Short Story: The Toy Store

When’s dad coming home? I asked mother.

Soon, dear, she replied. Her back was towards me. I heard the knife jabbing into the cutting wood and the sound of paper being torn but it was not paper she was cutting. She sliced the apple into five pieces and placed them on a plate and set it in front of me.

I have to eat this today too? I asked.

She smiled but did not answer.

I took a bite of the apple slice and the juices flooded into my mouth. When I bit again, I snapped with my teeth, making a loud cracking sound and I watched mother from the top of my eyes to see her reaction but she did not react.

Can I go out and play? I asked.

After you’re done eating.

All of it?

Again she did not reply.

I finished two slices and asked her again when dad would be home and she replied the same way.

Soon.

And then we’ll go to the store?

Yes dear.

And I can pick out as many toys as I want?

Finish your food first.

I’m not hungry.

She pulled the plate towards her and poured some salt on the slices from the salt shaker.

Here now, be a good boy and finish your food. Your seven now, boys who are seven don’t fuss over their food.

I didn’t know what to say so I ate another slice.

Will there be cake tonight? I asked her.

Don’t worry about that, dear, your father will get some.

Chocolate right?

She didn’t reply.

Does dad know I want chocolate one, I said again.

He knows, she said.

I took a bite of the apple and the taste of the salt made it tastier. I rubbed the half-eaten slice on the plate where the salt had missed the fruit and quickly finished it.

I thought of the toy store as I played around with the last apple slice. I saw myself walking through the door, the doorbell ringing as the glass door pushed open inwards, the white light illuminating everything inside, all the toys, the row of bicycles, I wanted a new one, one that made a little jingle when you rung the bell, one that was red because red things were faster and after that I would go up the stairs to the second floor where all the action figures and the toy cars were and I would need to get at least four or five action figures seeing two of mine already broke and I needed another three cars to finish my collection, then there was the matter of getting the parachute toy, I had seen the advertisement for the toy just a few hours ago and it was a small figure of a soldier, all green holding a gun in his hands and a parachute was attached on his back so when you threw it in the air the parachute opened and he slowly drifted back down to the ground.

I hadn’t noticed but I had finished the last slice and I was free to go now. I showed mother who said I can go play now and I went out to the front yard and found the little hump of dirt that I had made and using my fingers I clawed at it until the head popped out of the figure I had buried. I pulled it out, the dirt falling apart on either side. Once he was free of his bondage I tossed the figure in the air and watched it come crashing down. I did it again and again until one time its leg snapped off and I picked up the broken leg and buried it in the ground but after that, I got bored quickly of the game. I buried the entire figure back, using my hands to even out the dirt on top.

I went to the front gate which was closed and I climbed the wall that ran along the side. Now I could look over the gate and I stood there, watching the road, waiting for father to come home.

As I watched I saw a little boy walking alone. He was covered in dirt. He wore slippers on his feet which were coming apart from the side. His jeans were torn at the knees, perhaps from having fallen down too many times. I knew my own jeans had ripped like that but for some reason, I didn’t think his tore from playing. The cream-colored shirt he wore was lost in the dirt and dust that was embedded in the shirt. The shirt hung loosely around him as if he had lost a huge amount of weight in a very short interval. His face looked hardened. Baked by the sunlight, mother had told me that once. Stay out of the sun she always said. There was crust on the side of his lips and underneath his nose which he seemed to be unaware of. He walked dragging his feet, looking at the ground.

I knew the boy. Everyone in the neighborhood knew him. He was often caught trying to steal things that were left out in the front yards of homes. He saw me looking and he stopped walking. We stared at one another and I noticed a bruise beside his eye. I figured it was from being caught stealing. He had one tried to take two chairs that were set out in our yard and my father had caught him. Instead of hitting him like all the other people did, father gave him some water and some biscuits and told him not to come back here. He never did. The boy was still staring at me and I felt something for him but didn’t know what it was. I just wanted to give him some water like my father did or some food. I even thought of giving him the action figure that I had buried in the ground but then again, it was broken, missing some part of itself, and it was not its fault. The boy started walking again, staring at the ground in front of him. There was sweat on the back of his neck which was being stung by the sun. He went by without looking up, dragging his feet as he walked, his already scuffed sandals getting marked further. I watched him until he disappeared down the street but that feeling inside me was still there.

Father came when I was in the backyard playing with my toys. I had two wind up racing cars. One red with white stripes down the middle and the other was black and made a zooming noise. You had to pull them back and the tires would click over and over as you pulled until they reached their limit and then you let them go and the cars would race off. I was doing that on the tiled veranda when father entered. The red car that I didn’t like as much slithered off to the side and fell into the grass. The black one came to a stop when it hit the leg of the chair nearby. I cared little for it either. I ran up to father and wrapped my arms around his waist. He picked me up so I was taller than him for that moment and he asked how my day went so far.

When are we going to the store? I asked.

He laughed.

I’ve been hearing that you’ve been bugging your mom about that all day.

She was standing at the veranda door leaning against the door hinge, smiling too.

I felt a bit of shame even though that wasn’t what my father intended. I was older now. That’s not how older kids act.

My father sensed what was in my mind and he laughed again.

Okay, let’s go, he said as he set me down on the ground.

