Nietzsche & The Higher Man

In the book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche put forth the idea of the overman or the higher man is what each individual should attempt to become. The higher man is an individual who follows his or her own path and not the path set by the mob. The higher man must face what makes him or her uncomforable or what they fear. Laslty, the higher man is a process, it is a becoming, you are constantly recreating the path and in doing so, taking action in your life.

One cannot be concerned with the mob, with the popular opinion, with popularity itself when it comes to becoming the higher man. The mob isn’t concerned about the higher man because the mob praises equality above the rest. But with equality comes the tearing down of someone who is attempting to achieve more, to become more than what he or she is. The insistence on equality results in the barrier against reaching ones full potential for equality is used as a weapon so the individual settles for contentment.

I stood in the market place. And I spoke to all, I spoke to none.

Of what concern to me are market and mob and mob noise and long mob ears?

The higher man must look inwards. This individual is concerned with himself and that may sound narcissistic however the idea is that in order to help others, one must help himself first. In this manner, when you focus on yourself and your own actions and you right your actions, then, it can have a trickle down effect on those around you. So, by helping yourself you come to help others.

I have the overman at heart, that is my first and only concern–and not man: not the neighbor, not the poorest, not the most ailing, not the best.

This desire to help others can be dangerous in a sense as well. What is the reason behind your help? Does your aid cripple the individual? Are you helping to make yourself feel better? Is your help a way to stay comfortable and not confront your own mistakes?

Both helping and equality are terms that are viewed highly in most cultures. However, this is what Nietzsche wants recreated by the individual. The reason being that one may help others and in doing so make themselves feel good but also take away the opportunity of growth from another and hence, be there to be helped again at a later point. While, equality is a good virtue but it can also mean stiffling your potential in order to fit in with the rest of the group rather then fully expressing yourself, attempting to reach your potential and becoming “unequal”.

Nietzsche furthermore put forth the idea that one must follow the “nausea” by which he meant that thing that is disagreeable to the mob. It is with this nausea as ones guide that you can discover what is truly important. In a way, one must keep open to exploring that thing which makes the mob uncomfortable, for it may be in this nausea that you find your way. The mob on the other hand is concerned with smaller virtues, they are small people who are enveloped in things that are of temporary concern.

Overcome these masters of today, O my brothers–these small people, they are the overman’s greatest danger.

You higher men, overcome the small virtues, the small prudence, the grain-of-sand consideration, the ants’ riffraff, the wretched contentment, the “happiness of the greatest number”!

The mob rules without reason and hence cannot be reasoned with. So, the higher man must have a mistrust towards such a group.

And in the marketplace once convinces with gestures. But reason makes the mob mistrustful.

In order to reach for the higher man, to become the overman, the individual must posses courage. For the path can be lonely and in more than one way, it must be lonely. The individual needs solitude in this attempt to be separated from the consensus thought and action so one can discover their own thoughts and their own “whys”. Furthermore, the higher man must have courage because the individual has to face the abyss. This must be done willingly, choosing to face the uncomfortable in their life. What they have been avoiding, what they fear, this is precisely what the higher man must encounter and then, attack. This courage is important when you are alone. When no one is watching. For the internal struggles are your own, so your courage must be your own too and not one that is inspired by others because that is not true courage. That courage will leave once people leave but that internal uncomfortability will still be there and that needs to be attacked with courage.

Do you have courage, O my brothers? Are you brave? Not courage before witnesses but the courage of hermits and eagles, which is not longer watched even by a god.

Cold souls, mules, the blind, and the drunken I do not call brave. Brave is he who knows fear but conquers fear, who see the abyss, but with pride.

Who sees the abyss but with eyes of an eagle who grasps the abyss with the talons of an eagle–that man has courage.

Furthermore, the higher man must go on his own. The path is unique to the individual and so, he must not rely on others to help him climb. When one rides the accomplishments of others in order to create their own self esteem or self-identity, they are essentially robbing themselves of the effort and with it the experience gained from the effort and the eventual reward. Also, through this when the time comes to walk on your own two feet, you will find the ground to be unstable, foot steps that don’t match your stride for you did not earn your place here. Then, keeping your place will be impossible because you did not know the struggle.

