Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
DARWIN’S UNWANTED CHILDREN
Fight Club is an imaginary reaction to the plight of the modern American male as typified by the narrator. At work and at play he finds himself a slave to market forces and advertising campaigns, he is increasingly conscious of being subjected to psychological conditioning and social engineering through the education and entertainment industry, and he begins to question the modern concept of masculinity as a brief period of hedonism followed by the stage of ‘settling down’ i.e. resigning himself to his fate as a docile wage-slave. The generation of men raised on television and never having experienced war or poverty are deprived of the self-knowledge and character gained from existential struggle and thus remain child-like, exiles from destiny and purpose. Tyler Durden is the narrator’s initially subconscious personification of his profound anti-social reaction to this environment.
‘Our great war is a spiritual war‘ announces Tyler and this can be understood as the annunciation of a war upon the sepulchre of modernity which stifles and redirects the energies of the male into the vicarious realms of spectator sports, political theatre, and consumerism. The subsequent organisation of ‘Project Mayhem’ is intended to be a full-frontal guerilla-warfare assault on America’s distorted ideological foundations, unleashing the energies of the male against the system increasingly designed to contain and manipulate those energies for profit.
Tyler: We are consumers. We’re the by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Narrator: Martha Stewart.
Tyler: Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic. It’s all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns.
The ideal of a human being as an efficient resource in the machinery of economic production and consumption is an absurdly one-dimensional concept which reflects merely the limitations of the utilitarian mentality. The rebellion against the corporate ideology of modern America stems from a growing immunity to the anaesthetics of the entertainment industry and the insipid rhetoric of a detached political class. They can no longer distract from the unaccountable sense of loss in the midst of plenty, the unrealised identity suffocating beneath the accumulation of worthless junk.
The apotheosis of individual happiness and freedom enshrined within the American ideology ( as discussed here ) effectively negates the cultural and historical matrix within which the individual develops. The structure of the family and the extended community as well as the larger historic, ethnic and cultural context, is gradually discarded in favour of the isolated individual ego operating according to the same rule of self-interest which drives the economic and political spheres. Historic homelands are slowly transformed into markets; ethnic and cultural differences are considered to be irrelevant factors which will eventually disappear in the ‘melting-pot’ of state institutions; a counterfeit identity conducive to the economic model is generated by the entertainment and advertising industries for the displaced masses to adopt, i.e. ‘lifestyle.’ The neo-Darwinian and capitalist visions have converged with technology to produce the ideological matrix of the new citizen of modernity, the disarmed object of scientific and psychological dissection and of cultural deconstruction by social engineers.
Science has pimped Darwinism as sacrosanct truth for over a century, and emotions run high when challenging the boundaries of this scientific cannon. But could the theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest be nothing more than political ideology supported by the authority of science? There are a couple of things that suggest this might be true. One comes from Darwin’s own biography. It is not surprising that a member of elite social circles would think like an elite. Of course, being a member of the elite is not sufficient, but it certainly is suggestive. What is more damming is that the ideas that he came up with regarding the mechanisms of evolution were transparent justificatory excuses of elites economic domination. That is, Darwin’s explication of the mechanisms of evolution function remarkably well as apology for elite economic activity. In other words, Darwin provided excuses. Not only did this theory provide an explanation for the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (i.e. Capitalism was the better and stronger economic system, and thus should naturally and inevitably evolve from Feudalism), but it also provided justification for Imperialism, exploitation of the workers, and a whole host of other social evils that emerged as Capitalism came to the fore. According to Darwin, a member of society’s social elites, it was all simply the working out of the “natural” laws of nature. The strong are “chosen” by nature and rise to the top, the weak languish and die off. No sense in being sentimental or guilty about it. It was nature’s way, and you can’t argue with nature, can you?
In America the pioneer stock of the original population, the independent colonial, the militiaman and the frontiersman were responsible for laying the ideological foundations and building the infrastructure of the country. The essentially patriarchal cohesion of these bedrock elements is undergoing a process of dissolution and decomposition within the retort of technology and liberal critique. The current ideological emphasis on the marginalised figures of this foundational patriarchal society, the native American Indian, the female, and the black slave, is a disingenuous sleight-of-hand by this critique intended to psychologically bludgeon and guilt-trip the male psyche into a disavowal of his own heritage and culture, rendering him a self-abasing, impotent bystander to the march of progress. The male group as the foundational element of a traditional and hierarchical system (e.g. the Founding Fathers) is to be undermined in its legitimacy and progressively replaced, under the banner of a specious equality, by the marginalised elements. The liquidation and the reconfiguration of the social order into a chaos of competing minorities fractured along the lines of identity politics simply augments the power of a highly cohesive network of economic and technocratic savants.
Project Mayhem is ultimately focused on precipitating an economic collapse by destroying major credit card companies, wiping out the debt record and liberating people from financial servitude and the ideology which sanctions that condition.
Tyler: It’s getting exciting now, two and one-half. Think of everything we’ve accomplished, man. Out these windows, we will view the collapse of financial history. One step closer to economic equilibrium.
