The Marching Morons

For the Kornbluth short story collection, see The Marching Morons (collection)
Galaxy 195104
"The Marching Morons" was originally published in the April 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.

"The Marching Morons" is a science fiction story by American writer Cyril M. Kornbluth, originally published in Galaxy in April 1951. It was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two after being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965.

The story is set hundreds of years in the future: the date is 7-B-936. John Barlow, a man from the past put into suspended animation by a freak accident involving a dental drill and anesthesia, is revived in this future. The world seems mad to Barlow until Tinny-Peete explains the 'Problem of Population': due to a combination of intelligent people not having children and excessive breeding by less intelligent people and coupled with the development of more sophisticated machinery that makes it less important to possess intelligence in one's working life (see Fertility and intelligence), the world is full of morons, with the exception of an elite few who work slavishly to keep order. Barlow, who was a shrewd real estate con man in his day, has a solution to sell to the elite, in exchange for being made World Dictator.

Background

In the "Introduction" to The Best of C. M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl (Kornbluth's friend and collaborator) explains some of the inspiration to "The Marching Morons". The work was written after Pohl suggested that Kornbluth write a follow-up story that focuses on the future presented in the short story "The Little Black Bag". In contrast to the "little black bag" arriving in the past from the future, Kornbluth wanted to write about a man arriving in the future from the past. To explain sending a man to the future, Kornbluth borrowed from David Butler's 1930 science fiction film, Just Imagine, in which a man is struck by lightning, trapped in suspended animation, and reanimated in the future. In "The Marching Morons", after the character John Barlow is told how he had been in a state of suspended animation, Barlow mutters, "Like that movie."

Plot

The human population is now 3,000,000 highbred elite and 5,000,000,000 morons, and the "average" IQ is 45 (whereas now an IQ score of 100 is average, by definition). Several generations before the onset of the story, the small number of remaining 100-and-higher-IQ technocrats work feverishly to keep the morons alive.

The elite have had little success in solving the Problem (also called "Poprob", for 'population problem', in the story) for several reasons:

  • The morons must be managed or else there will be chaos, resulting in billions of deaths and "five hundred million tons of rotting flesh";
  • It is not possible to sterilize all of the morons;
  • Propaganda against large families is insufficient, because every biological drive is towards fertility (the story predates the development of hormonal contraception).

The elite have tried everything rational to solve the population problem but the problem cannot be solved rationally. The solution requires a way of thinking that no longer exists – Barlow's "vicious self-interest" and his knowledge of ancient history.

Barlow derives a solution based on his experience in scamming people into buying worthless land and knowledge of lemmings' mass migration into the sea: convince the morons to travel to Venus in spaceships that will kill their passengers out of view of land. The story predates the moon landing, and the safety of space travel is summed up in a description of a rocket that crashed on the moon. Propaganda depicts Venus as a tropical paradise, with "blanket trees", "ham bushes" and "soap roots". In a nationalistic frenzy, every country tries to send as many of their people to Venus as possible to stake their claim.

Barlow's help includes using his knowledge of Nazi propaganda tactics: postcards are sent from the supposedly happy new residents of Venus to relatives left behind, describing a wonderful, easy life, in the same way as fraudulent postcards were sent to relatives of those incinerated in the Nazi death-camps.

But Barlow is duped by his erstwhile assistants. Barlow does not realize that the elite despise him as they despise all people from the past for having not solved The Problem earlier. In the end, Barlow is placed on a spaceship to Venus to share the fate of his victims.

References in other works

The novel Search the Sky, a collaboration with Frederik Pohl, uses the same plot idea in the last section.

The 2006 film Idiocracy borrows the idea of the world population becoming moronic through the stupid breeding more, but it does not have genocide or a super-clever elite.

The 1987 film Robocop adapts the gameshow catchphrase "Would you buy that for a quarter?" but modernises it to "I'd buy that for a dollar!"

Characters

  • Efim Hawkins: A potter owning a shop near a lake. Often goes for walks through the woods while waiting for his kilns to cool. An "all around man". Reanimated Barlow with 60cc of "simple saline in the trigeminal nerve".
  • John Barlow: A real estate agent from the past (1988). Put in a state of suspended animation after a freak dentist accident involving an electrical shock and the "experimental anesthetic Cycloparadimethanol-B-7" (known as "Levantman shock" in the future).
  • Tinny-Peete: A psychist.
  • Ryan-Ngana (Hawk-faced man): Meets with Tinny-Peete and Barlow.

