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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.

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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.

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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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6 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. chugs  |  October 19th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    depends on who you are. i suffer on some days and other days I’m the opposite of suffering.

    if the point of life was pain and suffering then its very inconsistent point.

    perhaps the only consistent fact in the universe is that nothing is consistent.

  • 2. porkers-at-the-trough  |  October 20th, 2009 at 3:30 am

    Oh, stop your crying!

    The lowely MOSQUITO is a FAR MORE EFFICIENT KILLER of humans than your Stonefish.
    (Although the Exiled story about the FOUR different life-cycle parasites did add some fun insight to the ongoing, primordial, parasite-vs-host battles.
    The good news is, IF parasites can HIJACK a host’s DNA or hormones to create false limbs, maybe human doctors will be able to duplicate the same process to REPLICATE – regrow – limbs for amputation victims, much as some lizards can regrow their tails)
    http://dev.biologists.org/cgi/reprint/26/2/285.pdf
    Never been a philosophy buff myself, and screw all that existential “pain” stuff.
    If you are a plant, and you want SUNLIGHT, you will have to OUTGROW the competition, or they will shade you in, and you will die.
    IF you want MORE sunlight, you will grow ENERGETICALLY , and seek it out. If you are too lazy, or emotionally traumatized, your effort (to grow) will falter, and you will lose to your competitor.

    Think of that sunlight as allowing you to create nectar or ambrosia (plant sugars) – Mmm, SWEET! NOT “pain”!

    Life is about HARNESSING ENERGY, in ever more complex & powerful ways. But just as a “highly evolved” human mammal can be taken down by a very primitive, ancient reptile or shark, so too can an energetic & successful life form be taken down by an ancient virus or bacteria or other parasite.

    Rather than “pain,” I’d say life is about GRASPING, whether a proto-life molecule GRASPING some energy-content sugars or building-block proteins; or a DNA molecule GRASPING amino-acid/protein building blocks to replicate itself, or a baby GRASPING something it wants to play with and possess.
    Or look at another life sustaining energy source: the hot, volcanic vents deep in the ocean. These hot mineral vents can sustain colonies of BILLIONS of sulfer-synthezing bacteria without a lick of sunlight, but, regardless of parasites, predators, or even other species’ competition, when that volcanic vent finally closes off and stops venting, all those billions of bacteria will die off.
    Absent parasites or extra-species competition, the bacteria energetically grow, multiply, and die of old age or lack of resources when the vent closes off, but leave their spores floating in the ocean to repeat the process.
    Is there any “PAIN” in that scenario?

  • 3. John  |  October 20th, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    ah man i love you guys

    i love the exile

  • 4. t-hawk  |  October 21st, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Damn, I’m still waiting for the entries of Onchocerca and Toxoplasma. 😛

  • 5. Hermies Purrbuckets  |  October 28th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Schopey Rules! Mankind drools!

    And listen to those twerp commenters trying to convince themselves they ain’t trapped in Hell!

    What’s amazing is that any twerp thinks that their life, which is after all, ACCIDENTAL AND INVOLUNTARY, has some inherent point or value. Oh, wait, that’s just civilization brainwashing them into becoming good little idiot consumer-citizens.

    “Some days I suffer, some days I don’t.” D’oh! Can you say “Deluded Wage Slave?”

    HP

  • 6. pops  |  April 28th, 2010 at 1:05 am

    damn, kinda makes you want to stay away from the water.


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