August 6, 2022

FTV: Darwin Take The Wheel


     Browsing the books on sale at the local St. Vinnie’s, I came upon an interesting title.  I never added it to my retirement book reading list because I couldn’t finish it.  It was a collection of stories about the ways people remove themselves from the human race and are thus prevented from contributing their DNA to the gene pool.  The stories about these so-called ‘Darwin Award Winners’ are meant to be funny (I think), but after paging through a few sections, I had to put it down.  I couldn’t see much humor in people dying either by accident (or on purpose if they knew the level of risk involved) while performing dangerous stunts.  Even though the segments are filtered for TV consumption, I can’t find myself enjoying a show like Jackass where the ‘stars’ challenge each other to try painful tricks.  One version of Americas Got Talent has recently appeared with Extreme added to the title.  I will assume (because I won’t watch it) this involves people looking for their fifteen minutes of fame by performing dangerous stunts for the TV viewers at home.  Had I lived in Roman times, I would not have been one to grab a seat at the Coliseum to watch the gladiators duke it out, either.

     So, why am I talking about the Darwin Awards if I do not want to share some of the gruesome details of how one ‘wins’ a coveted DA?  My aim here is to take a peek at where humans are headed.  Since Darwin’s Theories have been well accepted in the decades since the fabled Scopes Monkey Trial (in most quarters), I would like to examine what evolution may have in store for  Homo Sapiens.  Let us start with something one might not view as being all that dangerous to humans:  the cell phone.

     Back before schools began relaxing regulations about students having cell phones on their person during the school day, I would occasionally confiscate one in my class.  The offending item would be turned over to the office and the student would be able to reclaim it after school.  I can only remember confiscating a phone from the same student twice, and the second time, I locked it up and told them they could have it back in a week.  When I returned the phone, they laughed and said, “Oh, my mother already bought me a new one.”  So much for parental support in my mission to emphasize paying attention to school work and not social media.  The cell phone has become as commonplace in the hallways and classrooms as books it seems.  In my junior high days, everyone had a comb in their back pocket.  Today, it has been replaced by a cell phone.  Back then, we were told ‘males with long hair is a sign of the apocalypse’ (or some such dire consequence) but it never came to pass.  But phones are not combs, are they?

     Inevitably, my students would want to discuss why it was ‘such a big deal’ if they had a phone in the classroom.  I would rattle off my list of reasons and remind them there will be a lot of things they will not be allowed to do in life whenever and wherever they want to do them.  In my mind, the ‘no phones in the classroom’ policy had a certain amount of ‘real life’ educational value to it.  Come to think of it, I also used the same line of reasoning to explain why I did not allow students to chew gum in my class, but I digress.  With a semi-serious set of answers in mind, I would ask, “What do you think will happen to humans if they are glued to their phones every day for an entire lifetime?”  If the question confused them, I would explain what I thought might happen:  “Have you ever seen those stubby little front arms on a T-Rex?  Don’t they look kind of useless?  I think that people using their thumbs to constantly text will eventually cause human arms to shrink and thumbs to grow as a result of overusing two digits and underusing the other eight.  Does your neck ever hurt from constantly looking down at your phone?  I think human necks and spines will start curving forward and our normal shape will begin to resemble a question mark.  This will also probably make humans shorter over time.” 

     “Oh, that isn’t going to happen!” would be the general reply.  “Okay,” I would continue, “How about human’s ability to communicate?  When you walk down the hall at lunch time, do you talk to others or stare at your phone?  Will people become ‘non-verbal’ if they only ever ‘talk’ to each other by texting or email?  Don’t even get me started on grammar, spelling, and punctuation!”  Someone would point out, “Oh, we talk all the time,” yet I still noticed a trend over the past couple of decades.  The halls before school, between classes, and even during the lunch period used to be alive with chatter.  The pattern I observed in the last few years of my career was different – students were either sitting with their backs to the wall or slowly walking the halls with their eyes downcast and glued to a screen.  After we started our Strive 4 a Safer Drive – Don’t be Distracted safe driving campaign seven years ago, I began telling those walking and texting, “You know, walking while texting is just as dangerous as driving while texting.”  A bit of a stretch, but it is a line I used more times than I can remember.

     Taking a required Cultural Geography class back in my undergrad days, there was one lecture delivered by Professor Bernard Peters I still remember clearly more than fifty years later.  Peters’ topic that day dealt with population growth and he referenced a work by Thomas Robert Malthus from 1798 (An Essay on the Principle of Population).  Malthus made some dire predictions about the Earth’s ability to sustain an ever growing population in balance with the stresses it would cause on food supplies.  It seems we have, thus far, escaped what became known as the ‘Malthusian catastrophe’ in which the population is kept at or reduced to sustainable levels because of food shortages.  I do not think we have escaped this scenario entirely as images of starving children from around the world (and not just from impoverished third-world countries) flash across our media outlets daily to encourage us to give generously to combat this global problem.  The part of the lecture that caught my attention was Peters’ reference to what Maltus called ‘Positive or Natural population controls’.

     “War,” Peters reasoned, “would be considered a ‘positive population control’ by Malthus.”  The eighteen-year old me thought, “How can war be considered a positive anything?” but he did not mean ‘positive’ as in ‘good’.  Peters explained trends that help restore the balance in the Malthus equation are ‘positive’ if the end result is less people to feed and ‘negative’ if the result is more people to feed.  When the COVID pandemic deaths reached hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone (and now, over a million), I thought about Peters’ Malthus lecture.   