See also

Sources

  • Pohl, Frederik (1976). "Introduction". The Best of C. M. Kornbluth. New York: Taplinger. ISBN 0-8008-0723-5.

External links

2000X

2000X is a dramatic anthology series released by National Public Radio and produced by the Hollywood Theater of the Ear. There were 49 plays of various lengths in 26 one-hour programs broadcast weekly and later released on the Internet. Plays were adaptations of futuristic stories, novels and plays by noted authors. Producer/director Yuri Rasovsky and host/consultant Harlan Ellison won the 2001 Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America for their work on this program.

Animal suicide

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Some parasites manipulate the behavior of their host, causing them to expose themselves to greater risks of predation to enable the parasite to proceed to the next life-cycle stage. Some carpenter ants and termites use autothysis, producing a sticky secretion to trap colony marauders, and pea aphids will sometimes explode, protecting other pea aphids from ladybugs.

Cyril M. Kornbluth

Cyril M. Kornbluth (July 2, 1923 – March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a member of the Futurians. He used a variety of pen-names, including Cecil Corwin, S. D. Gottesman, Edward J. Bellin, Kenneth Falconer, Walter C. Davies, Simon Eisner, Jordan Park, Arthur Cooke, Paul Dennis Lavond, and Scott Mariner. The "M" in Kornbluth's name may have been in tribute to his wife, Mary Byers; Kornbluth's colleague and collaborator Frederik Pohl confirmed Kornbluth's lack of any actual middle name in at least one interview.

Degeneration theory

Social degeneration was a widely influential concept at the interface of the social and biological sciences in the 19th century. Degenerationists feared that civilization might be in decline and that the causes of decline lay in biological change. These ideas derived from pre-scientific concepts of heredity ("hereditary taint") with Lamarckian emphasis on biological development through purpose and habit. Degeneration concepts were often associated with authoritarian political attitudes, including militarism and racist science, as well as with fears of national decline. The theory originated in racial concepts of ethnicity, recorded in the writings of such medical scientists as Johann Blumenbach and Robert Knox. From the 1850s, it became influential in psychiatry through the writings of Bénédict Morel, and in criminology with Cesare Lombroso. By the 1890s, in the work of Max Nordau and others, degeneration became a more general concept in social commentary.

The meaning of degeneration was poorly defined, but can be described as an organism's change from a more complex to a simpler, less differentiated form, and is associated with 19th century conceptions of biological devolution. Although rejected by Charles Darwin, the theory's application to the social sciences was supported by some evolutionary biologists, most notably Ernst Haeckel and Ray Lankester. As the 19th century wore on, the increasing emphasis on degeneration reflected an anxious pessimism about the resilience of European civilization and its possible decline and collapse.

Dumbing down

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Dysgenics

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a reduction in selection pressures and decreased infant mortality since the Industrial Revolution resulting in the increased propagation of deleterious traits and genetic disorders. Richard Lynn in his Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations (1996) identified three main concerns: deterioration in health, in intelligence, and in conscientiousness.

Galaxy Science Fiction

Galaxy Science Fiction was an American digest-size science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1980. It was founded by a French-Italian company, World Editions, which was looking to break into the American market. World Editions hired as editor H. L. Gold, who rapidly made Galaxy the leading science fiction (sf) magazine of its time, focusing on stories about social issues rather than technology.

Gold published many notable stories during his tenure, including Ray Bradbury's "The Fireman", later expanded as Fahrenheit 451; Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters; and Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man. In 1952, the magazine was acquired by Robert Guinn, its printer. By the late 1950s, Frederik Pohl was helping Gold with most aspects of the magazine's production. When Gold's health worsened, Pohl took over as editor, starting officially at the end of 1961, though he had been doing the majority of the production work for some time.

Under Pohl Galaxy had continued success, regularly publishing fiction by writers such as Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Silverberg. Pohl never won the annual Hugo Award for his stewardship of Galaxy, winning three Hugos instead for its sister magazine, If. In 1969 Guinn sold Galaxy to Universal Publishing and Distribution Corporation (UPD) and Pohl resigned, to be replaced by Ejler Jakobsson. Under Jakobsson the magazine declined in quality. It recovered under James Baen, who took over in mid-1974, but when he left at the end of 1977 the deterioration resumed, and there were financial problems—writers were not paid on time and the schedule became erratic. By the end of the 1970s the gaps between issues were lengthening, and the title was finally sold to Galileo publisher Vincent McCaffrey, who brought out only a single issue in 1980. A brief revival as a semi-professional magazine followed in 1994, edited by H. L. Gold's son, E. J. Gold; this lasted for eight bimonthly issues.

