Let’s Talk About Fight Club

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 very, very pissed off.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

The most important rule of Fight Club is to not talk about fight club.

The rules of Fight Club mimic the unnatural male “code of silence” that keeps men isolated from growth, learning & initiation into mythic purpose & a deep self-knowledge. Men who are cut off from this self-knowledge become vain, emasculated and very, very lonely.

As men, we need to talk about Fight Club, because it contains the seeds of a great truth: not that men are narcissistic and violent to the core, but that all men yearn for an initiation into a deep masculinity that includes real challenge & risk, guidance from initiated elders, and the death of a part of ourselves — the immature part — so that the adult self can emerge.

I can’t get married, I’m a 30-year-old boy.” – Narrator, Fight Club

Fight Club Fanart by Beelzaboo

The narrator describes how his absent father “set up franchises” in new towns with new women and new kids every few years. His father wasn’t initiated, either, so it’s no wonder his son felt like a boy at age 30 (he was functionally and emotionally an adult boy.)

How many men can see this parallel in their own lives? How many women can see a parallel to the “men” in their lives?

Modern culture has suffered generations of uninitiated men. The current male “training” includes competence in violence, emotional distance, severing of bodily awareness, denial of sensuality, Apollonic thinking, and extreme materialism.

Initiated men, in contrast, understand their role is service: service to women, service to children, service to the elders, and service to the community. Their training includes non-violent assertiveness, stewardship, and creativity, instead of narcissism, consumerism, and violence.

COMPLETING THE JOURNEY 

In the Chuck Palahniuk novel, the narrator endures a lot of pain and suffering, engages in a lot of male-on-male violence, is completely estranged from women, and is finally thwarted in his desperate, final act (blowing up the headquarters of the credit card companies) by his own incompetence.

He ends up in a a mental institution, believing that he has died and gone to Heaven. He is ground under the heel of an emasculating culture that will warehouse him until his biological death (although his spiritual death has already occurred.)

This book’s ending features no transformation, just a descent into madness. It calls to mind the ending of another modern fable of the tortured modern male psyche, American Psycho, which closes with this monologue: “Even after admitting [my crimes], there is no catharsis, my punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. . .This confession has meant nothing.”

David Fincher’s 1999 film version of Fight Club has better ending. In the movie, the narrator completes his initiation, coming near to death himself, but in the process “killing” his adolescent alter-ego, Tyler Durden.

This act of integration completes the narrator’s initiation, and he is able to turn to the woman he loves, assure her that “everything is going to be just fine”, and join hands with her as together, they watch the consequences of his actions unspool — the bombed towers fall (in a scene eerily predictive of 9/11).

In this final scene before the credits, their joined hands signify the union that is only possible between an initiated man and a woman.

Screencap from 1999 Fight Club. Marla & Narrator join hands at conclusion of film

DIVINE MADNESS & HOLY PURPOSE

In tribal societies the world over, young men are launched en mass into initiation rituals that put them in close contact with pain, madness and even death.

Not all of them make it through this ordeal. But those that do are welcomed back to their community with honors, and recognized as adult males regardless of biological age. The divine madness of adolescence (during which hormones increase in the bloodstream by 30x) is transformed into a holy purpose. These boys return to the community as men with gifts and with a deep connection to their purpose (which is different from our modern notions of calling or vocation.)

Modern civilization completely lacks this process of initiation. This is a big problem, because uninitiated men will live their whole lives as grown-up boys: violent, shallow, narcissistic, and profoundly vulnerable to manipulation because of the deep spiritual emptiness they feel.

They will also externalize their longing for a near-death initiatory experience into war, gang membership, extreme sports, and addictions of all kinds — but because these experiences lack a ritual container and guidance by initiated elders, these risky experiences bring them no closer to authentic transformation.

And so it has come to pass that our world is run mostly by uninitiated men, and by women who’ve realized they need to animate their uninitiated masculine spirits to compete in a male-dominated, hierarchical world. The world’s ills stack up at the feet of leaders who lack the gravity our age requires, and most of us are too anxious, distracted, and depressed to notice.

It’s time to restart the culture of masculine initiation. Lacking this rite, our culture defaults to producing “normal neurotics” and grown-up boys, instead of Fierce Gentlemen. Modern men who do carry the characteristics of the Fierce Gentleman have invariably gone through their own haphazard initiation, and that is why they are so rare.

OUR PATH TO PEACE

We have no Great Depression, no Great War. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.” -Tyler Durden, Fight Club

There is a path out of our Great Depression; a path to a peace that will end our Spiritual War. There is a path that carries us above the war metaphors and competence in violence altogether.

The path takes us through a dark night, where we will embrace our inner shadows, “kill” the juvenile patterns of behavior that are no longer serving us, and discover and offer our greatest gifts. By walking this path, we heal our hearts, re-integrate the split-off parts of our pysche, and discover our purpose in service.

