This short story reflects on Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Schopenhauer famously suggested that life is a perpetual cycle of suffering and boredom. We are never satisfied, because the ‘Will’ (the drive within us) always pushes us to reach higher goals. If Schopenhauer’s ‘diagnosis’ of human existence appears insightful, his proposed remedy is less so. Schopenhauer believed that we should withdraw from life as much as possible and repress our instincts and drives. Yet, if we reject our essential Being (‘Wesen’) and uphold Schopenhauer’s ascetic ideal, then perhaps we will lose some of the ‘buzz’ of life.
The Boy Who Thought He Was A Bumble Bee.
Once there was a lady who gave birth to a most unusual child. She called him Ben. It wasn’t clear at first that there was anything wrong with him. However, after a few days the child started to make a gentle buzzing noise. If you put your hand on his chest, you could feel his whole body vibrate ever so slightly. The doctors at the hospital ran many checks and tests on him. However, they were completely dumbfounded. They could find no explanation for the buzzing noise.
As soon as Ben could walk, his behaviour grew stranger. When his mother took him into the garden, he became very excited. The buzzing noise which he usually made (which was in fact the only sound he made) became much louder. Ben would run animatedly around the garden and… And here is the strangest part. When he saw a brightly coloured flower, he would gently perch his bottom down, very lightly, until it touched the crown of the flower. He would never crush the flower; his backside would just hover above it for a few seconds. Then, he would straighten up again and move on to the next flower, where he would repeat this motion. Perch. Wait. Then straighten. And he would do this tirelessly, never seeming to need a rest.
The lady took Ben to the doctor once more. The doctor wanted to see for himself what the lady had told him. And so, he came and observed Ben whilst he was in the garden. Sure enough, as the lady had described, Ben ran around, perching down over each of the flower pots. However, even after this observation and further tests, the doctor still had no explanations. Ben was referred to specialist after specialist to no end. Finally, it was simply concluded that, for some inexplicable reason, Ben thought he was a bumble bee. No, Ben did not just think he was a bumble bee, in some ways Ben was a bumble bee. It seemed, in fact, that Ben had been given the wrong ‘essential Being’ or ‘Wesen’, as the specialists called it. This meant that rather than having the natural instincts and drives of a human being, Ben had those of a bumble bee.
Over time, the lady started to accept that she would never have a ‘normal’ child. It is true, she had never imagined that her child would be this way. All those fanciful ideas she had had whilst she was pregnant, about what her child would grow up to do and be. But of course, this did not matter now. The main thing was that her son was happy, wasn’t it? Years passed, and Ben continued to behave in this strange, bee-like manner. He happily buzzed around the garden, pollinating (or one might say ‘sexually assaulting’) the flowers. But then one stormy evening, there was a knock at the door. The lady opened. And there in the doorway, lit up by a bolt of lightning, was a man in a white overcoat with round glasses. In his hand he held a heavy looking briefcase. The rain hammered down around him, and he was soaked to the bone. “I have heard about your son,” he said. And then after a pause, “I believe I can help”.
The lady let the man in, as she did not want to leave him out in the pouring rain. And perhaps, because she was somewhat curious (although she would not have admitted this to herself) to hear what the man had to say. The man explained that he was a scientist and that upon learning about the boy’s condition, had set about finding a cure. After years of research, he now believed he had found a very simple cure. According the scientist, the boy would have to be tied down and denied food for ten days. This would, the scientist stated, with an air of confidence, ‘drive the perverted instincts out of the boy’. After ten days he would be a completely normal child.
The lady did not like the sound of tying her son down and denying him food. But the words ‘normal child’ reverberated around her mind. What if…What if her son could go to school like all the other children? What if he could have a career; a family? Was it not her responsibility to at least try to cure her son? And so the lady assented to the scientist’s plan. Together, they tied Ben down to his bed. The lady was given strict orders not feed him and under no circumstances was to cave in. It was a necessary evil. It would all be for the better.
Ben did not like being tied down and struggled against it, kicking out his arms and legs. However, after a few days, Ben stopped struggling. The buzzing also became much quieter and by the eighth day, it had stopped entirely. The lady started to worry about her son. He looked so pale and weak. But the fact that he had stopped buzzing suggested that, just maybe, those bumble bee instincts were being ‘driven out of him’, as the scientist had suggested. No, she would not cave in now.
After the tenth day, the lady released Ben from the ropes, which she had used to tie him down. She hugged him tightly, but he did not respond in any way. She put her hand on his chest. He was still breathing. However, the rest of his body was completely motionless. She laid him back down onto the bed and watched him carefully. Actually, she now noticed, Ben was not completely motionless. His eyes were moving. But they were glazed over, not focusing on any one point. Not appearing to see anything – they were just a blank mirror of the world.
All at once, the lady became painfully aware of how much she missed that buzzing noise which her son used to make. That warm, gentle buzz, which had been the ever-present backing track to their lives so far. Now there was no buzzing. Only the ticking of the orange clock on the wall…