The title is from Fight Club, and is pointing to inherent pointlessness of improving oneself, particularly in the context of a consumerist society. Moreover, it critiques the ideas of individuality in consumerism. Tyler Durden goes on to say ‘Now self-destruction…’ suggesting that self-destruction is the way forward. Rather than focusing on our own improvement through meaningless consumerism and so-called achievement, Tyler Durden seems to be suggesting that we should look outside of ourselves and sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of others. Of course there is the contrast between masturbation and sex-masturbation is lonely and fundamentally pointless, whereas sex is an act with another person. If we spend our time merely improving ourselves, we will become lonely and partaking in acts that are meaningless, yet if we turn away from this we can really live as we should, and we can begin to accept ourselves as we are, and embrace our dissatisfaction, rather than trying to quell it with self-improvement, which eventually does not change anything. It’s about removing that part of yourself which relies on the recognition of others, which only wants to impress others, and then pursuing what you want to do without the pressures of the opinions of other. It’s about destroying the self that society gives us, and creating something new from the ashes. The things thrown at us by society don’t make us better human beings, but they do make us feel like we are better human beings, thereby deluding us. From this we must break free.
To the Buddha, it was desire which causes suffering. Being alive, however, means to desire, and so he concluded that life is therefore suffering. Our brains have evolved to the extent that we are continuously desiring. Once a desire is fulfilled, another desire comes along, perhaps with an intermittent stage of boredom. Our brains evolved like this for survival. Maintaining a continuous flow of desire means maintaining existence which is, ultimately, the goal of the brain-to preserve the human species. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote extensively on the suffering of the world, and argued that life ‘swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom.’ We may at times find ourselves either bored or dissatisfied with life, or both simultaneously. How, then, can we remove unnecessary or unwanted pain? First, we should remember that some pain is necessary and useful, but if pain is truly unwanted, and we believe that the pain will not benefit us in the future or aid us in achieving future goals, then there are few things which we can do:
Tyler Durden of Fight Club said that ‘it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.’ Even if we do not want to lose everything, we can still remove the things in our life which we do not want or enjoy or need. We should also recognise that the time that matters is here and now, and that although the future is important to some extent, it doesn’t even exist yet, and so we should, perhaps, focus on today, rather than worrying about tomorrow. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we must remind ourselves, when times seem bad, that it could be much, much worse. Yes, it could be better, but reminding ourselves that it could be worse may give us a slightly more objective viewpoint which may help put things in perspective. Another point is that, eventually, one day, you will be dead. None of this pain or boredom now will not matter to you. Nothing at all will matter to you when you’re dead, and on the spectrum of the universe, death is going to come pretty soon, so perhaps reminding ourselves of death’s nearing hand may, strangely, cheer us up since we know that petty complaining and suffering may seem to matter now, but once you’re on your death bed, will you regret allowing all that worry and pain and stress to get to you, rather than enjoying life while it allows you to?
Schopenhauer himself may have advised turning pain into knowledge, and using suffering as a tool for achievement. We may now, though, conclude that a great deal of our suffering, pain and boredom can be dealt with simply by altering our perspective and the way we see the world, existence, and ultimately, our own selves.
We all have comfort zones, accustomed places and routines. It’s not surprising really, given that it’s in our nature to seek comfort. Comfort is what it is-comforting. Yet, should we always seek comfort so easily? One might say that comfort is both uninteresting and mediocre. Little worthwhile is gained from comfort. Alain de Botton said that people only start to become interesting ‘when they start to rattle the bars of their cages.’ Great things come from pain, sacrifice, discomfort. How can we evolve if all we spend our time doing is working for money and watching endless TV and endless social media feeds? A life of comfort is nothing to be ashamed of, yet is it something to be truly proud of? Comfort is good, I do not deny that, but is comfort always good? Perhaps, you might say, it is. But if you always lived in ‘comfort’, would you have created anything you thought was worth anything? The best of things are made from the worst of times.
If you want to come near to experiencing the feeling of being alive, first you must leave your comfort zone.
‘Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing.’ Chuck Palahniuk
It is a commonly held view that pain is bad and that suffering is to be avoided. It’s true that avoiding suffering is generally easier than facing it and dealing with it. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what we should do. The idea of the importance of bearing with suffering goes back to Nietzsche who emphasised that suffering was necessary for greatness. Nothing good can come without pain, sacrifice, hard work.
An easy life can come from avoiding suffering. The most fulfilled lives, however, the lives of the greats, were made by suffering. It is because of suffering that we are able to listen to the likes of Mozart, to look at the likes of da Vinci, and to read the likes of Homer. The suffering itself may be incredibly painful, at times almost unbearable, but it is this suffering which will enable us to create art of another level. Arthur Schopenhauer, who was a heavy influence on the thought of Nietzsche, once said ‘once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.’ Only through enduring pain and suffering can we become greater human beings, and, if we wish, create something worthwhile.
