Why Is Bootcamp So Intense?

02 Apr


There was an interesting article in Slate about why bootcamp is so intense. This was an interesting read because I’ve gone through bootcamp personally and it ties in with my current theme of how our brains are wired for groupthink. This wiring is responsible for religion, but is also responsible for a slew of other things, like the design of bootcamp:

The most important single thing to know about boot camp is that it is 100 percent designed to reprogram children and civilians into warriors. It places within them a sense that they are expected to do important things, far more important things than could be expected from other 18-year-olds. This is all happening during one of the most intensely stressful periods of your life, when you are kept isolated from contact from your family and friends and taught that everything you were before entering the Marines was weak and lacking any real value until you too are a Marine. Cults are made this way too [my emphasis]. I’m just saying. But in all seriousness, the psychological transformation of boot camp is a very intense and intentional effort by the Marine Corps to make warriors able to fight and kill out of kids who have just barely left high school. From the point that you graduate boot camp, you will be different and have parts of the Marine Corps culture as part of your psyche.


Why is the haircut so important? It is part of the erosion of individuality. What? Yes, the erosion of individuality. Why should a warrior lose his individuality? It is what makes him special and unique. It is what makes him valuable. Well, that’s the problem. Individuality makes them special and unique. It makes them feel that they might be above someone or something else. They are better than the orders they might receive. They are too good for something. Not at boot camp. From Day 1, everyone is the same. In fact, during my time, being called “an individual” was an insult as it meant that you were a person who couldn’t put the needs of the unit first. Yes, individuality is repressed as they will spend the next three months dressed the same, act the same, and look the same.

Now we move on to something else very important and why I say that it is “psychological” retraining. You go through the next few days running from place to place, doing this, that, this, that and you won’t even realize … you haven’t slept in three days [my emphasis]. Yeah, you will go about three days without sleep upon arrival. The whole time you are completely exhausted while running on adrenaline and hearing over and over, that you are inferior. Inferior to real Marines, which you aren’t yet. You aren’t thinking about it, but it is sinking in. You are completely tired and these things build up. Without realizing it, you start to believe that that which is being told to you is true, that there is a weakness in you and that you are less than perfect. In your current state, you believe them and that you must change to be good enough.

Referring to my initial post about the differences between intuition and rationality (i.e. System 1 and System 2; the Thief and the Wizard), I said:

Unfortunately, the wizard does everything that the thief asks him to do, especially attack positions that she doesn’t like and defend positions that she does like. This applies to everyone. The wizard would not know who to cast a spell on without the thief’s instruction or deference. When you read this sentence, it’s the thief’s responsibility to read the words. When you read 24 * 17 = ???, the thief reads that math problem and hands it over to the wizard.

Because of this, there’s no such thing as a wholly rational human being with no emotion. Being emotionless would paralyze someone and they wouldn’t be able to assign value to any task. I’ve read and listened to many conversion to Christianity (born again) stories. In these cases, the thief encounters and decides on the truth of Christianity before the wizard is even engaged. Or the wizard has been systematically drained of MP by the stresses of life and the thief is left to fend for herself. In either case, the wizard is only called into action to defend a position that the thief already decided on. I don’t know anyone who became a Christian based on their thief’s deference to the wizard before a conclusion was made about Christianity (or any religion, really).

In other words, indoctrination is most efficient when someone is tired. When someone’s rational brain system (i.e. their “wizard”) is all out of MP and the thief, subject to the whimsy of all of our cognitive biases like doing things in synchrony with other people making you like and trust the other person/people, has to fend for herself. Evangelical Christians know this well:

Conversion is a process that begins with social influence. As sociologists like to say, our sense of reality is socially constructed. We will come back to this later. Suffice for now to say that missionary work typically begins with simple offers of friendship or conversations about shared interests. As a prospective converts are drawn in, a group may envelope them in warmth, good will, thoughtful conversations and playful activities, always with gentle pressure toward the group reality.

In revival meetings or retreats, semi-hypnotic processes draw a potential convert closer to the toggle point. These include including repetition of words, repetition of rhythms, evocative music [my emphasis], and Barnum statements (messages that seem personal but apply to almost everyone– like horoscopes). Because of the positive energy created by the group, potential converts become unwitting participants in the influence process, actively seeking to make the group’s ideas fit with their own life history and knowledge. Factors that can strengthen the effect include sleep deprivation or isolation from a person’s normal social environment [my emphasis]. An example would be a late night campfire gathering with an inspirational story-teller and altar call at Child Evangelism’s “Camp Good News.”

These powerful social experiences culminate in conversion, a peak experience in which the new converts experience a flood of relief. Until that moment they have been consciously or unconsciously at odds with the group center of gravity. Now, they may feel that their darkest secrets are known and forgiven. They may experience the kind of joy or transcendence normally reserved for mystics. And they are likely to be bathed in love and approval from the surrounding group, which mirrors their experience of God.

So there you have it. It might be no wonder that Evangelical Christianity and the military go hand in hand.

Other than that, this video made me smile 🙂

1 Comment

Posted by on April 2, 2013 in born again, cognitive science


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