Fight Club Revisited

Issue No. 15 | June 3, 2022

Friends, Americans, Countrymen:

In the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) gives a rousing speech on the predicament of the American man:

 

 “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.”

 

From where we sit almost a quarter century later, the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. Any sense that history was ignoring us ended on 9/11, and the two wars that followed found a purpose for many men, thousands of whom died. As for the economy, nobody’s mentioning the d-word, but nobody’s mistaking 2022 for the late 90s either. Plenty of hardship to go around. 

 

Durden’s still right about one thing: men are in a spiritual war, and it’s only gotten worse in the ensuing decades. The good news is that the battle lines are clearer than ever, and we don’t need to punch each other in the face to engage. To beat the enemy, men must simply strive to live productive, meaningful lives, lives centered on duty to God, to country, and to family. That’s not to say it’ll be easy. Reality itself is under attack, and the forces of distraction and despair keep developing more sophisticated strategies to undo us. But true manhood is always earned rather than given. We should be grateful for the opportunity to test ours in so noble a fight. 

Provisions

That’s not to say that there’s no place for actual fisticuffs. Every man should be able to defend himself and his loved ones if it comes to that. Also, going a few rounds is a great way to take some exercise. But before you enter your local boxing gym (we go to Gloveworx), you’re going to need something to cover up those knuckles. Los Angeles-based Prolast has been making boxing gloves in the USA since 1981. They also make heavy bags, speed bags, wraps, and headgear. You can even buy a full-sized boxing ring. Just measure your basement first.

Training

Travis Roesler knows how to throw a punch. But he’s also a man who appreciates the underrated value of not getting punched. In his video “How to Win a Street Fight,” Roesler challenges strangers to an impromptu boxing match. The catch: he can’t punch back. What he can do is dodge their punches. And he does, over and over again, leaving his opponents bemused and out of breath. On his free website, Roesler teaches this and other skills gleaned from his career as a mixed martial artist. The first rule of his fight club? “This stuff will hurt people, so use it for good.”

Culture

The male capacity for violence isn’t intrinsically bad, of course; we wouldn’t have our civilization without it. But it’s important to understand how dangerous it can be when misdirected. American journalist Bill Buford experienced this first hand when he spent eight years in the company of UK football hooligans, going to matches at home and abroad and getting caught up in several riots. His 1990 book “Among the Thugs” documents this fascinating and disturbing subculture with intelligence and empathy, offering valuable insight on the way a crowd of men can suddenly turn destructive. 

 

Nor does he let himself off the hook as a member of this crowd:

 

“Violence is one of the most intensely lived experiences and, for those capable of giving themselves over to it, is one of the most intense pleasures. There on the streets of Fulham, I felt, as the group passed over its metaphorical cliff, that I had literally become weightless. I had abandoned gravity, was greater than it. I felt myself to be hovering above myself, capable of perceiving everything in slow motion and overwhelming detail. I realized later that I was on a druggy high, in a state of adrenalin euphoria. And for the first time I am able to understand the words they use to describe it. That crowd violence was their drug. What was it like for me? An experience of absolute completeness.”

Exemplar

Private First Class Desmond Thomas Doss didn’t like to call himself a conscientious objector. It’s true that his beliefs as a devout Seventh-day Adventist forbade him to bear arms, but when drafted into World War II he didn’t think of refusing to serve. Nor did he apply for the deferment he doubtless would’ve gotten because of his job at the Newport News shipyard. Doss considered the war just, and was eager to serve his country. But for him, that meant helping his fellow soldiers as a combat medic. Thus he considered himself a “conscientious participator.”

 

His fellow enlisted men didn’t see the difference; they just considered him a coward. He was constantly hazed and ostracized during basic training, and his commanding officers made repeated attempts to have him discharged. 

 

Doss held his ground and soon proved his valor, earning Bronze Stars for treating wounded men under fire on Guam and in the Philippines. It was on Okinawa that Doss performed his most stunning act of courage. After taking heavy losses on the clifftop known as “Hacksaw Ridge” (which provided the title for Mel Gibson’s fine 2016 movie about Doss), Doss’s company was ordered to retreat. But some 75 wounded men remained behind, unable to move. Doss single-handedly rescued them, lowering them down the cliffside on a rope one by one. Although he miraculously emerged from this battle unharmed, Doss was later severely wounded; he also developed tuberculosis. In 1945 he became the only conscientious objector in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor. 

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