At its peak, Galaxy greatly influenced the science fiction genre. It was regarded as one of the leading sf magazines almost from the start, and its influence did not wane until Pohl's departure in 1969. Gold brought a "sophisticated intellectual subtlety" to magazine science fiction according to Pohl, who added that "after Galaxy it was impossible to go on being naive." SF historian David Kyle agreed, commenting that "of all the editors in and out of the post-war scene, the most influential beyond any doubt was H. L. Gold". Kyle suggested that the new direction Gold set "inevitably" led to the experimental New Wave, the defining science fiction literary movement of the 1960s.

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Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 13 (1951)

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This volume was originally published by DAW books in July 1985.

Jack Ketch

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Lemming

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Search the Sky

Search the Sky is a satirical science fiction novel by American writers Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, first published in 1954 by Ballantine Books.

The Gene Bomb

The Gene Bomb is a 1996 book by David E. Comings, self-published by Hope Press, that puts forth the theory that higher education and advanced technology may unintentionally favor the selection of genes that increase the likelihood of ADHD, autism, drug addiction, learning disorders, and behavior problems. Comings claims that the prevalence of these disorders is rising and I.Q. is decreasing; others argue that other factors may be responsible, including increased detection of these disorders. He claims that society is inadvertently creating delays for the highly educated that reduce their reproductivity and causes them to have children later in life, thus raising the odds of certain disorders like autism. On the other hand, he claims that those having learning disorders tend to drop out of school earlier and have more children, thus passing on learning disorders at a higher rate. Environmental and societal factors are usually accepted as the cause, but Comings argues the opposite.According to a review of the book in the British Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology journal, "The arguments are developed in this book with an alarming lack of scientific accuracy and satisfactory supporting evidence." The review concludes that the book "is an apocalyptic, irrational, and emotional treatise which opens up scientifically unsound issues that have already been formally buried". A book review in the Journal of Medical Genetics said, "This is the sort of book which gets geneticists a bad name", adding that some facts "are simply wrong", while vital facts "are simply missing". Comings replied, in a Letter to the Editor, that the review "missed the

whole point of the book and presented to the readers of this journal a distorted view of the issues I attempted to raise".Other Tourette syndrome (TS) researchers say of Comings' Tourette's research that his "assertions fall outside of the mainstream of the very extensive TS literature that has developed over the past 2 decades".

The Little Black Bag

"The Little Black Bag" is a science fiction short story by American Cyril M. Kornbluth, first published in the July 1950 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. It is a predecessor of sorts to the story "The Marching Morons". It won the 2001 Retroactive Hugo Award for Best Novelette (of 1951) and was also recognized as the 13th best all-time short science fiction story in a 1971 Analog Science Fact & Fiction poll, tied with "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon. It was among the stories selected in 1970 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards. As such, it was published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.

It was the basis of episodes (using the same title) in three television series: Tales of Tomorrow in 1952, Out of the Unknown in 1969 and Night Gallery in 1970.

The Marching Morons (collection)

The Marching Morons (and Other Famous Science Fiction Stories) is a collection of stories by Cyril M. Kornbluth, originally published in paperback by Ballantine Books in 1959. Ballantine reissued the collection in 1963. A Spanish translation, Desfile de Cretines, appeared in 1964. In 1972, the novella from which the collection takes its name was selected by SFWA members as one of the ten best novellas published in the genre before 1966.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two is an English language science fiction two-volume anthology edited by Ben Bova and published in the U.S. by Doubleday in 1973, distinguished as volumes "Two A" and "Two B". In the U.K. they were published by Gollancz as Volume Two (1973) and Volume Three (1974). The original U.S. subtitle was The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time.

Twenty-two novellas published from 1895 to 1962 were selected by vote of the Science Fiction Writers of America, as that body had selected the contents of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964, a collection of the best-regarded short stories. SFWA had been established in 1965 and that publication year defined its first annual Nebula Awards. Introducing the collected novellas, Bova wrote, "The purpose of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies is to bestow a similar recognition on stories that were published prior to 1966 [sic], and thus never had a chance to earn a Nebula."The selection process generated both a top ten stories and a top ten authors.

Although the original publication dates ranged from 1895 to 1962, only two stories were published before 1938, "The Time Machine" by Wells (1895) and "The Machine Stops" by Forster (1909).

Theodore Sturgeon reviewed the anthology favorably, praising the decision to issue it in two volumes rather than scale back the contents.

Bova's introduction thanks Doubleday science fiction editor Larry Ashmead for that.

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