Friday, March 11, 2011

Daring Darwin

It's become a meme of its own in recent years, particularly since the advent of the Internet, that anyone who dies by his or her own foolishness has become another notch in the belt of the great Charles Darwin.  Darwin is remembered as the man most associated with the development of the theory of natural selection, by which species of life improve themselves through successive generations, where those forms that are most well adapted to their environment survive and pass their characteristics on to their offspring.

Stupidity, in other words, is bad for your health.  It will kill you.

Now, we're doing Darwin a disservice by pairing his name with a seemingly endless list of people who don't look both ways before crossing the street.  The man was brilliant, plagued by ill health and the deaths of a couple of his children (leading him to wonder if he himself was not a viable specimen to reproduce) and the endless ridicule, haranguing and second-guessing of the public at large and the religious establishment in particular.  Nonetheless, in his lifetime Darwin saw his theory go from the lunatic fringe of junk science to the mainstream acceptance of the public.  I guess that's something.

Backing out of a parking space - where we were closely hemmed in by a Chrysler Sebring - a young woman walked directly behind our car, between my rear bumper and the front of the Chrysler, even as we were already moving.  I was astonished and infuriated.  Inside my own head, I railed and ranted.

"What the heck is wrong with you?  Nobody drives a Sebring!"

Okay, that was for funnies.  But the pedestrian didn't have any room to spare, and it was only through quick reactions (not her own) that she didn't get badly hurt.  Make no mistake, it doesn't take much force to do a human body damage, and even rolling at idle a car puts out enough power to break bones.  Not just fingers, legs.  Like the ones that would have been trapped between my car and the other.

She kept walking.  She's young, fit, and kind of fast.  Before the Subaru got completely slithered out of where it had been crowded in, she was already at the far end of the block, stepping out into traffic without looking to see if cars were coming.

Again and without giving proper credit to the man, I call this kind of person a "practicing Darwinist."  Successful Darwinists have completely removed themselves from the gene pool, this one is just hanging on to the edge, maybe looking for the ladder.

I want to take up hang gliding.  Almost desperately, I'd love to be able to feel the sensations of flight with as little aircraft around me as possible.  I suspect it's a high akin to a religious transportation, an orgasm of both joy and exhilaration in a medium few others can share.  But I have also read my life insurance policy, which states in no uncertain terms that injuries or death sustained while hang gliding are not covered.  That is to say, if you take up hang gliding, the life insurance company expects you face a much higher likelihood of dying an untimely death than someone who is, say, crossing the street.

So I have the bumper sticker for Altair Hang Gliders, but no hang glider.  No hill ticket.  No Hang Two license.  I'm not ready to die, not yet.

Surfing.  Motorcycling (another rush that I love, but don't do).  Running with scissors.  There are risks we put ourselves in front of all the time without thinking about them.  When going downstairs - and I almost invariably take the stairs instead of the elevator - I hold the rail.  I almost can't descend stairs without holding the rail.  I'm relatively young, in decent condition, no inner ear problems.  My balance is actually pretty good.  But I've trained myself to hold the rail and would no more approach the stairs without the rail than I would drive a car without the seatbelt.

The broad, dramatic steps in front of municipal and government buildings give me the shivers, nearly.  I go up along one side, where the rails are.

Too much OSHA Safety Training won't kill you - it just makes you realize how many things out there might kill you.  I'm not a safety nut - to this day I don't wear a helmet when riding a bike, assorted scars of my youth be damned.  But spending just a little time with one's eyes open, you see that there are all manner of things you might just up and do, that you wouldn't do if you thought them through.

I would not take up hiking and backpacking in the Middle East.  As a white guy with only French for my backup language, I would stick out like a sore thumb.  There are too many headlines describing dead Americans in the Middle East, I don't feel a need to join them.  I don't go to gun shows.  No rollerblading.  I don't fire lasers at mirrors.

You're going to die.  Everyone you ever met, will meet, is going to die.  That's the downside of life, that it must come to an end.  There's nothing to fear from it, except perhaps the unknown of what must come after that last breath.  But in the meantime, I also see no reason to add myself to the list of those who found themselves on the wrong side of Darwin's theory.

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