Back in my teenage days I was a massive fan of The Darwin Awards. These dubious honours are handed out each year to people who, in the words of the Award panel, “eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival”. Needless to say, there are no shortage of example.
There’s the guy who robber a gun shop and decided to fire some warning shots to show he was serious. There’s the person that rode an un-steerable foam pad down a ski slope and, unsurprisingly, hit something solid. There’s fellow who kept a loaded gun next to his bed with the safety off, who woke up when his phone rang and accidentally blew his own head off. And there is the race car driver who left his vehicle and walked across the track during an ongoing race, with predictable results.
The idea behind these stories and the reason why they are called Darwin Awards, is that each of these winners has removed themselves from the gene pool and simultaneously proven that doing so was a good thing for the collective quality of that gene pool. The manner of their death proves the poor quality of the genes they would pass along – literally the survival of the fittest (or at least, survival of the not-exceptionally-unfit).
Looking back I’m not entirely sure why I found these fairly morbid and tragic tales funny – maybe it was the irony? I don’t know, and as I’ve pointed out before, there hardly needs to be a good reason for someone to find something funny. But even now I can’t deny that, funny or not, each of these idiots getting themselves killed in spectacular way is as least quite satisfying.
Now isn’t that an odd thing to say? I find it satisfying that a fellow human being made a terrible mistake and paid the ultimate price for it? That’s pretty cold to say the least. You’d think that someone who spends several hours per week delving into the human condition would be a tad more empathetic than that. But the sheer predictability of these deaths, the overwhelming number of opportunities the victims had to prevent them, and most of all the utter bizarreness of the situation they put themselves in cumulate into a demise so spectacularly stupid that I frankly cannot find any shits to give about these particular human lives being snuffed out.
Perhaps it’s that in a world filled with great and terrible injustices, self-destructive morons like these are so beneath my attention that they’ve blown right past empathy, done a fully lap of my brain and are approaching humour from an unexpected angle. Or maybe I just find it satisfying to see such extreme stupidity get what it deserves. After all, don’t the Darwin Awards have a point? Sure these deaths may indeed be tragic and I’m sure their loved ones miss them dearly, but in the big picture didn’t these idiots do the human race a big favour by taking themselves (and their genes) out of play?
It’s an old joke that we’ve all heard before, but seriously is it really just a joke? What exactly do we gain by having a bunch of morons running about, who manage to spectacularly off themselves the second they’re left to themselves? In fact don’t we actually lose as a society by keeping these idiots alive? Constantly having to either coddle these fools to prevent them causing some disaster or else having to clean up their messes if they get loose? You know all those irritating rules that clutter everyday life despite being blindingly obvious? Like how jay walking is illegal because someone couldn’t figure out how to cross a road without watching for the cars? Or how packets of peanuts now have to have ‘MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF NUTS’ on the side, in case someone with a deathly peanut allergy didn’t realise that a bag of NUTS might not be for them? Or how you can’t buy fireworks in many countries anymore, because people like this twit here went and strapped one to his head, lit it, and gave himself a very decisive lobotomy?
What an amazingly appropriate costume.
But it gets worse! In protecting these idiots from themselves, not only do we tie up valuable resources and/or make life difficult for the rest of us – we also leave those merry fools free to go out, have kids, raise those kids and thus spread their unique brand of stupidity on both a genetic and educational level. How can this be anything other than catastrophic to the future of our species?
Is it possible that our noble but misguided efforts to protect the thickest of our ranks have derailed the very process that got us here in the first place? How can evolution weed out the unfit from our species and ensure our continued development when we won’t even let the suicidally unfit cull themselves?
Put like this our moderately callous joke suddenly starts to look like a pretty serious social issue. Evolution after all is the process that got us down from the trees, lighting fires, chiselling wheels and generally being civilized in the first place – by letting the unfit survive are we not effectively stalling that entire process? Robbed of this crucial function, how can evolution ever progress humanity forward as low-quality genes continue in circulation and generally making a mess of things? Surely if we care about the long term future of humanity then this is something we should care about! The last thing we want in 1000 years is the planet to be inherited by a generation of thickos that think windfarms cause cancer, humans only use 10% of their brains, or that undercover cops totally have to tell you they’re cops if you ask them.
This is usually the point where someone goes all Godwin on the conversation and points out that the last people who took ‘survival of the fittest’ to its logical conclusion ended up gassing a few million Jews, homosexuals, communists and gypsies in the process. But whereas the Nazis based their ideal of ‘fitness’ on hopelessly bigoted and unscientific methods such as Phrenology (measuring the dimensions of a persons skull), modern advances in genetics mean we have a much stronger understanding of what fit can be proven to mean.
But that’s all beside the point: we’re not talking about something as drastic as breeding for intelligence, or breeding out genetic conditions here, both of which have quite a massive chance of going terribly wrong. In fact we’re not actually talking about doing anything at all; just not intervening when some chump discovers a new and interesting way of knocking themselves off and raise the collective IQ by a few points in the process. Sure it’s a pretty callous thing to suggest since stupid people are after all not really responsible for being stupid thanks to their genes, but what of it? When the question is whether we should be callous or whether we doom the entirety of human kind to genetic stagnation, then the answer is pretty damn obvious I would suggest.
No matter how much I agree with it, utilitarianism always makes me feel vaguely creepy…
Well happily for those of us concerned for the fate of man, and also for those who’d rather not live in a world that tacitly encourages dumbarses to get themselves killed (so long as it’s spectacular) it turns out the evolution does work that way. A few points:
The time-scale is way off.
