It was an environment that would present maximal friction

Friday, March 15th, 2024

Troubled by Rob HendersonThroughout his final year of high school, Rob Henderson thought a lot about his friends, he explains in Troubled, and where they were all going:

Cristian and John said they were going to turn it all around in community college — they both planned to get good grades and then transfer to a four-year college. When they told me this plan, I thought about how we were C-minus students at best, and now that we were nearly adults, we would soon have more freedom. The marginal adult oversight we currently had would soon be nonexistent. Which meant we would go from a little bit of friction to none at all when we felt the urge to ditch class and do something reckless. Gradually, I realized the path I was on had nothing but a tragic ending and came to believe that the military was my only lifeline. It was an environment that would present maximal friction if I felt the urge to do something stupid. And it didn’t hurt that enlisting would also provide a decent income. As I write this, I’m reminded of a quote from George Orwell: “The thought of not being poor made me very patriotic.”


As a kid, I was weighed down by instability and hopelessness. The military helped to unlock my potential, because it provided a structured environment, a sharp contrast to the drama and disorder of my youth. I was surrounded by supportive people who wanted me to succeed. In this new environment, I gradually came to realize that my childhood was anomalous, and I didn’t have to let it define the rest of my life. I’d been liberated from the mistakes of my past. I believed that the external comportment I had cultivated would allow me to control my internal demons and productively channel my restless energy.

I would probably have committed at least one felony had I not been locked in the military throughout these years. For behaviors and habits to be stable and predictable, one’s environment needs to be stable and predictable. I didn’t have discipline, mentorship, healthy camaraderie, and so on back home, but I had them now.


In a very real way, simply being confined to a schedule steered me away from misconduct. Military life consists of physical training (PT), room inspections, uniform inspections, and mandatory tasks outside of standard work hours. Every aspect of existence is tightly regulated, and this is especially true for new recruits. Your life isn’t really yours. No institution is more aware of the latent impulsivity and stupidity in young people, especially young men, than the military. It has evolved into an environment in which it is very hard to do something reckless, because the consequences of failing to meet standards are both clear and severe. Major infractions like not showing up for work or failing a random drug test result in literal jail time.

I learned that so much of success depends not on what people do, but what they don’t do. It’s about avoiding rash and reckless actions that will land us in trouble. The military presses the “fast forward” button on the worst, most aggressive, and impulsive years of a young man’s life—the time when a guy is most likely to do something catastrophically stupid. Studies have found that a man’s likelihood of committing a crime peaks at age nineteen, and then gradually declines throughout his twenties.2 This has led some psychologists to describe their larger appetite for violence, risk-taking, and competitiveness as “the young male syndrome.”


For many young people, the gap between impulsive and unwise decisions and the consequences of those decisions is large. In the military, there is almost no gap at all.

Even if a young man learns absolutely nothing during a military enlistment, that’s still four to six years he spent simply staying out of trouble and letting his brain develop; the same guy at twenty-four is rarely as reckless and impulsive as he was at eighteen. The reason my life didn’t go off the rails is because I was just self-aware enough to decide to have my choices stripped from me.


Before I joined, I’d heard that the military basically becomes your parent. I found this to be true. They teach you about finance and budgeting, and supervisors would lead new guys away from doing stupid things like blowing their savings on a brand-new sports car. Instead, they’d say to buy a sensible car. Some of the guys didn’t listen, though. New members made about thirteen hundred bucks a month. It wasn’t much, but it was more than I’d ever made before.


Many people say that to do something difficult and worthwhile, they need to be “motivated.” Or that the reason they are not sticking to their goals is because they “lack motivation.” But the military taught me that people don’t need motivation; they need self-discipline. Motivation is just a feeling. Self-discipline is: “I’m going to do this regardless of how I feel.” Seldom do people relish doing something hard. Often, what divides successful from unsuccessful people is doing what you don’t feel motivated to do. Back in basic training, our instructor announced that there are only two reasons new recruits don’t fulfill their duties: “Either you don’t know what’s expected of you, or you don’t care to do it. That’s it.”


