By S.M. Chen

“There are no accidents in my philosophy.  Every effect must have its cause.  The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.  All these are links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite.” –  Abraham Lincoln

“Every why hath a wherefore.”–  William Shakespeare


Darwinawards.com is a website self-described as “named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution.  The Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it.”

Some sample submissions (ranked at the site by vote):

  • (June 7, 2016, Wyoming) C M Scott, 23, from Portland, on a graduation vacation at Yellowstone National Park, could not resist the urge to hot-pot soak.  Recorded on an unreleased video, in a secluded area he reached down to check water temperature, slipped and fell into boiling acidic water.  The latter is no respecter of persons, including those with a college degree. Searchers found no remains the next day.  [To anyone’s knowledge, the Mafia was not involved.  Brackets mine.]
  • (December 11, 2016, England)  R Bull, 32, used his cell phone whilst tub bathing.  So as not to lose power, he plugged the phone charger into an electrical outlet with an extension cord and rested the charger on his chest.  When the charger touched water, he was electrocuted.  [Laptops or mobile phones are charged by a low voltage—5-20V—but the voltage coming to the charger ranges between 110-240V, depending on the country. Similar anecdotes involve radios or hairdryers.  It seems any electrical appliance will do].
  • (March 2, 2014, Netherlands)  Two inebriates dared each other as regards an intercity train in Rotterdam.  One lay down between railroad tracks, with the intention that the train would pass over him.  The other knelt in proximity to the track, keeping his head near where he anticipated the edge of the train would pass.  The train, traveling at 130 km/hour, was both lower and wider than thought.  Both men died instantly.

Other examples:

  • Steve Irwin, 44, aka The Crocodile Hunter, was an Australian naturalist, conservationist and TV personality.  One day, as part of his animal programming, he snorkeled above stingrays in chest-deep water off the Great Barrier Reef.  A stingray he was following (and got too close to) shot a serrated, poisonous barb into Steve’s chest.  Much startled, rather than leaving the barb in situ, Steve removed it.  The barb had penetrated his heart and he exsanguinated, likely developing hemopericardium (blood in the sac surrounding his heart) in the process.   He may have succumbed to cardiac tamponade, a condition in which the heart is compressed by external mass effect (in this instance, blood), which compromises its function. I wonder, though, if he might be alive had he not tried to remove the barb.  However, I also understand the immediate reflex to rid oneself of such an offending object.
  • Scott van Zyl, also 44, owned a safari company in Zimbabwe that took foreign clients on hunting expeditions.  One day the South African disappeared while out with a pack of dogs and a tracker.  The dogs came back to camp without him.  Later, his tracks were discovered leading to the banks of the Limpopo River.  His backpack was nearby.  Two Nile crocodiles in the environs were shot and their stomach contents examined.  DNA matched that of van Zyl.  It appears van Zyl had been attacked and eaten by the very prey he used to lead others to hunt.
  • Theunis Botha, 51, big game hunter and owner of Game Hounds Safaris, was crushed to death by a falling cow elephant that a client shot when Botha’s group encountered a breeding herd of elephants near Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.  Botha was a close friend of Scott van Zyl.

Some have died when they lost control of motor vehicle texting while driving, or operating a laptop computer while driving.  No one has proven better at multitasking than monotasking.  

Others have died while taking a selfie, whether driving or elsewhere, such as on a bridge or other high place.  The stories of some of these are posted at Darwinawards.com.


I relate these anecdotes not to titillate, amuse or evoke Schadenfreude but rather remind that potential disaster ever lurks in the shadows, only the breadth of mindlessness away.  

Newton’s 3rd law of action and (equal but opposite) reaction seems operative, as does the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Some might term it instant karma, the word used in a broad, informal sense that transcends Buddhist and Hindu usage.

It is sobering to contemplate that some are not spared the immediate consequences of their actions, which may be foolish and/or risky.

Some are.  We may only someday learn to what extent we have been protected from the natural outcome of our folly.

Given the many things – accidents, malevolence, illness – that can go wrong, particularly as we age, it’s a wonder any reach the proverbial threescore and ten years considered a reasonable longevity expectation (this written at the time of David, about 1000 BCE).  Lifespan hasn’t budged much since.

Adam came up short of being the first true millennial by three score and ten.

With rare exception, it’s been downhill ever since.

Lamentations 3:22 comes to mind.


When I became a grandparent six years ago, I came to realize that the safety of my grandson was contingent on eternal vigilance by those who tend him.  My daughter is thus comfortable leaving him in my care.  She also knows that I value his life more than my own.


All is not lost.  We (at least some, some of the time) are capable of learning and of changing, of modifying behavior if not underlying understanding.

Bad decisions, once made, need not be adhered to.  There is often a finite time period – sometimes fleeting, sometimes longer – within which a decision can be reversed, course changed, disaster averted, perhaps destiny altered.

The Dutch drunk who lay down on the train track, hoping he was low enough to avoid being struck, might have gotten up off the track before the train arrived.  Mr. Bull, the Brit in the tub who placed a cell phone charger on his chest, might have removed it before it got wet.  Aussie Steve Irwin might have contemplated removing the stingray barb from his chest but then thought better of it.


Consider this poem by Portia (I love that name; and no, I don’t drive one) Nelson, singer, songwriter, actress, author (1920-2001):

Autobiography in 5 Chapters

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost…
I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit.
My eyes are open; I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.


S.M. Chen lives and writes in California.

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