We were at a stop light. Mother and father were talking about something. I was lost to their words. The tune from the radio played quietly in the back. I was looking out of the window at the two children walking down the middle of the street, maneuvering their way around the waiting cars. The older one had a bundle of plastic toys in one hand. The toys were long and thin and I had seen them before. They looked like a whip and came in different colors and when you moved them rapidly back and forth they would light up and make different musical sounds. The older boy was holding the hand of the younger one. The younger one had one of those toys in his hands and was whipping it back and forth showing the people how the toy worked. The two of them stopped beside our car and the older one was saying something which I could not hear but I knew he was wanting me to buy the toy. The younger one kept on waving the plastic around. Both of the boys were hardened too. 

The light turned green and my father went. I watched the two boys walk to the divider in the middle of the road and stood there waiting for the light to turn red again.

So, tell me about all the toys you are going to get today, my father asked.

Understanding The Ordinary Men Who Massacred The Innocent

The question that is explored In The Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning, is how the Reserve Police Battalion 101, that was comprised of normal German civilians, were transformed and were able to participate in the massacre of innocent Jews during the Second World War. Additionally, what does this say of human nature?

An important fact that needs to be acknowledged is that the soldiers and the officers involved in the terrible acts were aware of their actions and how wrong they were. Major Trapp offered the soldiers a way out of committing the act in turn showing that he understood the severity of their actions.

Trapp then made an extraordinary offer: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out. (p. 2)

Neither did the German leadership lack awareness of the psychological damage such acts can cause upon the soldiers involved. For the following order by, Colonel Montua of the Police Regiment Centre was issued:

The battalion and company commanders are especially to provide for the spiritual care of the men who participate in this action. (p. 14)

Additionally, the soldiers also understood how evil their actions were.

Upon learning of the imminent massacre, Buchmann made clear to Hagen that as a Hamburg businessman and reserve lieutenant, he “would in no case participate in such an action, which defenseless women and children are shot.” He asked for another assignment. (p. 56)

However, not every soldier protested and neither did they take Trapp’s offer to step out of the killing line. The two main reasons provided by the text to why the soldiers continued to participate with the killings even though they had opportunities not to are conformity and habitation.

Conformity is defined as a behavior in accordance with socially accepted conventions or standards. The main reason why soldiers conformed was that they did not want to be viewed as cowards by their fellow soldiers and neither did they wish to separate themselves from the group.

Nonetheless, the act of stepping out that morning in Jozefow meant leaving one’s comrades and admitting that one was “too weak” or “cowardly.” Who would have “dared,” one policeman declared emphatically, to “lose face” before the assembled troops. “If the question is posed to me why I shot with the others in the first place,” said another who subsequently asked to be excused after several rounds of killing, “I must answer that no one wants to be thought a coward.” (p. 72)

The predicament the soldiers found themselves in was simple, either be good and not commit the horrible evil but be labeled as a coward and be ostracized by the group or commit the evil act and be accepted. Here there is an example of how adaptable man can be. In order to deal with the psychological knowledge of what they were doing, some of the soldiers began to rationalize their actions as if they were the ones doing good. One such rationalization was that whether or not they took part in the shooting, those Jewish civilians were going to die. However, it the second kind that was even worse as a thirty-five-year-old metalworker said:

I made the effort, and it was possible for me, to shoot only children. It so happened that the mothers led the children by the hand. My neighbor then shot the mother and I shot the child that belonged to her, because I reasoned with myself that after all without its mother the child could not live any longer. It was supposed to be, so to speak, soothing to my conscience to release children unable to live without their mothers. (p. 73)

Another feature of man’s ability to adapt to the demands of the environment can be seen in the case of habituation. The initial killing was difficult but with time and with more “practice” such an act became easier and easier and less psychologically demanding because this was what was asked of the participating soldiers.

Habituation played a role as well. Having killed once already, the men did not experience such a traumatic shock the second time. Like much else, killing was something one could get used to. (p. 85)

Once killing began, however, the men became increasingly brutalized. As in combat, the horrors of the initial encounter eventually became routine, and the killing became progressively easier. In this sense, brutalization was not the cause but the effect of the these men’s behavior. (p. 161)

In the months since Jozefow many had become numb, indifferent, and in some cases eager killers; others limited their participation in the killing process, refraining when they could do so without great cost or inconvenience. Only a minority of nonconformists managed to preserve a beleaguered sphere of moral autonomy that embodied them to employ patters of behavior and strategems of envaion that kept them from becoming killers at all. (p. 127)

So, even the horrible in us can persevere. Which for me raises the question of if there is inherent evil in us. In the book, Ervin Staub raises this notion of how evil that comes from ordinary thinking and is acted upon by ordinary people is the norm and not the exception, meaning that acting in an evil manner is not “special” to us and that each one of us is capable of it (p. 167). Zygmunt Bauman, on the other hand, proposes the notion that man adapts to the role provided by the society he or she is in (167). The soldiers in the reserve police battalion 101 needed to be killers and so, they became killers.

For me, I tend to believe them both. I do not think that man is inherently good or evil but is capable of it and does have both of these aspects in them. However, for the most part, man is adaptable and he or she adapts to their environment. This brings up the importance of individual thinking or at the very least, individual principles and limits. For, by following the group and falling into the herd mentality, one is likely to act in a manner that is despicable if that is what the herd demands.

If there is one thing I take away from this book it would be this: Realizing and understanding that I too would have acted like these soldiers if I were in their position.

This realization has made me question the way I act and the standards I hold myself up too because it is clear that if I were to find myself in such a horrible position, I would like to think that I would act honorably and resist the evil. However, that can only be done if I act with honor and speak the truth at this very moment and hold myself up to a high standard so that if I were in such a position, I would not need to hope but rather, I would know that I will do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.

