minute rounds apiece (so 3 minutes total of grappling). If the “bull” caused an opponent to submit, that opponent would become the new bull. If the opponent caused the bull to submit, time was paused while the fighters reset and then the match continued. I volunteered to go first.
I was outmatched in by my first two opponents – both being stronger and having better technique than me. Between the two of them I think I submitted three times. (Hey, it happens.) I had a few close calls where I nearly caused them to submit, but I wasn’t able to sink the chokes in fully and they were able to muscle their way out of them. My third opponent was outmatched by me – had I taken him on “fresh” it would have been an easy fight. As it was, I was fairly tired from the previous two bouts and had reduced capacity to muscle him around.
At one point he had me in his “guard.” What this means is, his back was on the ground and his legs were wrapped around my waist. Doing this allows you to control your opponent, since you can use your legs to bring him in close and you can also push him away if you want. There are techniques available from the guard that end in armbars or chokes as well. There are techniques to escape the guard, too. I used one such technique, which ends with me tossing my opponent using his leg so that he had his stomach on the ground and back exposed to me – a very “dangerous” situation for him. I was going to “move in for the kill” when, in a panic, my opponent twisted his body very quickly and accidentally struck me square in the nose with his elbow. Such a rapid twist of the body generates a lot of power and my nose was instantly shattered.
Aftermath
At the moment of impact, however, I just thought I’d taken “a good one.” I was about to resume fighting when I noticed everything had stopped – my opponent wasn’t struggling against me, there wasn’t any conversation going on from the spectators. I touched my hand to my nose and looked at my hand, which was covered in blood. “Oh,” I thought. “That explains it.” I didn’t really feel any pain but I excused myself to go to the restroom to take care of my nose and stop the bleeding. Cpl Whiskey was right behind me and asked me if I thought my nose was broken. “No,” I replied. I’d never had a broken nose before but I’d imagined breaking it would be a lot more painful than what was going on right then.
I was losing a lot of blood. That, combined with the physical exertion of the day (4 hours, all said and done) and zero food intake for the day was quickly sapping me of energy. Cpl Whiskey told me to look in the mirror, as my nose was “definitely” broken (I didn’t believe him). When I checked, my nose was like a diagonal line across my face instead of a vertical one. “Oh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.” He asked if I had ever had a broken nose or popped one back into place before. “No,” I replied. And then I took my hand and tried to pop it back into place. At the time, I noticed that my nose felt like it was in pieces, but the import of this observation escaped me until much later, when I thought back over the whole incident. I was more focused on trying to stop the bleeding.
After the bleeding calmed down (but did not stop completely), Cpl Whiskey took me to the medical clinic where eventually a commissioned officer saw me. He explained that my options were to try to reset the nose myself, have him attempt to, or go up to the hospital and have them see what they could do. I was more interested in immediate aid, since the longer it took to have the nose worked on, the more “set” it would be and likely the more painful it would be to try to reset it (or so I figured). So, the doctor stood behind me while I sat in a chair, and put my nose in a sort of vise grip between his palms. There was a lot of cracking and popping and squeemish grunts from the onlookers (Cpl Whiskey couldn’t watch). We stood up to go inspect the results in a mirror, as he told me it wasn’t quite straight. I investigated and agreed – it was now in a sort of “>” shape, almost like a lightning bolt. As he spoke to me, I began to white out – too much blood loss, not enough replenishment. I told him I needed to sit down.
He had me take a break for a few minutes and then he came in again and told me he could try again if I’d like. He said he hadn’t gone full force, so I told him to do so. This time the adjustment was painful, and my nose began bleeding profusely like when it was first injured. I inspect in the mirror again and it’s slightly better but still crooked. Satisfied that we had done all we could, I figured that was the end of my visit to the clinic and the best I could hope for regarding my nose. I mentally adapted to having the extra “character” in my face.
The doc ordered me up some opiate-derivative painkillers and also had my vitals taken and ordered x-rays to be done. He mandated I take 14 days of light duty – no more physical training for two weeks, basically – and also scheduled me for an appointment at the Naval Hospital north of my Camp on Wednesday (tomorrow). He explained that either they would drug me out of my mind, rebreak my nose and try to reset it again, or look into surgery.
Seems like an awful waste of taxpayer dollars for what basically amounts to cosmetic surgery, but oh well. Perhaps they’re worried that leaving my nose as is will lead to long term breathing or sinus complications. I hope so. I’d hate to be receiving cosmetic surgery.
Epilogue
For those wondering, I did not get the rest of the day “off” from work. Not that I was able to accomplish much, drained of energy and drugged up on near-opiates as I was. I didn’t even get to rest when I got home – we had “field day” which amounts to “clean your room to white-glove inspection standard” so I didn’t get to go to sleep until about 10 PM (my adventurous day began around 6 AM). Today, I decided to forego the pain killers and deal with the headache and sensitivity so I could actually accomplish things at work.
Anecdotally, the MCMAP course was cancelled. This was less due to the fact that I was injured and more due to the fact that Cpl Whiskey and Sgt Bravo had never received approval to run such a course, as neither were Martial Arts Instructor (MAIs). MAIs are required for any sort of “combat simulation” activity, such as boxing, ground fighting, pugil stick bouts and so on. Non-MAIs with advanced belt levels (brown and beyond, like Cpl Whiskey and Sgt Bravo) can and are encouraged to lead “sustainment” training, which is basically review of the various techniques in MCMAP.
Furthermore, I was tickled during an e-mail conversation when someone tried to excuse possible slip-ups due to having too much coffee. I tried to excuse excessive abrasiveness due to receiving a gale-force elbow that shattered my nose and required three resets that still couldn’t straighten it out. Sometimes I enjoy being contrary and rude.

Communication Loss – Loose Lips Sink Ships

There’s an old saying in the military that “loose lips sink ships.” This is a reference to operational security, in that gossiping to people carelessly about the location of your unit or your deployment plans could start a chain of gossip that eventually falls into enemy hands and compromises missions.

I think loose language can “sink ships” too, by which I mean to say that careless language can have catastrophic consequence. The catalyst for writing this post was the musings of one blogger who likened Plato and Socrates unto poets (actually, in her words, “Plato and Socrates WERE poets”), despite admitting to having never read either of them.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively minor misuse of language with little consequence. Sometimes it is fun to make metaphors and explore them, though the responsible thing to do would be to assert your metaphors as such, rather than as facts. (It is one thing to say that Plato and Socrates were poets, metaphorically speaking, and quite another to say that they were poets and leave it at that.) However, I believe this is representative of a modern tendency to expand the meanings of words with vagaries that bog everyone down with needless communication loss. Nuance and ambiguity have their applications and value in certain arenas (literature, poems, “art”) but the increasing intrusions of such sensibilities into everyday language and more mundane pursuits (such as science, debate, and politics) is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.
I’ll give an example to illustrate my point.
SCENARIO 1
Imagine, if you will, a good natured, attractive and popular girl in high school who is genuinely kind to everyone. (Yes, this is a hypothetical situation.) She often tosses around the phrase “I love you” or any variation thereof (“love ya,” “lots of love,” so on and so forth). Suppose she sees a boy sitting by himself at lunch, and emboldened by her noble spirit, deigns to sit with him and have a chat, as she feels it is wrong for someone to eat lunch by themselves. Suppose also this boy is known to be something of a pariah, not the sort popular people should be seen with – this does not deter our young heroine. Once the lunch period breaks after a pleasant conversation that seems to have cheered the boy’s mood considerably, she departs, finishing the conversation with her ritual employment of the “I love you” phrase. This creates a wellspring of emotion in the boy, who understands love as a very serious concept shared only by very important people. He tries to actively pursue this girl, perhaps coming off as creepy, and only after several months figures out that she did not mean the word “love” in the same way as he understood it, and winds up dejected and heartbroken as a result.
Who is at fault here? Should we be angry with the girl for her careless use of language, or should we attribute culpability to the boy who should have known better? Before we start playing the blame game, maybe it would be informative to look up the word “love” in a dictionary. I propose we use dictionary.com, as it is a freely available web dictionary which many people probably use to try and get a clearer sense of what a word means. Here’s what dictionary.com has to say about love:
love  [luhv] Show IPA noun, verb, loved, lov⋅ing.
–noun
1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
3. sexual passion or desire.
4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?
6. a love affair; an intensely amorous incident; amour.
7. sexual intercourse; copulation.
8. (initial capital letter) a personification of sexual affection, as Eros or Cupid.
9. affectionate concern for the well-being of others: the love of one’s neighbor.
10. strong predilection, enthusiasm, or liking for anything: her love of books.
11. the object or thing so liked: The theater was her great love.
12. the benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.
13. Chiefly Tennis. a score of zero; nothing.
14. a word formerly used in communications to represent the letter L.
Clear as mud! There’s obviously some non-sequitur definitions here, but there’s also a lot of room for personal interpretation. Definitions 5, 9, and perhaps 2 might support the girl’s interpretations and defend her from blame, whereas definitions 1, 4, and 6 lend themselves to the boy’s interpretation. Moreover, the preponderance of definitions that deal with sexual matters lend credibility to an interpretation of “love” more serious than the one understood by the girl, giving more favor to the boy. But before we go around blaming people for the nasty feelings and disappointment the boy wound up with, let me change the scenario just a hair.
SCENARIO 2
Imagine the scenario is exactly the same as before. The girl and boy still have all the same qualities, to include the girl’s motivation for engaging the boy in conversation. Suppose now that the only difference in the situation is that, through the course of conversation, the girl feels a deep and profound emotional connection to the boy. She begins to see him in a new light, and she thinks that she might be falling for him. When the lunch bell rings and they have to part ways, she has only a small window of opportunity to express her epiphany, and she expresses to the boy “I love you.” Later, the boy carefully considers the situation and perhaps even looks up the word “love” to help guide his actions. He knows that she is given to using the word “love” rather freely, and he is hesitant to emotionally invest himself in a prospect that seems likely to end in disappointment. He therefore concludes that she meant “love” in a less profound way (more like definition 9, say) – after all, she was probably just taking pity on him for sitting alone and was being a good Samaritan, love they neighbor and all that. The girl is anguished over the boy’s seeming rejection and complete indifference to her profound expression of her deepest feelings and now feels similar levels of disappointment and dejection as our boy had felt in the previous scenario.
WHO TO BLAME
If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s kind of a trick question. Neither the boy nor the girl is at fault nor responsible for the miscommunication and resultant emotional harm caused, in either scenario. Sure, perhaps we could chide them for not being “more clear” or not “elaborating” more, but life is rarely perfect and there are times where we only get one shot at phrasing something. Perhaps I could have concocted a more compelling situation to convince you of the “one-shot” angle, but that’s ultimately irrelevant to my main point. My main point is that our language has become too vague, and there are, often, far too many different definitions for the same word. Simple math will tell you that as you increase the number of disparate definitions for the same word, you increase the odds that the speaker and listener of any conversation will have different operating definitions of that word.
What do I mean by operating definitions? I contend that people are not dictionaries, and they do not walk around carrying seven different definitions for the same word in their head – at least not for every single word that has multiple definitions. In general, it is more natural for a person to pick one definition and stick to it – though they may be aware to varying degrees of competing definitions. There may be cases where they are totally unaware of the different definitions a word has. In any case, the operating definition a person has is their assumed definition – the one they use when they either speak or hear the word.
In scenario 1, the girl’s operating definition of the word “love” was, we’ll say, definition/meaning 9 provided above. The boy’s operating definition was, we’ll say, definition/meaning 4. It is natural to assume, when conversing with another person, they understand the definitions of the words that we use – especially very common words, like “love.” When the girl used her operating definition, she meant to convey meaning 4, and assumed that the boy received meaning 4. What actually happened was that the boy received meaning 9, because he had a different operating definition of the same word. Meaning 4 and meaning 9 are different enough that, at one point in time, they used to be separate words. Instead of saying love when we meant meaning 9, we might say something like “I like you” or “I care about you.”
The only change in scenario 2 is that the operating definitions are reversed, more or less (to get real technical, the boy didn’t have an operating definition, perhaps because he was cognizant of the disparate definitions available to the word love, and reasoned his way to definition 4). Sometimes we get the opportunity to work out miscommunication that results from different operating definitions of the same word – questions like “what do you mean by that?” provide an opportunity to clarify what’s really going on in a conversation. But it is naive to assume that we always have this luxury, and especially in the high-pace arena of politics and public debate, rarely is time spent working out the definitions of important words under discussion. (See this post for an example of some slippery words. Other ones off the top of my head: communism, socialism, feminism, Marxism, universal health care… there’s probably others, but I don’t watch the news overmuch because I easily get peeved at careless use of language.) Miscommunication that would be relatively harmless in the private sphere suddenly becomes a matter of national import and grave concern.
Perhaps you think I am exaggerating? I think “feminism” more than proves my point. Most people have an operating definition of feminism as being a movement that is concerned chiefly with “equal rights for equal work,” (operating definition A) but that is a far cry from what feminism actually is. Some critics, who are familiar with what feminism actually is (operating definition B), decry it. Their message is often dead on arrival, however, because most people assume that operating definition A is what is under assault when they hear the word “feminism.” This doesn’t even account for the slipperiness of operating definition A (any time I hear the word “equal” in the context of political discourse, I become wary) either.

SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?
I see two possible solutions. Perhaps this means I am stuck in a fallacious way of thinking (the false dilemma), who knows. In any case, the first option is to have all of the dictionaries of the world revised overnight to remove ambiguities from every definition, and to ensure that each and every word means only one thing. The second option would be to have the speaker of the word clarify before transmitting their message precisely what operation definition they are using. “I love you” becomes something like “I love you…by which I mean to say like a neighbor.” Alternative options may exist on some kind of gradient between the two, and allowing for the listener to ask for clarification when possible.
I believe the most sensible and practical approach is to hold the speaker more accountable for misuse of language or vagaries. The speaker has more opportunity to clarify intent before speaking than the listener often has opportunity to clarify after something has been spoken. This is especially the case in one way communications – things like emails from your boss that you cannot respond to. In two way communication, things can be more efficient and productive if the speaker exercises caution and carefully considers what words are employed, clarifying murkiness as it comes up. For example: “I think that feminism – by which I mean the virulent brand promulgated by…”
Nobody can be perfect, and I know I am not. But we can all strive to be better speakers and be more mindful of what we say before we say it. Creating ambiguity and nuance is great when we’re writing literature or poems.
But, as I hinted at when I started this post, we’re not all poets. Intentionally inflating the definition of “poet” (for example) to include everyone (such as people who do not compose poetry) represents a behavior that is antithetical to the way I approach communication.

Disassociating with Liberalism: The Lies of Moral Relativity and Equality

The problem with my previous post was that I did not, at any point, identify clearly what it was I was going on about. This is partly my fault and partly the fault of the slippery nature of the language under discussion (and often, critique); those that generally call themselves “liberals” today employ a lot of terms in an absolutely false way.

So, let me start by defining some terms. I will provide each term with a connotative definition, which is what I feel the word means in the modern context. The denotative definition is the one most people assume the word still holds. Because of these assumed definitions, there can be massive problems in communicating ideas clearly. Just think if you were in the era when the word gay was coming to mean homosexual – every time you heard it, you assumed it meant happy, but the speaker was assuming you knew the new connotation. If the connotation was never expressly defined for you, you’d have a hard time figuring out what was going on.
Without further adieu, it’s time to dig in and redefine some terms that have been massively abused as a result of political agendas:
Liberal
  • CONNOTATIVE: I mean the group of people who most commonly identify themselves as liberals. These people tend to be very intolerant of differing viewpoints. These are the types of people who militarize PETA and bomb research centers that use animal testing. These are the type of people who shout “tolerance!” on one hand but condemn pro-lifers on the other. These are the type of people who use political correctness as a shield to insulate themselves from open critique. These are the type of people who rely on “feminism” to sound legitimate, since most people misunderstand what feminism (currently) is. They have an absolutist world-view where their way is the only right way, but shield themselves from criticism by claiming they hold a relativist viewpoint that condemns no one and accepts everyone. They are slippery, confusing, and generally blind to their own inconsistencies and hypocrisies. (I know I was!)
  • DENOTATIVE: Dictionary.com actually provides a reasonable definition. “Favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.” The problem with modern liberals is that it is pro-choice or bust. Animal rights or bust. Their way or the highway. Liberalism has lost the implicit tolerance that would be necessary to permit absolute freedom of action in regards to matters of personal belief or expression.
Moral Relativism
  • CONNOTATIVE: This phrase is mostly doublespeak jargon or a thought-terminating cliché. It is used by liberals (see actual definition above) who, under assault for their absolutist views, trudge this term out to conjure up associations that exist due to the assumed definition below. In this capacity, the term functions as a red-herring, though I don’t know if the younger generation of liberals (having been indoctrinated since birth) can really be accused of intentionally committing logical fallacies, since they mostly regurgitate what they’ve been taught.
  • DENOTATIVE: An understanding of moral theory as being particular to either individuals or cultural groups but having no basis in physical reality. This contrasts sharply with absolute moral theories, whereby our moral rules have some kind of absolute basis in reality to give them further weight. For example, strict religious interpretation of the bible tends to lead towards an absolute moral view, whereby the Ten Commandments (and other scriptures) that describe certain moral rules are the literal word of God, and obeying these moral rules will get one into Heaven and disobeying them will land you in Hell. A more relativist mindset recognizes that morals exist only “in the brain,” so to speak, and have no corresponding implications on physical reality (such as heaven or hell); such an understanding of moral systems leads to the conclusion that no one moral system is objectively any better or “more right” than another moral system.
Equality
  • CONNOTATIVE: A nebulous and vague idea that makes everyone feel better about everyone else but has no basis in reality. This phrase borders also on being doublespeak jargon or a thought-terminating cliché like moral relativism. Examples are when one makes statements like “all men are born equal” or “men and women are equal.” This serves only to ignore unpleasant differences like physical prowess or the different distribution of intelligence quotient among human beings. Ignoring these fundamental problems causes lots of misattribution when it comes to describing social disparity and injustices (it may even cause one to perceive injustice where none exists).
  • DENOTATIVE: A mathematical phrase that describes two values of the same quantity. For example, 2 x 2 (two multiplied by two) is equal to 4. Equality is something that can be proved, demonstrated and double-checked. There is no mystery in establishing equality, and only those quantities which are known to be equal are asserted as such. Saying that 3 is equal to 4 is nonsense.
To recap, the CONNOTATIVE definitions are the ones I’m examining from here on out. I reject all three terms based upon their connotative definitions (ie, those that are more accurate at describing what the terms currently mean or how they are used). I will be referring to the connotative definitions when I use the above terms unless otherwise specified.
Describing Modern Liberalism Generally
Exposed for what it truly is, liberalism seems to be little more than thinly-veiled hedonism. The over-arching common theme in a lot of modern liberal agendas is to be able to have more freedom to do whatever it is we may “want.” You want to do drugs? Legalize ’em! You want to have sex without consequences (ie, be less discriminating with your sexual partners)? Pro-choice! You want to go back on your vows and commitments? Divorce him (or, rarely, her)! You want to go back on your vows and commitments without any financial repercussion and “maintain a quality of life you’ve become accustomed to?” Alimony! And so on.
Understood this way, liberalism is just trying to philosophically justify the indulgences and whims of a child. A child rarely has a good reason for wanting something beyond his or her own immediate desire. Most people recognize that constantly indulging a child will (generally) result in a very maladjusted, problematic teenager (and usually, adult). When you refuse a child the candy he or she wants, the child will kick and scream and holler. You may provide good reasons as to why the child should not get the candy (he or she has already had enough sugar for the day; the candy does not provide any nutritional value; the chemical preservatives are harmful; you’ve already prepared a more healthy but still sweet alternative that is waiting at home; and so on) but these may not suffice in silencing the child. Furthermore, if you indulge the child because he or she kicks and screams, you merely teach him or her that hollering is a good way to get what is desired.
It seems to me that our nation has committed itself to a policy of legislation that amounts to little more than indulging the child that kick and scream the loudest – if only to shut out the cacophony of hooting and hollering for a little while. But indulging people for no good reason never satiates their desires (as you will learn with children), and they will always find something new to want. Furthermore, they’ll continue to use the strategy that rewarded them the first time. It is only by taking a firm stand, demanding good reasons as to why such a desire should be fulfilled and not indulging until those demands are met, that you can properly teach people how to behave (and reason).
Liberalism has, however, managed to isolate itself from criticism by relying upon several powerful doublespeak terms and thought-terminating clichés. Feminism and political correctness contribute to this engine of irrationality, but this post is going to drill-down on the confusing terms of “equality” and “moral relativity.” These elements of liberalism make it appealing, particularly to young people who don’t know any better – it is much easier to cope with a world you believe is “fair,” where “all people are born equal,” where everyone should be “tolerant,” and those that disagree with these ideas are “intolerant” (but uh-oh! I’m getting ahead of myself and naming thought-terminating clichés already).
Equality: The Well Intentioned Misnomer of Disastrous Proportions

It is easy to understand why the concept of equality caught on quickly and appeals to so many different people. It is notoriously hard for humans to admit defeat. We all buy into the propaganda that tells us we can be whatever we want to be, so long as we really put our hearts into it. Equality helps us buy into this world view – we’re all born “equal,” and furthermore, have “equal opportunity” to excel. This stands in contrast to a large body of literature and evidence that builds towards the conclusion that, in fact, we cannot. I’ll take an example that doesn’t even require hard proof (ie, a good study or article or something): Not everyone is of (denotative) equal intelligence.

