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“Darwin Award” Is Barely Adequate

Down below, Paul has written a post about the “fall of the Moron civilisation”, and a very good post it is too. It describes how a certain South American civilisation, facing the invasion of the Conquistadores, responded by, er, killing their own people and setting fire to their pyramids, which turned out not to be the optimal strategy. That however was a form of organised moronism. Our society increasingly specialises in the individual form, largely it appears because it has now so regulated everything that individuals have entirely lost the capacity to take the most simple care of themselves. Which brings us to 46 year old Diane Hill, who set herself on fire with petrol.

Now burning yourself isn’t automatically moronic. Petrol is flammable. Under certain circumstances it can spontaneously combust (if you soak a heap of rags in it, then something to do with latent heat that our Physics expert Nick can no doubt explain). Or, more likely you can have a stray spark if there is a sufficient concentration of vapour, or…

She was using her cooker at the same time as pouring petrol from one container to another using a jug after her daughter had asked for some petrol.


The woman was cooking dinner while decanting the fuel from an “appropriate petrol container” into a glass jug when the vapours ignited [...] that “created panic,” causing the woman to spill the petrol, which “resulted in spillage on the lady’s clothes which ignited as well”.


Lee Smith, one of the fire officers called to the scene, told BBC Radio 5 Live that firefighters did not need to extinguish any flames but had to deal with “a lot of smoke”.

I bet they did.

So here we have a woman so stupid that she decanted petrol into a jug next to a cooker (this was a gas cooker wasn’t it, Mrs Hill? The one with the naked flames?) and who gets the blame for this? The government.

Now come on. I’m no fan of the Coalition, but we can hardly blame the government for presiding over people so stupid that the advice to keep a bit of extra petrol in results in them pouring it from jug to jug while stir frying dinner, can we?

Labour peer Lord Harris called for Francis Maude to resign after the woman, named locally as Diane Hill, suffered 40 per cent burns when she tried to pour petrol into a jug in her kitchen after her daughter’s car needed refuelling.

Because Francis Maude didn’t take into account how close to the fall of the Moron civilisation we actually are. Presumably if he’d advised people to buy cutlery, he’d be responsible for some woman deliberately stabbing herself in the eyes with a fork, because he hadn’t actually specified she shouldn’t do that.

I think we may as well give up on this “libertarian” thing, guys. With raw material like this, hoping for a society of self-reliant individuals is really asking too much, isn’t it?


  1. JuliaM says:

    She doesn’t qualify – she’s already bred, sadly.

  2. Mr Ed says:

    Petrol-soaked rags may ignite due to the process of oxidation, caused by atmospheric oxygen, the rag increases the surface area for combustion, and the heat generated may not be dispersed, leading to the reaction accelerating to the point that ignition occurs, but, frankly you’d be unlucky and sloppy to have that happen.

    The poor lady might have learned some useful chemistry had she gone to a good school, which, had she recalled some basics, might have alerted her to the risks she was running. She may well have gone to a State school, or a private one with a strong ‘Arts’ bias. It might be that the tenuous link to the government’s fault could be that (I speculate), a typical State education some 30 or so years ago left her unable to comprehend the basics of chemistry and/or causation.

    Or, she might have had a short time preference, and might have thought that her meal was worth the risk.

    She might have thought that if the government says that you can do something, you can do something a little bit like that, and that’s a good thing, or even that she might be in trouble if she doesn’t do what the Minister suggests.

    However, do not assume that her offspring would share her approach to life, children will differ from parents, behaviour and genetics are not indistinguishable, and she may have some genetic features that would serve her descendants well.

    But by God, I fear that there are millions more like her. They can’t be reasoned with, they can’t reason in any meaningful way, and they live their lives in a blissful fog (for now).

    The only good things about this incident are that they have reminded everyone of Francis Maude, and hopefully made him less likely to go forward in his career, and that it reminds us that the struggle for survival never ceases, which reminds us that socialism will not endure as it is impossible.

