The Darwin Awards III: Survival Of The Fittest, by Wendy Northcutt
In reading this book I have profound mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have made my own personal opposition to the mistaken underpinnings of this particular award rather plainly and openly , and so I do not share the author’s belief that it is a good thing that the people commemorated in this work have improved our gene pool by removing themselves from it, nor do I believe in survival of the fittest–often the fittest fail to survive for some reason or another, unless fitness is a tautological concept describing those who survive regardless of the specific nature of the reasons for their good fortune. In addition, I tend to find much of the sense of humor of this book a bit mean-spirited, as the author assumes that she and most of the audience are far more clever and less short-sighted than the sort of people who are likely to find themselves in these pages. I must admit that my own encounter with a ceiling fan have demonstrated that I am certainly absent-minded enough for at least an honorable mention in the books, and to be sure that colors my view of the condescending view towards the people in this book. That said, if you like mocking humor, this book has a lot of it.
The contents of this moderately sized (roughly 230 page) book are divided into six chapters. Each chapter, as well as the book as a whole, include a great deal of introductory material that discusses some matter of the rules of the award or some sort of speculation on natural selection and survival of the fittest. The various nominees are divided into three categories: Darwin Awards for those stories concerning people who have removed themselves from the gene pool, transcended common stupidity, done the harm to themselves (but not with the intent to kill themselves), been mature and of sound mind (although possibly impaired from drug or alcohol use), whose stories can be confirmed or at least are generally plausible. The second category involves honorable mentions for those who failed to remove themselves from the gene pool despite their best efforts, and the third category involves people giving unconfirmed personal accounts of themselves or others. The first chapter involves law enforcement with criminals, policemen, lawyers (including noted Copperhead Clement Vallandigham) and judges. The second chapter contains stories of would-be alpha males whose raging testosterone and absence of rational thought demonstrated they were instead omega males. The third chapter examines the many ways explosions can go wrong, many of them involving grenades or undetonated ordinance or gasoline cans or something equally obviously dangerous. The fourth chapter contains women who removed themselves from propagation due to their own folly, while the fifth chapter looks at the problems with mankind and technology and the sixth and final chapter looks at stories which were originally nominated but were disqualified for one reason or another.
In fact, I found the sixth and final chapter to be the most interesting of the lot, largely because it demonstrated what humanity was to be found in the book. While most of the book featured a great deal of smug and self-satisfied humor at the expense of other people, a particularly low form of wit and humor, the sixth chapter demonstrated that the author is not entirely lacking from the sort of social graces and generosity of spirit that demonstrate one’s fitness for life as a civilized human being. Included in this particular chapter were examples of people who had been given false information and perished as a result of being misinformed and acting in ways that were dangerous where they had little reason to know the full extent of the problems they were involved in. Cases where innocent bystanders suffered harm are likewise not eligible for Darwin Awards–the author shows a great deal of taste for “instant karma” where someone’s folly or wickedness is immediately rewarded by divine providence or the absence of protection, but does not have any enjoyment in the destruction of the innocent or deceived. Of course, this concession to humanity does not reach the standard of biblical justice, for God does not rejoice in the destruction of the wicked, and the author of this book and most of this book’s intended audience rejoice in precisely that. A wiser author would have admitted that spectacular failure of reasoning and maturity are possible fates for all of us, and that we are one bad day or even a few bad seconds away from epic and catastrophic failure. If we avoid self-destruction in our lives, it is usually the result of divine favor more than anything we happen to deserve. We would do well to remember this before we laugh at others who were not so blessed in their lives or deaths.
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