Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Zarathustra’s Loser

Chuang Zhe Quan
Nov 20 · 11 min read

Mind-numbingly, he worked. He sat motionless in his seat while his fingers furiously typed number after number. The clacking of the keys seemed to have drowned out any possibility for human thought; his eyes were glued to his screen and his was mind blank. Every once in a while, he would look to his side and emotionlessly watched his colleagues mimic his motions. He thought about how mechanical everyone was, just cogs in a machine, just anchovies in a shoal. Soon after, he felt this intangible force compel him to bury himself in work, and that thought would immediately disintegrate. Come 5pm, he left work with overwhelming lethargy as he anticipated sinking into his couch and watching his favorite television show.

As he dragged his feet home with his head tilted downwards, as if subconsciously ashamed of what his life had become, he was interrupted by boisterous children darting about the pavements near where he lived. The liveliness of the children greatly contrasted with the sullen faces of adults passing through and their shrills pierced the adults’ sensitive ears that were so used to quiet. A thought suddenly blitzed him.

“Oh, how small do we feel as we grow bigger! The fun and laughter of children drowning out the adults’ reserved voices. The children’s riotous freedom, pitifully, diminishes with time, almost as though liveliness and liberty pass through a noxious funnel of time, with droplets of them left in a bitter adulthood.”

“Oh, how I have become a mere shadow of my former self. The dreams I had, but was condemned to a mere desk job. The exploring I wanted to do, but was left confined by four walls. The time I wished to wield, but was left with small pockets squandered on idle activities. The people I wished to meet, but was met with colleagues I couldn’t even distinguish from myself.”

“Oh, how I wish to break away from all this, to start life anew, to sit atop mountains, gazing into the distant crimson sun set beneath wavy clouds, while blissfully yearning for a new day to dawn upon me. How I wish to be a child again, to be constantly refreshed by anything and everything, to look upon this world with serendipitous excitement and childish curiosity.”

Alarmed by this train of thought, he realized how incredibly long it has been since he had such complex thoughts; thoughts of rebellion that were long discarded along with his innocence. Invigorated by this, he felt this inexplicable but powerful urge to rebel against his current life.

His prospects about a brand-new life left him sleepless throughout the night, but when light broke, he never felt more alive. For once, he knew what he wanted to do with his life: to progress by first regressing back in time, time before he was thrown into “holy” expectations of society.

That very same day, he quit his job, disregarding the one month notice that his company required. “A necessary fine,” he thought, for he could not risk that urge to freedom to be waned by bureaucracy.

His life was at a turning point, all his aspirations he had when he was younger started to materialize. He read vastly on existential philosophy and cultural criticisms, all which ennobled his conviction to rebel. He also finally got the chance to travel frequently, exploring mountains and seas that had been on his bucket list for the longest of times. He started meeting new people, where he talked about his newfound freedom and their awe and encouragement spurred him to continue rebelling. He set up a blog named “To Be Reborn”, where he talked about his renewed life, hoping to inspire others to rebrand their lives just as he did his and it gained decent traction. A meaningful life was now a yonder, a distant but achievable goal, whereas it was infinitely faraway in his previous life.

One day, he instinctively stood motionless in the middle of a pavement and stretched his hand to the sky above. He head was tilted till his mouth was ajar. He stared, in deep appreciation, at the silky undulating clouds’ silhouette as the sun’s rays emanated through, prickling his coarse and worn skin with a warmth he had long forgotten in his past life. “What a beautiful sight,” he uttered and recalled his time as a child, darting around grassy plains with vim and vigor, with the very same warmth piercing his then supple skin.

He felt so close to himself. Long forgotten was the feeling where he felt in control of his life. For the longest time, he felt like he was his life’s backseat driver, with societal expectations behind the wheel. He used to follow religiously all the ‘Thou Shall’s that were inscribed in the monolithic concrete that built this city. Now he felt his soul resurfacing from the rubble of the crumbled ‘Thou Shall’s, telling him the new paths that he needed to traverse. Although they were lonely roads, they were roads that led to fulfillment.

