Cyril Kornbluth's The Marching Morons

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The Marching Morons is a story about the way the unthinkable can become the imminently practical. An Amazon reviewer called this story Swiftian Satire. The story may be regarded as a descent into Fascist despotism by way of desperate situations requiring desperate solutions. It is predicated on the notion that the mentally inadequate propagate more rapidly than the mentally superior, with the result that humanity grows stupider with each passing generation.

In the story, the vast majority of humanity are morons. Kornbluth cleverly refers to them as genus "Homo" while leaving of the "sapiens" Over the centuries since our time, the bulk of humanity have grown steadily stupider. They are supported by a tiny group of "super normals" who somehow feel obligated to see to their care and maintenance. A basis for the notion is that most human civilizations protect and shelter the weaker members, (Sparta being an exception that leaps spear-point first to mind.) which is unlike most animals in which survival of the fittest comes into play. (As good a point as any to mention "The Summer Sweet, the Winter Mild, by Michael G. Coney.) Accept that premise for what it's worth while bearing in mind that one of the hallmarks of satire is a preposterous position taken as a given.

The tiny group of supernormal caretakers despise and resent the need to care for their charges. The elite are in a quandary-- the numbers of morons increase and increase, with no easy way to curb population growth. Birth control via hormones was unknown at the time of the story's writing, and the Blaine Institute's solution to the Motie Population Problem (The Gripping Hand) as yet unwritten. The caretakers are presented with three equally unattractive options. Like the doo-dah man, they can keep on truckin'. They can apply the principle of benign neglect, and let natural selection come into play while they tend their own gardens and labs in Antarctica. The final solution would be The Final Solution, the Hoof and Mouth Disease Cure-- genocide on a planetary scale. They are too squeamish for options two and three and to weary of option one.

Though they are no closer to committing to a course of action than any previous generation, they despise the people of our time for leaving this mess to them. Enter a salesman of our time, Honest John Barlow. He has traveled time, not in a great magnetic field, but in a chemically-electrically induced state of suspended animation. This man would have been viewed as an unprincipled opportunist in our time, and is lacking any sort of conscience at all. In so many ways he is far worse and yet the same as his hosts. Pragmatism and self-aggrandizement are the watch-words of his soul. He gives them their final solution for a price-- he is to be world dictator, no reward they can think of too grand or ostentatious. (Again, despicable characters are a hallmark of satire.) They give him his throne, oh yes! But what is a dictator without subjects? So the terminal phase of the population problem solution is-- you guessed it-- to send him where they sent his subjects, where he'll be no trouble at all. Indeed, they quail at genocide themselves, let another to do their deed, and dispose of him fittingly. They, for all their superior intellect, are incapable of coming up with his eloquent solution, and they have no compunction at all against providing him with a reward he (and they?) richly deserves. Let the reader make of it what he will.

Setting aside the satire, the story can be seen as presaging the current world of decreasing academic achievement, decreasing attention spans and overall increase in terminal stupidity. Part of this is blamed on the Internet and computers. (Amateur bloggers and journalists are part of this overall decline in our civilization.) Technology destroying civilization is an idea that goes back to the Phaedrus. James Patrick Kelly compares the Phaedrus comment about writing making society dumber to the current effect on the Internet. We look more erudite than we are, but are really hollow shells and tedious company. An example of this would be the Cooks Source scandal.I suppose the Cook Source scandal is also a story about the way the unthinkable can become the imminently practical. A closer to home example-- I nearly misspelt "intelligent," but my spell checker stopped me. Kelly goes on to say that computer use remodels our brains. Am I dumber 'cause I now have a spellchecker? How could I tell? Kelly concludes with, "This is your brain. This is your brain on Facebook. Any questions?" And so we live the prequel to "The Marching Morons." One need only read the news to see the unthinkable becoming ever more commonplace.