If you would go high, use your own legs. Do not let yourselves be carried up; do not sir on the backs and heads of others. But you mounted a horse? You are now riding quickly up to your goal? All right, my friend! But your lame foot is sitting on the horse too. When you reach your goal, when you jump off your horse–on your very height, you higher man, you will stumble.

The higher man needs to know himself. What he is capable of? What are his standards? His principles? What can he achieve? How much can you work? How many hours can you go for? This is important because by knowing your boundaries, then you can slowly push further, inch by inch, expanding yourself and what you know and what you can do. You do not overreach in this manner. Rather you use the zone of proximal development, carefully testing your limits and improving.

Do not be virtuous beyond your strength! And do not desire anything of yourselves against probability.

Lastly, the higher man must attempt. He must act. He must live. With this notion comes failure but failure needs to be viewed as possibility for growth. If you fail, then you recreate, you question what you knew that led to that failure, understand what you know now and attempt once more and when you fail again, you recreate once more, endlessly, recreating, questioning, attempting and recreating and in this manner, you are living or as Nietzsche puts it, dancing and laughing.

You higher men, the worst about you is that all of you have not learned to dance as one must dance–dancing away over yourselves! What does it matter that you are failures? How much is still possible! So learn to laugh away over yourselves! Life up your hearts, you good dancers, high, higher! And do not forget good laughter.

Essay: Kafka & The Consequences of Set Truth

Franz Kafka in the story, “A Comment”, speaks of the importance of finding one’s own path in life, discovering one’s own truth (p. 161). However, when one constructs an understanding around their own truth to the point where this truth is set in the individual’s mind, it can lead to biased thinking and sometimes even harmful consequences.

In the “Penal Colony”, the officer’s belief in the truth of his predecessor leads him to develop a dogmatic approach which not only causes him harm but also blurs his understanding of right and wrong. This is demonstrated by the character of the condemned man who is sentenced without having an opportunity to defend himself for the officer believes that the condemned man’s words would be lies while his own judgment is correct (p. 40). The officer’s dogmatic thinking is a result of the past traditions and how things used to be and as a consequence, the officer associates himself with the institution. While the character of the researcher helps contrast the officer’s truth with his own views as the researcher believes the punishment and sentencing to be inhumane and the procedure to lack justice (p. 46). The officer cannot relate to this point of view because it would interfere with his set truth. This idea is taken to the extreme in the story by Kafka for the officer rather condemn himself in the name of justice rather than realizing his own wrong actions and perhaps confronting what he had acknowledged to be true and by doing so, create some new understanding (p. 54).

The theme of judgment and truth is visited in “The Judgement” as well. Kafka displays the consequences of adopting someone else’s truth as your own. Such truth is harder to escape when it comes from an authority figure. In the “Penal Colony”, the officer takes upon his truth because it is related to his predecessor, to the past tradition, hence giving it authority and in “The Judgement”, the truth is that of the narrator’s father, who has always been an authoritative figure in the narrator’s life (p. 6). By taking on this truth, it results in the narrator’s death (p. 12) and similarly, the officer’s death.

Viewing life through one’s own truth is observed in “Josephine, the Singer or The Mouse People” story. Kafka demonstrates a contrasting point of view as the narrator of the text has a different opinion of Josephine and her abilities compared to what Josephine regards to be the truth (pp. 99-100). Josephine has her own truth and in which she believes her art to be important, so much so, that she believes that others need her and her singing (p. 103). The narrator disagrees and even believes if Josephine were to disappear, she would not be missed (p. 108). Furthermore, her truth can be harmful. Due to the fact that she is a popular artist, this allows for large gatherings and the narrator informs the reader that on more than one occasion such large gatherings have resulted in tragedy for it made it easier for predators to find and hunt them (p. 103). However, Josephine believes that she is needed when tragic episodes occur in the community, she believes that her squealing helps people. Here, Kafka shows how ones own truth can bring about contradictory results for her gatherings can cause tragedies as well.