The military asked that I put myself in the service of something higher than myself. I had a seriousness of purpose that I lacked before and experienced a new feeling about who I was and who I could be in life. But it didn’t fundamentally “transform” me. It just provided conditions that prevented me from acting out the way I had as a kid.


  1. Doc Love says:

    I like the quote from the American Air Force Instructor: “You either don’t know what is expected of you or you don’t care to do it…” I was in the American Army and served over in both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. My Army leadership said similar things to Rob Henderson’s American Air Force Leadership, and I heard all branches of the American military’s leadership say the same, whether Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. Sometimes a person doesn’t have the aptitude to develop the skills to be able to do something, especially the more difficult that something is, but it is overwhelmingly true that most people fail because someone failed to teach them, or they didn’t want to do it. The USA’s ruling-elite parents and education system have been increasingly failing children to become functional, behaviorally well adjusted, and morally good adults for well over 50 years as of 2024 Anno Domino.

  2. Bruce says:

    The military grows you up to age 21 right away. 24 is an exaggeration, but close. But lots of guys join at 18, do their 20 and get out at 38 going on 22. Henderson deserves credit for doing better.

  3. Doc Love says:

    The comments that both Bruce and I said on this article thread are true. It reads like Bruce was in the military. If Bruce was in the military then he wrote an excellent observation, and if he was not in the military then I am twice as amazed that he made that observation and statement.

  4. Doc Love says:

    Like I said on a previous post about Rob Henderson, he hit escape velocity because he tests in the top 1% for IQ. However, it is a combination of factors that save, help or ruin someone. He chose the American Air Force which was a good and lucky move for him. The American Air Force does things more by the book of regulations than the other branches of military service although the Navy comes close but the Army is further away and the Marine Corps. furthest away. The best to worst discharges are Honorable, General, Less than Honorable, Bad Conduct and Dishonorable. The Air Force is more likely to give one a Bad Conduct Discharge for the same offense that the Army is more likely to give a Less than Honorable Discharge. The Army is more likely to have corrective training doing physical exercises until you drop h to a the Air Force. Leadership in the Marine Corps. is more likely to illegally assault and batter you than the Army which is more likely than the Navy with the Air Force least of all. What I mean to say is certain branches of service are better for individual depending on their intelligence, athletic ability and temperament etc., and some branches of military service are worse for some individuals for the same exact reasons. Choose the best military service for you is my advice.

  5. Doc Love says:

    What I mean to say is that Rob Henderson may have gotten better out of the Air Force than the Marine Corps. because of the type of person he was or is, and another person may have gotten better out of the Marine Corps. depending on the kind of person he is. In any branch of military service, your leadership can make you into a better or worse person. If the leadership especially in the military gives you good mentorship the that helps, but that does not always happen. Sometimes the leadership screws you over usually by overkill punishment but sometimes for no good reason at all.

  6. Doc Love says:

    I meant overkill punishment for something you did wrong in the previous comment. My mistake. Sorry for the confusion.

  7. Jim says:

    Some people are natural slaves.

  8. Phileas Frogg says:


    Yes indeed, which is why the present pantheon of ideological state religions is so deadly to humanity. Each and every one makes some horrific assumption about human nature, to the (apparent) temporal benefit of it’s adherents and the detriment of everyone else (particularly the weak and easily manipulated). Usually insisting upon man’s self-propelled apotheosis, by various means.

    They cajole and build up the masses, feeding them lies, before ripping away the guard rails constructed by our forbearers to universal acclaim, as everyone goes careening over the edge of a cliff.

    I’ve fallen down my fair share of bluffs at this point, enough to know that I would have benefitted from some of those guard rails we’ve torn down. If not for the grace of God, I’d yet be a slave to some less than charitable masters. We are all of us slaves to something, the trick is increasing the odds of choosing a good Master.

    I gladly wear His yoke, for it is easy and light compared to those others and, unpopular though it may be to admit, we all wear SOMEONE’S yoke.

    Rob seems to understand this, rudimentarily at least, based on these excerpts. I’ll be buying the book to find out for myself.

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