First, watch this:
At this point in the movie, we don’t know that the Narrator and Tyler are the same person. The Narrator isn’t aware either. Tyler is the only one possessing complete clarity.
We are certainly the most clever of species on this planet, but I’m afraid our peculiar form of intelligence has become a tragic gift. Once an attribute that allowed us to thrive, now it serves only to fiercely perpetuate a way of living in the face of the grave problems it creates. It is our bastion of superiority. Our greatest strength warped by ego into blind manipulative ingenuity. And what great wonders we have created — the stuff of gods.
The problem with this strategy is easily missed, buried under astounding marvels and powerfully seductive stories drunk on power and control. Denial and dysfunction will make use of whatever tools at hand. Intelligence is a favorite. But I’m focused on my cleverness for now. And I am so very clever.
As a child, I was often praised for my intellect by adults. They were impressed with my ability to communicate and reason at their level, and at times surprised that I had knowledge they didn’t. This ability was probably more due to the fact that I was an only child, and around adults more often than kids my age. I found myself in situations out of my control and used my intelligence to find ways to cope and adapt. I had no advantage physically, so I honed my intellectual prowess in ways to benefit me socially. I learned how to read people, to identify their needs so I could please or deceive them to fulfill my needs. It was a strategy not entirely conscious. I had a vague feeling of emptiness, a nebulous sensation of wanting, but I lacked a strong sense of self so I adopted a passive approach. I became adept at writing my way into other people’s stories as a way to define myself and feel secure. I was good at it. Real good.
The feedback from this strategy was positive, or at least adequate, so it became the status quo. As I grew older, especially into my adolescent years, problems began to surface. I had the nagging sensation that something was wrong. I felt unhappy. I felt lost and empty. I was filling with self-loathing. I focused on being more clever than ever before, this time with a far more defiant and selfish intent. I still had no center, my affirmations all external. I developed a sharp sense of humor, finding acceptance in making people laugh — giving them a vicarious character to act out behavior they dare not express themselves. I became the admired rebel and cunning outlaw. I sought rogue and self-destructive ways to circumvent our cultural structure but still embracing its merits. With every triumph of acrobatic cleverness, I became more and more detached from myself and the reality of my situation. The symptomatic problems multiplied. Magnified.
It was almost the death of me.
Even after my body reached its limit of my abuses, I did not abandon the pursuit of living within stories that did not serve me. Instead of using my intellect to acknowledge and dispel the clever illusions I was trapped within, I chose to embrace conformity and tradition. I decided that I didn’t know how to live, that I would find my worth and definition following the cultural guidelines put in place long before my birth.
It was a death. A death of identity and possibility.
Watch the video again. Being clever. How’s that working out for you?