The Darwin Awards have nothing to do with Darwin or natural selection. It’s just people doing dumb stuff. And people doing dumb stuff has nothing to do with genes, which is all that natural selection is about. The people who really deserve Darwin Awards are adults who never had children, because they selected themselves right out of evolution. Genetically speaking, I lose, and lose as bad as it is possible to Darwinianly lose. I do get the cold evolutionary comfort of having a brother who spawned four sons, meaning that some our shared genes got passed on to another generation. But the fact that he spawned no daughters limits the long term genetic possibilities. So it goes.
Memetically I haven’t done too bad. Some of my memes might last a while past me. But civilizations fall eventually and take most of their collective memes with them, certainly the ones based on language. At some point languages themselves disappear and my beautiful prose would read like the stilted translations of cuneiform poetry, the life sucked out of them. In the unlikely event that anything I ever wrote had lingered on for generations, it will vanish into the ether when English vanishes into the ether, gone forever, my written thoughts dead as my genome, and the very last proof that I ever existed will fade into nothingness, as if I had never existed at all.
It seems that 70,000 years ago the global population of homo sapiens was reduced to less than 26,000. Apparently they teased out that bit of info through some genetic analysis. As humans were by then in Africa and across much of Eurasia, that means we were very sparse on the ground. All seven billion of us spring from remarkably small numbers of people. Indeed, it’s been suggested that as few as seventy individuals came across the Bering Strait land bridge to eventually people the entire western hemisphere. We’ve had more than seventy people in our pad at parties. I never thought of them as a genome before. Well, I did once and got my face slapped. But I digress.
A million or so years ago our antecessor species Homo erectus seems in the genetic analyses (if I knew how they do this I’d tell you) to have been reduced to less than a thousand individuals….and remained like that on the razor’s edge of extinction for maybe a hundred thousand years. Everything we are was dependent on a population the size of a very small town or a medium sized high school or the fans of failing rock band in a big, mostly empty concert hall. Somewhere in that tiny population was some of us, genetically. Whatever genetic factors helped members of that population survive a particularly brutal hundred thousand years of Darwinian natural selection (as other related human species went extinct) lies deep in our own genome. And when 70,000 years ago something happened globally that reduced Homo sapiens to less than 25,000 individuals, we survived while the last of Homo erectus died out, unable to survive what it had once survived for a hundred thousand years. No one ever said natural selection was fair. It’s anything but. The fossil record is full of species of humans and proto-humans no longer here. Fleshed out by talented artists, they gaze at us with all the pathos of a Rembrandt. You can sense their intelligence and emotions. Then you look at the skulls again, bare and ancient and hopelessly extinct. There but for quirks of fate, is us.