Welcome to Hydrargentium's: We Blog!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

We're all going to die... some sooner than others

I just finished a conversation with a co-worker about the Darwin Awards, which included relating a couple of stories from early in the archives, one about a genuine contender, and one about what the awards people call "Honorable Mentions" (or, as I would prefer to call them, "Honourable Mentions"). For those who don't know, a Darwin Award winner is a person who has removed him- or herself from the gene pool through his or her own stupidity. In other words, that person managed to do something stupid enough to die from the results of the action. (The classic example is the guy who died when the Coke machine he was rocking in an attempt to get a free beverage fell forward and crushed him. Get it? Stupidity leads to death.) The D.A. people also designate Honorable Mentions as people who have done spectacularly stupid things, but survived the experience (like the guy who attached a bunch of helium-filled weather balloons to his lawn chair, and got stuck floating for hours over Los Angeles).

So, why awards for stupidity? Sure, we can all laugh at their lack of intelligence (although we should, perhaps, ask why we are laughing), and take note of the actions described, so as not to make the same mistakes ourselves. However, the true reason for the awards is simple: celebrating the fact that these idiots have been removed from the gene pool, thereby limiting the stupidity of future generations. (I suspect, however, that stupidity will be plentiful for millenia to come.)

So, what I really want to talk about is why the Honorable Mentions don't get their own actual awards, instead of just being included peripherally. The way I see it, as long as these near misses lead to lessons learned, both for the self-made victims and for the voyeuristic masses, then the committers of these stupid acts should be fully lauded as well. Seriously, instead of just congratulating the people who have made things better for future generations, shouldn't we equally include those who have made things better for the present mob?

All of this also makes me think about the whole extra feedback loop that intelligence and language adds to the evolutionary process. Between the ability to reason and learn, and the ability to communicate what we have learned with others, humans have effectively short-circuited much of the life and death cycle of evolutionary effects. Sure, we still die (for now), but these two human traits have done more to keep people alive, who otherwise would have died without any chance of procreation, than any other evolutionary adaptation in the history of life on Earth. (I can't really say much for other planets, since we have zero empirical evidence.)

Personally, I am amazed every time I think about the effect of intelligence and language on human evolution. Especially when I walk down the street, and see a young couple walking down the street, hand in hand, whose genes clearly should have been left behind centuries ago, were it not for some other early genius who figured out how to cultivate grains, or set broken bones, or ride a horse. Most especially then.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home