  3. Palamedes says:

    Stories like these are what make me, an Atheist in all other situations, doubt the validity of evolution.

    I simply, do not see, and cannot credit that a genetic line strong enough to survive and carry on through all the vicissitudes of human history could produce an individual of such breathtaking stupidity.

  4. Edward Lud says:

    From one Ed to another, Mr Ed that was a quality comment.

    In other news, has it occurred to anyone else – and i ask mostly in jest – that the threatened tanker drivers’ strikes have been got up between said t drivers and company management in order to increase sales…. :)

  5. Edward Lud says:

    My favourite Darwin award went to a Polish blacksmith who used an unexplored WW2 artillery shell as an anvil. Ahem.

  6. Edward Lud says:

    Unexploded, that is

  7. Henry Crun says:

    As I commented on another blog yesterday, Zombie films aren’t horror fiction. They are allegory.

  8. Paul Marks says:

    Like you Ian, I am not a libertarian because I think people are moral or even clever.

    Often people (including me) are neither.

    However, our would be rulers are humans also.

    And if a human makes mistakes in their own lives – they make even more mistakes if they control someone else’s life.

  9. NickM says:

    Well Paul,
    You didn’t make a mistake with that comment. I personally have done enough bloody stupid things that the idea of being in charge of anyone else is horrifying.

  10. Lynne says:

    Forget secondary school science lessons. Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that petrol is highly flammable. It wouldn’t surprise me if the silly woman thought that the no smoking signs plastered all over petrol station forecourts were an extension of the smoking ban in pubs, restaurants and public places rather than a safety precaution against being flash fried.

  11. Joe Public says:

    I don’t think petrol spontaneously combusts. Not at standard conditions of temperature & pressure.

    It is though, extremely volatile with a low ignition temperature.

  12. Mr Ecks says:

    I agree about the woman’s foolishness.

    However any thing that might help to destroy hereditary MP Francis Maude can only be to the good.

  13. wh00ps says:

    I know it may sound harsh, and it may even be sailing quite close to the wind, but after the final victory of “the libertarian thing” there would probably be quite a high number of events like these as the wheat is sorted from the chaff resulting ultimately in a society of self -reliant individuals.
    Tragic, but ultimately good for the species (and better than the results of the path we are on).

  14. Stonyground says:

    Why on earth was she pouring the stuff out of a proper fuel container into a jug? Why not pour the petrol directly into the car? I hadn’t actually realised that the cooker in question was a gas one, pouring petrol in a confined space next to a naked flame, I’m still finding it hard to believe that this level of idiocy is possible.

  15. RAB says:

    Oh there’s no depth deep enough for human stupidity Stoney.

    A kid I was in school with came across an abandoned car on a patch of waste-ground. He wondered whether there was any petrol left in it, so he took the petrol cap off and lit a match to have a look, and heavens to mergatroid! there was.

    The explosion didn’t kill him, but the state of him afterwards, well I wonder if he kinda wished it had.

  16. Ian B says:

    Stony, probably she’s the kind of officious organiser mother who was determined to measure out a precise pint of the precious makes-wheels-go-round potion.

  17. Mr Ed says:

    @ Joe: Petrol-soaked rags have been known to spontaneously combust as the slow process of oxidation that occurs in air can be accelerated by the wick effect of the rag with a greater surface area for oxygen and hydrocarbons to interact (denser oils may be a higher risk due to slower evaporation). The reaction produces heat, and this can then lead to a faster and hence a run-away reaction ending in spontaneous ignition. A simple draught could disperse the heat and vapour, and stop the (rare) process.

    In 1980s Portugal, I regularly saw a petrol station attendant mixing oil and petrol for 2-stroke motorbike engines swirl the two together in an open jerry can, glowing fag in-between fingers of the hand on the jerry can. The heat of a glowing cigarette does not provoke ignition (hence spark plugs) and I am sure that he had been doing that for years with no accidents, but it just didn’t feel very confident at that garage.

    @ Lynne An ounce of sense is not permitted, grams only please.

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