     How would a Malthus catastrophe be considered a ‘Darwin take the wheel’ moment?  Whenever I am confronted with a ‘COVID is just a hoax’ opinion, I counter with something along the lines of, “So, where exactly did those 1,000,000 (plus) people go?  If COVID didn’t kill them, were they taken away by aliens?”  If the simple fact that hundreds of thousands of people died isn’t reason enough to take every precaution possible (yes, I am talking about social distancing when appropriate and getting vaccinated), then you are flirting with removing your DNA from the human population.  I made the choice to be vaccinated based on research done on COVID variants done since the SARS epidemic of 2002-2004 (not just this variant).  It is worrisome that some celebrities who have ‘done their own research’ speak like they have some special inside knowledge to share.  Sadly, too many people will ‘follow the (Facebook, Tweets, podcasts, etc) ramblings of a celebrity’ rather than take the advice of those who have actually studied the problem.  Doing research in a lab is not the same as research done on your phone, folks!

     Rocker Ted Nugent has been quite outspoken on many subjects over the years.  Sharing what he said was “truth, logic, and common sense with people who care,” Ted called COVID-19 a ‘weaponized virus’ after he and his wife had both contracted coronavirus early in 2021.  “I did what the government told me not to do,” said the Nuge, “Because what the government tells you to do is always the wrong thing.  I took hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, steroids, and zinc and continued with my healthy lifestyle, being clean and sober and eating venison, and my wife and I recovered in just a few days.”  I won’t get into Ted’s political leanings, but this statement made me wonder if he considers himself lucky to have contracted what sounds like a less severe case.  Only time will tell if he is subject to any of the ‘long COVID’ effects.  

     As for taking the coronavirus vaccine, Nugent called it an “experimental shot.  If you try to give it to me, I’ll experiment on you.”  For those who got vaccinated, Ted said he will talk “their language and speak to them thusly:  ‘Baaaah, Baaaah, Baaahhh’,” (imitating sheep).  Will Nugent join other outspoken rockers like Kid Rock or Eric Clapton (and some country artists) who have said they will not perform at any venue that require mandates like masks or proof of vaccination for entry? Ironically, since Clapton himself has contracted COVID, his camp has been very mum on the subject.  Stay tuned as the continuing ‘to vax or not to vax’ drama unfolds.  I can not accept the, “Oh, they had other health problems so it wasn’t COVID that killed them” reasoning some use.  “Culling the herd” I have heard some call it.  How pathetic this sounds!  Vaccinations protect those around us, particularly those with on-going health concerns.  We can only offer sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones during this ongoing pandemic.

     Those of us of a certain age remember the push for public school students to have ‘their shots’ before being enrolled in school.  As a youngster who really didn’t like needles, I sucked it up because my parents said it was something I needed to keep me healthy.  When polio vaccines transitioned from a shot in the arm to ingesting a sugar cube (with a pink splotch on it) by mouth, needle-phobic kids like me rejoiced.  Our parents knew the dangers of childhood diseases that touched nearly every family and neighborhood before vaccinations were developed.  I was too young to hear the sad tales about those became deaf, crippled, or died from the ravages of childhood illnesses.  Kids talked about these things while standing in line for a TB test or dose of polio vaccine.  I can not recall one instance of ‘so and so’s parents won’t let them get the shot.’  Perhaps the anti-vax movement today thrives because a) there are generations who have grown up without losing loved ones from largely eradicated* childhood diseases, b) too many people have succumbed to the ‘I read it on the internet so it must be true’ fixation, or c) some combination of a) and b).  (*’eradicated’ or not, there are documented surges in some of these afflictions whose return can only be attributed to those who have decided to swallow the ‘anti-vax pill’, so to speak).  Not protecting your children is yet another path toward removing your family DNA from the human population.  My wife’s cousin in Finland recently wrote about the vaccination protocols undertaken in that country.  She mentioned needing to show her vaccination card to buy tickets to a concert.  She was completely confused why so many in America are resistant to protecting themselves.  It is not unheard of in this country – try and buy tickets to get into the Las Vegas Raiders’ stadium, for instance, and you will find they, too, have a ‘must present proof of vaccination’ caveat that must be met.

     Over the last year or so, WLUC-TV’s long-time weatherman said he was ‘fired’ because the parent company who owns the station has a mandatory vaccination order for all employees.  I can only assume this means he was not vaccinated and had no plans to comply.  It caused enough of a blip in the news to show up in a few mainstream media markets and on the internet (perhaps it was a slow news day?).  It sounds less like he was ‘fired’ and more like he ‘made a choice’.  The company had a ‘terms of employment’ clause he decided he could not work under.  When I first began teaching, we had to submit to a yearly TB test.  Years earlier, I had to do the same to work in a kitchen.  At that time, I reacted to the test and the doctor who read my shot informed me I was having an allergic reaction to the ‘carrier’ used for the test (which was much better news than, “Yes, son, you have TB!”).  He suggested I get a yearly chest x-ray in lieu of the needle prick test.  The yearly TB test was one of my ‘terms of employment’ so refusing to get the test or x-ray was my choice.  I chose to do what was necessary for me to be employed.  The intent of this policy was to keep my students and their families healthy and not some evil government plot.   

     Yes, you give your kids the car keys, but not until they have taken Driver Education.  It is called ‘education’.  We don’t want to let Darwin take the wheel of their health and well being without educating them about the history of vaccinations and why they were developed in the first place. 

Top Piece Video:  A little lighter touch after some serious discussion – courtesy of Johnny Rivers!