Home > People, Science > Contemplating Death (2 of 3)

Contemplating Death (2 of 3)

An enemy committed to die can prove to be the most formidable foe.



There’s no question that humans are at the top of the food chain. It doesn’t mean however that we can’t be taken out by something far lower on the chain than we are. I speak with reference to wild animals. There are animals in every layer of the biosphere that can take us out. Some of them however are far more efficient at that than others. In fact, consider these:

WARNING: This post covers some relatively dark content. Additionally, some readers may find some of the photos featured to be quite graphic. Reader discretion is thus strongly advised.

07. Death by Creature

Fear Factor:
Time to Death:


There are no air based animals you should fear like mosquitoes. In fact, the mosquito borne disease malaria, is really a concatenation of two Spanish words meaning “bad air” (mal = bad + aria = air). Mosquitoes are the world’s deadliest flying creatures. Some estimates even place mosquitoes as having claimed more lives than all known wars and natural disasters combined.

Mosquitoes have spread plagues of apocalyptic proportions and are the most numerous of all the deadliest animals known to man. However, the real tragedy about death by mosquito is that they primarily transmit curable diseases. But because mosquitoes are so evolutionarily resilient, they will probably outlast humanity, just as how they also outlasted the dinosaurs.


Bears don’t prey on humans. They’re just fiercely territorial. Getting killed by a bear is a lot like being beaten to death. It’s the concussive blows of its paws and the searing pain of having your skull crushed that you’d be most worried about. Tigers however, do prey on humans. I’d rather be stalked by a bear than a fierce Bengal Tiger. While not recommended, it is possible to outrun a bear — not a tiger. That bad boy is swift on four legs. To be stalked is to be killed.

Tigers have been known to literally drag people screaming and kicking from their beds to their horrific deaths at night in rural villages in India. They have been known to attack fishermen in their boats by first dragging the boat to shore. They have been known to attack hunting parties and fatally injure their victims with blinding speed. Tigers are seriously bad ass cats. You do not want to be caught near a tiger in bad mood. Just ask Siegfried about his pal Roy.

The deadliest of all land animals however, is not the Tiger. It is the snake. The Brown snake of Australia has a venom that can kill a human being in minutes. It’s venom has a powerful chemical that causes intense pain at the site of the bite, but it’s the neurotoxin that carries the heavy payload. Death is fast and furiously excruciating while it rots away your very flesh.


The Belcher’s Sea snake has the deadliest bite of all snakes, carrying a venom hundreds of times more deadly than the Australian Brown snake. However, that is not quite as frightening as being pulled off a dock by an alligator and then drowned. Forced submersion by a vicious alligator is one of the most excruciatingly painful ways to die due to the very intense violence.

But being torn to shreds by a great white shark is intensely more painful as shark teeth usually cut right to the bone. This exposes enough flesh to be soaked by salty sea water to ratchet up your pain experience beyond tolerance. Most people black out at this point, giving the shark free reign to finish the job — which they never usually do. Sharks hate human flesh.

However, none of the sharks, sea snakes and alligators can prepare you for the very worst possible sea death of all: Poisoned by microscopic jellyfish. When your skin is burned away by fire, there are no more pain cells in that area to send pain signals to your brain. What if the burning sensation infests every pain cell in your nervous system, but does not destroy them?

Enter, the microscopic Irukandji Jellyfish:

Irukandji Jellyfish

The Irukandji Jellyfish of Australia is so tiny that up until recently, it was largely rumoured to be a myth. Unlike other jellyfish, this tiny beast has stingers all over, including its bell, that can be “fired” at its target. The venom causes what many survivors consider the worst possible venom induced pain of all, along with a series of deadly symptoms called Irukandji syndrome.

Why this type of death by animal is the worst of them all is because:

  1. It is very tiny. They have even been found in drinking water!
  2. This jellyfish is nearly invisible to the human eye. You won’t see one coming.
  3. The pain is not localized. It stings every pain cell in your body — simultaneously.
  4. A victim will lurch in pain for about several hours — and that’s with hospital treatment.
  5. The throes of death are filled with long, drawn out, horrifying screaming from the pain.

06. Human Malevolence

Fear Factor:
Time to Death:

Rwandan Genocide

The only reason human malevolence ranks this highly on the list is because of the extensive psychological suffering involved in victims. With the exception of torture, death by the hands of a fellow human being tends to be relatively quick compared to the others mentioned in this post. However, the psychological precursors are by far the very worst, hence this high rank.

