March 23rd, 2007
|03:57 pm - Marching morons|
When I was a child I read a science fiction short story called 'The Marching Morons' by CM Kornbluth (wikipedia link), and I've always remembered it. It is much-anthologised and very controversial. It's a story written in 1951, about a man of the 1980s who (like Fry in Futurama) goes into suspended animation and ends up the future.
In this story the world is dominated by - well, morons, because they have 'outbred' the intelligent. A tiny minority of intelligent people attempt to steer the 'morons', although all positions of authority seem to be taken by idiots.
...while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers, and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and short-sightedly having children -- breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred! [...] Your intelligence was bred out. It is gone. Children that should have been born never were. The just-average, they'll-get-along majority took over the population. The average IQ now is forty-five.
In the end the protagonist introduces the beleaguered intelligentsia to the concept of 'genocide' and they set about slaughtering the morons en masse, by sending them into space. Not unlike the Golgafrinchans in the third ark. The story has a kind of twist ending, which you've probably already guessed.
There's a discussion about this story here. Some people think the story makes its case seriously, and it is despicable. Some people (as someone says in those comments, the Rand/Heinlein demographic) think Kornbluth was making a good point, a good prediction . Some people like this guy think the story is obviously a satire, or black humour, intended to make us question eugenics.
Whatever, the story is worth reading. Partly because it dramatises what it's like to live in a society which sometimes makes you feel alienated, where you feel like a beleaguered minority, where reading books makes you unusual. And partly because it does make you confront the unpleasant implications of that feeling.
Link to the discussion nicked from ninebelow.
Heheh, sounds like Ex's kinda sci-fi. No-one can truly understand the suffering of the athletic upper-middle-class white-anglo-saxon male...;-p
That's just how I read it, and there are plenty of stories like that out there, but then I was a kid, and all these other people seem to think it's a satire.
To be fair, also, Kornbluth makes the beleaguered intelligentsia multi-ethnic and both genders IIRC.
|Date:||March 23rd, 2007 04:54 pm (UTC)|| |
A tiny minority of intelligent people attempt to steer the 'morons', although all positions of authority seem to be taken by idiots
Not futuristic at all, then:)
I must admit, I can't see eugenics as a totally despicable idea in principle. Not breeding from epileptic sheepdogs or congenitally lame horses seems rational, and some limited application of that to humans doesn't strike me as so terrible. It does baffle me that people who know they have a family history of Huntington's or haemophilia still insist on having kids and passing it on, when if they showed some concern for the wider picture such things could be eliminated in a generation.
The idea that birth control will eventually favour the dimwitted isn't new either; I recall Desmond Morris and others suggesting it in the 50s and 70s. It's a worrying thought, but for the writer to blame it on the intelligent for not breeding seems perverse. There are good reasons for limiting the human population; it isn't so much that "Children that should have been born never were" - very C S Lewis - more that a lot more people are born than is ideal.
As someone in the comments thread said 'It's not lack of intelligence that leads women to have big families', it's (from a western perspective) lack of education, or from a marxist perspective, it's the result of economics. Or why you and I have small families, it's not because we are more intelligent. I even think intelligence itself is the result of economics and social role. That's part of the reason why eugenics doesn't work.
|Date:||March 23rd, 2007 08:30 pm (UTC)|| |
I even think intelligence itself is the result of economics and social role.
I'm more inclined to ascribe degree of intelligence to genetic inheritance, but the potential for developing it to some degree of fullness has a lot to do with economic and social position. Most of the people I work with are clearly intelligent, but kept down by their lack of education, reinforced by their working class status.
My gut instinct is to point the finger of blame at an education system set up to cream off the academically-oriented minority and just go through the motions with the rest. I've met too many people who write themselves off as thickies (sometimes proudly, sometimes not) when they're clearly anything but. They're just under-educated, if not totally miseducated.
Yes about education. I think of someone like Paul Merton who is obviously very quick witted indeed, leaving school with no qualifications. What were they doing with him all that time? But what would happen if everyone was educated to their ability? Our society would be destroyed I suppose.
|Date:||March 24th, 2007 08:05 am (UTC)|| |
Oh, I do think intelligence is at least partly genetically determined. Seems unreasonable to suppose otherwise.
it seems like the kind of story that would make my gut twist uncomfortably in the end.
but i wonder if its possible to get morons to breed like that. usually if you're not smart, and you have heaps of moronic children, a lot of those children will die from lack of proper parentage. whereas the 'elite' who invest more time into their few children will also only have those few children survive. so the ratio should always remain the same. yes? no?
but in the states, there are heaps of children with only one parent, who roam the streets aimlessly. those numbers seem to get larger all the time. maybe it's possible after all.
I think young people living on the streets might have stronger pressure to be intelligent than people like us do, and which of us are fittest to survive? I don't know. Survival depends on context I suppose.
That's why I think the story, and your feeling about the people you describe, are more about a feeling of social separation than about genetic separation. And that's why it's a good story, because it uses false genetics as a metaphor for something else, about feeling different from other people.
But not a pleasant story, and i think you would find the end uncomfortable. Get hold of a copy to read if you can.