The First Rule
Thursday, June 1st 2017

A disaffected, disillusioned young man becomes part of an underground terrorist organisation that preaches self-destruction as the means to fight against the ideals of Western society, ultimately culminating in a bombing campaign that destroys several buildings.

Sound familiar? That’s right. It’s the plot to Fight Club.

But with a few little tweaks it becomes a sort of base narrative for 21st century expressions of male rage that range from school shooters to gamergaters to ISIS.

There are many common threads between young men who ‘fit the profiles’ of those likely to post revenge porn or dox a feminist activist or blow themselves up outside a pop music concert. But probably the most important is a failure in critical thinking, the failure to reach an important realisation:

Tyler Durden (or the ‘prophet’ of your choice) is full of crap.

A six-packed super-shredded guy belittling another for looking exactly the same.

A guy who on the one hand promotes individualism and the rejection of authority and on the other builds an army of nameless men who call him ‘Sir.’

In death, Tyler’s men are no longer anonymous… provided you don’t mind them calling you a slightly different name to what you usually go by.

A movie that seems to carry an anti-capitalist, anti-consumer, anti-establishment message, while at the same time being a $63 million dollar product of that same capitalist, consumer-led establishment.

You’re not supposed to take it seriously. You’re supposed to notice the contradictions.

In an age of ‘fake news,’ viral media and seemingly ever growing polarisation between political viewpoints, the ability to spot the crucial contradictions at the heart of someone’s message is vital.

But instead of trying to promote the necessary critical thinking skills in people, we cut funding on education. We reduce discourse to Tyler Durden soundbites delivered in 140 character blocks with a predefined subset of acceptable responses provided for us, thumbs up if you agree. Everything becomes rendered in binary, then segmented down to precisely target its ideal demographic.

The great Internet utopia once prophesied – that promised openness, the free exchange of ideas, cross-cultural interconnectedness – has long been revealed as false. Instead we each find ourselves in a custom echo chamber that reinforces faulty ideas and firewalls those who challenge it. And this is not a new idea. I had to write a college essay about it 15 years ago.

At the same time, we are (very slowly) realising that there is an identity crisis afflicting many young men. It exhibits itself in the elevated suicide rates, the obsessive gym going, the joyless pursuit of oblivion at the heart of ‘sesh’ culture.

Online, it’s in the trolls hounding people into closing their accounts, the hackers releasing private pictures of female celebrities, the message boards of propaganda that persuade the lost and lonely to come train in the desert.

Like Tyler’s soundbites, the echo chamber can be very convincing. But you still need to try and find the contradictions.

And ask yourself ‘how does turning someone into a victim make me a man?’ It doesn’t. That’s the first rule.


Yes, I recently rewatched Fight Club. How’d you guess?

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