For some reason when we talk about evolution, we have this tendency to think of it as something that happens over a long weekend. Consider the argument I made above: that by failing to let evolution cull the unfit, we are watering down our gene pool. This basically implies that, unless action is taken, the human race is genetically buggered with each successive generation until we start sliding backwards towards the chimps. Fortunately for us, things move a tad slower than that.
Evolution of new species takes literally millions of years to come about. For humans to evolve into a new form (better or worse) would take hundreds of thousands of years of continual breeding to come about, and that assumes the new form actually survives. To put this into perspective, modern anatomical humans have been on this planet for roughly 200,000 years. Not Neanderthals, not cave men with foreheads you could use for an anvil, but human beings that are for all intents and purposes exactly the same as you and me, and just as smart to boot (though obviously rather short on education).
Even if failing to cull the heard was pissing in our figurative gene pool, the effects from that pollution will not even begin to be seen for thousands of years assuming that nothing happens between then and now to radically change what qualifies as ‘fitness’ in the first place. So a bit less urgent than we initially though perhaps.
Smart, handsome and fit people blow themselves up too.
Funny thing about the Darwin Awards, but we always seem to assume that the guy who tied a few dozen weather balloons to his deck chair and nearly got hit by a commercial airline is, well, stupid. I mean obviously the specific decision to get airborne like that was pretty damn stupid, but does that translate to the guy being a stupid person?
That’s a pretty bit distinction that we tend to gloss over in these cases, and it falls apart a bit when you start to think about it. Sure it was a stupid decision and certainly something a stupid person could have dreamed up pretty easily – but could a truly stupid person have managed to make it a reality? If you were seriously dumb, to the point where you could honestly be described as genetically unfit, would you manage to plan out the design, source all the materials, assemble it so that the chair did in fact get off the ground, and then take you several thousand meters into the air without killing you in the process? This isn’t some drunk tying helium party balloons to a chair, this thing actually got airborne to 16,000 feet taking the dickhead with it and returning him safely to the ground 14 hours later. I have seen intelligent, well-educated people struggle have a brain-fart and struggle with the concept of the ‘Pull’ sign on a door – by comparison this near-Darwin Award winner is a veritable genius.
Come on, we’ve all been there.
That twat who taped a firework to his head? He was rather seriously drunk at the time – who amongst us can honestly say that they haven’t done something while wasted that was A Very Bad Idea? More than likely most of us have had a few near misses in the process that could very easily have landed us a Darwin Award of our very own except that we got lucky. I myself once jumped onto the roof of a moving vehicle while drunk, which could very easily have run me over or flung me head-first onto the concrete if it had braked too hard – luckily for me, it braked gentle and slid me down the windshield like the giant drunk dumbarse I was instead.
Neither brains nor physical fitness nor ‘being a good person’ is proof against making mistakes, and in just the wrong circumstances the only thing between making a stupid-but-hilarious mistake and a stupid-and-lethal mistake can be sheer luck. Taking off the safety labels and ‘letting the problem sort itself out’ might sound like a foolproof plan for improving the gene pool, but more than likely it will just weed out one fatal moment of bad judgement or just good old fashioned bad luck.
Evolution is dead.
Yeah I said it. Evolution for humans is dead. It’s gone. It has ceased to exist – and you know what? That’s a very good thing. Remember above how I mentioned that humans 200,000 years ago were physically identical to humans now, and therefore equally intelligent? If that’s the case then why is it that humans today have accomplished so much while it took our apparently-equally-as-smart ancestors several thousand years to sort out farming, let alone indoor plumbing? If evolution is too slow a process to account for this incredibly rapid development then what force was at work getting us where we are today, all of a sudden?
Aliens isn’t the answer to everything, Giorgio!
The answer to this is technology, and it has single-handedly rendered ‘survival of the fittest’ redundant in the process. Where once evolution developed humanity over hundreds of thousands of years through random mutations in genes and recombinations through breeding, which would very occasionally lead to new traits, which may or may not provide an advantage in survival, technology equips any and all humans with the means to overcome complex problems within one generation. ‘Fitness’, at least in terms of genetics, has been rendered meaningless as technology enables even the most crippled person to function nearly fully in society and achieve more than the strongest, smartest and prettiest of our ancestors could even dream merely 100 years ago.
Genetic conditions which would have killed people in the past can now be detected and treated by modern medicine, reducing those life-threatening defects to minor inconveniences. Even the more serious conditions which might make a person unable to perform physical tasks, and which would absolutely deem them ‘unfit’ according to evolution, can now participate fully in society through their intelligence – hell, one of the smartest and most influential scientists in the world today is permanently wheelchair bound. Is he ‘unfit’? Because evolution certainly would deem him so.
Not outrunning any lions any time soon.
It has gotten to the point where the skills required for the function and advancement of society are so incredibly diverse that virtually anyone can find a way to contribute, whether they’re the peak of genetic perfection or a wheezy, pale basket case with serious social phobia – in fact as we become more and more dependent on technology, technical skills are quickly supplanting physical strength or reflexes as the definition of ‘fitness’ when it comes to what advances humanity forwards. Your biceps and abs might indeed be very impressive, but if it’s the future of humanity we’re talking about here then they don’t really rate, do they?
Survival of the fittest is a pretty catchy phrase, especially when it comes to talking about idiots who ruin everything for everyone else. But next time you get the idea into your head that there might be some truth to it, you’d do well to wonder whether in our brave new world, just how ‘fit’ are you?