This post is about the film Divergent. Spoilers ahead!

The Movie!

If there ever was a candidate for the worst run military organization in the history of fiction, the Dauntless faction from the film (and book series, but I am critiquing the film since I have not read the books) would be a serious top contender. Even the Stormtroopers in Star Wars, for all their hapless incompetence, are at least trained (presumably) by an outfit that knows something about how to run a military.

Now I could pick on a lot of things about the film Divergent. I could point out the sheer insanity, stupidity, and self-destructive nature of the faction system. I could argue that giving the 16 years old the option to choose their faction completely negates the purpose of testing, or even the system itself. I could argue that the best thing to do with Divergents would be to say “Well a small and insignificant percent of the population don’t score very well on our exams, but since we let them choose their faction that really doesn’t matter at all, unless we want to use mind control drugs on them, which then poses a problem because for some reason we never bothered to research…they think different.”

But no, I want to pick on Dauntless, because it is one of the worst fictional military organizations ever.

  1. Problem 1: Dauntless make useless soldiers, and seem to be unnecessary as police.
    Filmmakers try to make Dauntless look…daunting
    In a civilization small enough maybe it makes sense to have your soldiers and police double up, although this is almost always a bad idea. The military hunt down and destroy enemies of the state, whereas the police are supposed to serve and protect the citizens. Combining these 2 features usually results in a police force which errs on the side of being military rather than soldiers who act like cops. So what you get is a military which hunts down and destroys the enemy within. The problem is obvious. Militaries often complain that the trouble with guerilla warfare is that you cannot tell the non-combatants from the enemy. This problem is magnified a thousand-fold when the soldiers are the cops.
  1. Problem 2: Dauntless lack all military precision and are some of the least efficient soldiers ever to be dreamed up.
    Tris crowd-surfing in the Dauntless cafeteria
    The reason that militaries drill, and march, and make you run obstacle courses, and do push ups and stand in the rain has very little to do with training your body. It has everything to do with training your mind. Military rituals and routines are designed to create a unit of fighters who follow orders immediately, and without question. Boot camp is all about psychology, since if they just wanted to give you a fitness routine they would not need all the yelling. Dauntless have absolutely no precision, no apparent structure, no drilling, and no real military rituals. They are run more like Hogwart’s School for the Physically Fit, than a real military institution. The only psychological work they do is when they dose you with the mind-altering drugs to see how well you take it. They run around the city like a bunch of parkour loving gymnasts. The only time they remotely resemble an army is when they are all under the influence of the mind-control drugs. It is a pathetic army that has to take drugs to act like an army, especially since our armies can do it without the drugs.
  1. Problem 3: Dauntless is intentionally and pointlessly adding to the problem of the factionless
    The Factionless
    In our world the homeless result from any number of different social failures, problems, and political ignorance. In the divergent world the homeless, the factionless, seem to be faction dropouts. Sure I guess you need a way to explain why your perfect society is not perfect, and you may need some criminals for Dauntless to arrest. However Dauntless has a system which seems to automatically kick out the lowest 30-40% of the initiates at each stage of the training. If you do the math this means that well over half of the poor idiots who join Dauntless become factionless and never even make it into the system. Now I understand that a military needs a way to washout people who are not going to cut it. That is, every good military needs a way of taking useless soldiers out of situations where they would get their squads killed. So I salute the ruthless efficiency of Dauntless in this, except that their system does not make any sense. Let me explain.

    Our militaries do not intentionally wash out a certain percentage of recruits. They accidentally wash out people who prove that they will not be useful in combat. The military does not have a quota of failures, and if an entire class makes it through basic that is a tribute to their excellent trainers, rather than a mark against them.

    Yet in Divergent world Dauntless has a quota of people that they wash out, on purpose, even if that particular class of initiates are all winners. This is a good strategy for special forces, but a horrible strategy for the entire military to adopt. This means in a class of the best initiates you have ever seen you are still washing out a large percentage of them and forcing them to become factionless.

    This also means that the factionless problem is completely artificial, and even intentional.

    Of course that may be the point, otherwise what would Dauntless have to do? They are a military with no enemy, and a police force with no criminal element. So it makes sense that they would want to train some angry young kids to be killers only to kick them out so that they then have some criminals to hunt down.


Of course that last point may be what the author of the book has intended all along. Perhaps Ms.Veronica Roth wants to demonstrate how pointless, and artificial, is the system which creates the homeless. We tend to think that the homeless in our own society result from some kind of internal failure, they were the ones who could not cut it in our fast paced world. They are the drug addicts, dropouts, and losers of our society. If they just had the stones for it, they would be fine and normal like the rest of us.

Not only is that kind of thinking unfair, it is idiotic. Our elitist assumptions about the homeless always fail to take into account the real and unavoidable problem of mental illness. They also fail to take into account that our own society is far from perfect, and a certain percentage of our people fail to fit into our own faction system. They are not the owners, the military volunteers, the gainfully employed, or the unemployed. They are the homeless, our own untouchables, and none of us take any responsibility here since we all live under the fantasy that all we have we gained for ourselves.

We forget about the system of privileges and opportunities afforded to the able-bodied, able-minded, the male, the white, the rich, and the young. Instead we see people who can’t seem to make it and shake our heads. Homelessness is an artificial situation precisely because homeowning, and living in homes, is likewise an artificial situation. We are born into families but we are not born being entitled to a home, unless we are named beneficiaries in a will. No for the vast majority of us, living in a home and having a job are the complex result of having all the right things fall into place. We need the right culture, language, education, career, friendships, family members, connections, and yes we need a great deal of wealth. Even the middle class in Western Society are wealthy by the world’s standards. We were not born entitled to a life of home dwelling, even if we lived our youth and childhood in homes. We were born privileged enough to have a home, and there are many in our society who lack that privilege.

This is not to say that responsibility for one’s life rests solely on the shoulders of society. Some of us choose to be homeless just like some of us choose to remain in a dead-end job which we hate. We make the choices we think our best, given our limited options. All I am saying is that the problem of the deeply impoverished in Western Affluent Societies is real, and we bear some of the weight of it. We can make things better, and that is reason enough to try.

It took a children’s book made into a film to remind me of this.