We all know this is true. It doesn’t need to be proven – just think about the people that you know. Surely some are more intelligent than others? It is recognized that intelligence in human beings is roughly distributed (like most other human attributes and parameters) along a bell curve – with most people being of average intelligence (after all, just think about what the word “average” really means!), some people being above or below average, and a few rare exceptions being “mentally handicapped” or out-and-out geniuses.

“But that doesn’t mean people aren’t equal,” pipes up the liberal. “A person who is not very intelligent may be gifted in another area – such as having a high degree of social graces, or being physically gifted. In the end, our unique strengths and weaknesses balance out and everyone is equal.” Or, at least, that’s my highly condensed summary of the logic that most liberals would use to defend this notion of equality they cling to so dearly.

Even if we grant the liberal that, for every strength a person might have, there is a corresponding weakness (even though this may not necessarily be true – ever met someone who just seemed to be gifted at damn near everything? Physically attractive, strikingly intelligent, socially charming, a great athlete or otherwise in great shape, with a happy and healthy attitude? I’ve met one or two), how do we go about assigning values to each of these strengths and weaknesses to establish equality? An IQ of 120 adds 10 to your score, whereas being rated a 6/10 subtracts 3? Nevermind the difficulty in quantifying things like ugliness or figuring how detrimental it is to be ugly in life compared to being beautiful (without first establishing a common standard for success).

As Angry Harry alludes to, equality is a concept which is infinitely regressive. It is impossible to prove. At best, it ends up distracting us from useful distinctions and lines of inquiry. For example, if we really wanted to improve the physical capabilities of women, wouldn’t it make sense to study precisely why it is women tend to only have half the upper body strength of men, or why the average woman has only 70 to 75 percent the aerobic capability of the average man? Once we understood why, we could next work on figuring out an agreeable solution to the problem. Instead, conventional wisdom has us completely ignore the problem by changing the standards by which men and women are evaluated, creating the illusion of equality.

Don’t believe me? There are plenty of examples of the evaluative standards changing based solely upon gender out there (and I’ve linked to some in this post already), but I’ll give you one that hits a little closer to home – the United States Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test. Read and weep, my reading audience – women receive 100 points for running 3 miles in 21 minutes, while men receive 100 points for running that same 3 miles in 18 minutes. How is this “equal?” (When women argue it is “equal” because it adjusts for the fact that women are on average less capable then men, they ironically admit that equality between the sexes does not exist.) The only event that is truly equal on the test are crunches – women are evaluated by a completely different metric for upper body strength than are men! (Men must perform dead hang pull-ups in a consecutive fashion; women must merely perform a flexed arm hang. Women who hang on the bar for 70 seconds without straightening their arms or dropping off score the same in upper body fitness as males who are able to perform 20 dead hang pull ups consecutively without getting off the bar.)

The Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test at least has men and women performing all the same events, but here the standards are adjusted even more blatantly. The chart in the link outlines the bare minimums for passing the test, broken down by gender and age; here’s a link that has charts for the maximums too. (I’m too lazy to find a full chart, but if you’re really interested, I’m sure you could find one.)

The problem here is that both fitness tests are absolutely crucial to determining who gets promoted and when – women are given quicker promotions for less work in a job field (military!) that desperately needs physically tough leaders. Yaaaaaay “equality!”

Lastly, equality can be used to generate thought-terminating clichés. When you bring up reasoned arguments as to why women should not be in the military, for example, equality justifies the thought-terminating cliché that labels you a misogynist. If one were to bring up reasoned perspectives about the differences between various ethnicities, equality trudges up another cliché – only a racist would pay attention to differences between ethnicities!

Equality is best understood denotatively, and we should discuss fairness instead of equality as it is currently understood. How is it fair that women get a leg up on men when it comes to promotions in the military? How about, it isn’t? The requirements of a job do not change depending on what gender the job applicant happens to be; if you cannot meet the standard, then you cannot meet the standard! The demanding reality of physical combat won’t care or notice if you are a man or a woman, but it will notice if you are unfit. (This is entirely separate from the issue of whether women should be in the military at all – I’ll leave that pariah for another day.)

Moral Relativity: An Extended Analysis

You’ll most often hear about “moral relativity” from a liberal when you try to demonstrate how decidedly closed-minded they have been. They’ll drag out the phrase and silence all opposition by conjuring up its denotative meaning, even though it does not apply in any way, shape or form, to the liberal that trotted it out. In this way, the phrase is a thought-terminating cliché. Moral relativity is intoxicating because it is impervious to criticism – it is the ultimate “tolerate everyone” philosophy, and how can you really be critical of that? Most of what I said about the doublespeak nature of equality above applies also to liberal interpretations of moral relativity, and I don’t think it’s necessary to cover the same ground again.

So let’s take a moment, instead, to look at the actual philosophical idea of moral relativity.

Moral relativity seems to make a lot of sense as a matter of public policy. It certainly seems like it is impossible to establish one system of morality as being “better” than another system – and it certainly seems to be the case that various moral systems arise as a combination of cultural and environmental factors (that is to say, various moral systems are unique to various cultures, and it seems more likely they result from a response to those cultures than from anything else). In light of these perspectives, it seems unfair or perhaps even foolish to persecute any specific system of morality, as a matter of public policy.

Moral relativity allows the individual (be it an individual person, an individual society within a larger society – such as a Christian society within a nation – and so on) to come to their own conclusions about morality without the State having to make that decision for them, so long as that individual learns to respect the morality of other individuals. So far, so good. Everyone has the freedom to choose whatever it is they would like so long as nobody else is being harmed.

Or so we think.

See, the problem here is that morality essentially describes what is good and bad behavior. In other words, a person’s sense of morality (or lack of morality) is what is going to determine how they treat other people. Public conceptions of harm tend towards more obvious harms – such as physical assault. So long as people behave lawfully, then they are allowed to believe (and do!) whatever they would like to do.

Laws are an expression of a culture’s morality, in a way. Somewhere along the way, people decided it was “wrong” to murder other people or take their belongings – if not for religious reasons, then probably for good and practical reasons, like because it would be impossible to have a healthy society without such rules. People recognized that desire was not sufficient cause to allow people to do as they pleased (so people who wanted to kill other people to satiate their bloodlust, for example, were not found to have good reason to be allowed to murder). However, “thou shalt not kill” was not found to be a universal maxim – soldiers need to kill, law enforcement agents may need to kill, and people need to be able to defend themselves. Therefore murder (which is basically “unjustified” killing) was prohibited and a precedent for requiring good reasons to do things was established.

There is no physical law (like the law of gravity) that dictates humans should not kill each other unless they are actively employed as a soldier. In fact, if you observe nature, there are plenty of examples of wanton slaughter in the animal kingdom. Moral relativity hinges upon the fact that morality does not exist like physical laws do. I reject the idea that, merely because morality has no discernible physical law governing its tenants, we have no reason to prefer one system of morality over another.

For MRAs, I think this concept can easily be demonstrated – the loosening of restrictions on natural sexual impulses (particularly women) has led to all kinds of unintended consequences for society, and society is mostly worse off for it. Even though morality may have no basis in physical laws, I believe it is possible to measure the impacts it has on a society. The evaporation of moral practices and ideas that led us to respect and cherish marriage and the family, for instance, seems to have had a disastrous impact on the quality of all of our lives.

Attempts to be more tolerant have tragically and somewhat ironically backfired. The law is rife with language about being non-discriminatory, and it is true that alimony laws apply the same way to men as they do to women. However, these “unbiased” laws fail to account for the natural differences that exist between people of different genders (for example) and lead to their unequal application. It might be argued that the law is not yet truly relative, since it offers up rewards to one party in divorce situations (when instead it could offer up no reward, for example, eliminating a possible incentive for divorce) – but I think it would be hard to argue contrary to the interpretation that these changes to our society were pursued earnestly with the idea of moral relativity (tolerance) in mind.

Moral relativity reminds me a lot of the idea of equality. It sounds great on paper to say that, objectively, no one moral system is any better than another and we should therefore tolerate all moral systems. However, it seems that in endorsing tolerance we are also endorsing chaos – if there is no authoritative guidance on what is right or wrong behavior, our society runs a grave risk. Whoever is the most eloquent and resonates with the most people will be able to have the most adherents, regardless of the merits of their moral system.

Moral systems have a tangible impact on society. Just look at what the lack of consensus on morality has done to our society. At least when we were on the same page, we were progressing towards something. The facts of the world are thus: the world will never be fair and it is probably impossible for every person to always be happy all the time.
Why, then, do we waste so much time trying to make the world fair and make everyone happy? Why not work on more tangible goals, like increasing literacy, decreasing poverty, decreasing hunger (note that “perfect” states in each of these categories are likely impossible – 100% literacy, 0% poverty, 0% hunger – but “better” states are almost always bound to be achievable) and so forth? Utopia is impossible. Improvement is not.

Obligatory Disclaimer to Preempt Criticism and Provide Possible Clarification
I am not saying that society should dictate to you whether or not you believe in God, for instance. But I am saying that society should dictate how you treat and relate to other human beings in a way that increases tangible results – healthy growth of things like GDP, birth rates, health care, life expectancy, and so on. I think this can only really be achieved through moral education from a young age -people must be taught to not think in such a narrow and selfish/egocentric way. They must be taught to respect other people, not just listen to lip service about how we should respect everyone. The list is endless and my energy is declining after several hours of writing. Hopefully you get the point.