No other animal in the kingdom has as many ways to slaughter its own kind. No other animal in the kingdom has engaged in such an extensive and dispassionate display of cruelty to its own kind. No other animal in the kingdom can emote as deeply or painfully about the death of its own. No other animal in the kingdom can display a similar level of intellectual dichotomy.

The fear involved when being pursued by another human being intent on your destruction is perhaps the worst fear of all. Psychologists have long since connected this intense fear to why we also fear possible supernatural phenomena such as ghosts and demons and why fictional villains such as vampires and werewolves have a similar capacity to inject fear in us.

— it’s because they all have a strong human contingent.

We mourn the senseless deaths involved in genocides because we are human. We probably mourn the deaths of the Japanese Tsunami victims less than those killed in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, because nature doesn’t have the capacity to feel. So when a human willfully, premeditatedly, kills another human and in vast numbers, we feel the equivalence.

This is why racism has had such a profound and possibly irreversible impact on some black people. It is the terrifying idea that another animal with a relatively identical genetic make up can suppress their humanity enough to inflict such pain, suffering and death on another human being. We saw this with Adolf Hitler’s final solution and the recent African genocides.

If you were being pursued by a Tiger, you wouldn’t be as fearful as if it chased you into a house. Tigers can’t climb stairs as easily as humans can. Tigers can’t arm themselves with a gun and fire back. Even though tigers don’t speak any human language (and so you can’t beg them for mercy), there are many more ways to trick and kill a tiger than a malevolent human.

In fact, unlike all the other items on this list, the thinking capacity of humans are why we are our own worst enemies and simultaneously why we fear each other more than microscopic jellyfish. The fear induced by human malevolence is significantly worse than the simultaneous one-two combo of fear and pain induced by everything else that has been mentioned so far.

It is so powerful that it can break a person psychologically — forever.

05. Disease

Pain Threshold:
Fear Factor:
Time to Death:
Total Suffering:

Patient in Hospital

I know first hand what it is like to have your ass kicked by an organism so tiny that you can’t see when it is attacking you. It would be easier to be trapped in a collapsed building than be afflicted to near death with pneumonia. It is easier to escape a human attacker than disease. None of us can really outwit disease. We can prevent or even cure some, but not all of them.

Until we developed vaccines, diseases like smallpox were absolutely fatal. A similar thing can be said of AIDS and even malaria. But what about genetically propagated degenerative diseases like Huntington’s, Cancer, Lupus, Parkinson’s, Cystic fibrosis and many others? The prolonged suffering sustained from such disease is lengthy and often measured in decades.

I’ve never lost someone to cancer. It doesn’t run in my family. I have however been console of a friend who lost her grand mother to the disease. Her grand mother was a pioneer of radiography research in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s and so was exposed to significant quantities of radium. The cancer resulted from the radiation poisoning imbibed over the years.

Her grand mother’s death was slow, expensive, tedious and painful to watch. She was always in pain. As the cancer had metastasized, all the doctors could do was to ease her passing by doping her up on Vicatin and similar drugs. But it wasn’t the pain that was worst — it was watching her slowly devolve into a shell, losing all her intelligence and personality over time.

A similar fate awaits those with Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease. An even worse fate awaits those who are their family and friends. Watching someone you love slowly break down to a raw, unfiltered, unfeeling, inhuman, living corpse is the worst way to lose someone you love. Death by disease ranks high, because the pain is shared by both sufferer and caretaker.

A quick death in the night carries far less suffering for both. This is why I can understand the significance of the work done by people like Dr. Jack Kevorkian who pioneered the realm of assisted suicide. While I was against the idea of suicide, it was largely for religious reasons. Having shed my religious faith, I can now appreciate why sufferers would take this way out.

In fact, I’ve said to my wife-to-be, if she ever finds me in hospital, where death is imminent, I’ve suffered irrecoverable brain damage, a surgery didn’t go well or I degenerated to a persistive vegetative state, that she has the authority to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) on my behalf if I had not already done so before. Death is always better than suffering. Always.

04. Extreme Heat

Pain Threshold:
Fear Factor:
Time to Death:
Total Suffering:

Buddhist Monk Burning To Death

The kind of heat that would kill you is either the type that causes a heart attack (from boiling blood) or a stroke that causes brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Most people who die in fires die long before the flames consume them. This is either in the form of asphyxiation from the smoke or severe trauma from an explosion or back draft — both of which are fairly tame.

