Transitioning from the spartan, communal existence of deployment to the overabundance and relative social isolation of modern society may be the most challenging experience we will ever face. We know the feels of living in the moment and now we’re left dealing with the opposite feels of sacrificing for the future, reliving the past and conforming with the masses.
I’ve been on an introspective journey over the past year to get in touch with my “savage” hunter-gatherer roots and David Rose’s recent blog post, Community In Our DNA: Older Ways Make Better Days inspired me to read Tribe by Sebastian Junger. As I dove in I realized it was a near perfect non-fiction complement to one of my favorite books, Fight Club, so I re-read it. Chuck Palahniuk’s creation, an insomniac’s anarchist alter ego named Tyler Durden, is an unorthodox but effective life coach not only for the transitioning soldier but also for the long-transitioned veteran. I want to share with you the more important lessons he’s taught me:
Stop working in jobs you don’t like, to buy shit you don’t need
“You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.”
Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve had high hopes that machines would assume the menial, soul-sucking jobs necessary to sustain modern civilization. Yet, more than 200 years later, we work longer hours often at jobs we hate far more than a pre-Industrial Revolution butcher or baker, despite our technological achievements. Instead of using the extra time machines have afforded us to focus on what’s truly important—each other, philosophy, art, technology, medicine—we’ve instead created new and improved, useless, egotistical needs that isolate us from each other. We’re literally addicted to shitty Chinese furniture for our McMansion houses located an hour drive from a job we don’t like. But at least we got a good interest rate on a shiny, new truck so fellow commuters can see how masculine and successful we are while we waste our humanity sitting in traffic, listening to music Spotify decided we like.
Think carefully about what you need, and a few things you really want, and spend no more time than necessary earning enough to afford those things. Spend your new-found time cultivating closer relationships with your friends and family and restoring your dad’s motorcycle that’s been sitting in your garage since his death just waiting for you to have a bit more free time. When you’re done with that, dig the camping gear out of your garage and sell everything else at the swap meet. Move into a smaller home closer to your friends. Arrange football tournaments with them, then invite them over to your tiny porch to drink shitty beer on used lawn chairs. Jump your neighbor’s fence while they’re at work and throw your back out tossing your four-year-old into their pool. Then take the next morning off, you’ve earned it, and listen to your favorite album, start to finish. No interruptions. No distractions.
“Because everything up to now is a story and everything after now is a story.”
Now is everything. The future is a figment of your imagination and the past is a chemical reaction in your brain. Turn your phone off, burn the self-help or financial planning book you’re struggling to get through and pick up a book that you can’t put down (I recommend starting with Fight Club).
Learn something. Not something that may help you get a higher paying job in the future, learn something that fascinates you. Learn to surf, learn to play the drums, learn physics, learn to navigate the wilderness closest your home. Apply that knowledge whether or not it makes you money.
Stop playing by the rules you’ve been handed
“Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.”
Seek a moral code and live by it. Lead a movement; be lazy; fuck who you want how you want; fight oppressors on behalf of the oppressed; say “FUCK!”, or don’t, who gives a fucking shit?
I’m not advocating that we burn it all down, or that it’s cool to choose a moral code accepting of antisocial behaviors like usury/slavery. I’m advocating we begin stripping away the dogmas of modern civilization so we can question the beliefs that society has deceived us are fundamental truths. There we will find a moral code embedded inside us that thirsts for knowledge, that finds tremendous happiness in a good meal, suitable shelter, bullshitting with a neighbor, or a cold beer. A moral code that makes us willing and able to sacrifice everything for each other if necessary. One of the most insidious lies taught by civilized people is that, without civilization, savages, are naturally inhumane. They’re inherently evil and, GOD DAMMIT, they need a savior. Try explaining this concept to an American Indian.
Fight (and lose)
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
Violence and struggle are coded into our DNA. Our ancestors would not have produced us without it. Each of us knew we wanted to fight from an early age. Hardly savvy enough to understand the United States’ complex geopolitical and military policy, we knew we wanted to fight and that was enough. But outside of the military most of us won’t legitimately need to fight, and our only real struggle will be realizing that the never-ending parade of struggles we do face are figments of society’s collective imagination. So, find an outlet for the violence inside you. Find a gym and box. Demand to spar on your first day. Grab a buddy and roll. Go hard. Make him quit. If you bleed you’re doing it right. At the very least body slam your big brother next time you’re at a family picnic.
Doug Zembiec, The Lion of Fallujah and Marine Officer who was KIA on a CIA Special Activities Division operation, occasionally practiced with my college wrestling team. “You are a battle axe. No use in fighting it.” He explained, “The most valuable thing wrestling taught me was how to get my ass beat. It’s an important lesson most people never learn until it’s too late.” I assume Doug was speaking both literally and metaphorically. Of course, nobody wants to get their ass beat for the first time when everything is on the line, but more importantly, fighting trains your mind to excel in less physical forms of struggle.
Lower your expectations, and fuck others’ expectations
“We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens.”
Many of us were raised with delusions of grandeur. We could be anything we wanted to be. Our family expected us to be “better” than them. “Be brave, be a hard worker, fuck the prom queen, get married, have kids” they’d preach. What they meant, however well-intentioned, was that we could be anything everyone else wanted us to be. How can we be anything with that kind of pressure? How can we possibly understand what we want to be with so much noise? How about this: just be. Be who you are. Be a warrior. Be an adventurer. Be a thinker. Be a fighter. Be a pacifist. Be an entrepreneur. Be a stoner. Be a Christian. Be a nihilist.
If I sound preachy it’s because I’m preaching to myself. I don’t want to scare you, but I do want you to consider Palahniuk’s challenge to “prove you’re alive.” Deviating from social norms is challenging and quitting any addiction cold turkey can be a recipe for disaster. But if modern human existence feels foreign to you and you can’t quite put your finger on exactly why you feel out of place, you’re not alone. There are upwards of seven billion other people who feel it too. Like anything, the first steps of change are the hardest, but fortunately, the only goal is progress. I’ve been on this journey for nearly a year now and all I can tell you is, at least for me, each step toward humanity gets easier.