In “Researches of a Dog”, although the narrator attempts a research project, his approach is muddled with his existing biases. In a way, the narrator takes his premise as a conclusion and in doing so, his truth is set and this causes him misunderstanding or at least stops him from viewing things beyond his premise (pp. 132-133). A clear example of this is the fact that the narrator does not perceive human beings (133). He is focused on this belief that food either comes from the dogs wetting the ground or else, it falls from the skies. It is in this narrow view that causes the narrator not to consider an alternative. Kafka is able to demonstrate the constraints truth can have on the individual if they believe it to be the only truth. Furthermore, set truths without flexibility can even cause the individual harm. This is shown in the narrators choice of self-deprivation in order to prove his point. In doing so, the narrator adopts a fasting lifestyle which is contradictory to the communities way of living and this leads to the point where he loses consciousness (pp. 155-157). Additionally, In an attempt to seek his truth, the narrator slowly becomes distant from his community. The narrow thinking brought on by his believed truth results not only in self-harm but also in ostracization (p. 150). 

However, by exploring what he thought to be the truth, it results in the narrator opening himself to what he did not know. In the text, “A Page from an Old Document”, Kafka explores the notion of how by facing the outside, the unknown, it can have an effect on what you had considered to be the truth and so, it can change your truth (pp. 66-67). Similarly, the research dog adds to his research with the inclusion of music in his next project (p. 160).

In “The Burrow”, the narrator gives himself a simple narrative, something that grounds his reality, this being the importance of his abode (p. 170). For the narrator does not feel danger when he is with his passages, chambers and above all, his castle court (p. 177). Here, Kafka visits similar themes explored in the “Researches of a Dog”, for his truth, the simple narrative, has caused him to be isolated from others (p. 173). However, unlike the research dog where the alienation was taken on in order to search for the truth, in “The Burrow”, the alienation is a result of his truth. Furthermore, unlike the “Penal Colony” where the officer never challenged his set truth, in “The Burrow”, the narrator is forced to come to terms that the narrative he has given himself may be false. Kafka showcases this through the foreign sound the narrator begins to hear (p. 178). Due to the fact that the burrow is supposed to be protective, this intruding sound causes the narrator to panic especially when he gives in to the notion that the sound is perhaps coming from something that can cause him harm (p. 181). Furthermore, Kafka also put forth the notion of how when one invests a lot of time in something, the importance of that thing becomes greater and hence, that individual is more likely to affirm their truth because they don’t want to realize that their effort and time was spent on something useless (p. 187). The fact that the narrator has spent so much time working on his burrow, to the point that it has caused him self-harm and deprived him of sleep when he is forced to change his narrative, the narrator finds himself in a disorganized state of mind.

The text is unfinished but perhaps, “A Report to the Academy” can give hints to how having his truth shatter would have affected the narrator. For in, “A Report to the Academy”, the notion that one can transform due to the necessity to survive is explored (p. 80). The narrator of the text learns human mannerism and this allows him to escape captivity. Similarly, in “The Burrow”, the narrator may have had to develop a new thought pattern or a new truth in order to deal with the loss of his simple narrative.

Kafka’s texts act as a cautionary tales towards the notion of accepting ones own truth as the only truth. For this narrow point of view can result in misunderstanding and in some cases cause the individual harm or worse, harm others.

Athena’s Advice To Telemachus

The Odyssey by Homer is often thought of as the heroic story of King Odysseus as he attempts to return to his homeland after the Trojan Wars. Although this journey is at the forefront of the story, there is another character going through his own hardship and transformation and this individual is the son of Odysseus, Telemachus.

When we first encounter the boy we witness that his life is infested by strange men who are trying to win his mother’s hand in marriage. As the queen makes her suitors wait, the men plague the house, eating all the food, spending the coin, drinking wine, taking for themselves what King Odysseus had left behind for his wife and infant son.

At a time like this, one would expect the King’s son to take action and bring order back into his home. However, this is not the case. Telemachus sits idle, waiting and hoping for his fathers return.

“Dear stranger, would you be shocked by what I say?

Look at them over there. Not a care in the world,

just lyres and tunes! It’s easy for them, all right,

they feed on another’s goods and go scot-free—

a man whose white bones lie strewn in the rain somewhere,

rotting away on land on rolling down the ocean’s salty swells.

But that man—if they caught sight of him home in Ithaca,

by god, they’d all pray to be faster on their feet

than richer in bars of gold and heavy robes

Telemachus is reliant on his father, as all young boys often are and additionally, Telemachus is plagued by self-pity and this poor attitude and mindset makes him inactive.

