SUR­VIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Financial Mail - - FEATURE - Chris Roper

You’ll have heard of the Dar­win Awards, I’m sure, the ac­co­lades given to peo­ple who have killed them­selves by do­ing some­thing so un­be­liev­ably dumb that our over­rid­ing emo­tion is not sym­pa­thy, but grat­i­tude that there’s no chance they can pass on their genes.

As the web­site de­scribes it: “In the spirit of Charles Dar­win, the Dar­win Awards com­mem­o­rate in­di­vid­u­als who pro­tect our gene pool by mak­ing the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice of their own lives. Dar­win Award win­ners eliminate them­selves in an ex­traor­di­nar­ily id­i­otic man­ner, thereby im­prov­ing our species’ chances of long-term sur­vival.”

The awards can be traced back to Usenet groups in 1985, but they re­ally took wing with the launch of the of­fi­cial web­site by Wendy North­cutt in 1993.

North­cutt was a grad­u­ate in molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, who later moved on to study neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy at Stan­ford Univer­sity, do­ing re­search into can­cer.

It says some­thing about the dif­fer­ent na­tures of academia and the in­ter­net that she gave all that up to con­cen­trate on the Dar­win Awards books and web­site. Clearly, cur­ing the some­times ter­mi­nal dis­ease of can­cer is not as lu­cra­tive as mak­ing fun of the al­ways ter­mi­nal dis­ease of stu­pid­ity.

To give an idea of what level of stu­pid­ity we’re talk­ing about here, one of last year’s awards was given (posthu­mously, natch) to a 47-year-old Ja­panese man named Tedzu. Clad in street clothes, Tedzu died try­ing to climb the 3,776m vol­canic sum­mit that is Mt Fuji while livestream­ing an episode of his life — the fi­nal episode, as it turned out — to which he gave the jolly ti­tle Let’s Go to Snowy Mt Fuji.

I men­tion this story be­cause, while ba­si­cally freez­ing to death, Tedzu re­fused to put gloves on so he could still use his smart­phone. An ac­tual ex­tract from the video: “Hands are numb … but must op­er­ate smart­phone.” Smart­phones, in­creas­ingly, play a role in the stupid things peo­ple do.

I was re­minded of the Dar­win Awards by the an­nounce­ment on the week­end that rap­per Kanye West plans to run for the pres­i­dency of the United States of Amer­ica. Yes, I typed out the full name of the coun­try, be­cause its poor cit­i­zens need all the grav­i­tas they can get.

The place has be­come a laugh­ing stock — and I paused here to re­search the etymology of that term. Its ori­gins are un­clear, though it has been in use since at least the 16th cen­tury. The most pleas­ing the­ory is the (sadly un­prov­able) one that it refers to the act of putting peo­ple in stocks and throw­ing rot­ten fruit at them.

It might not seem a pro­por­tional re­sponse to the deadly drones the US has lobbed at non-amer­i­cans over the years, but hurl­ing an over­ripe tomato at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s su­per­cil­ious mug would, I’m sure, cause a lot of peo­ple a lot of joy.

West an­nounced his pres­i­dency to his 29.6-mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter on July 5, the day af­ter the pop­u­lar US hol­i­day cel­e­brat­ing the coun­try’s al­most to­tal in­de­pen­dence from peace since 1776. The oc­ca­sion is char­ac­terised by fire­work dis­plays, to sim­u­late the child­ish ter­ror of non-amer­i­can kids be­ing bombed, and cook­ing chunks of meat over a fire, a homage to na­palm vic­to­ries of the past.

Kanye’s tweet read, in full: “We must now re­alise the prom­ise of Amer­ica by trust­ing God, uni­fy­ing our vi­sion and build­ing our fu­ture. I am run­ning for pres­i­dent of the United States! #2020VI­SION.”

Well, I say in full, but ac­tu­ally I’ve omit­ted the oblig­a­tory emoji of the US flag, the Twit­ter echo of those ob­scenely ubiq­ui­tous flags Amer­i­cans dis­play ev­ery­where, in what I as­sume is some sort of manda­tory, Stal­in­ist show of pa­tri­o­tism and mil­i­tarised fetishism.

