Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

A young man has looked forward to celebrating July 4th with home-made fireworks. As two friends watch, he lights a fuse and drops his handiwork into a metal pipe. It doesn't explode immediately, he waits, then he peers into the pipe. No more wake-ups.

This story appeared among Spike TV's "1000 Ways to Die." Other brief segments showed ways people have died, including one about young women hired in the early 20th century to paint glow-in-the-dark numerals on the faces of timepieces, even though their employer knew radioactive paint was very hazardous to their health. The women's actions reportedly led to changes in the way we view employer responsibility. Another episode showed an obese man who laughed for 36 continuous hours that ended in a fatal heart attack.

That's entertainment? Watching someone do something incredibly stupid can be frustrating. Watching a glowing woman approach her boyfriend in the dark can be unnerving. Watching a man laugh can be funny, for a while. Watching these episodes, based on real events, can be educational and might prevent others from repeating them, they can satisfy the voyeur, or they might provide suggestions to candidates contemplating suicide.

I hope these and other shows don't dull our senses, acclimating us to life's misfortunes. I'm hopeful they get us thinking in constructive ways.

"He deserved to die," we might say because of someone's stupid behavior. That's taking Darwin's hypothesis of "survival of the fittest" too far. We don't "deserve" to die. Life is too valuable for that. Most nations have banned the death penalty. If they've banned it for murders, they could hardly consider it appropriate for stupidity. Some day each of us will die, but in the meantime life is our most valuable asset.

Virginia says, "Watching some of these shows makes me feel dirty, that I'm wasting precious moments. I hope they save more lives than they endanger."

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