Oprah, Insensitivity, and Ready-Mixed Concrete: The Marine Corps As Psychotherapy

Tell you what, I’ve had it with whiners. Further, if I hear the phrase “self-esteem” again, I’m going to kill something.

It’ll happen. Just wait. Some New Age, psychotherapeutically babbling little parsnip is going to gurgle to me about how arduous his life is, when he probably doesn’t have a life to begin with, and about how it’s somebody else’s fault, probably mine, and his self-esteem is all bruised and rancid and has warts on it. And I’m going to stuff him into a concrete mixer.

No, wait. I’ve got a better idea. I’ll pack him off instead to Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, in the festering mosquito swamps of South Carolina. I spent a summer there long ago, in a philosophy battalion. All battalions at PI are philosophy battalions.

The chief philosopher was named Sergeant Cobb, and he was rough as one. His philosophy was that at oh-dark-thirty we should leap up like spring-loaded jackrabbits when he threw the lid of a GI can down the squad bay. Then, he figured, we should spend the day at a dead run, except when we were learning such socially useful behavior as shooting someone at five hundred yards. He didn’t care whether we wanted to do these things. He didn’t care whether we could do them. We were going to do them. And we did.

The drill instructors had a sideline in therapy. They did attitude adjustment. If the urge to whine overcame any of us, Sergeant Cobb took his attitude tool–it was a size-twelve boot on the end of his right leg–and made the necessary adjustments. It was wonderful therapy. It put us in touch with our feelings. We felt like not whining any more.

I kid about it, but it really was philosophy. We learned that there are things you have to do. We learned that we could generally do them. We also learned, if we didn’t already know, that whimpering is humiliating. The Marine view of life, which would eradicate American politics in about three seconds if widely applied, was simple: Solve your problems, live with them, or have the grace to shut up about them.

Can you imagine what this would do to the talk-show racket?

Fat housewife to Oprah: “My? I just won’t?being so?heavy hurts my self-esteem.”

Oprah: “So stop sniveling and eat less. Next.”

The Corps believed in personal responsibility. If your life had turned to a landfill, it might be somebody else’s fault. Maybe existence had dropped the green weeny on your plate. It happens. But the odds were that you had contributed to your own problems. Anyway, everybody gets a raw deal sometime. Life isn’t a honeymoon in the Catskills. Deal with it.

I remember a coffee mug in an armored company’s day room: “To err is human, to forgive, divine. Neither of which is Marine Corps policy.” There’s something to be said for it.

Nowadays everybody’s a self-absorbed victim, and self-respect and strength of character have become symptoms of emotional insufficiency. Oh, alas, alack, sniffle, eeek, squeak, the world’s picking on me because I’m black, brown, ethnic, fat, female, funny-looking, dysfunctional, datfunctional, don’t use deodorant, or can’t get dates. And sensitive? Dear god. If people suffer the tiniest slight, they call for a support group and three lawyers. (Support groups. When I’m dictator, we’ll use’m for bowling pins.)

Whatever happened to grown-ups?

It’s incredible the things people whinny about. Go to the self-pity section of your bookstore. It’s usually called “Self Help.” You’ll find books called things like, “The Agony of Hangnails: A Survivor’s Guide.” They will explain coping strategies, and assure you that you are still a good person, shredding digits and all. Other books will tell you that because you had an unhappy childhood (who didn’t?) you are now an abused, pallid, squashed little larva, and no end pathetic. Other books will tell you how not to be toxic to your Inner Child. (I’m writing a book now: “Dropping Your Inner Child Down A Well.”) We’d be better off if most people’s inner children were orphans.

I once sat in on somebody else’s group-therapy session, which was concerned about the morbid condition of the patients’ self-esteem. I didn’t understand the rules of therapy, and said approximately, “Look, maybe if you folks stopped feeling sorry for yourselves and got a life, things might be better.” I thought I was contributing an insight, but it turned out to be the wrong answer. The therapist, an earnest lady–all therapists seem to be earnest ladies–told me firmly, and with much disappointment in me, that this was No Laughing Matter. The patients’ self-esteems were undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and I was suggesting that they get a life instead of picking at their psychic scabs. She reckoned I was pretty terrible.

Stuff’em into a concrete mixer, I say.

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