Monday, August 22, 2016

Justin Schmidt: I hurt myself today . . .

Justin Schmidt with Tarantula Hawk
Google Images

I recently read an article by Avi Steinberg on "The Connoisseur of Pain" (NYT, 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 . . .

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At 8:39 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

I suppose masochism is real, too. I've always thought of it as primarily stupid, however.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wouldn't say one should like reality, rather, learn from it. The stupidity of my youth led to several major encounters with reality, and I learned to be less stupid.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:05 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

Oops. I did not mean to imply that you were stupid, HJH; not even in your youth. I have done some stupid things myself, and I don't consider myself to be a stupid person.

What I meant by my clumsy remark was that the activity of masochism itself is stupid, in my opinion. And it seems to me that Justin Schmidt, by "lamenting our culture's lack of insect-based rites of passage", is advocating masochism for the purpose of bringing young men "closer to becoming full members of society".

In my opinion, a much more reasonable rite of passage for young men is something akin to a Bar Mitzva, albeit some boys have been known to consider it a "pain in the ass". Your mileage may vary.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Don't worry, TBH, I didn't draw that inference because I didn't think you were making that implication.

I simply needed to think about how masochism fits into my remarks concerning pain teaching us about reality.

But I was stupid when I was young, and the older I get, the stupider I was in my youth.

As I was emerging from that stupidity, I had the great good fortune of meeting Sun-Ae, and marrying her is the smartest thing I've ever done.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:22 PM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

They say a good man is hard to find, though I believe the same can be said about a good woman. I'm glad you found one. I found mine.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

There's a version of "Hurt" that may be as good as Cash's.

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'd say it derives from Cash's version but differs in little ways that grow in significance as the song progresses, and it achieves something distinctive, a kind of dignity at the bottom.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

TBH, I'm glad you found a good woman as well.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:14 AM, Anonymous Troy C. Frantz said...

Hi Jeffery -
Interesting read there.
I just emailed you some files!


At 5:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Troy.

Jeffery Hodges

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