Such standards are what I aim at. At the moment I am far away from them. It is a vulnerable thing to understand how easily man, including myself, is able to follow the instructions of the herd without acting upon his or her own individual thoughts. This text brings forth the understanding of this vulnerable position and I am glad I can think and act in the correct manner now instead of being forced into the boots of those German civilians and having to adapt to the reality of their situation. Ultimately, what this text does is that it shows the senseless killing of so many innocent human beings and serves as a reminder of the potential of both good or evil that is embedded in each one of us.

Lastly, in case anyone who reads this is under the impression that by trying to understand the Nazi soldiers, I or the text in any way try to justify their actions, I would like to finish with Christopher Browning’s statement on this topic and as well the words of the French Jewish historian Marc Bloch.

Explaning is not excusing, understanding is not forgiving. (p. xx)

“When all is said and done, a single word, ‘understanding,’ is the beacon light of our studies.” (p. xx)

 

 

 

Reflections: On Human Nature

Recently I have been studying the First World War and along with this, I have also spent time reading about the atrocities committed in the Second World War, specifically the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust. These conscious human actions have made me think about good or evil and whether or not humans are good. I’ve come to lean away from believing that most humans are fundamentally good and neither do I think they are evil. Rather, they have the capacity to do both, which is in some ways a sad truth but in another, it is a gift because when you do meet a genuinely good human being, it means that person has molded and made themselves good.

We all can commit horrible evil and to do wonderful good. Believing this is unsettling as well because to me this means that a person foundation can be determined by others. It can be swayed to one side or other by how the group is feeling because many people never create their own good or evil, their own limits and restrictions, instead they borrow that from the group they belong too.

What I mean by this is that it was ordinary men, truck drivers, waiters, business owners who participated in the Holocaust. The Japanese soldiers in Nanjing were regular working civilians as well but they still committed those acts. They knowingly committed these acts.  These people were not born like this. I am sure they told jokes and laughed, shared food, acted selflessly towards one another, told each other about their loved ones and about their hopes and dreams and then they committed rape and mass murder and then, those who survived the war, went back to their civilian lives.

It’s almost like this moment of madness in the otherwise neutral way of life. This plain existence on a chart that is disrupted by a sudden uptick and then back to the horizontal line as if the madness that is in us is able to breathe life for a moment. But this moment of madness existed and has always existed in humans. Almost everyone would have been a Nazi and they would have done those acts and the same goes with Japan and Nanjing.

This is no excuse but rather something that is evident of humans. Humans are adaptive. At the end of the day, humans will do whatever it takes to survive and to keep going and if this means to allow the madness inside of them to come out and rage, then so be it and if it means to keep the madness caged and lead a civilian life, then it shall remain caged, for the most part. You see it, madness, peak its head out in civilian life as well but not as much because there are laws to stop that and there is a certain way of life that everyone has agreed upon to live that stops this madness from raging.

But at war, when there is disorder, when it is not reason that leads but rather your appetite, your emotions and feelings that lead you and control you, it is difficult to keep the madness caged and it comes out and when it is unfiltered, you see the evil in man and the evil that has always been in man be unleashed and the consequences of this evil are hard to comprehend. This is compounded when the leader of the group allows the madness to go and even encourages it. Perhaps this is why it is easier for most people to cage off the group and say that something was wrong with that group. Something was wrong with the Nazi’s or the Japanese men at Nanjing but I don’t think they were any different from most people on the planet.

The reason for this is that there is only a small minority of individuals who lead their lives based on their own principles and rules. Most people live life according to the principles and rules set by group so, when those rules change, the individual follows and lives by the new rules but if one sets his or her own rules or principles then the outside does not affect it and by doing so, that individual can be the one to not only say no to killing an innocent child but try to save that child and even give his or her own life to do so.

However, most people don’t have to come to terms with such a thing. Most people live quiet lives where there is no need for the madness that is inside of them and whatever little madness does leak out every so often, it is easy to cage again. Most people then believe themselves to be good or at least lean closer to good rather than evil. They put up these false thoughts that they could never commit horrible evil.

But how do you know this to be true? If you have never faced a circumstance that tests your goodness and presents evilness as a viable choice and a choice that is being made by those around you, how do you know how you will act?

I doubt very much that the ordinary German or Japanese citizen ever thought that in a year or two they would be killing innocent women and children. Yet they did.

So, I think of the good and evil question and I cannot say the human being is either. It is good when it needs to be and it is evil when it needs to be.

Such are we.

Short Story: A Warm Summer Evening

The ceiling fan lifelessly groaned as the warm summer air came through the open window. The fan leaned heavily on one side as if it were giving way to some burden and the electric wires curled and twisted from the socket from which the fan was attached to the ceiling. He had meant to tell the landlord about it but he hesitated in case the landlord asked questions. Instead, he opted to close the window and forget about the fan.

Outside, people were already busy. The sun had barely risen but man was always awake. No rest for those who think and man cannot stop thinking. If only he could go down like the sun and forget that he had ever risen. He dressed for work, wearing the same shirt, the same trousers, and the same boots. The belt he chose was the same one as well. The brown leather belt that had been with him for too many years now. It had changed as he had changed. Now the last hole of the belt strained as he buckled it around his waist. There was a time when the second did him fine. There was a time for a lot of things however, that time was different and this time was what he had left.

