Philosophy through Film: Fight Club

I’m taking a class this semester called Philosophy through Film, and one of the assignments is to write a journal entry for each movie we watch.  My previous entries are on Harold and Maude, I <3 Huckabees, Donnie DarkoBeing John MalkovichEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,  MementoPulp FictionOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestGroundhog Day,  Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the Matrix.  I’ve also written an extracurricular post on The Hunger Games. Starting note:  It's 11:20 PM, and I totally forgot to start this post before now.  So it may be a bit rushed.  But the class is nearly over, and I intend to write my final on Fight Club, so I'll post that when I've written it.

The Tyler Durden theory of Qualia

""How much can you know about yourself, if you've never been in a fight?  I don't want to die without any scars." (Quoted to the best of my memory.)

Tyler Durden's philosophy seems to center around the premise that quality of life is validated by real experiences -- real pain, being in fights, chemical burns, "Hitting bottom."  He and the narrator mock advertisement style physical fitness, he gives out homework assignments to the members of fight club, and he threatens people's lives to make them appreciate their own lives more.

I think the most interesting thing about this perspective is that he clearly believes that these experiences can be manufactured. He's never been in a fight that naturally occurred, but it's good enough, to him, to ask a friend to punch him in the face.  When he gives the narrator a chemical burn, it's a manufactured event, an attempt to simulate the experience of "the worst pain of your life."  And when he does "Human sacrifices," he doesn't even bring a loaded gun.

Tyler Durden seems to think that you build character by achieving a collection of emotional experiences, which I think is an implicit defense of a belief in qualia.  There's something fundamental, in his mind, about being in a fight, about destroying corporate art, about threatening someone's life or being so threatened.  And the way he goes about creating those experiences for people suggests that he thinks there's a sort of constellation of qualia, merit badges of the soul, that  are necessary to achieve goals, such as "Hitting bottom."

There are two branches off of that point I want to pursue:

A.) Fight Clubs are the Boy Scouts of Nihilism

I put it that way because it sounds nice, but I'm not actually certain what they're doing is nihilistic. Tyler Durden's premise seems to be that we live in a violent and unpleasant world, in a society designed to keep down the majority of people.  His end game is to build up the people he leads into people with the character to stand up and survive the hands they've been dealt.

But in the more immediate structure of Fight Club, it is nihilism.  He demands of his members that they build up their skills of apathy, hardening themselves to the realities of abandonment and inequality, and try to "Hit bottom."  It's like becoming an Eagle Scout.

B.) Can you get the effects of Fight Club by watching the movie?

If Tyler Durden is right about experience -- that you need to experience certain things to know deep truths about yourself, but that those truths can be approximated through simulated experience -- can you get it from watching a movie?

Presumably, it would be in line with the beliefs of a writer who cared about meaningful change that, if you do need to experience certain events in order to comprehend the associated truths, that you can experience those events vicariously through fiction.  Maybe even a watered-down version of the same effect would be possible.  (If that's the case, in fact, then it makes sense for movies like Fight Club to be so over-the-top, in order to get through the correct amount of nihilism and self-awareness.)

That raises interesting questions about the realness of simulated experience, though.  As far as the qualia argument goes, if there's such a thing as the qualia 'red,' and you only ever see it on a TV screen, you've still seen it, and would still have therefore perceived that qualia.  So if there's a qualia for enlightenment through violence, Fight Club would go a long way towards fulfilling those requirements without actually requiring any fighting.