The eXile is proud to present a new feature that we hope will entertain and educate you, the knowledge-hungry eXhole. In each issue we’ll introduce you to a new species we’ve nominated for the Schopenhauer Award. We’re going to focus on the less-glamorous critters, the ones you won’t see in a Disney film: the parasites, the venom-dispensers, the eyeless, brainless lumps of flesh which populate the Schopenhauerian nightmare we call Life.
We at eXile feel that these humble beasts have an important lesson to teach. The more you learn about creatures like the hagfish, Box Jelly and Scabies Mite, the sooner you’ll face the fact that this world is a squirming, writhing mound of maggoty flesh with no point, no God and no redeeming social value. In short, we’re going to deprogram you, tweeze your eyes open Clockwork-Orange style and show you what you’d rather not know.
We’ve named the feature after a hero of ours, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), the only philosopher in history who had the guts to say out loud that life has no point but pain. Schopenhauer’s point was so clear, simple, consistent and convincing that the nineteenth-century Beigists used their ultimate weapon against him: they ignored him. But Schopenhauer was a tough, persistent bastard. He spent sixty years telling smug Victorian Europe the one thing it couldn’t bear to hear.
Sound like an exciting adventure in learning, doesn’t it? Well then, let’s meet…
Our First Schopenhauer Award Nominee: The Estuarine Stonefish
This bottom-dweller is a perfect poster-child for Schopenhauer’s claim that life is nothing but ugliness and pain. As evil as it looks — kind of like J. Edgar Hoover’s head rotting on the sea bottom — this critter is much creepier once you know what it can do. You see, the Estuarine Stonefish is basically a big, ugly hypodermic needle filled with poison.
It can hardly move. It doesn’t need to. It just settles into the muddy bottom of shallow bays and estuaries, perfectly camouflaged as a lump of mud and algae, and waits to envenom an unlucky fisherman or wading child.
Every year, thousands of people step on this little booby-trap. Within seconds, they’re screaming in agony, because this sluggish, slow-swimming lump of flesh has one suberbly designed feature: a set of spines sticking up from its back, perfectly angled to jab deeply into your foot.
The spines are sturdy and sharp. Once they’ve pierced your foot, a very efficient set of four venom glands start squirting poison into your flesh.
Stonefish venom can kill you — but only if you’re lucky. Most researchers agree that a stonefish sting is the most intense pain a human being can experience. An Australian surfer who was stung wading out to the waves said that even though the doctors gave him shot after shot of morphine, the pain was unendurable, completely beyond anything he’d ever experienced. He only stopped screaming to beg the doctors to cut off his leg. When they refused, he asked them to kill him. When he lunged for a scalpel to stab himself with, they tied him to the bed and let him scream. The agony went on for months. Even when the pain fades to merely agonizing levels, the victim is likely to suffer nerve damage and will never walk properly again.
Try finding the saving grace in that story. Try explaining why a benevolent deity went to so much trouble to design such an extraordinarily sophisticated, efficient poison-delivery system-and then installed it on a fish so well camouflaged that not even the most careful fisherman or wader has a chance to spot it.
We’ll let Schopenhauer have the last word: “Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, then our existence must have no object whatever.”
Well, that’s it for our first lesson. See you next issue with a new nominee. Till then, have a good one — oh, and watch your step!
This article was first published in The eXile on February 20, 2003.
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