Life as an initiated man is a life full of potency, purpose, and warmth. It is a life of meaning, deep & rewarding spirituality, and above all, peace. It’s a life in which we join women, rather than separate from them; where we join in a Brotherhood of ahimsa, rather than violence; and it’s a life we can talk about openly.

It is a life worth living, and we hope you’ll join us in living it to the utmost.

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Also published on Medium.

11 Comments Let’s Talk About Fight Club

  1. Pingback: What I Learned From Doing Log PT In Hawai'i - FG

  2. Damian Niolet

    Drew,

    I happened upon this post because I plan on writing a blog post of my own exploring the same topic, even using the same title – “Let’s Talk about ‘Fight Club.'” Your post captures a significant portion of the themes I wish to address in mine, but I plan on citing my personally-formed, psychology-based, anecdotal theories as to what forces are holding men back from “initiating.” I plan on referring to your movement as one of many trying to turn the tides, but which are fighting an uphill battle. I say this because I don’t think we’ll see any large-scale change until some underlying assumptions are addressed, such as: the origin of morality, the inevitability of conflict, the nature of mankind, the “meaning” of life, and many others. For instance, your approach, and thus your post, utilizes an egregiously faulty assumption underpinning our shaky societies – “No pain, no gain.” Far too many people think we have to endure something in order to get to some beneficial something, such as a truth about existence. The fact is, those truths are out there, ready to be grasped, whether we experience obstacles or not. I won’t self-promote extensively here, as I think it would be bad form, but I am working on a book which will expound on all of those assumptions. In the meantime, it’s encouraging to see like-minded individuals out there, stimulating “the market.” ;)

    Reply
    1. Drew

      Thanks for the comment Damian! Looking forward to reading what you come up with as the alternative to “pain and gain” in life. I’d absolutely love to live in a world that was all-comfort, all-the-time, I think.

      Reply
    1. Andrew

      The best one I’ve read is Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence by Barry Spector. It’s about more than just initiation but it’s deeply insightful and a masterful book; his work has had a huge influence on how I think about American culture.

      Reply
  3. james

    But what is that ritual? I was Mormon for a time and even served a mission. Being away from home, in service to others and having to make it on my own, I learned a great deal about myself. I would not suggest people do precisely the same, but some variation on a theme. If you’re going from your teens to twenties, get the hell out of town and travel. Volunteer with some organization. This might also work if your twenties going to thirties and still drifting.

    For those of us with jobs and possibly families, it gets a lot trickier. Where’s your ritual? Your Mentor?

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      I appreciate your suggestion of the mission James. I think that could be part of it.

      In indigenous society, all the teen boys are sent away for a time together with the initiated elders. They encounter some sort of ordeal in the wilderness. In some societies, adolescent boys dance furiously outside the elders’ tent, until invited in.

      There are many variations of these rituals, but they all include three components: 1) leaving the community, 2) an ordeal, and 3) being recognized and welcomed back into the community, fully able to give your gift.

      The mythopoetic men’s movement had a go at this in the 1990s but I don’t know enough about their work to understand what rituals or initiations they may have. Certain fraternities (such as the Freemansons) still have rituals that approximate or imitate authentic ritual.

      I fear that much of the original wisdom has been lost, but it is no matter — we will recreate it ourselves.

      Reply
    2. Johnson

      That is exactly what a mission is, a rite of passage into manhood. Men who don’t serve a two full faithful years are ostracized by the community. They don’t come back “men”. I don’t think that’s the best way to go about making men, because the ones who do come back are generally ground into submission to that church for the rest of their lives (obedience, Elder!). Truly, it creeps me out. Also, you’re not recognized as a TRUE man until you get married in the temple.

      I do have to say, though, that some of the best men (good men and manly men) I’ve known came from that church. I bet it is due in no small part to all the rites of initiation.

      I think that we need to come up with new methods of initiation. You may need to seek someone out. Perhaps meet with a shaman? Go climb a mountain? Of course, what this article doesn’t touch on is that a community is necessary for these rites to be effective. That is a very difficult thing to find in this day and age when we barely even speak to our neighbors. One thing at a time, I guess.

      Reply
      1. Andrew

        Johnson,
        What you’re saying makes sense. A religious or secular community forms the essential foundation for the ritual to have meaning. Without the feeling of being witnessed by a community of peers, the best ritual in the world won’t effect a proper transformation, I reckon.

        We absolutely need new methods of initiation, as well as new communities. And that is a big part of what the Fierce Gentleman Movement is all about. But as you say — one job at a time, and every job a success.

        Thanks for commenting!

        Reply
  4. Jared Christensen

    Andrew, I love reading your writing. As the work of the Fierce Gentleman movement continues, I hope to be able to embody the fierce gentleman, and spread it to my friends and my (future) sons. Thank you for what you do; you continually capture the need of the modern man succinctly. May we all be ‘initiated’.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      Thanks for your support and kind words Jared. As you say, may we all be ‘initiated’, and be able to pass that on to the next generation.

      Reply

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