He adjusted his trousers so he could get some more breathing room. The ceiling fan lay motionless now and so did everything else in the small room. It was everything he had and he did not mind it. The small possessions of his were his own and he knew them by heart which made the small great because each piece meant something. Perhaps this was why he had not gotten a new belt. This one had been with him for too long to throw away like some piece of rotten food. Even it had a purpose still, just the same as him. His purpose, for now, was to open the shop and sweep the floors before the customers came.

The shop was hidden behind the new stores that were built the year before. At least that’s how people described it. The little shop that looks out of place. It may have been old and out of place but it was still fine. People still came through the doors and the little bell still rung and the customers still appreciated the food.

At least the same people did. It seemed as if only the old remembered the shop for it was always the same people that came at the same time for the same food and said the exact same words. He greeted them the same as well and asked them the same questions. Robert, who worked as a server had noticed this and made a joke, saying that whenever he came into work it was like he was living the same day again.

“I could go about the day blind and still see,” Robert said. “I don’t know how you do it, man, I’ve been here for like two months and I’m going mad, you’ve been here like ten years—”

“Fifteen.”

“Fifteen? That’s even worse, I don’t know how you ain’t gone mad.”

“It’s not that bad. I don’t mind the everyday.”

“This ain’t for me, man, I’m trying to get out when I can.”

“You should. You can do much better.”

“Franz you always be telling me this and you’re a good man for it but you should take your own advice.”

He shook his head.

“I don’t mind it here.”

The little bell went off and it was time for Mr. Friedrich to come. He was an older man, older than Franz but he still had a full head of grey hair. He walked slowly, leaning on one side because of the wound he had suffered in his leg from the war that still bothered him. It had bothered him more with each passing year. It bothered him the most now for he could not lean upon his wife anymore.

Mr. Friedrich sat down at the corner table by the window. He liked to feel the warmth of the sun. Although he never said as much Franz figured it to be true. The elder hands always rested where the sunlight fell. Robert went to greet him.

Franz already knew the order and had the eggs and bacon ready to cook. He also had the orange juice waiting for Mr. Friedrich. Robert came back and told him what he knew and Franz started cooking. Robert leaned up against the kitchen counter and folded his arms. He whistled himself a tune as Franz cooked, rhythmically tapping his foot on the tiled kitchen floor which was swept clean by Franz hours before.

“Why do you think he comes here every morning?” Robert asked.

“Mr. Friedrich?”

“Ya-huh”

“Maybe he likes my cooking.”

Robert laughed and his laugh made Franz smile.

“I heard he’s well to do.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Meaning he ain’t need to come to a small little place like this. He could go to a fancier one, better one and have grub there.”

“Mr. Friedrich has been coming here for years now. He used to come with his wife before. I’ve even seen him come with his daughter.”

“She good looking?”

“Out of your league, son.” He chuckled.

“You’d be surprised, Old Fran, I can make plenty of things work.”

“Yeah, yeah. How about you make yourself work first and take this to Mr. Friedrich”

The store got less busy when the afternoon came. It was just how things worked around here. The warm sunny days made people slow and relaxed. They much rather walk the coastline or lay by the beach and watch the waves come and go instead of being stuck in a small five table shop in the corner of the town. Franz liked this part of the job. Afternoons were what he looked forward too for he could step outside the kitchen and have his smoke under the sunlight. He sat on the curb in front of the shop and watched the quiet streets. In the big cities, you could not find such peace. It was the kind of peace one could discover at any moment of the day. In the big cities, peace like this only came at home, if that, but here, all he had to do was close his eyes and have his smoke and he would be at peace for the town was at peace.

He looked at his left hand and no longer was there any mark that changed its disposition. With time, the sunlight had branded over his previous brand. Now, it was concealed as if there was never anything on his finger. The sunlight fell upon his chest as well. There was no concealing what was inside there. A branded heart cannot be rebranded. If only the smoke and the sunlight could calm the memories. Amidst the peace was disorder but only he felt his disorder, the rest of them did not see it, but he knew the rest were disordered as well, but he did not see it. He wondered how peaceful the town really was.

The little bell rang and Robert came out of the shop. He sat beside him on the curb and Franz passed him the smoke. Robert was a good boy. He complained a lot but he always did his work and soon he’ll move on like the rest of the kids do but another will come to take Robert’s place and Franz hoped he would be as good as Robert too.

In the evening Mr. Friedrich returned. He never came back in the evening however, Mr. Friedrich did take his usual seat by the window. He ordered some whiskey but Robert informed him that they didn’t serve alcohol like that. Mr. Friedrich asked for it again and when he asked for the third time it sounded as if he were on the verge of begging, the proud man’s voice quivered as he failed to look Robert in the eyes.

Franz gave Robert some money to run down the street and get the whiskey from the liquor store. Mr. Friedrich sat quietly holding the piece of newspaper he had brought with him. He did not read it until Robert came back with the whiskey. Franz put three cubes of ice in a glass and drowned it with alcohol. He set it on Mr. Friedrich’s table who just nodded. He took a sip from the drink and then unfolded his paper and began to read.

“Odd fellow ain’t he?” Robert said to Franz as the two watched from the kitchen. “Made  a big deal about the drink and now he’s barely drinking it.”

“It’s not about the drink,” Franz said.

“What you mean?”

“Think he just didn’t want to be alone.”

Robert turned back to study Mr. Friedrich.

“You think?”

“Night can be too long when you are alone.”

Mr. Friedrich finished his drink slowly. He did not ask for more. When he tried to pay for the whole bottle, Franz told him not to worry about it. Mr. Friedrich was a proud man and he did not take the service for free so he left a good tip on the table. Franz let Robert keep the tip for himself.

