I was flipping through Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club last night, one of my favourite books. I hadn’t given much thought to this before, but I was wondering what motivated the space monkeys to join Project Mayhem. The novel hints that the space monkeys are a mix of lower status occupations. They are probably single and not actively participating in the mating market. So, to what extent would participation in Project Mayhem attract women?
I ask this question because the motivation that men have for status and success is largely due to the link with mating opportunities. When men undertake risky activities, the benefit is that higher status can translate into women. If it did not, risk taking tendencies would be selected against. Does Project Mayhem fit this picture?
Within Project Mayhem, the participants are all male. They do not understand the larger picture of Project Mayhem. Given that the rules state that you cannot talk about Project Mayhem, it must be difficult to use your involvement as a signal to women. The manner in which the space monkeys have specifically assigned tasks which they follow to the letter suggests that they may not be getting a large status boost within their new group.
Perhaps it is about self-improvement (although not in the sense that the book mocks). If you are at the lower end of the income scale and follow the consumerist trends, higher status men are likely to out-compete you. The book’s anti-consumerist thread, and the suggestion that we need external stimulus to stop us from treading water in our lives, might imply that the space monkeys joined to break from the inertia that traps them in a strategy certain to fail.
Or is participation resting on the outcome? Tyler Durden describes his vision:
You’ll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five-degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and every evening what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock itself in cages as protection against bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.
“Imagine,” Tyler said, “stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”
In this new world, the relative status of the space monkeys, and their prospects for attracting women, might be quite different to that if they stayed in their low-status job.
Of course, I do not expect that women was what the author had in mind. As the narrator states, “I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need.”