I don’t think it’s worth de­bat­ing whether West would be a better pres­i­dent than Trump, given that his smart­phone on 12% bat­tery life would be a better pres­i­dent than Trump. But it is worth dis­cussing why the idea of West as leader of the heav­ily mort­gaged world pre­vi­ously known as free is a per­fectly fea­si­ble one — as is the sad and bloated re­al­ity of Trump.

To give win­ners of the Dar­win Awards some credit, at least they paid the ul­ti­mate price for the stupid things they did and had

the de­cency to both serve as a cau­tion­ary tale and die. But why isn’t there a ver­sion of the awards for politi­cians who say in­cred­i­bly stupid things?

There ap­pears to be very lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity, which is why peo­ple such as Trump and West can as­pire to gov­ern­ing coun­tries with­out hav­ing any ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of pol­i­tics. Po­lit­i­cal acu­men has stopped be­ing the abil­ity to make a coun­try work, and is now the abil­ity to get away with stuff.

There should be a Dar­win Awards for politi­cians who say or do stupid stuff, and the prize should be get­ting fired. I’m not even talk­ing about the com­mon or gar­den lies and spin that char­ac­terise most of the drivel we’re sub­jected to. If your job de­scrip­tion in­cludes look­ing af­ter the well­be­ing of peo­ple, which is ba­si­cally what pol­i­tics is, then you need to be able to show a cer­tain em­pa­thy.

Take the im­mor­tal words of Dan Plato, the mayor of the cave that is Cape Town. He claimed that Bule­lani Qholani — who was evicted from his shack while naked, and vi­o­lently wres­tled to the ground — had taken off his clothes as a tac­tic to make the City of Cape Town look bad. (Plato also told MPS: “I’ve got a lot of black friends,” prompt­ing jour­nal­ist Lester Kiewit to won­der­ingly point out that “Dan Plato, a black man, doesn’t con­sider him­self black.”)

Or take the re­sponse of Trump to Bubba Wal­lace (no, his name has not been changed to pro­tect his iden­tity), the only black Nascar driver. He found a noose hang­ing in his garage at the Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way in Alabama (no, the name of the “Su­per­speed­way” has not been changed to pro­tect its iden­tity), and un­der­stand­ably thought it was a racist threat.

News agency AFP help­fully in­forms those of us born af­ter 1999 that the noose is “a sym­bol of lynch­ings in the Amer­i­can South”.

For more con­text, Nascar, which is ba­si­cally an au­to­mo­tive ver­sion of a fash­ion ramp, with cars driv­ing round and round at high speed for the sole pur­pose, it ap­pears, of show­ing off the brands they’re wear­ing, has just banned the dis­play of

Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols at its events.

The FBI con­cluded that the noose was not the re­sult of a hate crime, but had been hang­ing in the garage for months. This does smack a lit­tle of a white su­prem­a­cist say­ing: “What, this swastika tat­too? Oh no, I’ve had it for ages.”

But Trump, of course, ig­nor­ing the ac­tual his­tor­i­cal con­di­tion of the US to­day — aka Black Lives Mat­ter — de­manded that Wal­lace say sorry for be­ing trig­gered.

“Has Bubba Wal­lace apol­o­gised to all of those great Nascar driv­ers & of­fi­cials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were will­ing to sac­ri­fice ev­ery­thing for him, only to find out the whole thing was just an­other HOAX?” he tweeted.

Th­ese are not the most egre­gious of the ter­ri­ble things politi­cians have said — not by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion. I would con­tend, how­ever, that their re­marks in­di­cate a dearth of hu­man­ity, of em­pa­thy, of just ba­sic kind­ness. Much like the peo­ple whose stu­pid­ity qual­i­fies them for the Dar­win Awards, th­ese politi­cians need to be cut out of the po­lit­i­cal gene pool on the basis that they’re com­pro­mis­ing demo­cratic evo­lu­tion. If you have a dis­dain for peo­ple, you shouldn’t be in the busi­ness of safe­guard­ing their wel­fare.

There ap­pears to be very lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity, which is why peo­ple such as Trump and West can as­pire to gov­ern­ing coun­tries with­out hav­ing any ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of pol­i­tics

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