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The Marching Morons is a short story by C.M. Kornbluth. Written in 1951 and published in Galaxy, it can be found in Volume IIA of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

The premise of the story is that because intelligent and responsible people tend to limit the number of their children, while the unwashed masses breed like rabbits, after some time the world average IQ will inevitably drop to moron level, with unpleasant consequences for the clever. The solution is far too devilish to give away here.

Those so inclined can find many instances of similarity to the book in today's lowest-common-denominator culture, without needing to invoke the Illuminati. Kornbluth nailed it, right down to game shows, inane catchphrases, and cars that make whooshing noises so you think you're going faster than you are.

Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov wrote an essay about the phenomenon and Zero Population Growth in the 19 January 1981 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, titled "On the Marching Morons."

The phrase itself apparently came from the old conundrum of being unable to count the Chinese, because by the time one generation was counted another would have been born.


"The Marching Morons" is probably the best-known science fiction story written by Cyril M. Kornbluth. First appearing in Galaxy magazine in 1951, it was reprinted in 1978, in the premier issue of Bob Guccione's slick new magazine, Omni. In it, "Honest John Barlow", a real estate dealer from Evanston, is put into suspended animation during a freak dentistry accident, and is accidentally discovered centuries later by a potter who happens to be one of the few intelligent people left on the planet, overwhelmed by a sea of morons. The few remaining thinking people huddle at the South Pole wondering what to do. Some of them think John Barlow has a solution. Oh, he has a Solution all right, and he demands to be made world dictator first.

The superficial premise of "The Marching Morons" is that intelligent people limit their reproduction while stupid people do not, and the Social Darwinistic consequence that reason will drown under a tide of stupidity. Something that Harvey Danger would probably agree with. In the words of one of these latter day supermen:

"We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and shortsighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers, and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and shortsightedly having children -- breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!"

Probably something the authors of The Bell Curve would agree with, too. If you read the above paragraph and do not recoil in horror, wondering about the character of the author, thinking "What a fucking racist!" you have something wrong with you.

But, never fear, dear children. Never confuse the attitudes of a story's characters with the attitudes of its author. Hollywood has so conditioned us to expect a happy ending to a story, that some people might think Kornbluth wrote the ending as "happy". In little ways throughout the story, and very clearly at the end, he shows that this is not the case.

Barlow's Solution would have been chillingly familiar to readers of the early 1950s. Kornbluth would have seen it firsthand in Germany, as a soldier at the end of World War II. And when Kornbluth wrote this story, he was at the height of his talent; there are layers upon layers of subtlety here.

So what's the real premise? I've had to think about that for awhile. "Knowledge may be power, but remember power corrupts" is the best I can come up with right now. Perhaps "The world is what we make of it", something that comes across more clearly in his collaboration with Frederik Pohl from about the same time, The Space Merchants.

Still, even the superficial premise gives an eerie premonition of today's consumer society. The catch-line "Would you buy it for a quarter?" originated here, even though inflation has brought it to a dollar.

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