He’s left me tears and greif. Nor do I rack my heart

and greive for him alone. No longer. Now the gods

have invented other miseries to plauge me.

Often times in archetypical stories, a hero requires the aid of an outsider to push him or her into activity. One has to look no further than Tolkein’s Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf sets Bilbo and Frodo in motion. This common motif is even present in this ancient story where Telemachus finds himself conversing with an individual who is actually the Goddess Athena. Athena comes to Telemachus’ aid and provides him with sound advice for, after all, Athena is the Goddess of wisdom.

I have some good advice, if only you will accept it.

Fit out a ship with twenty oars, the best in sight,

sail in quest of news of your long-lost father.

Someone may tell you something

or you may catch a rumor straight from Zeus,

rumor that carries news to men like nothing else.

Essentially, Telemachus must act and he must move. It is simple and yet much-needed advice. Once you begin to help yourself, perhaps then others may help you.

Athena goes on to say:

You must not cling to your boyhood any longer—

it’s time you were a man.

So, Telemachus is to become a man by taking on responsibility. He is to become a man by taking ownership of his life. He is to become a man through action.

“Telemachus, you’ll lack neither courage nor sense from this day on,

not if your father’s spirit courses through your veins

now there was a man. I’d say, in words and action both!

Telemachus must cultivate his character. Although his father is a great man, this does not mean he will be great. No one is born a hero, one must mold themselves into such a being. This is why Telemachus’ journey and transformation are so important. He goes from a timid boy, who is shy and who lacks the courage to deal with individuals who are causing his mother pain. No one wishes to be like this individual. However, although Telemachus starts from this bottom position, through action and responsibility, he is able to create for himself a man who encompasses what a hero is supposed to be. This creation is aided by others but ultimately, it is Telemachus who must act.

So, it is this simple advice that Athena imparts on Telemachus. In order to grow, one must take on a burden, take on responsibility and through such actions, one is able to become the individual who is capable of handling hardship and furthermore, an individual who is able to overcome hardship.

Ernest Hemingway On What To Write About

I wish to write about things that are personal to me, things that matter to me, which cause me a certain sense of discomfort to write. The reason for this is that I view writing as a self-exploratory tool through which not only do I come to understand myself better and to formulate my thoughts but also to be able to express what goes unexpressed in daily life. There is always a sense of discomfort when one opens themselves up to others but this discomfort is needed if you wish to write about things that are of importance to you.

It is in this thought where Hemingway provides crucial insight. In his book, A Moveable FeastErnest Hemingway recollects his early days as a writer and the time he spent in Paris interacting with other great artists such as Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and many more. Hemingway also speaks on the art of writing, his struggles to write and his attempt to write his first novel. It is in this, where he shares his thoughts on what he wishes to write about, in particular, three ideas:

I would write one story about each thing I knew about.

What did I know best that I had not written about and lost?

What did I know about truly and care for the most?

It’s these three ideas that have stuck with me through my reading of the book. The reason is simple, they are personal and they require thought. In order to transplant those thoughts onto paper, I have to be truthful. This truth may make you vulnerable but it is in this vulnerability that I may be able to write something that has meaning.

 

Short Story: The Man Who Read

Important people walked around the hall with champagne glasses in their hands while their diamond watches reflected the chandelier light in all direction. A permanent smile was slapped across their faces. These men and woman gathered each year in order to expand their network but in reality, it was a celebration of riches. This was the time to show off their hard-earned suits and dresses, leather boots that clicked each time they made contact with the marble floor and cufflinks that were worth an average man’s salary and jewels that would put to shame the Kings and Queens of old. Here was the ideal situation for Abraham Hart.

‘What do you do sir?’ a tall man asked him. He had slicked back hair and one hand was in his front pocket while the other carried a drink. Just by the smell of him, Abraham knew he was some lawyer who had made a fortune before the age of thirty.

‘I am a doctor of life, sir,’ Abraham replied. The man was looking around for a higher class person to talk to as Abraham was the only man dressed in a plain black shirt, black trousers, and running sneakers. It was embarrassing to the man to be seen with Abraham but the peculiar answer caught his interest.