“You deserve it,” Franz said, “never seen you run that fast.”

Robert laughed and the two of them shared another smoke. Robert suggested that they might as well have some whiskey too while it’s here and Franz agreed. Franz did not talk much but Robert did, he never stopped talking, Franz simply sat there smoking and drinking until he felt a little light headed and he wasn’t sure if it was the drink or Robert’s word that made his head feel that way but he was glad for Robert and his words because otherwise, it would have been him and his own words.

When Franz got home, he sat down at the edge of his bed and took off his shoes. Afterward, he undid his belt and he felt his stomach thank him. He laid the brown leather belt beside him and went to open the window. The warm evening air came through, slightly moving the cream colored curtains. He stood by the open window and had another smoke. The landlord wouldn’t like him smoking indoors but he felt if he did it by the window, it would not be that bad. All he could see from his window was the quiet back street where a cat lay curled up. He often fed the little cat and he called it Franny.

Once Franz finished his smoke, he grabbed the wooden chair from his study table and set it in the middle of the room. He went to his bed and picked up his brown leather belt and looped the belt through the buckle and tied it at the last loop which had been strained by the weight of his belly. He stepped onto the chair and lowered his head slightly so that it would not hit the ceiling fan. He put the belt through the somewhat dusty arm of the fan until the belt was centered. Franz needed to get on his tippy toes to get his head through the loop. Once around it, he balanced himself on the chair, his toes scraping the wood. Here was where his coward came out. Always here. At the edge of it, he was always to cowardice to jump, to plunge into the nothingness and be brave about what happens next. But his heart wasn’t built like that or it may have been built like that but he had drowned his courage and now all that remained was the coward. He swallowed his spit and took a breath and pushed the chair away. Slowly the disorder went away.

Franz awoke on the floor. The chair lay on its side and he unknowingly mimicked its stance. The belt still hung on the ceiling fan but it was no longer circular but rather it hung, limp. Franz rubbed his tender throat and even inhaling stung. He should have known better to take a deep breath. The warm evening air came through the open window and he lay there. After some time he slowly got to his feet and set the chair in the middle of the room again. He climbed up it and reached for the leather belt. He saw the loop had finally given way and was ripped.

He liked that belt. It had been with him for too long. He placed the belt in his cabinet and the ceiling fan leaned a little more or so he believed. Outside, the cat meowed and he forgot that he didn’t even feed Franny and so he went out into the warm evening to do that. While outside, he decided to have another smoke. At least this time he had made progress.

Essay: The Becoming of The Overman

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche is able to establish the core of his philosophical doctrine through use of a parabolic story. The central point of the message is that of the overman and Nietzsche argues that the overman is the ultimate destination of humans (p. 12). Through the parable of Zarathustra, Nietzsche puts forth the idea that the overman is a state of becoming that can be attained by following ones own body and will.

Zarathustra claims that the human is something that must be overcome (p. 13). The reason for this is because the human being is considered a bridge between a beast and the overman. The human is still transforming and becoming and it is the overman that the human must become (p. 14). This becoming is accompanied by a degree of faith in the belief that the human can be something more than it is right now and through sacrifice, one can invent the overman (p. 15). Zarathustra demonstrates this sacrifice at the start of the parable, by first leaving mankind for the mountains and then, after many years, descending from the mountains. Each time sacrificing his comfort and his accustomed way of life in order to seek the uncomfortable unknown (pp. 9-10). Another comfort that must be sacrificed is the thought of the afterlife (p. 13).

The acceptance of the idea that God is dead is needed because Zarathustra believes that such a concept creates false hope. It is something that brings order through fear and with it, restricts the full experience of life (p. 261). Instead, the overman is loyal to the earth and understands that there is nothing outside of the earth so, one’s life must have meaning in the present instead of living for the afterlife (p. 31). It is through the body and senses that one comes to associate him or herself with the earth and dissociate themselves from God. Hence, the body becomes the guide and this parable can be viewed as empowering, for it means that all one needs is themselves, to look inwards to find their path in life (pp. 85-86). This concept of inner strength is visited throughout the parable and in particular, with the reference to the winter for like winter, Zarathustra believes that he has a strength which is yet to be uncovered because at the moment it is concealed (p. 174).

This inner strength leads towards the will to power, which, is the idea that one brings their own thoughts and observations towards everything they encounter in life (pp. 112-113). It’s almost a childlike curiosity where one does not take anything at face value but rather seeks a deeper understanding and explanation. Will to power is a procreative will of life. A life that is created by you, through your own experiences and your own reflections of those experiences. Thus, it’s a life that is your own (112-113).

Due to the emphasis on the individual, Zarathustra puts forth the argument that one cannot become the overman by following others because by following, one becomes an imitator, a trickster who does not comprehend the teachings, like the character of the Magician (p. 255) or “Zarathustra’s ape” (pp. 175-178). Instead one must follow their own command (p. 200). By following one’s own senses, Zarathustra opens himself towards chance. Although having trust in chance can be daunting, Zarathustra proceeds to teach that this trust is what is needed in order to become the overman for through the trust of chance, one comes to face what they wish not to face and this is when growth can take place (pp.154-155). Similar to Zarathustra, one must overcome the distrust towards uncertainty in order to move towards the overman (p. 163).

