The Marine Corps, like every military branch, has a language all its own. That isn’t to say that Marines don’t speak English – but the words we use come with a cultural context that often requires familiarity to translate. A casual observer may be able to glean that the “head” is actually the bathroom, but they may be surprised to learn that dividing the word “oorah” into its separate syllables produces two distinct words that can be used in place of entire sentences. “Urr,” for instance, can be a sarcastic affirmative, whereas “Rah!” may mean the same without the sarcasm. Change up your tone, and the definition of each will change with it.

It’s because of that cultural barrier that sometimes it’s hard for me to know which aspects of my internal monologue are unique to Marines or veterans, and which are a part of the standard cultural lexicon we all silently agree to converse through. When I say things in polite conversation like, “I’ve gotta get this article downrange before noon,” I sometimes catch myself wondering if my wife’s liberal aunt from Connecticut thinks I’m a lunatic. When my wife yells to me over a room full of shouting kids and doting parents that she wants me to take out the trash and I respond with a hearty “Yut,” on the other hand, I’m certain that I seem like a weirdo.

Maybe, then, the standard “10% rule” I grew so accustomed to while on active duty is a unique understanding among service members. Boiled down to its bones, the 10% rule basically states that 1 out of every ten Marines is an utter waste of space, so if we have a hundred Marines on a detail, ten of them will manage to hinder productivity, either through incompetence or laziness, while the rest (to their varying degrees of competency) will work to accomplish the mission. While I can’t be certain of this, I believe it actually originates from a quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

The focus of that saying, it would seem, is on that one warrior – but for the sake of this piece, lets focus, instead, on those ten that shouldn’t even be there.

With another school shooting in the books, gun control activists have redoubled their efforts to secure a ban on AR-15s, assault weapons, machine guns, and anything else that fits neatly within a meme. Gun rights activists have dusted off all their old comebacks, responding with their own memes about gun free zones and banning cars because of drunk drivers. Despite our access to more forms of communication than any previous generation in human history, our political debate almost always boils down to radio chatter over a single channel, with both sides so eager to hear their own voices that they won’t take their fingers off the button… and all we’re left with is a garbled mess that is, for lack of a better phrase, broken and unreadable.

Calling your opponent Hitler didn’t even work when our opponent actually was Hitler. (Twitter)

Progress is a team sport, but here in the United States, we’ve stopped trying to make progress, intent instead on winning the political war. Our nation was born out of controversy and debate, our form of government (which contrary to popular understanding was actually formed later) has always been ripe with personal attacks and mud slinging… but now our political process has given way entirely to the fight. Mud slinging is now the ends, rather than the means. It’s not enough to propose a change in policy, we have to vilify our opponents. It’s not enough to introduce legislation, we have to burn the old systems to the ground. There was a time when being accused of communism was enough to end your political career, but in our modern era of political side-picking, there’s a different C-word that will win you a one way ticket home after election day: compromise. Be willing to negotiate with the enemy, and your own base will see you as a modern Benedict Arnold.

But… weren’t we supposed to be on the same side?

And that brings us back around to the 10% rule. According to a study published by the PEW Research Center in 2016, a whopping 68% of the entire adult population of the United States has a Facebook account, with a good portion of those users logging in on a nearly daily basis. Further, a whopping 45% of Americans admit to getting most of their news from Facebook’s newsfeed. We all know that’s an issue when it comes to “fake news,” but what we tend not to think about much is how our perceptions of that news are colored by the memes and general shit-posting that we see between shared links.

I get it guys. Gun control folks are scared and upset. Lots of them have never seen or held a gun, but all of them are aware of their destructive capabilities. Gun rights folks, whether they’ll admit it or not, are scared too. Lots of them live in parts of the country where carrying a firearm is an integral part of their way of life, and the idea that some liberal pontificator that lives in New York City and relies on the government to provide them with everything from transportation to safety could possibly be equipped to legislate how they live is, at best, offensive, and at worst, downright terrifying. This kind of break in culture, in my opinion, is why we have state level government. The laws that work in one place don’t always work in others – but thanks to social media, we, as a people, will only tolerate broad, national level efforts, or nothing at all.

