Frederick Nietzsche spent his 40th birthday reflecting on how the Middle East had provided three major exportations of prophetic doctrinal interpretations of god-speak. He poured over the four etchings of Muhammad, Moses, Isaiah and Jesus he had in his possession, beholding a formidable gallery of conscionable males expressing passion for what they believed were the indisputably correct paths toward salvation, revealed by none other than god HIMSELF, who had put males in charge of something that appeared to fall within the provenance of property and comedic divinity. Rich in tropes explaining the human condition, the righteous shepherds, keen to distract the flock from their here-and-now reality, promised salvation to supplicants who forfeited their free will for the promise of a better ‘afterlife.’
What he observed as he poured yet another cup of dandelion tea for himself, was that reductionism was central to this metier that demanded a lend-me-your-ear response to existence. As he sipped his dandelion tea, the term existentialism formed in his mind and he could almost taste the sweetly giddy aroma of headstrong sovereignty it aroused in him. He licked his lips with satisfaction as he reflected on the fact that he was reflecting on free will as an agency of explorative discourse. He had come to a place in his life where he considered the contemplation of free will to be the measure of all that was possible in the here-and-now.
When Frederick Nietzsche turned 40 in 1884, Otto Edvard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg . . . known as Otto von Bismarck . . . was consolidating the status of Prussia by creating alliances between traders, financial entrepreneurs and the military to put in place a hegemonic entity that could exist as a model of the modern industrial state . . . a state capable of ushering in the mighty potential of a progressive era in scientific development that could, in time, be lauded as the German Dream. The ‘folk’ would be instructed on how they could serve the state. The future state, based on private-enterprise principles, would deliver to them . . . per specialisations . . . a new order straddling science and myth. Meanwhile, the strength of the military grew ever more potent as a manifestation of power in the here-and-now. The great new industrial state seeking to establish a manufactured kingdom on earth expected compliance from the population.
Finding his voice while sipping his dandelion tea, Frederick, patting the head of his beloved canine Zarathustra, addressed the following words to his companion, “Otto von Bismarck is in the process of creating the prototypical modern state, using military means to instill an existential sense of order that will separate the idea of social evolution from the folk imagination. Conditioned to submit to authority, the ‘people’ may very well find themselves trapped in a supremely sticky honey- trap of their own making if they fail to recognise that the modern state avails itself of means that dumb down the collective spirit. It is the ‘people’ who must shape the future!” The question that Frederick Nietzsche was grappling with in the moment was; does the clarion call of antithetical existentialism find ‘voice’ in authority?”
“Powerful elites can misuse their role in society and be the source of perturbation, threatening all who would dare seek to include the collective spirit in the business of running the country. Using invective to curdle the milk of human kindness, they . . . the elites . . . stomp on every effort that might include social justice in the equation because that could represent costs inimical to their private interests. Forced to march to the beat of an insidious canker, the masses are in danger of being coerced by the weight of nihilistic propaganda that could lead them, pied-piper fashion, into servitude.” While Frederick was delivering this oration, his beloved pet Zarathustra had hopped up onto his lap excited by the fact that his master had found his voice.
Frederick Nietzsche met Doctor Won Tai, a Chinese mathematician in 1879 when he was appointed Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. One of the things he discovered from this sage mathematician, was that dandelion tea, when laced with cloves, could quell functional dyspepsia. Doctor Won Tai also introduced Frederick to Confucianism and Taoism . . . or Eastern thinking . . . providing Frederick with an antidote to the prophetic pass-the-baton reductionism of mind crunching baloney peculiar to Western thinking.
Won Tai was also the product of a cultural perspective that perceived Frederick’s beloved ‘pooch’ as possessing culinary potential.
But it was the shared understanding that knowledge is always perspectival that underpinned their friendship and conversations. To Doctor Won Tai, Frederick’s ontological connections to Protestant Fundamentalism represented his Achille’s heel. Endemic morality of a private nature explained much of his ‘doctrine of eternal recurrence.’ But Won Tai believed man to be like a machine . . . functioning more efficiently when rid of the inimical bits that burdened performance . . . the ghost in the machine was inimical to creative thinking if it failed to grasp the knowledge inherent in antiquity.
Perspectivism denies the possibility of an all-inclusive perspective, which could contain all others . . . therefore, clarifying a perspective was necessary to make reality available as it is of itself. From Won Tai’s perspective, existentialism was a chameleon perspective rich in poetic licence. It was knowledge that was innate; to be free from ‘collective’ thinking was the reward the existentialists sought, Won Tai believed.
Frederick Nietzsche and Won Tail met every Sunday afternoon to discuss perspectives relating to the emergence of the modern state. However, the meeting of these two learned individuals from very different backgrounds was the highlight of Zarathustra’s week. For three hours every Sunday he was feted as a member of a card-carrying class of honourable beings accustomed to privilege. The strange visitor who brought biscuits, dandelions and cloves every Sunday, was also very interested in Zarathustra’s physical condition and frequently ran his hands over him to discover if his bones were sufficiently upholstered in flesh.
Won Tai was the perfect foil for Frederick’s individual-mindedness. Contending that cultures ascended or descended on the turn of collective thinking, produced very lively discourse. Won Tai went on to point out that private property was central to Western thinking and that the practice of investment as a manifestation of private acquisition would, in time, consolidate wealth disproportionally in the hands of the privileged few. “Culture such as yours, which celebrates the socially untethered individual, is propagating a fundamental lie. Individuals cannot be fully realised without the cooperation of all other individuals; an essential activity which, in the modern world, is mediated by the state. Today the modern state is a tool of elites to ensure their total domination and power over all other classes and groups.”