I say that to accentuate the point that burning to death is one of the single worst ways to go out. Being set aflame after being doused in some flammable liquid after surviving an airplane or automotive accident, only to have the flames creep up on you toes first, is one of the single most excruciating forms of intense pain any human can possibly experience. It is very intense.

The worst part about burning to death is that you lose several layers of your flesh long before the mercy of a heat stroke kicks in. You can burn all the way to the bone before you die — and even then death is not guaranteed. It is never the flames that kill you. What makes this such a horrific way to die is that it is an extremely slow process — at least, relative to choking.

This however, is not the worst way to die. People caught aflame have an easy means of escape, even if they are in the middle of a burning building. Once you are not trapped and have the ability to move about, extinguishing the flame is simply a matter of dropping to the ground and rolling. This would only be defeated if the surrounding heat proves to be too hot.

Even then, just being able to move about means that you can remove parts of your clothing that are flammable or aflame. Running through a burning building naked is a hell of a lot safer than doing so in cotton clothing. Yes, you’ll get bruised. Yes you’ll be injured. Yes you’ll be permanently scarred — but your naked skin does not combust as readily as your clothes can.

Now to be fair, people from cold countries are likely to think that death from extreme heat would cause more suffering for them. This is a natural expectation, but it is not true. While people thriving near the equatorial regions of the planet would die last from extreme heat, the cause of death will remain the same for all humans. Heat strokes are equally fatal to all.

The Invincibility of The Fearless

Before you get any wise ideas about setting yourself aflame, make no mistake: Self immolation is no joke. The pain you feel before a heat stroke or cardiac failure finally puts you out is like nothing you can possibly imagine. While burning to death is not the worst way to die (come back tomorrow for that), you have to possess some incredible will to attempt this.

With that said, someone who chooses this way to commit suicide, (even if it is a form of protest as was the case with the monk in the picture) has an unnatural human psyche. The monk in the picture was protesting the treatment of Buddhist Monks by the Catholics in Vietnam. We are told that he prepared himself for the self immolation days before the event.

I can’t imagine what goes through a mind like that, so committed to dying for his beliefs that he offers himself up as a living sacrifice, dying by his own hand in such a spectacular blaze of glory. Don’t even mention Jesus. According to that story, Jesus flinched. His death was not of his own choosing. This monk sacrificed himself with the raw ferocity of fire and didn’t even bat a wink. Eye witnesses say the monk died in total silence. It’s not that he wasn’t in any agony.

He was just committed to die.

I don’t mean to reduce the severity of Jesus’ death, but it was obvious from Matthew 26:39 that he did not want to die. This monk did. For Jesus to have the same cajoles, he’d have had defied the laws of physics and nailed himself to the cross or commissioned a team to do so. This is something many Christians fail to recognize — just how remarkably human Jesus was.

This is why even an empire like the United States drunk with its own hubris can never defeat terrorists with high powered weapons. How do you defeat an enemy that is committed to die? You will have to systematically kill every one of them. The trouble is, while you can kill a man, you cannot kill an idea. An enemy committed to die can prove to be the most formidable foe.

The Net Worth of Martyrdom

Every Muslim who has blown himself up has apparently never heard of the fate of all the religions that came before. Every Christian martyr who was sacrificed to lions in the pits of Rome seem to be similarly naive. That’s the trouble with hinging human life on something so fleeting as an idea. After all this hypothetical chest beating, martyrdom, what if you’re wrong?

I’m not saying that some ideas are not worth fighting for (truth, justice and the American way, certainly) but over 4,000 soldiers gave their lives in Iraq for a very bad idea. Many of us knew that then. Most of us know that now. What if all this dramatic display of faithfulness, where we put our bodies through such wretched torture turns out to be based on bad information? What if after you die in such a horrible way, that it turns out there’s really nothing back there?

We laugh at the Muslims and their queuing up in the self immolation line for their share of 72 virgins while holding on to a similar delusion of a place that defies every law of biology and chemistry. While the 72 virgin idea is obviously impractical (let alone misogynistic), living in a place where no one dies is just as ludicrous. That would mean nobody is having sex. I can see the marketing banner now: Heaven… a place where everyone goes to be a virgin forever.

Sounds like a great place to die for.

E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

  1. mari
    July 29, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    I had to quit reading after the tiny pain jelly fish. It was too harsh to read anymore….the human thing….got to me

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  1. October 13, 2015 at 2:23 am

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