Through this trust and the will to power one comes to create their own path. A subjective path that only they can walk upon. The reason being, there is no universal “way” or “path,” rather it is all based on the individual and their own experiences, which adds to the idea that one has to lead their own life, rather than follow (p. 195). So, Zarathustra’s way of life is his own way.

Additionally, it is not enough to just create but one must also recreate (p. 202). The creation and recreation of one’s own thoughts are demonstrated when Zarathustra speaks of the three great human sins. Instead of thinking about them as sins, he puts forth this notion of how each can be considered good if one is able to go beyond the constraints of human thought. In this way, selfishness comes to be viewed as an important part of achieving the overman rather than simply considering selfishness as a character flaw (p. 193).

It is in the creation of the overman that one must be selfish. Zarathustra teaches how selfishness can be used as a filter to allow only those things that bring self-enjoyment into your life while casting away whatever is considered contemptible (p. 195). This is your own happiness. The things that you consider to be good for you or evil for you. Not what has been considered good or evil. It is a personal creation of life that one must seek and in order for this to take place, one has to be selfish (p. 193). It is a type of self-love that Nietzsche, through the parable fo Zarathustra, tries to teach.

However, this selfishness comes under contest if the herd is allowed to dominate. Hence,  the herd becomes something that one must avoid for the herd puts the “you” before the “I” (p. 60-61). The herd makes the individual follow established norms and takes away the creative process of life. Through this, one’s own intuition takes a back seat to the herd mentality of the group (p. 9).

This is why solitude is important to Zarathustra. Through solitude, Zarathustra is able to cleanse himself from the thoughts of the herd and the norms which have been established without the will to power (p. 145). It is in the solitude that one can connect with their intuitions or inner thoughts. The thoughts that come when the hour is the stillest bring with them humility for they allow one to realize what they already know, which, is that there is more to them. The human they are at the moment is not all they can be and through their own actions they can become more (pp. 145-147). Such an idea is central to the parable of Zarathustra for he urges all people to go beyond themselves. Solitude is one of the ways this can be accomplished.

Ultimately, the parable of Zarathustra is not one of the character, Zarathustra, becoming the overman. Rather it is the process of how one can become the overman. Zarathustra is a prelude to such a being (p. 209). Which is why when he speaks of the old tablets and the new ones, he shows that even these new tablets are unfinished. They are left uncompleted for the next being to write on and the tablets will always be uncompleted for the future generations to rewrite and recreate (p. 198). This recreation is fundamental to the concept of the overman and Zarathustra demonstrates this concept at the end of the parable as well when he detaches from his new friends because part of self-overcoming is not to get attached to established norms, even if they are created through the will to power (p. 327).

In this way, the parable of Zarathustra works as an example of becoming. Zarathustra is never satisfied with what he has said or what he has done rather he looks to create more and to question what he knows. As well, he uses his body as a guide. This process allows Zarathustra to edge closer to the fundamental concept of Nietzsche, the overman, for the overman is always becoming too.

Short Story: The Bus

How long will it be, I asked mother. I was standing beside her and I had the three tickets in my hand. Her hand was on my shoulder and just her touch alone made me feel better. My brother kicked a rock that was on the ground and looked around for another one. Mother told him to stop because he was dirtying up his shoes.

Four hours, she said to me.

Four hours, I said back to her, but I don’t want to go in there.

This is was the fourth or fifth time I said that and mother had enough, she did what she always did when she was frustrated.

Remember what your father said, be a big boy now.

Four hours, I repeated back more to myself than to anyone else.

I leaned closer to my brother, my mother’s hand left my shoulder as I did that.

Are you nervous? I asked him softly so that only he heard me.

He was staring at the side of the bus, reading the advertisement for Pepsi that was painted on it.

I poked him from behind to get his attention and he swung his arm around, striking my hand away.

Mother told us to stop.

The bus doors opened in a mechanical fashion as if it were just going through the motions and made a yawing sound, tired of working. The conductor, who wore a buttoned up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbow, stepped down from the bus. The other people quickly formed a line and the three of us fell into place. I stayed close to mother, sheltered by her hip. My brother led the three of us and I felt as if I should be like that too. I edged my way by my brother’s side.

You think it’ll be fun, I asked him.

He shrugged.

Mama said they play a movie now. What movie do you think it’ll be?

Probably some boring one.

You think so?

He didn’t reply. He was older than me by three years and this was his first time too. I wanted to ask him if he was nervous again but I didn’t. He was like me but he was older so I followed him.

We stopped in front of the conductor. He put his hand out for the tickets and mother grabbed them from my hand and gave it to the man. He looked at them for a second and then nodded, handing the tickets back and motioning us through.

We followed my brother in.

Go to the back, mother said.

The school bus I took I usually sat in the front because you could get out quickly when you got to the school. The first five rows were double seated most of them were already taken by adults. All the seats were painted blue and you could see the white plastic underneath the peeling paint every now and then. There was a red and black cushion set atop the seats and particles of dust shot in the air when one sat down on it. The seats in the back of this bus were wider. They seated three at a time and the last row could seat ten people.

I asked my brother how many could sit at the way back and he said probably ten but I knew twelve could fit if they wanted to.

My brother stopped at the first set of three seaters and didn’t look over at mother to see if it was okay. He began to scout inside, going to the window seat.

I quickly turned to mother, you said I could have the window seat.

Does it matter, she asked.

You said I could have it.

She let out a deep breath. Let your brother have the window seat, she said in a tired voice.

My brother looked to protest but before he could mother raised her hand and I knew I had won. He threw himself onto the middle seat.

