I recently read an article by Avi Steinberg
on "The Connoisseur of Pain
, August 20-21, 2016), a title given to entomologist Justin Schmidt, for having gotten stung so many times in his work on Hymenoptera, for constructing a Pain Scale for Stinging Insects, and for talking about the pain so much, I expect:
Within minutes of our first meeting, and more or less in response to my saying good morning, Justin Schmidt began lamenting our culture's lack of insect-based rites of passage. He told me about the Sateré-Mawé people in northwestern Brazil, who hold a ceremony in which young men slip their hands into large mitts filled with bullet ants, whose stings are so agonizing they can cause temporary paralysis; when initiates pass the test, they're one step closer to becoming full members of society.
Schmidt believes we could learn something from this. By trade, he is an entomologist, an expert on the Hymenoptera order - wasps, bees and ants - but his interest in this insect ritual was not merely academic. He has two teenage boys, and, on this particular morning at least, I found him wondering whether they might benefit from a pain ritual to help introduce them to adulthood.
"I mean, it wouldn't kill them," Schmidt said. "And I think that may be the key to the whole thing: It can't kill you and yet something very real is happening."
Something very real? That sounds much like the song "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails:
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
If you care to hear the song, click here
, or the cover by Johnny Cash
, which is better. Anyway, I would advise against that stinging sort of initiation - it'd get you charged with child abuse! But the main point is true. More than anything else, pain teaches us what is real, and even - if we believe Dylan
- what is beautiful
: "Behind every beautiful thing, there's been some kind of pain." By the way, the rest of Steinberg's article on Schmidt and his work is well worth reading.
Entomology, incidentally, was my 4-H project way back when I was a teenager, and I did get stung in that pursuit . . .
Labels: Music, Science