By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
My first car was a 1964 Chevrolet Impala.
It was a dandy. I loaned it to my fiancee in the summer of 1972 (she wrecked it), but until then it was parked outside my barracks and used only for road trips and occasional runs into the movie theater in town when they had “skin-flick Fridays” at midnight.
Once, I had a contingent of three other Marines in the Chevy, headed from our duty station for a five-day liberty to Louisville and southern Indiana, to see our families and girlfriends. It was after one in the morning when we stopped to get a bite to eat at a 24-hour diner in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We were in our civilian clothes, so nobody knew we were Marines.
The four of us grabbed a table and sat for awhile until it became evident to us that the diner staff intended to completely ignore us. Because one of us was black, you see. They didn’t have things like security cameras in 1971. We demolished that damn diner.
We upset most of the tables (and a few customers, some of whom went screaming in fear into the parking lot). We threw ketchup bottles and sugar dispensers and coffee pots against the walls, and pegged the proprietor with salt and pepper shakers until he cowered in a corner with his arms over his head. We broke their milk shake machine and pie carousel. Then we threw chairs through the plate glass windows, and hauled ass out of there, in my 64 Chevy.
Ah, the exuberance of youth—righteous indignation turned to violence. You haven’t lived until you’ve trashed a diner at zero-dark-thirty. Marines: When it absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight.
I miss that Chevy.
I got out of the righteous indignation business about the same time I retired from being a bodhisattva. Oh, I still keep my finger in the mix, but I have come a long way from my diner-trashing days, and I’ll be damned if I am going to get worked up about anything anymore. Been there, done that, don’t see the point.
To quote Eric Cartman in South Park: Screw you guys, I’m going home.
It is a very rare thing to convince someone that their perspectives, beliefs, and opinions are wrong, and that a sort of logical epiphany will happen to them or they will see the light and come over to “your” side. Sometimes people will cling to their convictions even if it means becoming alienated from their own families.
Political convictions, religious convictions, philosophical convictions, all these things stem from ideologies. Returning to the Chattanooga diner, there was a contrast of ideologies—the ideology of racism versus the ideology that there is nothing in the world more dangerous than 19 year old Marines, so anybody who fucks with 19 year old Marines get what they deserve.
There are a lot of ideologies out there. None of them are correct, or there would only be only one ideology.
Still, depending on your ideology, there are “good” and “bad” ideologies, but you can’t make that judgment except from the perspective of ideology. You can make that judgment call from the ideology of non-harmfulness, which everyone can agree with and no one can accomplish. Nobody asks when contemplating their actions: What harm might this do? Who might this hurt?
Were we fighting racism in that diner, or were we feeling our oats? Trashing that joint probably made some insurance adjuster unhappy, and I’m sure we left a few bruises on that hillbilly’s back when we bombarded him with salt and pepper shakers. What I’m saying here is that no one’s motivations are pure. Not in the arenas in which ideology seems to matter: political, religious or philosophical.
There is no give and take.
And what’s most disturbing about that is that the halls of American government, where compromise has been traditional, is now hopelessly deadlocked over issues overshadowed by radically different ideologies. I give up. It’s hopeless.
It’s always been hopeless because ideologies feed egos, ideologies are integral to our self-identities. Fill in the blanks: “I believe that ________,” “I am a __________.” We can’t get away from it. Mental formations have nothing to do with the parts of a table, and everything to do with me!
I’m as bad about it as everyone else. I claim that if you take a Marine and teach him Buddhism, you end up with a Jedi knight. So my light saber is a .45 semi-auto. Shoot me.
In addition to the potential harm of clinging to ideologies, there is the revulsion (aversion) you feel toward the other guy’s ideologies. Nothing makes this clearer that the debate over Roe V. Wade: only the absolutists are being heard, when there is so much common ground between the two sides.
But isn’t Buddhism an ideology? Certainly. So isn’t it all relative, like all the other ideologies? No. Why? Because it’s verifiable. It stands with science. The reason why Buddhism leads to happiness is because a mind trained and disciplined through meditation can manipulate its own biochemical nature. Observable. Measurable. Quantifiable. Feasible.
You can call it spirituality or whatever you’d like, but it is the neurotransmitters and hormones, adrenaline and norepinephrine, cortisol and dopamine, estrogen and testosterone, that determine your reality. They sure determined mine that wonderful night when we demolished someone’s business. Many things in our biology and our environment are vying for control of you, from the fear-mongering of politics to your tendency to wet your pants a little if you laugh too hard while the water’s running in the kitchen sink.
But I’m kind of a control freak, myself. I’m calling the shots in my life. You hear all the time about the ability to choose how you feel, but you can’t do that without living a contemplative life. Only then can you find the truth that works for you.
And beware of 19 year old Marines.
Editor: Dana Gornall