The Marching Morons
Author: C. M. Kornbluth
This is an extremely short story of 40 pages and would probably be difficult to find. While it is interesting in a simplistic sort of way it would not be something I would recommend going out of one’s way to find. The very short excerpt below is the basis for the story which by today’s standards would almost seem silly.
This was written in 1951 just before the widespread advent of television and the time of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Science fiction, as we have come to know science fiction, was basically in its infancy. Although some early writers such as Jules Vern did write science fiction such writers were very few and very far between. It is an extremely short story probably written for one of the news stand magazines around at the time. I have chosen one small short section that I feel is very visible in today’s world and for those that can think the future world. It concerns the one problem we have which if not solved will make all others unsolvable, and, in fact irrelevant. It is the problem of overpopulation.
The story is of a person that during a dental procedure in the mid-20th century went into a coma from which he would not awaken. While he was technically not clinically dead his condition was technically not alive either. The medication used during the procedure was in an experimental stage and at that time they did not have enough knowledge to revive him. He was stored at a medical facility in which over a period of several hundred years the building he was in was abandoned and collapsed and was buried beneath the Earth’s surface. He was discovered by a scavenger of the future and was taken before the authorities of the time. This was the forerunner to the movie Idiocracy. The following few lines are excerpts from the conversation:
“Very well. Mr. Barlow, I understand you and your lamented had no children.”
“What of it?”
“This of it. You were a blind, selfish stupid ass to tolerate economic and social conditions which penalized childbearing by the prudent and foresighted. You made us what we are today, and I want you to know that we are far from satisfied. Damn fool rockets! Damn fool automobiles! Damn fool cities with overhead ramps!”
“As far as I can see,” said Barlow, “you’re running down the best features of your time. Are you crazy?”
The rockets aren’t rockets. They’re turbo jets – good turbo jets, but the fancy shell around them makes for a bad drag. The automobiles have a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour – a kilometer is, if I recall my paleolinguistics, three-fifths of a mile – and the speedometers are all rigged accordingly so the drivers will think they are going two hundred and fifty. The cities are ridiculous, expensive, unsanitary, wasteful conglomerations of people who’d be better off and more productive if they were spread over the countryside.
“We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, 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 shortsightedly having children – breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!”
“Wait a minute,” objected Barlow. “There were lots of people in our crowd who had two or three children.”
“The attrition of accidents, illness, wars and such took care of that. 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 is now 45.”
“But that’s far in the future –”
“So are you,” grunted the hawk faced man sourly.
“But who are you people?”
“Just people – real people. Some generations ago, the geneticists realized at last that nobody was going to pay any attention to what they said, so they abandon words for deeds. Specifically, they formed and recruited for a closed corporation intended to maintain and improve the breed. We are their descendants, about 3 million of us. There are five billion of the others, so we are their slaves.
“During the past couple of years I’ve designed a skyscraper, kept Billings Memorial Hospital here in Chicago running, headed off war with Mexico and directed traffic at LaGuardia Field in New York.”
“I don’t understand! Why don’t you just let them go to hell in their own way?”
“The man grimaced. “We tried it once for three months. We holed up at the South Pole and waited. They didn’t notice it. Some drafting room people were missing, some chief nurses didn’t show up, minor government people on the non-policy level couldn’t be located. It didn’t seem to matter.”
“In a week there was hunger. In two weeks there were famine and plague, in three weeks war and anarchy. We called off the experiment; it took us most of the next generation to get things squared away again.”
“But why didn’t you let them kill each other off?”
“Five billion corpses mean about five hundred million tons of rotting flesh.”
Barlow had another idea. “Why don’t you sterilize them?”
“Two and one-half billion operations is a lot of operations. Because they breed continuously, the job would never be done.”
“I see. Like the marching Chinese!”
“Who the devil are they?“
“It was a –uh – paradox of my time. Somebody figured out that if all the Chinese in the world were to line up four abreast, I think it was, and start marching past a given point, they’d never stop because of the babies that would be born and grow up before they passed the point.
“That’s right. Only instead of ‘a given point,’ make it, ‘the largest conceivable number of operating rooms that we could build and staff.’ There could never be enough.”
Think about it. The essence of the situation is there (and here)..