It was noontide and his world had shone brighter than ever. He was in a foreign land, atop one of its tallest mountains. He looked upon the bustling city beneath, feeling a profound sense of triumph. “I have transcended that life!” he exclaimed, blatantly ignoring the judgemental eyes of those who were alarmed by his sudden outburst. The sun pierced his skin and radiated his soul, he never felt more alive. He was certain his life was finally in the right direction.

It had only been two months since he threw his old life away but he felt as though he had never lived that life. True enough, when had ever lived in that past life? With society’s expectations shackling him down like a prisoner, when did he ever feel free? During his adolescence, he was exposed to the domineering power of society, telling him the ‘Thou Shall’s he needed to follow. Whatever ambitions he had was drowned out by the deafening silence of the implicit wills of society. He was taught to obey and to not obey meant that he would be an outcast — and outcasts do not last long. Out of desperation, he, like everyone, conformed. He felt like a slave to society and vengeance started burning within him.

Like a slave pitted against his former master, he felt he has been abused and mistreated for far too long. He felt as though he had been coerced into society, causing him to be chided by his bosses, pushed and shoved by cold pedestrians, ignored by his robotic colleagues, nagged by his conformist parents. He now wants to usurp them of their thrones they call “expectations.”

From reading philosophy, he started to comprehend those implicit wills of society. Wills that are so silent but so pervasive that people would mistake them for something that is natural and innate, that there is no alternative. He mused on “To Be Reborn”, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? This universal law was built on fear rather than compassion. What does it mean to help others? It seems as though this altruism that society boasts is founded on selfish desires. What liars! How dare they dissemble their true intentions behind a veil of goodwill? How weak! How dare they establish what is virtuous based on the actions of the majority! I am superior for I have transcended that life! I am what people desire but are too afraid and weak-willed. It is noontide but people choose to hide in their air-conditioned offices, away from liberating rays! Pride as sin, audacity as viciousness, independence as reclusiveness. How foolish! It is precisely with those values that I will venture forth, living my life disparate from society’s perception of everything good. Everything that society values is my anti-value. Everything that society deems good is my evil. Everything that society advocates I shall abandon. And at the end of my life, I will once again look upon my life with little regrets… my only regret is that I should have ventured out sooner!” With such thoughts he furiously penned them down in his blog, like a petulant child ranting on the misfortunes of his circumstance. But his rapid psychological transformation resulted in an equally rapid descent, like a dog that sprinted but soon lost all energy. If only he knew that this thought was what initiated his descent, for he was being contrarian and being contrarian is extremely tiresome, for he sought not rebellion, but mindless revolution. In that mindless revolution, what he sought was not fulfillment, but excitement caused by anarchy and revenge.

One day, he stretched his hand out again to the sky. However, it was no longer out of deep appreciation of the sky, a sky that people seemed to have forgotten, but to tacitly condemn those who fail to appreciate the sky. Suddenly, he felt a disturbance within his soul. The judgemental eyes of others were palpable, and a lump formed in his throat. He swallowed it and felt his cheeks become slightly warm. It was embarrassment, but he shook it off as him being unwell, for it had been far too long since he had felt that forsaken emotion.

If only he knew that he had grown weary. The city’s mere presence in his life was oppressive. As long as he roamed the same streets as others, he gravitated to walking in the same rhythm as them. For far too long he had battled against that urge to follow their footsteps and he had won many times. But even a warrior grows weary; and he was a one-man-army. Suddenly, the mountain of fulfillment his initially thought as conquerable now felt insurmountable because of all the invisible fetters that still shackled his frostbitten feet. Shackles such as money, for his meager income from writing was unable to sustain his life. Shackles such as people, for every new person he met, he conversed with ambassadors of a society he hated.

Along with this, his mindless revolution catalyzed his descent. Yes, he was a one-man army, but without picking his fights carefully he could not last long. However, he was a mad warrior who would pick a fight with everyone. He had grown extremely weary and his contrarian beliefs started to corrode his will to freedom.