‘Interesting. Interesting choice of dress too.’ He was not sure yet if Abraham was plain crazy or if he was to be tonight’s entertainment. A jester to make them laugh like the old times.

‘Nothing interesting about it,’ Abraham replied, ‘it what I wear everyday for you see, by wearing the same pairs of clothes each and every day it allows me to save three minutes from my decision making capability which, like a man of your capacity can calculate pretty quickly means that in a years time I shall have saved one thousand and ninety-five minutes of decision-making time, one thousand and ninety-five minutes which I can spend on more important and more responsible things.’

The lawyer raised an eyebrow and the side of his mouth twitched up for a smirk. He extended his hand and introduced himself, ‘I am Douglas Hanson, I own the Hanson firm’ He said.

Abraham shook his hand and said it was his pleasure.

‘And you are?’ he asked as if he were speaking to a child, still confused whether or not the man was really all there in the head or not.

‘Oh, you do not know me?’ Abraham replied with an air of shock as he looked around as if Douglas Hanson was the crazy one.

‘I am afraid I do not, although you look familiar.’ Abraham knew it was a lie. The two of them had never met but the simple fact that he had made himself important had caused the lawyer some discomfort for not knowing who Abraham was. The power shifted and Abraham acknowledged it.

‘You must have heard about my experiment?’ It was a good sign to see the lawyer keep his other hand out of his pocket and to see his fingers fidget with the bottom of his suit jacket.

‘I’m afraid not sir.’

‘Oh well I am Abraham Hart and for the last twenty-one years I locked my self in a room and consumed the knowledge of the world trying to find the meaning of life.’ His long hair that reached down to the mid of his back and his gray beard that settle on top of his chest were taken as signs of a man who would do something like that, a man who would dedicate his life to learning and without questioning the lawyer put down his drink and cupped Abraham’s hand with both of his, shaking with excitement.

‘Of course, sir, of course, now I remember, I feel such a fool for not knowing right away.’

By now few of the others nearby had stopped their conversation and began to listen.

‘Your experiment was truly remarkable, I could not believe it when I first heard about it but here you are in the flesh. A living proof.’

‘Believing everything one hears is a poor quality in life so I must congratulate you sir for having some doubt about my work,’ the lawyer beamed as Abraham praised him for something he had not done.

‘Tell me one thing, sir, how did you even think of such an experiment?’ someone asked. More people had joined in on their conversation. In the distance music lightly played and people who had not heard of what was going on here kept on drinking and networking.

‘My parents passed away when I was young, leaving me in the care of an orphanage,’ people gave sympathizing nods and looks, ‘so my childhood was filled with unstable changes and constant hardship, the whole while I fell in love with books and in them I found my sanctuary and in them I found my quest so when it was discovered that my uncle left me his fortunes in his will, I at the age of twenty-one decided to venture on in my quest to find the meaning, a quest as of a month ago I have completed. In fact,’ he looked around at the perfect faces of his audience with a smile under his bushy beard, ‘this is my first social gathering in twenty-one years,’ a few applauded while more people stopped doing what they were and joined at the edge of the ever-widening circle of admirers.

‘Well, what’s the answer then? ’ someone asked in the back and all eyes stared at Abraham waiting for him to speak.

Abraham continued smiling and he spread his arms wide, ‘what’s the hurry, my friends, if there is one thing being alone in a single room teaches you, it is patience. And another is the sweet climactic release after a long build-up, if you know what I mean, my quest took me twenty-one years, twenty-one years of build up until finally I saw the light so please, humor me and ask not what I learned right away for that knowledge shall come in time but first ask how I remained sane all those years, is that not a better question? Would you acknowledge the answer if it came out of a madman’s mouth? Is it not better to question first before believing?’

The silent crowd broke into different pockets of buzzing, each pocket discussing what the old man had said. Abraham looked on, studying the curious faces closely until finally someone said, ‘how did you stay sane, sir?’

‘Who said I am sane? HA!’ he cackled looking around at the rich attired folks with expressionless faces for they were used to getting quick and straightforward answers but now, he made them wait and earn his wisdom. Abraham ran his fingers through his beard and cleared his throat.