As I walked by him he stuck out his leg and tried to trip me but I knew that was coming and I stepped over it. I smiled at him, letting him know I won. When I sat down he leaned over and pinched me under my arm where mother couldn’t see. I cried out to her but she ignored the two of us. It was a daily or more accurately an hourly occurrence between the two of us.

I looked out of the window, rubbing my arm where my brother had pinched me. It was like a school bus, I told myself. I had been in plenty of those. Every morning at eight I waited for the bus outside my house along with my brother. I rode the same bus back in the afternoon. So twice a day…for…I tried to count how many times I had ridden the bus in the past five years but I ended up settling on a lot. I’ve been in a lot of them. The door closed and the bus started, jerking us all back and the uncomfortable cotton covered seats already were making me sweat. The windows only cracked slightly at the top, just enough for the heat to escape but not enough for the cool wind to come in.

Mother was right however, there was a television at the top corner of the bus, straight ahead. When it came alive it played some bootleg movie that was still in theatres. One could still see the silhouettes of the heads of the people in the movie theatre watching the movie and occasional a shadow stood up and sat down. My brother was right too. It was boring.

How much longer, I asked my mother.

Almost halfway done.

So two more hours?

More or less.

My brother was asleep. His head tilted back, his mouth slightly open, arms crossed over his chest. I suppressed my laughter. I looked out of the window again. So far the bus ride had been uneventful. Apart from the occasional fit of cough from one of the older people on the bus, there had been the usual sound of the movie playing and people snoring. I had played my game most of the ride. The game was simple. Whenever the bus got near the shadow of the trees I would unclench my teeth and imagine the bus jumping over the shadow and when we were past the shadow I would clench my teeth again which meant that the bus came back down on the road. Then, once more I waited for the next opportunity to jump. I always played this game on the school bus.

The bus was slowing down. I asked mother what was happening. She told me not to worry. The bus came to a stop at the side of the road.

Mother asked If I needed to use the bathroom and I shook my head. I did need to go but for some reason, I felt as if I left the bus it might leave me and I would be left alone on the side of the road. Such a thought came after, once mother had left along with more than half the bus. I stood up and leaned over my brother to see where everyone was going. There was a restaurant on the other side of the road.

My brother woke up and he elbowed me in the chest and told me to get off of him. I sat down rubbing my chest. He saw that mother was not here.

I told him not to worry, mama will be right back. She just went outside.

He stood up to leave as well.

I called his name and told him to sit down. Mama said to stay here and not to move.

Mama said…

He left.

I sat alone gripping the metal railing in front of me, trying to look outside the window to see where my brother was going. I saw him get out and he disappeared from my view. I wanted to go after him but mother said to stay put. I wanted to go find mother and let her know that he left and that we should find him because what if the bus left without him. It wouldn’t, it wouldn’t leave. It might leave. It might leave now, without him and without mother. It could. I would be alone then. Alone in the seat. Where were they? Some of the people had returned and took their seats. Where were they? The conductor came back and I wanted to go up and tell him not to leave. He was talking to the bus driver. Mother said not to leave the seat so I stayed put. I kept an eye on the driver, watching his hands to make sure he didn’t put them on the wheel. I felt as if with my thoughts alone I could stop the bus from going. More people came back. It looked as if everyone was back. I saw the conductor looking, counting the people. I tried to draw attention to the two empty seats beside me. I felt like going to the bathroom right there. The feeling reaching deep inside of me and the thought of it made my ears burn and I wished the windows would open some more. I stayed rooted to my seat. My foot on top of my other foot and both my hands on the railing now, looking at the driver.

He turned the bus on. I felt my body shaking but didn’t know if that was from the inside or from the motor of the bus. I thought harder hoping it was enough.

An older man came up the steps and the conductor helped him. Behind him was my mother and I stopped shaking. Behind her was my brother, drinking from a juice box, holding a bag of chips in his other hand and I sat back, letting go of the railing. I looked out of the window as if I had been doing so the entire time.

Mother came and sat in the middle seat. She opened up her purse and took out a juice box for me and she was smiling. She always brought the same juice box for me. She knew it was my favorite. I took it without giving away what had just been in my head. She also set a bag of chips on my lap and then leaned back in her chair, watching the movie as the bus got back on the road.

I tried not to think about the thoughts I just had but they kept creeping back into my mind like thoughts always did, especially the bad kind, the kind which kept imagining what will happen at night if the closet door is left open, I wanted to stop thinking and thinking about that made my ears burn again for I felt embarrassed by these thoughts. I was older now. I should be more like my brother. Like my father said.

There was a thin layer of sweat on my mother’s forehead as she leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes. My brother watched the television screen, gently rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the moving vehicle. I had finished my food and washed it down with the juice box. I placed my head against the cool window and watched my breath fog onto the glass. Outside a truck rushed past us, almost grazing the side of the bus and I felt it was a good thing the windows didn’t open all the way.

When I woke up it took me a moment to realize the silence that lay inside the bus. It was almost crushing if anyone spoke it would bring it crashing down upon us and I knew this instinctually for when I awoke I grabbed my mothers arm and asked her with my eyes what happened and she slowly shook her head.

We were no longer moving. My brother was gripping the metal railing in front of him with one hand. Outside the only thing that was still unconcerned were the leaves of the trees. They kept going with the gentle wind. The uneasiness inside the bus made me want to move around. I felt the same whenever I took a test at school. The quietness of classrooms always made me more nervous as if everyone could hear or sense the little boy in me. I wasn’t a little boy anymore, I reminded myself.