Preliminary Thoughts of Moral Relativity (Unclearly Stated)

I’m afraid that this post will almost necessarily be long-winded, rambling, and maybe even incoherent to some. It was difficult to write and I may one day come back to it, but for now, here’s what you get:

This is the first of what I intend to be three posts regarding my rejection of what I term “modern liberal ideals” – which I was basically born into and indoctrinated with from the public education system. To me, modern liberalism is an essentially hollow philosophy, but one which is readily accepted – unquestioningly – by a disturbingly high number of people despite being little more than thinly veiled hedonism and “feel-good” mentalities. I see it comprised of, essentially, three constituent doctrines: feminism, political correctness, and moral relativism. It is my intention to deal fully with each subject in turn, but this post will focus on moral relativism. It is the element of liberalism which I held onto the longest – sometimes without even realizing it – and probably forms the basis for the other two ideas. Being almost a purely abstract idea, however, it requires less research and evidence to refute, and thus why I will be writing on it first.

Moral relativism has a lot of appeal in the modern world, which is extremely complicated and admittedly hard to understand. It requires a lot of mental energy to consider the values, morals and ethics advocated by competing societies or cultures, and attempt to arrive at a sound and reasonable conclusion as to why a person should prefer one over the other. And especially in our youth, when we are given (and encouraged) to pursue whatever is our fancy, it is easier to digest the platitudes that relativism offers than to take a more considered stance.
Why do women in the Middle East wear veils and why should that concern us? It shouldn’t concern us, relativism answers, and furthermore, it doesn’t matter! The way Arab peoples want to run their societies is their business, and ultimately, they are no better or worse than us. Relativism might even offer some more theorizing as to why this may be the case; Arab culture evolved differently due to different starting conditions, such as a different environment and different socializing tendencies. Ultimately, “good” and “evil” are constructs of the mind that do not exist in nature, says relativism, so judging other societies by such metrics is hypocritical and short-sighted at best, and the cause of war and genocide at worst.
Fair enough, one might say. That seems to make good sense and it seems an answer that would apply in every case of differing culture and belief systems that one encounters in the modern world.
The fatal flaw of moral relativity is its tolerance of all behavior, however. A person who is trying to lead a “good” life will inevitably run into problems with relativism. If you follow the tenants of relativism to its logical conclusion, no way of life is better than any other way of life. One is, in effect, permitted to do anything. When one is permitted to do anything, how does one begin to answer the question “what should I do?” After all, we may be permitted to do anything, but that does not mean we will have the opportunity to try out everything. Many choices we make in life open doors but simultaneously close off many others. If the ultimate goal of life is to be as happy as we can be (which is an ancient idea I tend to agree with – but that’s for another discussion, perhaps), how can we be sure under a relativist understanding of the world that the path we have chosen for ourselves will guarantee us maximal happiness over the long run compared to other choices we could have made?
Additionally, the idea that every behavior is of equal value should ring out as patently false for almost any person. I do not think any sane person would tell you that an adult who chooses to rape and murder one’s way through life is of equal morality to one who chooses to neither rape nor murder. Yet relativism would logically demand that we regard the two as equal. Morals, after all, are just a human construct, and they have no bearing on physical reality, and therefore neither person is “right” or “wrong” in their behavior.
In this sense, relativism seems to be a hedonistic philosophy that could be used to justify whatever placates one’s temporary indulgences. It is the philosophy that undermines feminism, for instance, when feminists shout that women should be able to do whatever they want to do without any sort of personal accountability, simply because it is what the woman wants. (That it is ironically applied in a non-relative and narrow manner is another matter entirely.) The only real justification one needs for one’s actions in a relativist moral world is that the actor wanted to perform the action; that’s it.
Indeed, relativism seems to be a very slippery idea that can seemingly be used to justify any sort of action. Long after I’d rejected feminism and political correctness, I still held on to relativism, not quite aware of its poisonous effects on my thinking. Here is an example from a letter I wrote, justifying in part my decision to enlist (a very complicated and multi-faceted decision, as you might imagine):

[I] no longer [have] an active, seething hatred, but something different. A kind of acknowledgment that humanity is flawed, over-arrogant…The kind of attitude that leads to relativism, the idea that my life is worth no more than any other life is worth no more than any other life. That extends to everything – your viewpoint is no less convincing than my viewpoint than any other viewpoint. There is justification for anything in this world. And right and wrong are moral judgments, and morals are a strictly human construct – there is no physical law that correlates to “good” and “evil” in the universe, or to “right” and “wrong.” “Right” is what an organism must do to survive, and “wrong” are actions that doom that organism to death. And with these kinds of attitudes, I can join the military with no qualms. Send me to Iraq, give me a gun, tell me to shoot whoever, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.

Relativism also seems to inform mainstream ideas regarding equality. Equality, from a rational and objective analysis, is a patently absurd idea that will always be impossible to achieve. Angry Harry goes to lengths to explain this under the context of male-female relationships here, but really the analysis applies to any measure of “equality.” However, relativism teaches us platitudes like “all men are born equal” or “that’s just your opinion” or any number of other thought-terminating-cliches that sound authoritative and considered. A favorite appeal of the relativist for legislating equality is by mistakenly referring to the phrase “all men are created equal” as appearing in the Constitution when it in fact appears only in the Declaration of Independence, which is not a legal document by any means. (The Constitution never ceases to impress me.) The word “equal” (to include “equally” – “equality” does not appear) appears six times in the text of the Constitution, each time referring to divisions of votes and power of the various agencies of government; never to the abilities or even rights of citizens or non-citizens, nor human beings. The next time it shows up is in the 14th Amendment, where it applies to equal protection under the law. This is a dangerous use of the word, considering again it is logically impossible to have equal enforcement/protection of the law – we can certainly strive for “more fair” or “more nearly equal,” but we will never attain legitimately equal. In any case, it says nothing of humans being equal. The final time it appears is in the 23rd Amendment where it again is rightfully used as a mere mathematical term. Equality only makes sense as a mathematical concept, not a political ideology. A statement like 2 multiplied by 2 is equal to 4 is easily understood and demonstrated. Statements like men are equal to women or all men are equal or all women are equal, aside from being literally false, only ignore useful distinctions, raise questions and create confusion. Fairness is a much more reasonable ideology to advocate, so long as it is understood that perfect fairness is the ideal we strive for even if we may never attain it.
Of course, relativism isn’t actually adhered to, even if its platitudes are often cited. Instead what we have is an engine that creates many doublespeak ideas like “equality” and thought-terminating-cliches like “you’re just saying that because you’re a racist” or “you’re just saying that because you’re a misogynist,” which congeal into ideas like political correctness and feminism, ultimately destroying rational thought and considered debate.
The sobering fact we must own up to is that the world is not fair nor will it ever be. No amount of social engineering is going to change the fact that human attributes, such as physical prowess and intelligence quotient, are distributed unequally. This does not endorse a ‘might makes right’ notion of morality, however, where intelligent people are justified in manipulating less intelligent people merely by virtue of their superior intelligence (or whatever other permutation of “might makes right” you might conceive). What people have forgotten is that morality is the ultimate equalizer. Morality does not depend on any sort of measurable capacity – you are not more or less moral for being more or less intelligent, more or less strong, and so on. Generally, morality is concerned with the responsible use and application of one’s talents and abilities – regardless of how numerous and masterful those aforementioned gifts may be. You cannot legislate morality just as much as you cannot legislate equality, but you can certainly create a society that rewards good morality and punishes bad morality to foster moral growth and encourage, overall, increased moral behavior.
It is impossible to be “more moral” in a relativist system, however. Trying to discourage people from a “might makes right” disposition in a relativist system is hypocritical, even. Logically, you must tolerate all views as morally equal. And this is not conducive to a healthy or vigorous society. Shouldn’t we strive for the best instead of tolerating everything, to include the worst?
Moral relativism is intoxicating because while adhering to it you can never be wrong. It is ludicrous because while adhering to it you can never be right.

I just read this, and it is good.

Ethics and Leadership, Part 1

Long, Rambling Preamble

Others argue that (good) morality is a chiefly male enterprise, and it is something I’ve always concerned myself with. Growing up without much of a father figure (save my brother, who had his own problems) made developing a good sense of morality and ethics trickier than it otherwise could have been. Yet even at a young age, I still tried to work out some kind of code – without the help of a religion. And before you get too critical of some of the sophistry evident in those earlier posts of mine, keep in mind I was then a sophomore in high school, with the incessant emotional abuse of my mother and heart wrenching nonsense of my first girlfriend providing constant background noise. Again – without a father figure. At best, I had video games and random internet friends to study under. What were you doing when you were 16?

If I seemed a little pre-occupied with partying back then, it was because I’d seen my brother completely ruin his life due to an indulgence in alcoholism and drug addiction (that began with innocuous partying in high-school – he’s still recovering, at age 29), and my girlfriend of the time (who I had convinced myself I loved dearly) was stringently pro-partying. You’ll notice after the break-up and prophetic-though-emotionally-tinged revelations that followed, I rarely, if ever, wrote about partying again.

The take-away point from all of the above is this: before enlisting in the Marine Corps, my personal ethics had congealed around a simple idea I’d developed with one of my best friends. Together, we determined that there was no higher purpose in life than trying to improve oneself, and the best method for improvement was total honesty. As writers, we were fans of brevity and trying to pack a big idea in a small space. Below is how we phrased our ethics:

Self improvement is the only priority; honesty is merely the best way to achieve it.

I suppose “self-improvement” is rather vague, but we took it to mean becoming stronger, smarter, inflicting less damage on the world and causing greater good, among other things. And honesty meant total honesty – critical honesty – none of this politically-correct coddling horseshit. If I found fault in myself or others, honesty demanded that such faults be addressed and corrected. Regular introspection and self-reflection were thus necessary requirements for self-improvement. Things like integrity, accountability, resolve, respect for logic and rationality, and so on, naturally folded into our conception.

But it isn’t easy ‘going-it-alone,’ if you will. Isolation seems to have a distinct effect on the mind, and I believe the mind naturally seeks to commiserate with like-minded individuals in order to cope with that isolation. Unfortunately for me, it is notoriously hard to find people above self-indulgence and consumerism in the general American populace. I used to wonder why that was, but now I know I was just looking in all the wrong places. I wanted something more, some allies in the fight against decadence and mindless consumerism. Someone else always says it best, and in this case, that someone else was me, albeit a year or two ago (from my memoirs):

American living was so completely unsatisfying to me. Why bother going to college, when all one can hope to do is make more money and buy more things? Where was the virtue in that? Our ancestors fought and died for freedom, liberty, for a noble and beautiful idea, in order to change the world forever. We fought and died for the latest electronic gadget and the prettiest estate. What was the fucking point in life?

