The Issue of Offspring

What if a Darwin Award nominee has reproduced?

Is he or she automatically disqualified if he has offspring? Since genetic and environmental factors both play a role in determining our choices and behaviors, I will discuss each as a source of potential Darwin Award candidates, before answering the question.

A concrete example will help illuminate the discussion. Imagine the sole reason a man wins a Darwin Award is because he has the hypothetical Explosive Stupidity gene, a gene that causes him to ignore the potential downside of playing with bombs. The man who possesses this imaginary gene tends to minimize potential dangers by rationalizing that he is "good with explosives" and will not be harmed. No matter how many hours of film footage he sees showing flying body parts, and no matter how many friends he knows who were injured in explosions, he will never be convinced that he is anything but "good with explosives" and beyond harm's reach.

So one day he blows himself up playing Russian roulette with a land mine, like the three fellows you'll read about in "Fatal Footsie," and his son is left to bury the ashes.

The Explosive Stupidity son inherited half of his father's genes and half of his mother's. The son can be thankful that he has only a fifty percent chance of possessing Dad's fatal Explosive Stupidity gene. Since children have a good chance of not carrying a particular parental gene, the presence of offspring will not disqualify the Explosive Stupidity man from winning a Darwin Award.

Genetic contributions, however, are only part of the story. Our environment also plays a role in risk-taking behavior. This dichotomy is known as the "nature vs. nurture" controversy, and professors regularly air competing opinions on the subject. Let's see how environmental factors might figure into a Darwin Award.

If a child's father has the Explosive Stupidity gene, he will learn from his father that it is okay to play with explosives. Even if the child lacks the Explosive Stupidity gene himself, he will be more likely to win a Darwin because he's conditioned to feel omnipotent around explosives. As long as the father is around to encourage risky behavior, the son's social environment makes it more likely that he will take the same dangerous risks.

But suppose Dad tosses a cigarette into a bucket of TNT like the detectives in (military intelligence: "Intelligence Blunders") and blows himself up. In that case it is highly unlikely that any child will follow in his footsteps. The environmental contribution is negated by the act that wins the Darwin Award. Again we are led to the conclusion that men who have reproduced are eligible to win a Darwin Award.

And finally, the child who inherits an unlucky gene will have his own shot at notoriety one day. So the rules do not disqualify nominees who have already reproduced.

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