The One Question "Fight Club" Helps Us Answer

As our world gets bigger, as complexity increases, it’s easy to get lost in it. It’s easy to feel irrelevant. It’s easy to feel that what we do doesn’t matter…that we don’t matter. 

We’re consumers. We are 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.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club
What kind of dining set defines me as a person?
— Unnamed Narrator, Fight Club
Things you own end up owning you.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club

When we feel this way, we soothe ourselves by:

I went to debtors anonymous…if you want to see a bunch of f’d up people...
— Marla Singer, Fight Club
  • Falling into “busyness” so we don’t have to think about what really matters in life.
  • Focusing on clawing our way to the top of a corporate construct.
  • Consuming drugs (prescribed and illicit) and alcohol.
  • Eating to much…or too little.
  • Participating in dangerous sexual or power-based relationships.
  • Shopping for things we don’t need other than to display status.
  • Shutting ourselves in and watching glowing screens for hours on end.
  • Creating drama in our personal lives, just to feel we can "fix" something within our control.
  • Engaging in vicious gossip to feel superior to the famous and not-so-famous.
  • Abusing ourselves and others physically and verbally.
  • Going into debt to remove the element of personal choice.

When it’s all too much, we need to heighten or dull our senses just to get through another day.* We can all understand why we do some or all of the above. The problem is that none of the behaviours listed address the root of the matter. We use them to distract ourselves, but they’re both temporary and grossly inadequate. And, deep down, we know it. 

Most people—most normal people—will do anything to avoid a fight.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club

That said, it’s easier to ignore the problem than to tackle it because the latter is frightening.

Fighting The Good Fight via Personal Introspection

Unless we’re like the Unnamed Protagonist in Fight Club and we manage to have our alter ego do it for us, we need to take a long, hard look at what’s making us feel like nothing more than a cog. 

[H]ome was a condo on the 15th floor of a filing cabinet for widows and young professionals.
— Unnamed Narrator, Fight Club

It could be that we’re:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering...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.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club
  • Living and/or working in a place that makes us feel like an animal in a cage. 
  • Not doing anything for ourselves anymore. 
  • Counting our personal value based on what we have, not who we are. 
  • Surrounded by people who only care about what we can offer them
  • Feeling that what we do doesn’t matter or goes against our values
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.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Whatever the trigger(s) that lead us to do ourselves harm, asking the hard questions can do nothing less than bringing them to light. It’s only when we take a sober look around, stand in our truth and accept our current painful reality that we can effect meaningful change.

It’s not until you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club
No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.
— Narrator, Fight Club

Some of us awaken and decide to just blow it all up and start fresh, some of us awaken because our world gets blown up for us, and finally others decide to stockpile ammunition in the form of savings to fund their escape and follow the white rabbit

As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say...that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.
Three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life:
1. Creating a work or by doing a deed.
2. Experiencing something or encountering someone (love).
3. Turning personal tragedy into triumph.
— p. 140 & 145, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.
— Nietzsche

Whatever the method, it’s incredibly freeing to leave behind the activities and labels that don’t fit. We feel like ourselves again and that lets us really consider what it is that we want to do, what meaningful purpose we want to pursue to lead our best, most fulfilling life. Purposeful living is powerful. It’s enduring. It’s essential.

Living Well = Victory

Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.
— Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Living well isn’t only essential for ourselves, but hopefully—for the fortunate ones—causing others to evaluate what they’re doing with their own lives. It can spread like a disease, helping dissolve years of indoctrination that keep us compliant and accepting of the status quo.

Indeed, living well makes us better people and better people don’t need to be convinced to be driven, curious, generous and loving. Better people have grit. They also don’t need to be strong-armed into taking good care of themselves because they steadfast in understanding of their intrinsic value.

Ultimately, by embracing our inner Tyler Durden, we can answer what Mary Oliver asks of each and every one of us: 

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”


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*If you would like to explore this concept further, I highly recommend "The Human Zoo" by Desmond Morris. Though controversial, it raises interesting points and offers a great deal of food for thought.