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John Whitehead's Commentary

Generation X and the Search for Truth

John Whitehead
Timothy McVeigh was 27 years old when he vented his rage against society by massacring 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. Four years later, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold walked into a Colorado high school and vented their rage by murdering 13 people.

These two tragic instances illustrate the longing, almost desperation, that mars the psyche of that group known as Generation X--those born between 1960 and 1980 who now fill the workforce and are headed for leadership in our world. This desperation is portrayed in the remarkable film Fight Club.

The story begins with Jack, a miserable white-collar lackey for an auto manufacturer. Jack is unable to sleep, worn out from his job and is a slave to his crass consumer lifestyle. Soon, however, Jack's life is radically altered when he gains a new friend, the virile Tyler Durden.

Tyler is the type of person who at first glance seems a rare breed: he complains about the way we're all lapdogs to corporate culture in the endless working-spending cycle of consumerism. "You have a class of young men and women, and they want to give their lives to something," Tyler proclaims. "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." Tyler, however, has found a way out of this materialistic cycle.

Jack and Tyler begin Fight Club, inspired by Tyler's commitment to near-death experiences as a source of heightened consciousness. Through the mutual pummeling of one another, Jack and Tyler reach a new level of self-discovery. Soon, the club expands to men from all walks of life who convene in a basement to beat each other's brains out with bare knuckles in the name of brotherhood. Gradually, however, Tyler turns the horrifying purity of Fight Club into something worse--a nationwide army of slave-like terrorists fighting class wars against corporate America.

Director David Fincher's film exposes a raw nerve about the fear today's male has of his manhood becoming increasingly irrelevant in the face of feminism and political correctness. It also explores the pervasiveness of exploitive forces in our corporate economy.

But this despairing film is about something much deeper and is set forth with clarity in the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, from which the film was adapted. "I'm breaking my attachment to physical power and possession," Tyler announces, "because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit."

Then Tyler addresses the real problem: "We don't have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression in our lives. We have a spiritual depression."

The Generation Xers are victims of a philosophical shift in Western culture from the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of absolute truth to modern philosophy's reliance on human reason and postmodernism's claim of unattainable truth. Thus, we are faced with a rootless generation seeking desperately for something to believe in.

They grew up with the worst home lives of any American generation. About 40 percent of them are children of divorce, and the threat of divorce was the dominant fear of most of them. Their numbers are not great because one of three pregnancies was aborted. Consequently, their negative attitude toward marital commitment is a reflection of their childhood.

And, having grown up in the midst of headlines about fallen televangelists and crooked politicians, the Xers' trust in authority figures is low. Therefore, cynicism about anything organized, such as church and political power, is high.

"What you have to consider," Tyler says to Jack, "is the possibility that God doesn't like you. Could be, God hates us. This is not the worst thing that can happen."

Thus, getting God's attention for being bad is better than getting no attention at all.

"We are God's middle children, according to Tyler Durden," Jack says, "with no special place in history and no special attention. Unless we get God's attention, we have no hope of damnation or redemption. Which is worse, hell or nothing?"

The Xers are a generation in search of something, and they don't want to be taken lightly. "It's not enough to be numbered with the grains of sand on the beach and the stars in the sky," Jack notes.

This search has led many to communities of submission where the person is relieved of the burdens of individuality and freedom. This is a substitute for a new form of bondage where an exclusive ideology injects meaning into an otherwise empty existence. As expressed in various religious cults and certain extremist strains of militia organizations, violence is often the result. In fact, the new revolutionaries against culture, like those in Fight Club, often validate their existence by violent acts.

Accordingly, the generation leading the way into the 21st Century is finding, as Milton writes in Paradise Lost, that "Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light."

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at Whitehead can be contacted at

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