‘Isolation is said to be the worse punishment a human being can go through,’ he continued, ‘for physical pain comes and goes and we as evolved humans can adapt to receive pain and even adapt to physical pain but when it comes to metal struggle and torture tools that dig into a man’s psyche well then things get interesting, my friends but there is always a solution.’

‘Dr. Frankl summed it up the best, if you have hope and if you have the will and a clear goal in mind, us humans can do anything. Dr. Frankl survived the terrible Nazi occupation and their camps because he had a mission and so did I, mine was to figure out the meaning of life and that excitement of actually moving towards that goal kept me going the first year of isolation. In that year I read the history of our world, everything from how our planet and universe came to be to how first societies began, when the first societal conflicts arose, the effects the Greek and Roman’s had on the future generations, the impact of the Golden Horde to the greatest scientific inventions that changed how we live and think to the last great world war. Everything that has ever been written on our human history,’ he pointed at his head,’ is in here.’ He cracked a smile once more at the astonished looks he saw.

‘So my sanity survived the first year and the second and the third for my goal was clear and I moved towards it each day and that’s all I cared for. And in those years I learned how lucky we truly are and how there is no difference between the poorest man in the world and the richest in terms of intelligence, the only real difference is their natural habitat, the richest was born on a higher rung and was exposed the tools that would allow him or her to climb while the poorest was born at the bottom rung and was never taught how to climb. This showed me that meaning of life cannot be ones riches for it is all subjective.’ More people were listening now and his claim that riches do not matter in the grand scheme of things had them whispering angrily to one another for the goal of riches had been their ultimate end for as long as they could remember. But none of them spoke up and disagreed instead the whispering and buzzing of the crowd quieted down to hear more from the old man.

‘But the fourth year of my isolation tested my will like nothing before. My eyes had grown tired of reading and my mind begged for rest and my body hoped for the comforting touch of a fellow man or woman. I do not exaggerate when I say that I clawed at the door which was locked from the outside, I peeled away the brown paint until the wood underneath poked out and I further attacked it. I do not know what took a hold of me but I had become a savage. My hair tangled and messy reached to my lower back, my nails grew and gathered dirt, even a tooth fell out,’ he opened wide to show a missing tooth in the back of his mouth, ‘I could not tell you why all of this happened. Perhaps it was reading our violent history where since the beginning of time we have killed one another and as time has gone on one thing that became certain was our efficient and effective kill rates and now, even though we live in a time where the crime rates is lowest and the quality of life at the highest, our ability to kill a fellow man has never been better. Perhaps at the time, I believed the meaning of life is to simply die for that is a singular thread that weaves throughout our human existence. And that thought must have depressed me to the point that I wanted to get out of the room and run towards an incoming bullet and end our miserable existence.’ The air in the room thinned and the music stopped for even the band players wanted to hear the old man, their saxophones and flutes and violins hung uselessly from their hands. The somber room waited eagerly for Abrahams next words and he chose them purposely.

He clapped his hands the sound of which vibrated around the room and startled some of the listeners and he cracked his smile again and said, ‘that’s when I discovered the joy of philosophy and my hunt for the ultimate meaning kept going, not believing my previous conclusion for it could not be true, I just knew it could not.’

The tensed up faces of people who for a second believed the meaning of life was to die, relaxed, relieved that there was some other point to this existence. A few even clapped for they dreaded the former notion so much.

‘How do we know all of this really happened and that you are not lying?’ someone in the back spoke up and it was a valid question in Abraham’s mind but before he could defend himself, the lawyer spoke up.

‘This is the world famous Dr. Hart you are talking about, haven’t you read his research?’ said the man who had not known who Abraham was twenty minutes ago but the embarrassment of not knowing Abraham and his research shut down the fellow dissenter and he did not retaliate further.

‘Please go on, sir.’ Douglas Hanson said bowing his head slightly.

‘Here is where my isolation ended for these philosophers were with me, it was as if I was back in school just a little kid looking up to my teachers as they opened my mind and put in information that changed my life. I truly felt like I was sitting cross-legged on the floor while Plato or Montaigne or Hume sat on my chair and taught me a lesson or two. That joy of learning was the happiest I had been in my life. it was incredible and it is something I wish all my fellow men and woman to enjoy.’ Nodding heads met his words, all of them most likely making mental notes to find their philosophical teachers.

