Complaint 2/7: the Darwin Awards

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Dear ones,

For those of you lucky enough to not know: the Darwin Awards are ‘awards’ granted to people who “eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.” The ‘official’ awards are a product of the early internet, now kept alive by a failed microbiologist. But people use ‘Darwin Award’ as a figure of speech, for any death brought about by stupidity or recklessness.

The Darwin Awards appeal to a slightly above average intellect. The sort of person who unironically reads reason.com, or talks about having a ‘rational conversation’ when someone gets upset. The dude bro who calls things he doesn’t like ‘fallacies’, and considers his point made by a few words of Latin that he doesn’t really understand. Mensa. Anything to do with Mensa. Mensa and the Darwin Awards are two angels perpetually getting married in a mediocre heaven, and the service is given by that guy on the subway who interrupts your reading to tell you about a literature class that changed his life—even though he never bothered to take another.

The Darwin Awards are the unneeded dessert at all-you-can-eat Mandarin buffet of life’s real dangers and suffering. Setting aside that we are seeking satisfaction in accidents that are far more likely to befall the poor and desperate, or that taking delight in ‘exotic’ deaths is plainly racist, the Standard Award looks at a death which follows an (admittedly) dim-witted risk, and asks: Who would do such a thing? Who would stand on top of a moving car in a field? Who would build a Molotov cocktail after seeing one on TV? Who? What kind of an idiot?

The question is rhetorical, but, dear ones, I have a real answer. Me. Not current, exhausted, neurotic and cowardly me, but me in my teens and 20s. Me, all my friends, and most of their friends, and most people I enjoy talking to. All of us have more than once been brought within a few inches of a Darwin Award by a few drinks and a bad idea, or even just one night without sleep.

Perhaps the award dispensers are shamefully attracted by alternate versions of their youth where their stupidities killed them, and they no longer need to work a full time-job. Perhaps this is some kind of inverted desire: to risk death not for glory or Mel Gibson, but because It would be amazing for Once to not have to Worry about the fact that we live in a terrifying world of plate glass and moving cars, high walkways, subway cars and electric wires. The cost of abandoning our worry might be death, but I think we’re all jealous of those who go through life without it.

When one of these free spirits takes a hit, we are envious. And so, out of a spirit of revenge, we ensure they’re granted a posthumous award, handed to them by a gloating tired windbag, who probably cheated on his Mensa application.

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