This is the final part of the question ‘is life meaningless?’ We have discussed that God may or may not exist, but it is up to ourselves to make life meaningful. God’s existence is, ultimately, irrelevant. Moreover, we have seen that even if there was life after death, it would not necessarily follow that life therefore has a purpose. Furthermore, if there is not life after death, this should not lead to despair, but should act as a spring-board to throw our lives into action. Not only does a recognition of death provide a greater appreciation of now, since we know it will not last, but it may also spur us on to use the limited time we have on earth to do something worthwhile. Finally, then, I am going to look life in society, the life we live today, and whether the lives we lead are meaningless. This post will mainly focus on consumerism, and the variations of culture.
Perhaps the first question we must ask ourselves is ‘are we living?’, and further, ‘are we living in the ‘real’ world?’ Of course, we could spend lifetimes discussing what ‘real’ is, but for the sake of this discussion, we will be talking about the levels of reality of a consumerist society, and moreover how much, if any, of our lives is ‘real’.
Consumerist culture obviously thrives on consumption, and relies on the consumer to maintain their consumption to boost economic gain. However, what does consumerism mean for the individual? In Chuck Palahniuk’s book Fight Club, he writes ‘people working jobs they hate, so they can buy things they don’t really need’. He further writes:’The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue.’ These are both succinct examples of how consumerism affects the individual. Are we spending time doing things we don’t enjoy so that we can consume things we don’t even need? If so, why? Before, people were addicted to pornography, now they are addicted to consumption and possessions. Society has moved from one destructive addiction to another. But why is it, we must ask, that we feel the need, the compulsion, to work for mere things? One answer, perhaps the most reasonable, is that life is meaningless, and that instead of facing this fact, consumerism acts as a painkiller, a sedative, to distract us, and give us a false sense of purpose. Not only this, but consumerist culture ignores the inevitability of death. We buy new, better, and fundamentally unnecessary things because we act as if we will always be able to work for something better, that we can replace our old phone with a new one for eternity, but this just isn’t true. Nobody likes this harsh fact, but it is a fact. No-one wants to be told that soon enough they’ll be dead, and all that will be left is a new phone or whatever. It is a form of slavery, consumerist society, and the paradox is that we’ve enslaved ourselves. We are now slaves to possessions. The most life-threatening drug out there is accessible to all. Not only this, but it is purely this drug which is supported in our education systems. Our society is a drug-induced society. We are urged to chase success, to become ‘successful’, and to achieve greatness. The problem is that success already manages to stay out of reach. We spend our lives chasing a shadow, the shadow of ‘success’, and no matter how much we achieve, we may never feel ‘successful’, since it is in the nature of a consumerist culture to never be satisfied, to always want more, to never cease. Before we do anything else, we must recognise that life does indeed cease. Only when death is recognised can the futility of consumerism be seen.
So we have established that consumerist culture is meaningless, and that in the end it is a pointless affair and a waste of a life. Are there, though, any other ways of living? How can we combat the drug of consumerism? Firstly, death must be accepted, acknowledged, and embraced as an inevitable reality. Life may be ultimately meaningless, but this does not mean that there doesn’t exist any reason not to live or any reason why life is worthwhile. Consumerism is a meaningless reaction to a meaningless existence. Think, when you die, what will you want to be remembered for? What will other people, the people you knew, and perhaps people in the future, say about you? Do people really want to be remembered as the person who owned the nicest car, the newest phone, or the biggest house? It seems that when death is at the door, nobody cares about these kind of things. At the end of the day, it is your choice how you live. It is also your choice whether you live a meaningless life, or not. All I ask is that you question what kind of life yours is.
Hope is seen in both positive and negative viewpoints. Some see hope as a saviour, something which keeps us going. Desmond Tetu said ‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.’ Is hope the one thing that we must cling on to when times get tough? Chuck Palahniuk said ‘Losing all hope is freedom.’ Is it hope that enables us to move forward, or is it hope that pulls us back? The fundamental problem with hope, perhaps, is the way in which it sets up potential disappointment. If hope is crushed and we, for example, find out our football team lost, or the day didn’t go as well as we hoped it would, isn’t hope just a path to disappointment? Perhaps, it seems, if we expected the worst, not only would we realise that, usually, one can still cope with the worst outcome, but also that whatever happens, we will either be ready for it, or it will come to us as a nice surprise. Is hope good or bad? Does hope really free us, or is it just holding us back?