‘With these great minds I had discussions of free will, of societal norms, of religion and science and the need of us humans to create self-boundaries and self-rule, a code of a sort to allow us to reach our full potential, or like Seneca said to find four or five people we wish to be like, aspire to be like and when the time comes for decisions or you find yourself at a crossroad think and ask yourself what those individuals would have done at this point, how would they have handled this problem, this situation. It was wonderful discussing with them the materialistic life we now so enjoy and the disconnect with our self, our self that is so emphasized in the eastern philosophy which has been drowned by our need for desires. Our life should be about balances like Aristotle believed, do nothing in excess for it just hurts the soul and we should always be a student like Socrates preached I know nothing, that was the motto I lived by at the time and opened my mind up for further suggestions and once I reached the end of the philosophical spectrum, five years had passed and I discovered the true meaning of life.’ Abraham made them wait a moment longer as the crowd visibly leaned closer not to miss the answer. ‘Meaning is to find what makes you happy and just do that everyday not worrying about being the richest or being the smartest or being the strongest, worry about being the happiest.’

Before the crowd could discuss this revelation and revelation it was for these people had not once cared to find happiness but instead spent their lives in a vanity race, Abraham continued.

‘For me, my true happiness laid in reading and even though I had come to the ends of my goal, I stayed in isolation for I was surrounded by what made me happy, books.’

He stopped and took a sip of water. People talked amongst themselves and above all were the discussion of what made them really happy but most of them replied with ‘I don’t know.’

Abraham continued, ‘the next two years I devoted to reading everything from the classics and the giants of literature to the newest released detective novels and my personal drug of choice, fantasy. There I no longer lived in my room and in a way it was cheating that I was allowed to read fiction for I spent time in middle earth, I traveled from Paris to Spain to see bullfighting, the next I bore witness to the creation of a magical village that spanned four generations, I went and lived on different planets not just Earth and so a glimpse of our future and then I came back just in time to see a seven hundred foot tall wall and a boy with his wolf from where I hitchhiked across America and sailed down the Congo river and countless others adventures. I considered myself a well-traveled man having not left my room for about twelve years now.’ The crowd smiled and laughed with the old man who remembered the happiest of his days.

‘But for some odd reason, something kept poking me, something hidden down in my stomach kept me awake at night and no matter how much I read or wrote, that feeling that there was something missing in my life was still there, a constant reminder that I had fallen in a trap of my own illusion so I did not have to suffer more in my quest, a divergent path from my true goal and one day I snapped.’

‘My sanity, which I had kept strong for the past twelve years finally came crumbling down and at the moment when I was the happiest I began to cry, more like weep, and started tearing apart all my books and writings and notes,’ he waved his hands wildly around and the people closest to him took a step back worried that they would in the way of his anger, ‘which I had so methodically gathered in the past twelve years, all gone, pieces of random paper littered my room and each step more paper crumpled under my weight,’ he stepped on imaginary paper lifting his knee to his chest and stomping the marble floor so that the sound echoed in the quiet ball room and the on lookers looked at one another with confused glances thinking the man was truly insane, ‘and I almost broke away from my quest, penning a letter to my servant who brought me food and books each day to let me out that I cannot bear the burden of my mission that no man could carry the weight of it on his weak shoulders but my servant knew me better then I knew myself and he refused to let me out. He is the reason that I stand before you all for if I had been let free I am sure my grief at my failure would have led me to the nearest cliff and I would have jumped to end my misery,’ he jumped where he stood with a smile on his face but none of the others were smiling at the sight of him falling down to his demise, ‘but like an addict, that feeling of missing something came to an end when I found something to plug up that whole. In my case in my rage to tear up all of my books and curse my servants name as I did so I stumbled up a box of books labeled religion,’ he instantly calmed his animated motions and his arms hung down his sides, ‘and the sight of those words calmed my nerves and I took a deep breath hoping that this was the final test.’

‘Here I was confronted with some deeper issues, issues of what is good and what is evil. In my philosophical phase, these issues had risen but I had subconsciously steered away from them because I did not feel I was mentally capable of discussing them and perhaps my reading of literature was a distraction from this big picture but now all of that was over and I was faced with the questions that now I know I had purposely avoided.’

