All Hail The Marching Morons!

Ben Bova’s latest article for the Bonita News is titled: The “Marching Morons” show prescience of science fiction. A snippet:

There are tons of science fiction stories that show myriads of possible futures. Some of those futures have come into being. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons” is one of them. If more people had read that story half a century ago, perhaps we might have avoided some of the pitfalls that have led us to a moron-rich world today.

And therein lies the rub. Despite its power to illuminate the possibilities of tomorrow, science fiction is not read by most people. Perhaps it’s that word “science” that frightens them off: they think the stories are too difficult for them to understand. They’re not.

Perhaps the problem lies with the visual entertainment media: movies and TV. Let’s face it, most of Hollywood’s “sci-fi” has its origins in comic strips, not actual published science fiction. Many people don’t realize that the “sci-fi flicks” on both big and small screens are a far cry from the intellectual and emotional depth of real science fiction.

But I suspect that a major part of the problem is that most people don’t want to think hard about where we are and where we’re heading…

5 thoughts on “All Hail The Marching Morons!”

  1. So that’s where the inspiration for Idiocracy came from…

    Anyway, the predictive power of science fiction is negated by the wildly diverse array of futures that it posits. It’s like trying to find a book that predicts your future in Borges’ Library of Babel: you know it’s there, but you don’t know which it is.

  2. There’s more than a little bit of elitism in Bova’s argument. “The world/country/city/whatever isn’t going the way I want. I’m surrounded by idiots! Everyone’s dumb but me!”

    If the argument were true, wouldn’t the entire world be populated by morons by now? Bova himself says it’s been going on since at least Roman times. And yet the world’s a considerably better place now than it was 2000, or even 200 years ago. I’d argue that it’s a much better place than it was 20 years ago. Amazing how a world full of morons (Bova exluded) could manage such a thing.

  3. I do not think that by and large people looking for their personal interests is such a bad thing. Humanity tried this “I know better what is good for you” thing quite a lot, more recently with such horific results as the late unlamented Soviet Union and its many imitators.

    Even Mr. Bova’s pet peeve, the quasi-abandonment of space exploration is not due to bread and circuses mentality, just to simple economics. Once the flag was planted on the Moon (and similarly earlier once the South and North Pole were reached, Everest was climbed…) the costs were too high to do much more for the moment, but I am quite optimistic that people will keep nibbling at the problem and there will be a point where technology will make space exploration worthwhile. Technology created mostly by people who just want to get rich…

  4. The “science” that inspired Kornbluth’s fiction was eugenics, popular a hundred years ago and promoted by the Nazi party. I suggest we leave it in fiction.

  5. I am astonished and disappointed that Mr. Bova would offer Kornbluth’s satire as a serious example of science fiction serving a useful predictive purpose.

    The idea behind Kornbluth’s work was that intelligence was inherited, and that intelligent people (for some reason) would be more unwilling to reproduce than intelligent people, leading to a general decline in average intelligence over the generations. Of course, if intelligence is inherited, then some races (Red, yellow, black, white, take your pick) are consistantly smarter than others, and some families and clans within those races are smarter than others. In reality, the intelligence spread even within one family is greater than the average spread across the races.

    This is merely a simpleminded extrapolation of one factor in a complex world, similar to the predictions of Malthus that population growth leads to starvation. It is good enough for comedy, but shocking that Mr. Bova would take it seriously.

    Let us note his examples of “The Marching Morons” in action.

    (1) He saw a guy in a sportscar trying to outrun a traffic jam. This indicated to me that he motorist was not politely obeying the rules of the road. He could have been a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon or a science fiction writer. He might have been someone who had contempt for his fellow men, regarded them as Morons, and thought he did not have to wait in queue like the rest of us. A lot of intelligent people are that way.

    (2) People enjoy sportcars for their decoration and speed and glamour, not merely as a means of transporting goods from point A to point B. Decoration is not irrational, nor are people colorblind in their hearts someone smarter than the rest of us. Does Mr. Bova also scoff at pretty dresses, fine foods, works of art? All these things have other than purely utilitarian uses. For that matter, science fiction serves no utilitarian use: it is written for decoration and for glamor, for amusement value, and it is just as useless as crome and fins on cars. Mr. Bova is here not displaying greater intellect, he is displaying that he is a person in whom the average and normal affections of mankind are not placed: to be blunt, he is a jackass.

    (3) He then lists several things sober folk have always complained about: the frivolity of the rich and famous, the need of politicians in a democracy to sell their image to the voters. Since these complaints are as old as the hills, I am not convinced that they are brought on by a sudden fertility among the moronic or a sudden infertility among the wise.

    Indeed, observing modern demographics, we note that it is the nations and peoples who have most completely bought into the sexual revolution, the no-fault divorse culture, and the legality of abortion, that have the lowest fertility rates. The highest fertility rate in the USA is among the Mormons, who also have the lowest crime rate. The highest abortion rate is found in that segment of the population with the highest crime rate and the highest rates of divorse and unwed mothers, what we used to call bastardy.

    I suppose a modern Kornbluth could use this material to write up a scare story about the Marching Mormons. In real life it looks, from the data, as if their march leads to a general increase of those factors (stable homelife is correleation to high grades in school and low drop out rates) which promote better education and higher intelligence, not the other way around.

    Prediction? Humbug. Mr. Bova is indulging in the only pleasure left to sour intellectuals: looking down one’s nose at the normal people.

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