The growing disillusion with the promises of materialism and social progress, the inexorable law of diminishing returns, and the inability of technological advancement to allay the spiritual hunger of the male culminates in a crisis of identity within the narrator. If the struggle for life and the means of existence in evolutionary terms are easily and quickly satisfied in a modern capitalist society then the individual life of the male becomes essentially without purpose beyond the reproductive function within the economic order. He creates Tyler Durden from his own unconscious rejection of the materialistic premises of this social paradigm. This same rejection was consciously articulated by Francis Parker Yockey who identified the effects with Liberalism:
Liberalism is, in one word, weakness. It wants every day to be a birthday, life to be a long party. The inexorable movement of Time, Destiny, History, the cruelty of accomplishment, sternness, heroism, sacrifice, supra-personal ideas – these are the enemy. Liberalism is an escape from hardness into softness, from masculinity into femininity, from History to herd-grazing, from reality into herbivorous dreams, from Destiny into Happiness. Nietzsche, in his last and greatest work, designated the 18th century as the century of feminism, and immediately mentioned Rousseau, the leader of the mass-escape from Reality. Feminism itself – what is it but a means of feminizing man? If it makes women man-like, it does so only by transforming man first into a creature whose only concern is with his personal economics and his relation to society, i.e. a woman. Society is the element of woman, it is static and formal, its contests are purely personal and are free from the possibility of heroism and violence. Conversation, not action; formality, not deeds.How different is the idea of rank used in connection with a social affair. from when it is applied on a battlefield! In the field, it is fate-laden; in the salon it is vain and pompous. A war is fought for control, social contests are inspired by feminine vanity and jealousy to show that one is better than someone else. (Imperium)
By subverting the traditional polarity of male and female the progressive liberal in effect undermines a foundational element in the symbolic order of the West. This has consequences for social cohesion and stability and provokes a reaction within the political organism aimed at conserving that symbolic order. In the movie the backlash takes the form of Fight Club, a men-only hierarchical institution with a strictly enforced code of dress (black clothes and shaved heads) the sacrifice of one’s name (‘In Project Mayhem we have no names’) and a rejection of the individualism pivotal to liberal ideology. This is the embodiment of the shadow which has always stalked the pretensions of the liberal class:
It was right in everyone’s face. Tyler and I just made it visible. It was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Tyler and I just gave it a name.
The economic and materialistic obsession of the post-war period has frustrated and distorted the expression of Western culture, diverting the energies of the body politic into the creation of a Liberal Imperium (as described here ) Contained within the infrastructure of the system is its own potential nemesis in the form of squandered masculine energy, the bedrock element resistant to the corrosive cultural atmosphere engendered by that system:
You’re going to call off your rigorous investigation. You’re going to publicly state that there is no underground group. Or… these guys are going to take your balls. They’re going to send one to the New York Times, one to the LA Times press-release style. Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not… fuck with us.
The drastic solution to this impasse advocated by Tyler is reminiscent of the Unabomber manifesto which proposes the irreconcilable conflict between human freedom and advanced technology and favours the destruction of the latter and a return to a basic, pre-industrial existence. This same instinct for a life more attuned to the natural world is expressed in Tyler’s evocation of the post-consumerist reality to come:
In the world I see – you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.
There is a purpose to this destructive project. Shocks and disruption can reconnect us to our living vital core which becomes dulled and deadened by habit and routine. Project Mayhem is the introduction of chaos and panic in order to effect a vivifying sense of perspective in the wider population, it has therefore a life-affirming purpose. Likewise the physical combat in a fight club constitutes a connection and a communion with another human being outside of the socialised and ritualised forms. It lays bare one’s fundamental physical existence in the same way as the diagnosis of terminal illness does and the idea for both Fight Club and Project Mayhem originates in the narrator’s experience of support groups.
In his atomised and alienated condition of existence the narrator suffers from insomnia, and finds a cure and a refuge among support groups for the terminally ill. These are social failures, beings no longer fit for purpose, and therefore ejected from the neo-Darwinian ideology of the struggle for resources and survival of the fittest. No longer involved in the scrabble for social status they attain a sort of peace through an enforced negation. He becomes addicted to the subculture of support groups, a ‘tourist’ in the cemetery of the social system. This is the beginning of Tyler Durden’s emergence. It is also where he first meets Marla Singer, another ‘tourist’ who articulates the reason for their shared addiction:
Narrator: When people think you’re dying they really, really listen to you, instead of just …..Marla: instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?
Confrontation with the reality of one’s own death strips away the inessential and the superficial. It can liberate a person from the hypnotic pursuit of self-gratification and ambition. It can revive slumbering ideals and invigorate existence. It can also reveal the shocking emptiness of a former ego-centred existence and the social system built in support of that existence.
JUST LET GO!
What did you wanna be, Raymond K. Hessel? The question, Raymond! was “What did you want to be?!
Much of the apparent nihilism in the movie is directed toward awakening the individual from a complacent stupor:
How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?