Success in American culture was based on a disgusting infatuation with value – value defined not by intrinsic quality, but by how much money something could generate. “Good” music was not necessarily well composed, performed, or emotionally stirring – “good” music generated a lot of sales. Good writing was not necessarily perceptive, striking, or emotionally stirring – good writing generated a lot of sales. Anything “good” was something which generated a lot of sales. Even in public debate, be it the lunch table or on the internet, followed this notion – disputes over whether or not something was “good” often boiled down to how successful that particular thing was commercially.

Military service seemed like the only place I could escape this ubiquitous lust for wealth. Here were the men and women who still believed in freedom and liberty, in giving up their lives for something greater than themselves. Here were the men and women of noble character and virtue, fighting to protect those who were too weak to protect themselves. Politicians be damned. Even if you were tossed into a war you didn’t agree with, you could still fight to make sure the Marine to the left and the right of you had a chance to go home to his or her family and his or her loved ones. Selflessness – a necessary trait for anyone in the military, perhaps THE necessary trait.

This isn’t a post about the military failing to live up to my hopelessly high ideals. On the contrary, this is a post about Marine Corps ethics, which are surprisingly robust and cogent. Then again, the Marine Corps has produced stellar heroes like Major General Smedley Butler, Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, Sergeant Major Dan Daly, and Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, to name a few. (MRAs and feminists alike might note the lack of female exemplars. Sorry – none come to mind, except for Opha Mae Johnson, who we remember merely for being the first female Marine.) Oh, while we’re at it, why not throw in Colonel John Ripley, Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, and a personal favorite of mine from more recent times, Captain Nathaniel Fick (read or watch Generation Kill to understand why I admire him)? This list is by no means exhaustive, so maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that the Marine Corps has a lot of intelligent and well-reasoned things to say about ethical behavior and leadership.

So, Marine Corps Ethics

The Marine Corps, like myself, tries to distill ethical behavior down to the absolute simplest ideas it can. The backbone of Marine Corps ethics revolves around a set of three values – called the Core Values – that are taught to every Marine during basic training. If you’ve ever known a Marine, you probably know them already – they are Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Those three words conjure the essence of the Marine Corps – the fabled “esprit de corps” – the much talked about “brotherhood” of the Marine Corps. Let’s take a closer look at the Core Values.
HONOR is the idea that Marines must possess the ultimate sense of gallantry in service to the United States of America, and embody responsibility to duty above self, including, but not limited to:

  • INTEGRITY: Demonstrating the highest standards of consistent adherence to right, legal, and ethical conduct
  • RESPONSIBILITY: Personally accepting the consequences for decisions and actions. Coaching right decisions of subordinates. A chain is only as strong as the weakest individual link, but a battalion of Marines is more like a cable. Together we are stronger than any individual strand, but one strand may hold us together in a crisis if it’s strong enough. One Marine taking responsibility for a crisis may save the day.
  • HONESTY: Telling the truth. Overt honesty in word and action and clarifying possible misunderstanding or misrepresentation caused by silence or inaction when you should speak up. Respecting other’s property and demonstrating fairness in all actions. Marines do not lie, cheat, or steal.
  • TRADITION: Demonstrating respect for the customs, courtesies, and traditions developed over many years for good reason, which produce a common Marine Corps history and identity. Respect for the heritage and traditions of others, especially those we encounter in duty around the world.

At first, one may be inclined to think that respecting tradition for tradition’s sake is a fallacy, and such a reader would be correct. Note, however, that the Corps compels obedience to traditions that have been “developed over many years for good reason.” The Corps has a keen interest in adopting and maintaining only those traditions which make sense or serve some useful purpose, generally speaking. Most Marines will be able to explain the origins of their uniforms and certain customs to you, as most are emblems of former battles or serve to honor former heroes – try asking a soldier (Army) why his uniform is the way it is or why he acts the way he does and see what sort of response you get.

So, who would be a paragon of honor? In the opinion of this Marine, Smedley Butler fits the bill. Like all of the examples I mentioned above, he could easily be a paragon of all three Core Values, but I chose him for honor for a specific reason. He certainly served his nation with gallantry, but his personal integrity, responsibility, and honesty were peerless. There is a well known example from his time as a younger officer – then Major Butler exposed himself to enemy sniper fire in order to direct the fire of his own men to the snipers’ nests. He was awarded a Medal of Honor for this action – which, tellingly, he then tried to refuse! He claimed he was merely doing his job and had done nothing spectacular to earn the award. Later, in his post military career, he would warn of the burgeoning military-industrial complex decades before Eisenhower gave it a name – demonstrating again his integrity and honesty.

COURAGE is the moral, mental and physical strength to resist opposition, face danger, endure hardship, including, but not limited to:

  • SELF-DISCIPLINE: Marines hold themselves responsible for their own actions and others responsible for their actions. Marines are committed to maintaining physical, moral, and mental health, to fitness and exercise, and to life-long learning.
  • PATRIOTISM: Devotion to and defense of one’s country. The freely chosen, informed willingness to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
  • LOYALTY: Steady reliability to do one’s duty in service to the United States of America, the United States Marine Corps, one’s command, one’s fellow Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, citizens, oneself and to one’s family.
  • VALOR: Boldness and determination in facing danger in battle, and the daily commitment to excellence and honesty in actions small and large.

In effect, the Marine Corps idea of Courage could be summed up as “doing the right thing,” regardless of circumstance or personal expense/danger/peril. Marines are often reminded that being a good Marine means “doing the right thing, even when no one is looking” and this is essentially a matter of having the courage to do said right things. Sometimes it takes courage to report the discrepancies of your buddies, for instance – but if everyone in the Marine Corps lacked such courage, and valued friendship over duty, discipline would quickly erode and have a precipitous effect throughout the rest of our operations! As is outlined in our General Orders, a Marine knows no friends in the line of duty.

Paragon of courage? None other than Chesty Puller, of course. My own words would do him shame, so here’s one of his many telling quotes: “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can’t get away from us now!” MRAs may find something to like in this quote: “Our Country won’t go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won’t be any AMERICA because some foreign soldier will invade us and take our women and breed a heartier race!” But he wasn’t just bark. Take a look at some of his bite, as evidenced through one of his MANY award citations:

Fighting continuously in sub-zero weather against a vastly outnumbering hostile force, Colonel Puller drove off repeated and fanatical enemy attacks upon his Regimental defense sector and supply points. Although the area was frequently covered by grazing machine-gun fire and intense artillery and mortar fire, he coolly moved along his troops to insure their correct tactical employment, reinforced the lines as the situation demanded, and successfully defended the perimeter, keeping open the main supply routes for the movement of the Division. During the attack from Koto-ri to Hungnam, he expertly utilized his Regiment as the Division rear guard, repelling two fierce enemy assaults which severely threatened the security of the unit, and personally supervised the care and prompt evacuation of all casualties. By his unflagging determination, he served to inspire his men to heroic efforts in defense of their positions and assured the safety of much valuable equipment which would otherwise have been lost to the enemy. His skilled leadership, superb courage and valiant devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon Colonel Puller and the United States Naval Service.

COMMITMENT is the promise or pledge to complete a worthy goal by worthy means which requires identification with that goal and demonstrated actions to support that goal, including, but not limited to:

  • COMPETENCE: Maintaining, and improving one’s skill level to support the team. Commitment to growing toward a standard of excellence second to none.
  • TEAMWORK: Individual effort in support of other team members in accomplishing the team’s mission. Marines take care of their own. All worthwhile accomplishments are the result of team effort.
  • SELFLESSNESS: Marines take care of their subordinates, their families, their fellow Marines before themselves. The welfare of our country and our Corps is more important than our individual welfare.
  • CONCERN FOR PEOPLE: The Marine Corps is the custodian of this nation’s future, her young people. We exist to defend the nation, but just as importantly, we are in the business of creating honorable citizens. Everyone is of value, regardless of race, nation of origin, religion, or gender. Concern includes a commitment to improving the level of education, skill, self-esteem, and quality of life for Marines and their families. On the battlefield, a Marine is fiercest of all warriors and the most benevolent of conquerors.

Emphasis in the Marine Corps, from day one, is on the triumph of teamwork over individualism. You can’t turn shit into gold, unfortunately, and as the youth of our nation decline in moral character, the Marine Corps can only do so much to undo the 18 years of poor training that many potential enlistees “receive” as a result of poor social circumstances. Still, for those that are willing to learn, or looking for something more in life, the Marine Corps provides excellent guidance.

Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone is my paragon of commitment. After being awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Guadalcanal (where his 15-man unit was decimated to two men, who still managed to hold off 3,000 Japanese troops), he was shipped back to the States to go on a sort of public relations tour for war bonds. Generally, Medal of Honor recipients are not allowed to go back to combat, but Gunnery Sergeant Basilone was committed to the defense of the nation and the unit of Marines he had left behind on the front lines. He returned to active combat duty and gave his life in the battle of Iwo Jima, one of America’s (and the Marine Corps) bloodiest battles. (Anecdotally, my grandfather, who retired from the Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel, survived Iwo Jima.)

Parting Thoughts

The bulk of this post comes from work I had done previously in preparing to teach an ethics course at my command. I pored over order after order, assembling the best and what I felt was the easiest to understand information about ethics. I relied on materials that are used to prepare company grade officers for taking command of their units, and tried to make that information as accessible to junior enlisted Marines as possible. I think it is accessible to a wider audience as well.

I think it’s pretty easy to see why Marine Corps ethics and values resonate with me – my insistence on honesty and self-improvement are part of the building blocks of ideal Marine behavior. I hope you enjoyed this crash course in Marine Corps ethics and leadership.

Room for Improvement

Framing an Objective

The men’s movement has come a long way in the past 8 years, when I was first introduced to it. Back then, the only site I could find that spoke to the inequalities I was living with was NiceGuy’s, which was far from perfect. It wasn’t always objective, it alienated people because it focused on criticizing women rather than solving problems, and so on. I’m not saying this is necessarily bad – catharsis and community are great – but it’s far from the website you’d want to use as an introduction for a skeptic: someone who may be persuaded that feminism is bad, but who isn’t sure just yet.

Further, after a few years, it seemingly dropped off the face of the earth and was hard to find. (It was recently resurrected, mind you, but my point was that even if there were sites that would crop up here and there about men’s rights or critical of feminism, they were just as apt to disappear or fall into disrepair, too.)
As many have noted, feminism has made it extremely hard to get to the truth of the matter. To quote another blogger:

Being of an intellectual bent, I started investigating to see if my impressions were supported by facts.