One day, out of a distress unbeknownst to him, he thought, “Perhaps I have been too harsh on society. Not everything that society advocates for is wrong. Within their abundance of lies, some truths can be found. Foundations that society was built upon were constructed for a reason. Certainly, not all is bad with society. Yes, for security, we have given up freedom, but total freedom is also difficult to wield for its possibilities are too immense to be fully explored without squandering one’s life away. What distinguishes the freedom that children clumsily dance with and the freedom that adults waltz with, is its degree of refinement. The freedom that children wield is completely unbridled and left uncontrolled, would create beasts. The freedom that adults have, conversely, is refined and restrained, its possibilities limited to the comfort of men, so that we can live in accordance to certain directions, rather than aimlessly. Yes, not everything is bad with society. Although, I will still rebel against this society, because my life has been monotonous for far too long.”

It was that sliver of weakness, that led to his downfall, for one who is ill-resolved to dig his boots into loose and dry snow will lose his grip and roll down the mountain. And precipitously did he roll. He found it extremely difficult to sustain the ideals he had only months ago. His traveling stopped out of financial issues. From a freelance writer, he started working as an editor at a publication for stable income and once again confined himself to a desk. He stopped brandishing his unique perspectives to new people and instead sat quietly and listened to same-old conversations. He even stopped stretching his hands to the sky and had forgotten its color.

More months passed. One day, as he left his office after work, he chose to stroll to a nearby park. At the park, he sat docile on a bench and read some piece of obscure literature. All of a sudden, his serenity was abruptly disturbed by jocular children screaming. It was déjà vu. Children chasing one another in boundless delight, just like the children darting along the pavements just a little more than a year ago. That scene uncontrollably caused tears of wistfulness to swell in his eyes.

He was confounded by his transformation. It was so subtle… so surreptitious. Where has his will to freedom gone to? It went back to its cave to hibernate. Where is summit of the mountain that he was supposed to overcome? It was once again hidden above the thick cumulonimbus clouds. Where is the future that was a yonder a few months ago? It was hidden by the city skyline, by tall skyscrapers filled with humanoid workers.

He came to a realization: All his hopes were ignis fatuus, an impossible dream. He did not have a strong enough will to fight. The will o’ the wisp, which he thought to be his soul, played him like a fool, cajoling him to fulfill its childish desires to incite revolution.

“Oh how I wished I still had the energy to continue to climb that mountain! Now the noontide has passed and the dusk has come. Its stillness and frost ache my hollow bones and I have to now seek shelter in order to live another day.”

“Oh how ironic this road to freedom is! Sprint through the roads and you tire quickly, stroll through them and you will never reach the end, not before you quit out of mundanity.”

“Oh how I have been to trustful of your insidious beauty, my will to freedom! You made me believe that I was close to the summit, but the higher one climbs, the steeper it becomes and I could never foresee myself defying gravity and climbing verticals. Man needs wings to do so.”

“Oh how foolish I was to think that I am the Nietzsche’s Zarathustra! I am the sheep that he talked about, a sheep that tried to leave the herd but was confronted by the scornful eyes of the herd and the harsh conditions of wild forests.”

In his last post on ‘To Be Reborn,” he wrote very briefly, “This journey has been a short one. I hate to admit this but I have lost and you can probably tell from my recent sporadic updates. I tried to surmount that mountain, and I must say that I was close, or at least I felt close. If I have one advice to give you guys before I fade away, it is to pursue what meaning with a good heart, a heart that wants hot blood to pass through, not vengeful venom. So long my follow warriors.”

More years passed. He often reminisced about the time when his will to freedom was still flowing through his now varicose veins. Yes, it was freedom that did not last long, but it was freedom nonetheless. That momentary escape created extreme bliss that he knew he would never feel again. Thus, for the rest of his life, he looked upon his past like a fantasy that was so distant from his present life, with an ache in his heart and a dissonance in his soul.

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