It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.
Self improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction…
Losing all hope was freedom.
Damn we just had a near life experience!
There is a distorted reflection here of the asceticism of religious tradition which advocates the denial of the self, i.e. the removal of extraneous trappings to reveal an essential core which amounts to a renunciation of the shallow egotism that so much of modern society exalts as an ideal. The modern anathema of self-denial in contrast to self-fulfilment is echoed in the self-destruction advocated by Tyler, but as a crude, secular re-imagining of the process, devoid of the religious scaffolding of earlier ages.
Within the religious framework the ascetic activity is ideally directed at progressively reducing the domination of the external environment and the interior passions in order to attain a relation with and an understanding of the divine imminent within created reality. Outside of this frame privation and renunciation make no sense except as a form of suicidal and nihilistic self-harm. Within the Darwinian paradigm of reproduction and survival amid competing life-forms such ascetic behaviour by a higher-ape is indeed senseless but if we grant that man inhabits a world of symbols alongside the natural world there is a definite purpose to it.
Tyler however shares the Darwinian world-view inasmuch as he wishes to return mankind to the hunter-gatherer stage of evolution before the encroachment of the technocratic realm. Since the possibility of inner transformation has been precluded by the secular dogma of environmental determinism the only alternative to complete emasculation is a destructive revolt. Hence Fight Club and Project Mayhem.
Shut up! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?… Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen. …We don’t need him! Fuck damnation, man! Fuck redemption! We’re God’s unwanted children, SO BE IT!
As part of the creation of his ‘army’ the recruits in Tyler’s Project Mayhem are subjected to the mantras of a negative propaganda designed to eradicate the identity inculcated by liberal society:
Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else…You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world!
Strangely enough this is not too far from the identity inculcated into the individuals within traditional Christian societies, a conception of human nature radically opposed to the materialistic and egalitarian model proposed by liberal democracy:
The major Christian religions didn’t try to gild the lily. They didn’t attempt to dull your senses. They didn’t run after voters. They displayed no desire to please. Nor to wiggle their asses at you. Man, barely out of the cradle, had it laid on the line. He was immediately brought up to date: “Now hear this you putrid little monster! You’ll never be anything other than a total shit… you were born a shit… Are we getting through? We’d have thought it was obvious, right… However… perhaps, if you’re lucky… really lucky… but it’s unlikely… there’s a minuscule chance you’ll be forgiven for being such a revolting, excremental, unbelievable shit… and you’ll earn that by smiling at all the sorrows, travails, tests, diverse miseries, and assorted tortures that will come your way during your existence-be it short or long. Show perfect humility. You’re a slave! Life, you slob, is but a bitter cup. Don’t tire yourself out or look for answers in the wrong place! Save your soul! We’re already offering you a bargain. And when your calvary is finally done-if you’ve been completely, totally honest, never bitched once in your life… you’ll shrug off this earthly coil… a little less putrid than when you were born… perhaps you’ll go off into the night smelling sweeter than when you arrived at dawn. But don’t get too worked up about it! That’s the most a turd like you can hope for… Don’t even begin to think about greater things to come!” Now that’s what I call talking! Real Church Father spiel! They really knew how to use their tools and didn’t offer any illusions! The great claim to happiness, the most enormous scam ever! And that’s what’s been complicating everyone’s lives, that’s what’s turned people into venomous, unbearable crooks! Happiness doesn’t exist in this life, there are only major or minor misfortunes! Some take their time arriving, others creep up behind you, or explode, others wait just around the corner. ( Louis Ferdinand Céline: Mea Culpa 1937)
The growth of the technological realm encroaches upon the human realm of spiritual and moral values. With the advance of technology a materialistic and utilitarian philosophy has arisen to sanction the incorporation of the human within the ideological narrative of scientific progress. The concept of the human mind as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, which is informed solely by its external environment situated within a vast realm of mutable and constantly evolving matter has become one of the foundational concepts of the modern liberal state. If there is no innate understanding and no inherent purpose to life then the person is ultimately just another piece of matter to be resourced and exploited for the benefit of the most powerful and intelligent. Once the smokescreen of humanitarian and democratic rhetoric disperses this vision of life is more or less the reduction of the human to what Tyler deems ‘the all singing all-dancing crap of the world’
Evolution as a paradigm or a meta-narrative entails the immersion and even fusion of the human in the temporal and material realm in much the same way as the narrator is enclosed with the corporate realm. The removal of the transcendent dimension from a cultural narrative has immense consequences on the life of the individual as it negates the possibility of rising above one’s situation, of cultivating the values of stoicism and resignation, humility and impersonal detachment.
What Tyler deems ‘a spiritual struggle’ is no more than the desire for a reset button after reaching the point of civilisational game over. His endorsement of the hunter-gatherer stage of culture is another path leading back to the same evolutionary enclosure. The revolt stems from a spiritual hunger for meaning and for life but it seeks only an external liberation, a reboot of civilisation without understanding the causes of the disease which has its roots in a non-material realm.