It took a lot of digging. Feminists try to present themselves as a beleaguered minority, surrounded on every side by Neanderthals who constantly preach the inferiority of women, but try to find male chauvinist books and see if you can keep believing that. But I persevered, ordering expensive out of print books, scouring the internet, hunting through long books about neurology and history and so on to find one or two pertinent facts that had been allowed to slip through.

This is a problem that I would argue is alienating many potential allies. Many reasonable people might be thoroughly convinced, if only they could be led to the facts presented in an unbiased, impersonal and objective manner. (Free of the sort of justifiable yet off-putting indignation on display when NiceGuy greets users to his website by asking “Ever thought women suck? Then welcome!”) Being that I am of a military bent these days, let me frame the problem using some military concepts.
Before enlisting in the Marine Corps, I decided it might be wise to familiarize myself with doctrine, and being that the Iraq War was the major conflict of the time, I thought it would behoove me to read the then brand-new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, produced in a joint effort between the Army and the Marine Corps. Perhaps it is a bit extreme to describe the situation with feminists as an insurgency, but the analogy does tickle me. In either case, paragraph 1-108 in the field manual states (emphasis my own):

In almost every case, counterinsurgents face a populace containing an active minority supporting the government and an equally small militant faction opposing it. Success requires the government to be accepted as legitimate by most of that uncommitted middle, which also includes passive supporters of both sides. (See figure 1-2) Because of the ease of sowing disorder, it is usually not enough for counterinsurgents to get 51 percent of popular support; a solid majority is often essential. However, a passive populace may be all that is necessary for a well-supported insurgency to seize political power.

Let’s do a word swapping exercise. Way back in 1995, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote a book called Who Stole Feminism? and demonstrated that a (I think “militant” is a fitting adjective here) minority of feminists had stolen the mantle of the larger movement for nefarious purposes. From page 22: “Sex/gender feminism (“gender feminism” for short) is the prevailing ideology among contemporary feminist philosophers and leaders. But it lacks a grass roots constituency.” This is the “equally small militant faction” opposing the “government” mentioned above. For our purposes, replace the word “government” with something more relevant – like, say, sanity, society, or whatever.
Meanwhile, the active minority that can be found supporting sanity/society/whatever would be places like The Spearhead and NiceGuy’s MGTOW Forums, among other sites. The vast majority of people, however, exist in that large undecided middle, and that’s where the true contest is. Being that feminism has all of the current political support, it isn’t necessary for this middle to actively believe in their philosophy, so long as they aren’t actively trying to destroy/inhibit it. Passive acquiescence is all feminism needs of the majority of people at this point; the men’s movement needs something more substantial from that, and would benefit most by having a targeted effort to get that large, undecided majority to do something about feminism. And an important point to consider is the “ease of sowing disorder,” which I think is pretty self-evident. Even reasonable people can be convinced of unreasonable things. I think many of us have had the experience of coming to the light from out of the darkness that is the feminist doctrine and all of its lies. They have proven themselves to be very good at sowing disorder indeed, but this could be combated by a reliable website with easy to navigate links to all the sources, facts, and figures that prove feminism isn’t what it claims to be.
Luckily, the situation isn’t an actual insurgency. We don’t have to worry about massive undertakings like providing a stable infrastructure to the undecided middle (electricity, plumbing, access to food and security, etc) and waging a literal war with bullets and IEDs and so forth. However, in keeping with the analogy, let’s talk about “infrastructure” for a bit.
Making Progress

If we liken the progress made by the disparate elements of the men’s movement to a military assault, we’re now in the phase where we need to consolidate. As far as I can tell, we have a whole bunch of great people working towards the same ends but in their own ways and with their own direction. Collectively, it’s apparent that headway has been made, but to truly capitalize on the progress that’s been made it is necessary to regroup before pushing forward. By regrouping, we can: assess where it is that we stand relative to our opposition, take a tally of our progress and figure out what battles we’ve won, and most importantly chart a course for the future.
Another part of consolidating our effort would be to potentially bring more people into the fold. To get back to the first quote I brought up, it is currently very hard to dig for information regarding the true state of affairs with the feminist movement. To that end, I propose someone design a single website to address this issue. While the sites I’ve mentioned before may be great for communities of like-minded individuals, what we really need is a website that addresses the undecided, middle-ground skeptic I’ve been talking about in this post.
The web-site should be a concise and articulate distillation of the very best essays and posts that the men’s movement has created so far. It must be designed with a purpose in mind, the purpose being to convince skeptics that feminism is not a healthy philosophy to adopt, support or even abide through passivity. There should be a clear introduction, then pages that expound a bit on various issues the introduction brings up, and then a conclusion that directs readers to where they can get more information or start doing something about the problem.
Something kind of like this, except for the men’s movement.
If there already is a site of this sort out there, I haven’t found it. That’s kind of telling, considering I’ve been looking for one like it for a long time (to include a pretty thorough search over the past few days). Whether or not a site is out there or we need to create one, we need to promote it. Realize that the undecided middle probably isn’t going to be able to devote every waking hour (or perhaps not even a full waking hour each day!) to this cause or to researching it. That is why it is important to distill the crux of the movement down to some concise and potent analyses. Once someone’s mind has been opened that way, they can then utilize the site to more fully explore the issues that concern them.
This website would be analogous to building infrastructure in a counterinsurgency operation to win the faith of the undecided majority. It would provide them with all the resources they would need to answer questions and criticisms that would arise from shrugging off feminist doctrine. It would point them to communities of like-minded individuals with a wealth of experience dealing with the problems that could arise from shirking off such a philosophy.
What do you think? Comments are welcome and encouraged.

In Exile

[This is a chapter from my unfinished memoirs. Enjoy. Events focus mainly on 2007, in particular August to October 2007, though I believe this was actually composed some time in 2009.]

Growing up is such an odd sensation. As a kid, I remember thinking that the day I’d be an adult was so far off – incomprehensibly in the future. And I remember thinking that I would just magically be different – all of the sudden I was to become infinitely wise, strong, perceptive. The transformation from child to adult, boy to man – as if I were to go to bed one night and wake up the next morning forever and irrevocably different, improved.

Those of us who have grown up know that this is so very much not the case. It feels like I haven’t even grown up at all; merely gotten older. And yet, looking back, one can see the ways in which they have grown and changed. The arrogance of adolescence, the desire to rebel and all the angst and self-righteousness. Oh yes, how I’ve changed.

I remember thinking how oppressed I was in my youth. Not literally oppressed, but more…suffocated by my mother and her presence. She seemed to loom over me, choking out and stifling my ability to be motivated about anything. Any time I would start writing something new, any time I met a new friend, any time I met a girl I’d fancied, it seemed like I would have some particularly nasty fight with my mother, and like that I was sapped of all energy and willpower. I remember wanting to get out of her house as quickly as possible.

And at the age of seventeen, after several failed attempts and foiled plans, I finally did. It was around the time that I confirmed my departure that I began compiling this tome, and over the past three and a half years I have added to it periodically. In its inception, I viewed myself as moving away to Utah and living some great and fabulously successful life. I was to meet women, perhaps date them and settle down with one of them. I was to complete my long unfinished novel. I was to write about my terrible childhood and my wonderful adventures in Utah. It was to be unique – perhaps one of the first accounts of someone who grew up so intimately on and with the internet, so engrossed in professional video games, so nerdy.

Things, it would happen, did not pan out that way.

Upon arriving in Utah, I started volunteering at Nathan and Paul’s gaming center in downtown Salt Lake City. I wanted to find a job and a place of my own to live at as soon as possible – I was then staying with Nathan at his parent’s house as he too looked for a place to move his family – but Nathan insisted I be patient. He was in the midst of preparing for his magnum opus to the Unreal Torunament 2004 community, UTLAN, which would commence in August and was to be hosted at his gaming center. It was to attract some of the best players in the community from all over the country.

Initially, I was excited to be in Utah. I would often walk around the large and (relatively, in comparison to Bellingham’s downtown area) clean downtown area. I delighted in finding the local sights and attractions, getting to know the transit system, finding good restaurants to eat at. The managers at local restaurants came to know me by name and would give me discounts or free food. It was a good feeling to be known. I tried applying at a few places to work in the downtown area but never got a call back.

UTLAN 2006 came and went. Overall it was an extremely fun event, though stressful to prepare for. I met a lot some disparate and interesting people – the coolest of whom was probably a William Moyer, who has since become involved in politics. He was very intelligent and animated, and though a bit sarcastic, he was pretty friendly. All 40 or so people who showed up had a very good time, and online disputes were put aside as we all shared in having a good time. We went out to eat as a group and everyone seemed to bond. Of course, the old rivalries flared back up over the internet once everyone went home, but people were looking forward to UTLAN 2007.

It was about this time that Nathan’s parents popped some unexpected news on me – I was to leave their house within a week. Apparently, they had told Nathan I was to only stay for two weeks, while he gave me the impression that I was going to be able to stay for a month. Thankfully, Nathan’s brother Paul and his wife Melanie hosted my unemployed waif of a self while I looked for employment and an apartment, preventing me from a very unwanted return to Bellingham and high school.

Employment came quickly and in the beginning of August I started working part time at the mall, selling and repairing watches and clocks. I still volunteered at the gaming center, but would quickly stop as the brothers closed it down. I saved up enough money to get an apartment, and scored a centrally located one.

Salt Lake City is basically a giant grid (including its suburbs) and extends all the way down south into the suburb of Sandy. Road names generally follow a numbering scheme and are centered on the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake. The first road west of the Temple is West Temple, and the next one is 100 West, then 200 West and so on. It is like this in all directions. I believe it is State Street that runs straight into the Temple, with Main Street next to it. State Street is a north-south avenue that extends all the way down into Sandy. Sandy starts at about 9000 South, and the suburb I lived in, Murray, started at about 4000 South. My apartment was at about 4700 South and State Street – centrally located. I was about a ten minute walk from the train station and a three minute walk from the nearest bus stop.

I lived above a playhouse that featured a cabaret theater and a dinner theater, specializing mostly in musical comedies that were written and produced in house. It was an island of liberal thinking in a sea of conservative thinking and Mormonism, and was a pretty cool place aside. The apartments were owned by the same gentleman that owned the theater, and he quickly took a liking to me and offered me a secondary job working in the box office at the theater. I took it, less for the pay and more for the ability to see free shows and get a discount on the food (which was quite good). I quickly repaid Paul and Melanie a sum of money, something like $300 to $500 in thanks of their housing me. They were surprised, expecting nothing – but I couldn’t let their kindness go unpaid, especially on such short notice.