‘By learning and discussing the teachings of Gods from different walks of life it gave me a different, a unique kind of perspective on my previous conclusion of the meaning of life. I started to believe that life cannot just be about self-happiness. It is a great feeling that of being happy and that is a good life but now I believed more than ever that one should give up part of their happiness in order to make the world better and one way to make the world a better place is through love. I cannot tell you how many times I converted to a different religion believing my quest has led me to this faith or the other but in the end I found that the best faith is the one you make for yourself, in other words, I began to follow a religion I created a religion that I constructed through all that I had read and learned in my years of isolation and it was wonderful. In my religion, it was the utmost importance to love, to be happy and to leave our world one percent better than we first got here. I lived by this for a few years, molding the laws and rules to my liking and what I thought would be the best way to accomplish my goal. And now I look upon your faces and I know that you do not believe me, that you think I lie to you all that the meaning of life is to create your own world that best helps our current one and I would say to this,’ he paused and the room held its breath for a moment, ‘is true. All of this was bullshit, excuse my language, but it was for these idealistic notions rarely come true in the real world and so after seven years of faith-based living, I gave it all up and I gave up reading for good.’

The room buzzed louder than ever. Their whisperings were more out of annoyance than anything else. The moon had risen to the top long ago and by now the old man had been speaking for two hours but Abraham did not care, he continued to study them as he combed his beard with his fingers until finally, one person spoke up and said, ‘what is the meaning already, stop philosophizing and just tell us already.’

They had learned nothing so far, not an ounce of patience from a man who had patiently sat in one room for twenty-one years trying to follow his quest. 

‘We are almost at the end my friend. You all with your riches must mean that you are smart intelligent people right? Well if so then you shall know that nineteen years have passed since I first began to tell you my story, a story you asked for, which means only two more years are left, friend, so if you please, I will tell you what happened in those two years first.’

He did not wait for their approval and continued speaking after a quick breath.

‘When I gave up reading I picked up the pen, my head hurt from all the things I crammed into it and slowly all the information packed into my mind flowed down to my neck and then into shoulder and down my veins of my forearms and my hands and into the black and blue ink of my pen and I wrote everything. I swear, I have written the greatest of novels in that time and I have comprised the greatest of encyclopedias of all fields, for such was the baggage that I carried. As I wrote the more I knew I was heading towards the end when finally one month ago from this day I reached the conclusion of my quest and I simply informed my servant who agreed I had accomplished my mission and let me out and here I am, gentlemen and gentlewomen, a man who spent twenty-one years in a room, following an experiment that nearly killed my sanity but in the end rewarded me with the ultimate truth.’

‘Well, what is it?’

‘Simply, it is to see and if not get a dog, then you shall see.’

At this the room exploded in a round of angry discussion and amidst the rumbling, the old man slipped quietly away but not before hearing people ask one another “what is it that we are supposed to see” or “see what” or “how would I know if I have seen it?” and some even asked what kind of dog.

Abraham did not waste any time, he left behind the rich dinner party that was full of confused and angry people. He drove to his house and the light coming out of his bedroom told him that his wife was awake. He peeled off his wig and placed the long gray hair sat on the head of the staircase as he climbed the steps.

‘Yes….how many?….okay I’ll make the appointment.’ He heard his wives voice say through the cracked bedroom door.

When she saw him, she pulled the telephone away from her ear and held her hand over the bottom part so whoever was on the other side could not hear, ‘you won’t believe it Abe but I keep getting calls for adoptions. I swear at least twenty of my puppies will have a new home by tomorrow.’

Abraham merely smiled and stretched his back so that it cracked.

‘All that standing up really takes a toll on the body,’ he muttered.

His wife hung up the phone after confirming the person’s appointment.

‘By the way,’ she said as Abraham climbed into the bed with her having changed his clothes, ‘how did your research go?’

‘Oh wonderful dear, another success in the field of human naivety. I swear people believe anything you say no matter how many times you tell them not to.’ 

His wife got another phone call by another person that Abraham knew was present at the dinner, another person who had taken Abraham’s words to be true without doing any thinking of their own.

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)