Kornbluth and Eugenics

Looking around for links with which to embellish my last piece, I discovered that almost all of the references on the net to the great Cyril Kornbluth story _The Marching Morons_ stressed its eugenicist — actually dysgenicist — character, something I had entirely forgotten. In my memory, the dysgenic character of the book was merely a boondoggle to drive separation of humanity into an elite and the rest. It is a period piece, rather like the contemporary belief of Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholism was a genetic disease. The really interesting quality of the story is the idea — as Frederik Pohl puts it in his introduction — that this is about the corruption of the human spirit, not the human gene pool. The point about the marching morons is that they live in a world of the phony and the second rate, and are constantly told that this is the best that history has ever offered anyone. Their cars are elaborately chromed, wonderfully finned — and pedal powered. The superfast trains move at FORTY FIVE miles an hour. Their food — well, anyone who has eaten American fast food recently knows already what it is like.

The real difference between Kornbluth’s dystopia and more modern ones is that the morons in Kornbluth are content with their lot. They never suppose that could enjoy pleasures they cannot themselves imagine. Perhaps I am misremembering, here. But if I am right, that was Kornbluth’s great misreading of the future. No one could suppose that the present underclass is contented with its lot.

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