Another perk (and unseen curse) was the staff there. The cabaret side of the operation employed attractive young girls, ages generally from 16 to 19 (though some older college girls also worked part time, as they had been working there since they were in high school also) and provided me ample opportunity to flirt. My advances were unsuccessful, much to my frustration and confusion. Hindsight has elucidated my failures to me (I didn’t care about my appearance, I was intentionally awkward, I relied too much on humor and intellect and not enough on being personable) and I’ve discussed the particulars of my romantic foibles in detail elsewhere here.

When I first started working at my job at the mall, I looked like a mess. I wore the same shirt most days, didn’t know how to properly tie a tie, had a scruffy and unkempt haircut. My boss quickly took me under his wing, gave me some fashion sense and even took me shopping for some good dress clothes once. He was about ten years my senior, and we hit it off as friends. He was also recently relocated from out of state – having managed a kiosk in Boise for five years with oustanding results, the company felt he was just the man to run its number one store after the former manager there was promoted to a higher position.

The both of us weren’t exactly quick to warm up to the local populace – too conservative and Mormon for our Godless, liberal upbringings. As time worn on, we spent more time hanging out after work – I’d go to his apartment and we’d watch movies or recordings of concerts together. We’d go out to eat or go out to the movies. He started getting into the guitar (an old hobby of his) and began to play his favorite metal songs – a technically enviable feat. He even showed me how to play a bit, but I never really took it up. He even took me to my first concert – an all day metal festival.

And so it was like this I wasted away days, weeks, and months. Working 40 to 80 hours a week, getting better at hawking my wares and repairing timepieces new and old, buying things I didn’t need to fill voids I couldn’t heal. My life was going nowhere, fast. I had intended on going to college sometime in the future.

But that future never came, as I didn’t want to go into debt and did not have the time to really seek it out anyway. Transportation was an issue, as I never had a car and had to rely on public transit. I met women, it is true, but none of them seemed to fancy me, and I found that I couldn’t work up the courage to ask them on a date anyway. Where was I to take them? What was I to do with them? I wasted just a few days over a year mulling around in Utah until I woke up one day – shortly after having been promoted to assistant manager at my retail job – with an epiphany: I was going to wind up exactly like my dad.

There had been talk in the company of my abilities and my rather rapid rise to the assistant manager position – at the number one grossing location – and I was slated for the next promotion to manager in the area. At first, I was rather smug with this news, being the renegade and idealistic high-school drop out that I was. But when I realized that my father, in his youth, had foregone higher education in order to manage another retail operation…and when I recalled his life successes (or lack thereof) I immediately became discouraged.

What was I doing? Where was I going? I had wasted an entire year in an unfamiliar state. I had made few friends. All I had to show for my time was an increasingly large collection of media – books, music, video games, and a faster computer. My life felt very hollow. Where was the magnificent change that was supposed to occur? I was away from my mother, after all. Wasn’t that the source of all my weakness? Wasn’t that the reason why I hadn’t finished my novel, why I couldn’t get the money to go to St. John’s?

Apparently not.

The company I worked for continued to rot. The upper echelons of management continued to make rather unpopular decisions, blaming lower-than-expected profit margins and sales figures on its stores and the employees working in them. (This was ironic, as the Wall Street journal was running articles about how retail sales were at an all time low as the economy recessed.) Many, including myself and my manager, became fed up with the way we were treated. I couldn’t imagine trying to forge a career for myself with this company. College was out of the question. It seemed like the military was my only option.

My grandfather had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps had always had a mythical presence in my childhood – any time the Discovery channel ran a program on them, I watched it in awe. The world’s finest fighting force, they seemed to routinely undergo the most intense training imaginable. They were heroes to me. The way kids dream about being President or an astronaut or a rock star – that was the way I felt about the Marine Corps. It was a flight of fancy, something I thought I would never be able to accomplish. I even remember confiding in Sara that it was something I envied, though never seriously considered doing.

But as my situation worsened, as my life wasted away in a maelstrom of apathy and discontent, I began to consider it. The Marine Corps. Me? On a whim on one of my off days, I caught the train down to Sandy, Utah and looked around for the recruiting office I heard was nearby. I had already done some research and read some books – it seemed like everyone who enlisted in the Marine Corps found it to be one of the best decisions of their life. All of the complaints about the military – getting screwed over by recruiters, the government not meeting its end of the bargain, getting screwed out of your job, getting your contract jerked around and on and on – seemed not to mention the Marines, but instead dealt with (chiefly) the Army (and following that, the Air Force and Navy). Perhaps it had something to do with the relative size of the forces – with the Marine Corps being a mere tenth the size of the Army, it was probably easier to manage incoming recruits and take care of its Marines.

The mall the recruiting office was attached to was under remodeling at the time, and I had a hard time finding the entrance to the office. I must have looked like a rather poor recruit – tall, lanky, I weighed maybe 160 pounds at the height of 6’5. The staff noncommissioned officer in charge (SNCOIC), a gunnery sergeant of eight years (a rather meteoric rise to that rank – on average, it takes a Marine some twelve years to become a gunnery sergeant, and often longer than that) looked every bit a Marine to me. The first thing he said to me that day (aside from asking me my name, or perhaps he overheard it as I talked to another sergeant) was “Well, Donner, if you join, you’ll never have to pay for sex again!” Ah, the Marines. So crass. Just what I was looking for, being so tired and fed up with political correctness and neonazi feminism.

The sergeant that I spent most of my time with, Sergeant Baker, had me pick four name-tag sized tabs from a group of tabs – reasons why I wanted to join the Marine Corps. I picked college, challenge, financial stability, and physical fitness. There were no tabs for “overcoming a debilitating amount of depression,” “rehabilitation from a year of customer service,” “an anger at mankind one wants to express with a rifle,” and so on. Upon seeing my tabs, Sergeant Baker said “College and money, huh? If those are your chief reasons, you’re probably better off serving in the Air Force.” And he spun his chair around, as if to say I should leave.

Marine recruiters are good at what they do. It is their job to find the best young men for the Corps, and despite popular opinion, the application process is rather stringent. Even for enlisted Marines, there are strict requirements, and while I was in the process of enlisting, I saw several potential recruits weeded out or turned away by the Marines working in the office. Even in a time of war, Marine recruiters have a keen sense of duty and want to make sure that they are sending only the best candidates into their beloved Corps. One way that they do this is by making sure a potential recruit truly understands and appreciates what he is doing.

Lots of people turn to the military for the benefits and the benefits alone, and the Marines are acutely aware of this. Of the service branches, the Marine Corps offers the fewest benefits to its recruits (saving them instead for those looking to re-enlist, and even then the other branches often offer better bonuses and incentives). The Marine Corps prefers its Marines enlist and reenlist based on a willingness to serve, on a willingness to be the best of the best, based on the intangible benefits of pride and confidence that being a Marine offers you.

It wasn’t just college that I was looking for. I wasn’t just looking for financial stability. I still remembered the fanciful dreams of my youth – the mystique and myth of the Corps, that group of superheroes. I told Sergeant Baker that if I was going to join the military, the Corps was the only branch for me. Hearing that, he turned around and we got down to business.

By the time I left that office several hours later, we had an appointment set for me to undergo my enlistment, undertaking all the necessary physical and academic exams. Sergeant Baker enrolled me in a local adult education school so that I could finish up my last year of high school and get the degree that was necessary for enlistment. I felt like a different person. I was anxious and scared at the same time. Within the week, I would be signing a contract stating that I was going to enlist as a Private in the United States Marine Corps.

Nobody I knew (and still talked to) could believe it. My manager in particular said I would never make it – he later apologized, explaining that he was just stressed out and worried about what my departure from the store would mean for him. We were pretty good friends outside of work, and he, like me, did not have many people he spent time with in Utah. He quit shortly after I went to boot camp.

Sergeant Baker helped me get in shape for boot camp. When I enlisted in August 2007, I was what was referred to as a “triple threat,” I could not meet any of the three requirements of the Marine Corps’ Initial Strength Test (the necessary requirements for a recruit to pass in order to proceed with training in boot camp). They require a recruit to perform two dead hang pull ups, perform forty-four crunches in two minutes, and to run one and a half miles in thirteen minutes and thirty seconds. The run and the crunches came quickly for me, as I was not particularly out of shape – I did a lot of walking and have never been very fat. My biggest problem was that since my freshman year of high school, I had not done anything particularly active with my life (like a sport or active hobby).

Even though I was not physically in the best shape, the Marines at the recruiting office were behind me every step of the way. Sergeant Baker took me to the gym whenever he could and helped get me on a training regiment. The gunnery sergeant in charge of the office expressed his confidence in me, and reminded me that nobody cares more about one’s career than oneself. “Even if you aren’t in the best of shape for boot camp, don’t let that get you down, Donner. Just work at it as hard as you can. One day you’ll get there. That’s what’s important. Four years from now, when you’re re-enlisting and looking at picking up Corporal or Sergeant or, hell, who knows, maybe Staff Sergeant, nobody will be asking what your PFT (physical fitness test) score at boot camp was.” (The Physical Fitness Test is the test Marines run semi-annually to assess fitness. It is used for promotions. A minimum of three dead-hang pull-ups, 55 crunches in two minutes, and three miles ran in 28 minutes is required to pass. For a maximum score, a Marine must perform 20 dead hang pull-ups, 100 crunches in two minutes, and clock in their three mile run at 18 minutes or below.)

The encouragement and support I received from the Marines and fellow poolees (those of us who enlisted into the Delayed Entry Program, and were going to boot camp within a year) was remarkable and refreshing. Never before had I felt like I had had so much support. And the things that I felt I was accomplishing at the time were remarkable also. I had never felt like I was achieving so many things so quickly. Within two months, I went from failing all three events of the IST and being a high school drop out to having my diploma and being above average in two of three events. The other event, pull-ups, would prove to be the bane of my existence for some time to come yet.

But Sergeant Baker wouldn’t see me discouraged. “Even if you can’t get your pull-ups before you go to boot camp, they’ll usually let you continue on in training anyway. Then you’ll have three months to get your three pull-ups down so you can graduate. The worst that can happen is you’ll get dropped back in training to the Physical Conditioning Platoon, where you’ll stay until you can meet the requirements.” This didn’t seem all that bad.