But… that’s not entirely true when we actually start sitting across from one another at the table. My best friend recently came to visit me so he could introduce me to his serious girlfriend, and I could introduce him to my daughter. That girlfriend, I came to learn, grew up in a very liberal household and was incredibly uncomfortable around guns.

I’m not going to provide you with an extensive list of the firearms that I own, but suffice to say that it’s a lot more than your average liberal thinks anybody ought to be allowed to have.

When I casually mentioned firearms in conversation (knowing my friend is also a gun owner) she politely eased back and observed, but when I asked her specifically if she’s into guns like her boyfriend, she admitted that she’d never even touched one until he took her to the range recently. The conversation continues to move forward politely, and then we reached the dreaded “assault weapon” issue.

With her permission, I went into my office, opened my safe, and produced two different rifles: my AR-15, and a semi automatic hunting rifle – then I asked her which was more dangerous. Of course, she chose the AR. Then I asked why, and she provided me a laundry list of reasons that included rate of fire and the type of ammunition.

Imagine her surprise when I told her the hunting rifle has the same rate of fire, and because it’s chambered in .308, actually fires a bigger (and arguably deadlier) round. I admitted that the hunting rifle does have a lower ammo capacity than my AR, but tempered that allowance by explaining that other versions of hunting rifles also use magazines.

None of the initiatives proposed after Parkland would have stopped the Santa Fe shooter

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She was stunned and said something along the lines of, “well, why doesn’t anybody ever talk about that?”

Well, the internet may have mentioned it. (Twitter)

Our conversation was pleasant, courteous, and polite – as I find most are in person with people that are actually interested in making things better, rather than starting a rally in a city center for the sake of outrage. Online though, we’re not even coming up with our own arguments, we’re just sharing the snarky remarks made by others ad nauseam. Gun guys are sharing pro-gun stuff and racking up the confirmation bias-born likes from their like minded buddies, and anti-gun guys are doing the same with their own regurgitated straw man arguments that fail to acknowledge the hard, grey realities of life.

And then, when those two groups meet in a digital sphere, the engagement is dominated by both group’s 10 percenters. You might want to write a well thought out response that acknowledges the merit of the opposing view, but presents some interesting evidence that they may not have considered… but after your effort is met with an all-caps rant about how you must want more children to die, you’re left with a choice: do you sink to their level and respond in kind, or… just move on with your life.

Sometimes you may get sucked into the former for a few minutes, but most of us eventually find our way to the latter. There’s just no winning against an angry idiot.

And lest you think that I’m talking specifically about the anti-gun crowd, the gun rights 10 percenters are every bit as obnoxious and unrepentant in their personal attacks as well. Social media really could have been a place where people of differing perspectives meet, find a common ground in their humanity or culture, and move toward a more perfect union of states and people… instead, that combination of our own inclinations toward confirmation bias and the sheer misery associated with venturing out into the corners of the internet frequented by the dastardly political “other,” we just lean back in our chairs and share witty pictures about how dumb everyone else is.

We grew up thinking we didn’t have to come up with something to say on our mom’s birthdays because Hallmark would do the heavy lifting for us. Now, we don’t even bother to come up with our own stances, we just wait for the right meme to claw its way out of the depths of 4Chan. That kind of cognitive distancing might be okay for mother’s day, but it’s sure as hell not going to stop a school shooting, reduce racial tensions, or bridge the ideological divide between Americans that live in rural communities and those that pack into our nation’s urban sprawls. Complex problems require complex solutions, but until we’re willing to talk, all we’re left with are the sort of simplistic answers that can be easily grasped by the ten percent, as they angrily huff their way through their news feeds, looking to pick a fight.

Pro-Gun? Anti-Gun? We can still be friends. It’s not Democrats or Republicans that are the problem. It’s the idiots, and we’re ripe with them on both sides.


Feature image courtesy of the Associated Press