Addressing Frederick, he said “Your Ubermensch is one of the many interconnecting, independent themes of your philosophy, and is represented in your work through several different metaphors. For instance, a man traversing a rope stationed above an abyss, moving away from his uncultured animality and towards the Ubermensch, is not something that sits well with my understanding of tradition. Allow me to use a quote from Confucius, “I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity and earnest in seeking it there.”
After a pregnant pause, Won Tai turned to Frederick and added another thought, “Chinese culture has evolved a collective dynamic that needs a super highway, rather than a rope to move forward. In Confucius and Lao-Tse, the medium . . . the collective body . . . is the message. Knowledge and ethics are more than the sum-total of the rules. They exist as impermeable mediums proffering perspectives that delineate acceptable behaviour. When the Chinese People manage to remove divisiveness from their ‘polity,’ sometime in the future, they will move forward as a unified whole. Progress does not have its’ genesis in prophesy; it is connected to common purpose seeking to make a better machine to sustain the entire community . . . it is through knowledge of the past that we gain a greater understanding of the tides of history. Having this knowledge, we can then set about devising a system that floats all boats.”
Frederick poured dandelion tea and wrote something on a piece of paper while Won Tai fed biscuits to Zarathustra. “You lick my hands and discover that I am vegetarian, and this becomes the portal through which trust is established between us. I am impressed by your ancient wisdom” Won Tai said, as he went nose to nose with the ‘pooch.’ “Your nose possesses ancient wisdom!.”
Frederick and Won decided to celebrate the Chinese New Year together in 1884 as the latter was coming to the end of his tenure at the University of Basel. The Green Teahouse, situated in the heart of the old commercial centre in Basel, was chosen as a venue for the celebration. The two men occupied a table close to a window and observed the grandiose façade of the Lombard Odier Bank across the street through swirling snowflakes. The impression that the lofty granite structure opposite The Green Teahouse conveyed, was one of permanence profiled in stone.
But it was the apparition at curb’s edge that fascinated Frederick Nietzsche and Won Tai. Despite the swirling snow, the two men were able to discover a somewhat elegantly appointed horse-drawn carriage drawn-up at the curb with the driver holding the reins, but seemingly frozen beneath a thick covering of ice, across the street from them. Frederick Nietzsche turned to Won Tai to pose a rhetorical question, ‘How long before man and beast become inanimate.’
The two men settled down to discuss ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ which had been published the year before. A copy of the book lay on the table before them. Both men occasionally looked across the street only to find the situation unchanged. As time passed, Won Tai became more and more prepossessed by something that he observed in the tea-leaves at the bottom of his cup. Somehow, he seemed to make a connection to what was happening across the street with the tea leaves in his cup. Frederick, on becoming aware that his friend had become extremely distracted, closed the book on the table.
It was Won Tai who first noticed the figure of a fat man wrapped in a fur coat from neck to ankles emerge from the bank and commence to descend the stone step leading to the street below. Halfway down the steps he stopped and took from his pocket a pince-nez and placed it on his nose so that he could examine the numbers on the ‘bank statement’ he had received. The driver of the horse-drawn carriage hastened to climb stiffly down from his lofty exposed post on cue and open the door for his master, who had now descended to the level of the street.
Frederick looked intently into Won Tai’s face when he heard him say, “The Ubermensche is already here and he is a financial predator creating a world where nothing can have value without being an object of utility.” He observed the carriage sink lower onto its’ springs as the fat man entered it. When seeing the driver whip into motion the hapless beast, Won Tai suddenly stood up, causing his seat to fall back onto the floor. A dour expression appeared on his face as he watched the defenceless animal slip and slide on the icy surface of the street.
When it had disappeared from public view, he turned to Frederick and said, “Privateers in the financial industry are the future because capitalism argues for a free hand to take its money to wherever profits can be had. An octopus of gargantuan proportions will come into existence that has no relationship to communities, respects no borders, but will continue to bloat until it renders itself obsolete . . . it might even take a century and more before people rise-up against a system that creates ever greater degrees of asymmetry. As to the question of reform, I’m reminded of the wise words of Confucius, “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”
That night, Won Tai dreamed that it was he who was sitting holding the reins atop the horse-carriage, suffering immeasurably from frost-bite while waiting for the Ubermensch to emerge from the bank. When he did arrive back at the carriage, Won Tai remembered that it was one of his functions as Untermensch to provide the Ubermensch with a saucer of cream every few hours to maintain his level of obesity. After filling the saucer, he stood aside as the Ubermensch, now kneeling down on the ground, began purring as he tried to quench his insatiable thirst. In his dream, he was once again outside the Lombard Odier Bank, but the saucer of cream he had placed on the ground in front of the Ubermensch contained a very heavy dose of arsenic which he had secretly added to it.
As Won Tai watched the Ubermensch lick the saucer clean, he noticed a strange green ooze emanating from his nostrils when he tried to rise. However, it was the look of banal incredulity on his face that caused Won Tai to suddenly awake from his poisoned chalice dream. Sitting bolt upright, he felt rejuvenated as the spirit of revolution coursed through his veins.
Denis A. Conroy is a freelance writer residing in Australia.