I’ll pause here in the narrative for a moment. I’ve always wanted this work to be a selfless examination of myself and my past, as my memory is extremely spotty and I want something to refer back to later. I tend to bottle up emotions and feelings and forget about them. Then I wonder about the decisions I’ve made, and have no emotional context to understand them in. It can be a difficult process recreating my life, sifting through all of the cracks and crevices I’ve hidden myself in. Because of this, I want to discuss a less flattering part of my enlistment process.

The entire time I was in Utah I was (as should be evidenced elsewhere in this work) extremely depressed. Depression is something I am and have been very familiar with. I have grown accustomed to it and do very well hiding it. It surprised me, sometimes, the depth of it. A random event or memory could trigger a huge emotional response in me. In Utah, I remember sifting through some old journals or maybe my yearbooks, and suddenly something clicked. I was rendered immobile for the rest of my weekend off from work – I didn’t leave my apartment, I slept 14 or 15 hours each day. It was somewhat frightening. I began to shy away from self-examination, self-reflection, or brooding of any sort, as it made it rather difficult to live life.

Another time, I was browsing Barnes and Noble, looking for something interesting to read (as I had taken to reading as a way to pass the time to and from work) and stumbled across the book “I Don’t Want To Talk About It – The Secret History of Male Depression” by Terrence Real. I spent one tearful evening reading the entire volume and was again rendered immobile by my emotional response. I wanted desperately to talk to someone about my response to the book, but no one returned my calls or seemed interested. I didn’t want to talk to a psychologist, as talking to someone who is paid to be your friend and make you feel better seems a rather silly thing to do. So my emotional response to that tome was another thing forgotten to the sands of time.

But I still remember my morbidity during the time I was enlisting. For a long time, I had come to some conclusions about my own death. It was probably seventh grade when I’d decided that I would never kill myself – suicide was quitting, I’d reasoned, and I wasn’t going to quit. It was some time later that I justified my lack of healthy living on the notion that, while I wasn’t going to quit life, I wasn’t going to exactly do my best to prevent my own death, either. I became fixated on a sort of passive suicide, a sort of killing myself through unwise living – the apex of which was to be my enlistment in the Marine Corps. What better way to die without killing myself, than putting myself directly in harm’s way in a war zone? Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

I have been a believer in the notion that there is beauty in everything, even death. There is a tragic beauty in the oblivion my brother drank himself into – a beauty he and I both understand. I understand his attraction to it; when I was conducting an “interview” with him for a school project in high school, I became alarmed when he stated that he was drawn in to drinking by his fascination with the beauty of oblivion. I had, at the time, been considering taking up the bottle myself – I was about the same age he had been when he had taken his first drink – and this deterred me. I had always assumed that my brother’s alcoholism had been a direct response to my mother’s emotional abuse, but to hear my brother tell it scared me.

There is beauty in everything, even death. I wanted a beautiful death. This life I was living was so completely unsatisfying. American living was so completely unsatisfying to me. Why bother going to college, when all one can hope to do is make more money and buy more things? Where was the virtue in that? Our ancestors fought and died for freedom, liberty, for a noble and beautiful idea, in order to change the world forever. We fought and died for the latest electronic gadget and the prettiest estate. What was the fucking point in life?

Success in American culture was based on a disgusting infatuation with value – value defined not by intrinsic quality, but by how much money something could generate. “Good” music was not necessarily well composed, performed, or emotionally stirring – “good” music generated a lot of sales. Good writing was not necessarily perceptive, striking, or emotionally stirring – good writing generated a lot of sales. Anything “good” was something which generated a lot of sales. Even in public debate, be it the lunch table or on the internet, followed this notion – disputes over whether or not something was “good” often boiled down to how successful that particular thing was commercially.

Military service seemed like the only place I could escape this ubiquitous lust for wealth. Here were the men and women who still believed in freedom and liberty, in giving up their lives for something greater than themselves. Here were the men and women of noble character and virtue, fighting to protect those who were too weak to protect themselves. Politicians be damned. Even if you were tossed into a war you didn’t agree with, you could still fight to make sure the Marine to the left and the right of you had a chance to go home to his or her family and his or her loved ones. Selflessness – a necessary trait for anyone in the military, perhaps THE necessary trait.

There seemed to be a purpose that resonated with me and aligned with my tastes, then, in military service. And the morbid side of myself was placated – what better death could I have, than one in which I died serving my country and fighting hand in hand with my brothers-in-arms? There is beauty in all things, even death.

I didn’t tell my mother I was enlisting until it start to come down to the wire. I needed a copy of my birth certificate, and she was the only one who had access to get me one. I didn’t even call her to tell her. I emailed her, stating rather curtly “Hey mom, I’m enlisting in the Marine Corps so I need a copy of my birth certificate. Please send to this address, thanks, John.” I did not reply when she required further inquiry; she stated she was sending it and that’s all I needed.

Initially, I was slated to fly to boot camp sometime in the middle of September, shortly after my 19th birthday, but I didn’t feel ready enough as the date drew near. I had procrastinated on my high school diploma (I didn’t end up getting it until two days before I flew out of Utah for California!) and I didn’t feel like I was in shape physically (still unable to perform even a single pull-up, a source of constant frustration and shame). Therefore, the intelligence job I had selected became unavailable, as I was going to be enlisting in a new fiscal year (as fiscal years apparently began in October); I temporarily selected a “Data Network Specialist” MOS and that was that.

I put in a lot of notice to my job – perhaps a month or more – as even though I was growing to dislike the decisions higher management was making, I felt like I owed the company quite a bit. They had taken me in without a high school diploma and when I was still 17, and had been quick to promote me and place me in a position of authority and responsibility. I started making eight dollars an hour, flat, and left making about $15 an hour (often more than that, thanks to overtime they let me have) after commission factored in. I helped a new manager get the store ready for his reign, as my manager went to a slower mall. I quit at the end of September and prepared to fly down on October 21st.

My last free month spent as a civilian was a strange time for me. I had absolutely no time – twenty days or so to enjoy my freedom – and all the time in the world, because I didn’t have to go to work. I worked on preparing myself physically and mentally for boot camp. I read as much as I could about what to expect – getting several books about the military and Marine Corps boot camp. In particular I read “The Few and the Proud,” a series of interviews with current and former Drill Instructors, and I read the (then) new Counterinsurgency Field-Manual. And I debated my choice of Military Occupational Specialty in the Corps. Data Network Specialist was something familiar and safe – dealing with computers. There was a future after my service in that. But it was boring and I didn’t want to be stuck doing something boring for four years.

I seriously considered going in to the infantry. I viewed it as a decision I would always regret and wonder about if I didn’t pick it. I didn’t want to always wonder “what might have been,” if I didn’t pick infantry. But I also worried about the toll it would take on my body, and I worried about not being in shape for it. Ultimately my recruiters talked me out of it, telling me that I would be doing myself, the Corps, and my nation a disservice by picking infantry. They get very few recruits with my intellectual capacity to fill the highly technical jobs in the Corps, as most academically inclined recruits either go to other services (Navy and Air Force mostly) or become officers.

It was in this way that I chose an option entitled “Ground Electronics Maintenance.” I thought I would be doing field repairs in combat on various electronic gear – which my recruiters said may be a possibility. It was a rather large option in which you could wind up in one of several different MOS fields. My specific MOS wouldn’t be chosen for me until just before completion of boot camp. I didn’t pick this field until a few days before I was slated to go, and it wasn’t until the day before I was due to have my final night in Utah in a hotel the military was paying for that my recruiter called to tell me he got me the job – and a $15000 bonus, with it. This was unexpected and good news. The bonus was due to the high academic requirements to qualify for the option – you had to have some pretty good scores on the Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery.

My brother and I had a rather nasty fight a week or two before I was going to leave. I don’t remember much of the particulars anymore, but I do remember that he compared me and my conduct to my mother. Which was absolutely unfucking acceptable to me. I was the only person that believed in him in my family, stuck through the hard times with him, regularly called to see how he was doing. I felt like, at the time, he had burned the bridge. But our relationship was such that this fight didn’t really amount to much and we’d get back in touch while I was in boot camp.

On my final weekend in Utah, some buddies from Bellingham flew down so that we could participate in one last gaming tournament before I departed. Originally, they were going to play with Nathan or his brother Paul, but both bailed towards the last minute because of familial obligations. It worked out that I could have one last night of good times, and so I did. We each won $500, as we had by far the most experience at the game (being a part of the competitive community, we knew nobody of note was going to be at this tournament). I gave my money to Nathan, being as I wouldn’t need it at boot camp.

I remember my last night as a civilian somewhat vividly. I was stationed at the Ramada in downtown Salt Lake City, an area I was pretty familiar with, as I made frequent visits to the outdoor mall for its restaurants. (In particular, I was a recurring customer of the California Pizza Kitchen here, becoming quite familiar with two of its full-service bar waitresses and two of its managers. I often got free meals.) I was nervous and scared and restless. I tried calling people who were important to me at the time, to get some last minute soul searching done. Nobody answered.

I strolled along downtown SLC. We had been briefed that there was a curfew but my recruiter told me it didn’t matter as long as I was back at the hotel in time to leave in the morning. I went to the California Pizza Kitchen a final time, talking to either Kristy or Suzanna. I bought a book on taoism I intended to read during boot camp. And I waited. My boss and I were to see one last movie together before I was going to leave.

The movie was 30 Days of Night, or something like that. A horror movie about a group of vampires that attack some small town in Alaska as they go through their yearly phase without sun because of whatever planetary phenomenon affects that region of the world. It was a decent film but I was preoccupied – my boss hadn’t been there and I felt betrayed. Why was I so unimportant to people, that they jerked me around like that? Why couldn’t I build a lasting connection with anyone?

Much like when I left Bellingham, I was looking to others to make the decision to enlist for me. If anybody expressed doubt or regret at my permanent departure from their life, I wouldn’t have enlisted. I wasn’t really making my own decisions in life, I was letting other people’s actions and reactions determine my fate. And because no one cared about me, I signed on the dotted line. I rationalized the decision to myself in terms of service to my country, defending freedom and liberty, getting into better shape, achieving something – but at the time, the primary motivation was the lack of a reason to not go.

Maybe boot camp would change me. Could it change me? I hoped to keep in touch with several people who expressed interest to do so as I left – keeping a list of addresses in my wallet. Sara was on the list. I fought myself day in and day out over her – part of me wanting to get over her, part of me drawing on her for warmth and support. Even though she wasn’t an active part of my life, I would find my thoughts resting with my memories of her and the support she offered me in my time of need.

And so it was with these disjointed hopes and dreams and feelings and confusion that I found myself a recruit on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego from 22 October 2007 to 01 February 2008.