I heard then the squeaking of metal chain. In the quietness it spoke loudly, otherwise, it would have gone unheard. An older man rode his bicycle down the side of the road. He was hovering slightly above his seat and he was not looking ahead of him but rather at the inch of concrete directly in front of the rubber tires. I still remember those unblinking eyes. He disappeared.

The bus door opened. A family of three walked up the steps and the conductor did not bother checking their tickets. In fact, he looked to be frozen in his chair. The family stood still for a second at the front of the bus, like new school children waiting to be told where to sit by the teacher. The father’s face resembled the color of his white shirt which was neatly tucked into his trousers except for this one part at his hip which was coming out as if he had been leaning to the other side for too long. The mother was holding the daughter’s hand and she was looking straight ahead but not looking. My mother put an arm around my shoulders. The daughter wore a pretty blue dress and her hair was done in the style of a ponytail which was held together was a butterfly pin. The mother held the daughter tightly. Both her hands were gripping the daughter’s shoulders as if she let go, the little girl will float away like some ballon you buy at a fair. I noticed then the tears from the mother’s eyes. Even they fell in silence. The father put his hand on his wives back and motioned her to go to the backseat. The three of them were in unison as they walked down the aisle, heads turned to watch them from the back. When they passed us my brother stared at the ground and so did I. My mother kept her arm around me. There was something haunting about them. It was as if we feared to look at them because whatever haunted them could haunt us too.

People made room for them in the back. Giving them plenty of room as if they were also aware of the haunting thing that accompanied them. The mother sat in the corner and then the daughter and the father beside her. The father leaned in towards his daughter and wife and kept a tight hold onto them. I could see the part of his shirt that was undone.

The bus jolted in motion. The television started once more but the conductor turned the sound down. Peoples heads turned towards the windows as we went past the scene. First, the back end of the bus came in view and soon after, too soon, the front. The bus had been compressed as if its inside had been taken apart, accordion-like it stood, with its shattered glass sparkling on the ground, it looked so pretty, the sun glinting off the glass, fallen stars. Where the front of the bus ended, the front of the truck started and my mother made me look away.

I looked back and I saw them too. The white cloths covering something on the side of the road. So many white cloths covering the same thing I was. Those people were, but I was, and am still. The family was still but they were not anymore. I was and I felt a part of me was not for whatever haunted the family had come onto me, at least a small part of it was in me. The cloth peacefully fluttered with the wind and above them, the leaves of the trees still moved, unconcerned and above it, the sun was shining. So bright. So wonderfully. I was older than.

Friedrich Nietzsche On The Necessity Of Selfishness

Often selfishness is considered a character flaw. Since childhood, you are taught to be unselfish, to be less self-centered and to play well with others. It is the belief that for a community to get along we must forgo certain aspects of ourselves, certain likes or desires in order to create more unity.

By this standard, it is easy to see why selfishness is considered a bad flaw to posses. However, Friedrich Nietzsche puts forth an argument that selfishness is not an evil but rather a great good. It is something that we must take care of and use rather than suppress and disregard.

And at that time it also happened – and verily, it happened for the first time – that his word pronounced selfishness blessed, the wholesome, healthy selfishness that wells from a powerful soul – from a powerful soul to which belongs the high body, beautiful, triumphant, refreshing, around which everything becomes a mirror – the supple, persuasive body, the dancer whose parable and epitome is the self-enjoying soul. The self-enjoyment of such bodies and souls calls itself “virtue”.

It may seem odd to have words like healthy, wholesome, virtue and powerful associated with selfishness, however, it makes sense when you understand the meaning behind Nietzsche’s use of selfishness.

For Nietzsche, there is nothing better than to live a life that is one’s own. A life in which you are the leader and you don’t merely accept what has come before you as fact or what others say as virtues or moral’s but rather you create your own life through the use of your will.

It is in this creation that one must be selfish. You use your selfishness as a filter or a screen to allow only those things that bring self-enjoyment to your life while casting away whatever is considered contemptible. This is your own happiness. The things that you consider to be good for you or evil for you. Not what has been considered good or evil. It is a personal creation of life that you must seek and in order for this to take place, you have to be selfish.

And what was considered virtue and called virtue was playing wicked tricks on selfishness! And “selfless” – that is how all these world-weary cowards and cross-marked spiders wanted themselves, for good reason

“Selfless” people were associated with the word “sham” for Nietzsche. The reason being is that all their “wisdom” and talk did not come from their own experience. It was upon the experiences of people in the past who had used the creative will to create their own meanings and living by these standards is what Nietzsche disagreed with. It is almost a false virtue where one is acting virtuously by being “selfless” but in reality, it is cowardice and the lack of will that makes the individual conform.

It is a type of self-love that Nietzsche is trying to teach. You look out for yourself and you create your own life which includes principles or actions that you agree with and you protective this in a selfish manner from outside influence. In this manner, you set yourself apart from the herd and get on your own path in life.

One must learn to love oneself – thus I teach – with a wholesome and healthy love so that one can bear to be with oneself and need not roam.

Otherwise, you may live a burdensome life and find that these burdens are not even your own but rather adopted from others.

“Yes, life is a grave burden.” But only man is a grave burden for himself! That is because he carries on his shoulders too much that is alien to him. Like a camel, he kneels down and lets himself be well loaded. Especially the strong, reverent spirit that would bear much: he loads too many alien grave words and values on himself, and then life seems a desert to him.