“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
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.
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.