Wednesday, 24 November 2010
"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."
- Tyler Durden, Fight Club
The more I recollect Fight Club (both the book and the movie), the more it reminds me of Taoism. In chinese philosophy class, one repeated theme that is taught to be associated with Taoism is the idea of the return to nature. This involves the renouncement of wants and responsibilities, because these are obligations and chains that are keeping humans held back in an unnatural state. The 'right' way is to follow the dao, 道, literally and loosely translated as 'the way', or the 'way of nature'.
According to Taoism, humans are a lost species because we have lost the way. To me that sounds exactly like what is espoused in Fight Club. We are lost chasing dreams that are fed to us through the tube, and we are lost filling jobs that don't mean a thing or serve no true purpose to the self other than serving the needs of the men right at the top of the corporate ladder (whose economic power translates into political power that can decide how society should fall in line).
Because of these modern 'obligations', how many of us know how to do simple yet important things, like find food when we have no supermarket to rely on, or understand our role in the world without modern employment systems, or even know what justice means, especially when our justice is always conveniently taken care of by some watchful government or private contract?
I think our ancestral forefathers knew these things (without actually knowing in a literate manner) - they had a purpose to find mates, they had a family to care for, they had to either grow or catch their food, and they had a vital participation in the natural order of things - essentially know thy self and the world well, or die. The more we divorce ourselves from those natural things, the more divorced we will be from what we were evolved, adapted or born to do, or be. I suppose the point that Fight Club tries to assert is that everyone is born with the potential to be great persons, but the world we are born into often stops us from realizing our natural potential and therein lies the great squander of potential.
But I suppose it wouldn't be fair either to fail to consider what is also at stake if we follow Fight Club's logic entirely. I had first noticed the similarities between Taoism and Fight Club when we were taught about the famous hardcore Taoist Zhuangzi. He proposed methods of finding back 'the way', such as renouncing responsibility, duty, ritual propriety and basically standing any logic that may be socially constructed on its head, such as laughing at a funeral. He said this should be done because social constructs are not considered 'natural' (i.e. social constructs are man-made, man-defined) and are socially accepted norms or things that will keep us from finding our true selves. A group was giving a presentation on Zhuangzi and during the Q&A it was asked, "what are some of the problems of following Zhuangzi's philosophy?" And I responded by citing Fight Club.
If we follow through with this, what will we be left with? The kind of anarchic chaos that Fight Club's Project Mayhem created - people will be increasingly alienated because while part of the noble aim is to find a path back to our natural roots, another part involves forgoing your relationships, because they also serve the same purpose of grounding us. In order for the theory of Fight Club or Taoism to be consistent, many important things that appear to be part of human nature have to be eliminated as well. In Fight Club, society's humans who were initially automatons because of the modern capitalist system ended up becoming automatons because of the Project Mayhem cause. And while perhaps it is true that we had more purpose and place in a 'state of nature', we also had to face mortal dangers, far lower standards of living, fear and uncertainty, and shorter lifespans.
Personally I have a fond liking for this idea of a return to nature, and emotionally I stand on the side of Fight Club and Taoism's philosophy (but rationally I always consider also the pitfalls of doing so). I emotionally think this because I feel like the world has stretched far too much to one end - the end that encompasses heavy reliance on technology, government and corporations to serve our needs (such as finding friends, communicating, justice, having a sense of purpose, etc) which, in the process, makes us lose sight of who we naturally are - and a balance needs to be struck. At the very least, I think everyone should have his or her own purpose in life which should not be defined entirely by what society thinks is the right thing to do, or is good or bad. In this regard, some healthy detachment, isolation, self-reliance, independence and introspection can go a long way. Thus some semblance of a return to nature has its appeal for me, and Fight Club's aim of empowering people to know that they are more than what society defines them to be is a powerful, worthwhile and noble cause.