The Marching Mormons

Ben Bova’s latest article for the Bonita News is titled: The “Marching Morons” show prescience of science fiction. Here are several choice quotes from the respected author and editor:
In Kornbluth’s story [“The Marching Morons”], the people who are actually working — slaving, really — to keep society from falling apart altogether are a small group of very bright men and woman who labor in secret. They are horrified by the world of the morons, but they strive valiantly to keep the dumbbells from destroying themselves.
The dumbbells, meanwhile, are multiplying madly in blissful ignorance, intent on watching entertainment videos and buying automobiles that are all vroom and sleek looks….
Ever since I could remember, cars have been sold to the public as symbols of sexual attraction or social status, not as transportation. What good is a 300-horsepower engine when you’re stuck in traffic that is crawling along at 20 miles per hour? Those ads are aimed at the morons, and they must be successful because Detroit’s been harping on that theme for generations….
Look at the “reality” shows on television, or the prurient “investigations” into the sex lives of the rich and famous. Follow the political campaigns that give us smears and sound bites instead of issues and character….
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. [Emphasis added]
I am astonished and disappointed that Mr. Bova would offer Kornbluth’s satire as a serious example of science fiction making accurate and useful predictions. Astonished, because I can think of serious SF books that made predictions somewhat more specific than “people are stoopid”, and disappointed, because this complaint smells of the same elitist claptrap we have been hearing since Plato’s day. The Philosopher King thinks the rest of us are dumb.
The idea behind Kornbluth’s work was that intelligence is 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 consistently smarter than others, as are some families and clans within those races.
Such a supposition is an argument in favor of Monarchy: we should find the most elite family to rule us, and control their breeding to maintain their high IQ levels. In reality, the intelligence spread even within one family is greater than the average spread across the races. In reality, education and environment play so large a role that intelligence differences between races are detectable by statisticians only.
Kornbluth is making 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, or call it an accurate prediction.
Is Mr. Bova seriously willing to contend that the average IQ has dropped since the 1950’s due to unsupervised breeding? We indeed have poorer scholastics in 2000 than in 1950, but I suggest we look to the teaching establishment, and the underlying cultural assumptions behind modern pedagogy, rather than looking to our breeding practices.
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 indicates to me that he motorist was not politely obeying the rules of the road. The motorist could have been a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, or, for that matter, a famous science fiction writer, like Harlan Ellison. 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 purely utilitarian means of transport from point A to point B. Mr. Bova is making an odd comment to call this a sign of unintelligence: surely every human society decorates its tools and delights in decoration? Even the Spartans combed and oiled their hair.
A preference for plainness over decoration is not more rational than the opposite preference; nor are the people colorblind in their hearts somehow 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. By that same logic, science fiction serves no utilitarian use: it is written because of a delight in the glamour of the future, and it is just as useless as chrome and fins on cars. Fans of space opera like the ‘vroom’ factor in their prefered reading.
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.
And here we must pause in astonishment at the limited scale of Mr. Bova’s comment. He is comparing the Oughts with the Fifties. Is that long enough to measure a general drift in genetic characteristics? I have seen car commercials which  trumpet the safety qualifications, the gas mileage, the low toxic emissions of their wares, in addition to ‘vroom’ and glamour: were car commercials in the 1950’s so concerned with these other factors? To me, it looks as if the car buying public is less concerned with looks and muscle of their vehicles—I say this only because I think the modern cars are ugly and utilitarian compared with the chromolicious and space-age-finny splendor of the 1950’s. Doesn’t this imply a trend in the tastes of the car buying public the opposite of what Mr. Bova condemns? 

In any case, it is not intelligence or the lack of it, but merely personal taste, which makes one prefer spartan utility over decoration or visa versa.

(3) Mr. Bova then lists “reality shows” and “investigations into the sex lives of the rich and famous” and political campaigns that use “slogans and smears” instead of addressing issues or character.
The frivolity of these complaints is breathtaking. First, popular entertainment (including, may I add, movies like Star Wars and pulps like Buck Rogers) has always entertained the common man. To sneer at common taste is merely elitism.
The elevated tastes of the elite, including those of us who read speculative fiction, would not be supported were it not for the common tastes of the market, including trashy sci-fi. I don’t care for “reality shows” myself, but let he who has not memorized dialog from MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE cast the first stone.
Second, we can only wonder which “famous” people’s sex lives Mr. Bova thought unworthy of investigation. Are we talking about someone who broke the law, or not? Again, gossipy interest in the doings of other is a sign of human community, not a sign of low intelligence or high intelligence.
An elitist, of all people, should recognize that the common man takes his cues from the admired upper strata of society: the rich and famous should be held to a higher standard, and their deviations from common decency correctly excite the curiosity and indignation of the common man. A powerful man who cheats on his wife sets a bad example to all the eyes that are upon him. It is a lack in intelligence that provokes interest in such things, or an inertia of the moral character that provokes disinterest? It is superior intelligence, nothing else, that turns a blind eye to the marital misdeeds of the great and proud? I seem to recall that John the Baptist condemned the marriage of Herod the Great, and was beheaded for his trouble.
Third, political campaigns are always about character in the second person, such as when my party questions your party’s candidate’s character. It is only in the first person that campaigns are smears, such as when your party smears my party’s character. Likewise, my party (first person) addresses serious issues, whereas your party (second person) utters empty slogans. 

To complain that politics has a superficial side to it, is itself superficial. A glance at history will correct the impression that the current day is somehow not living up to older standard: I seem to recall Jefferson hiring a journalist to smear Adams while in office, and this was in the first days of the Republic.

Mr. Bova’s bellyaching here is no different from what sober folk have always complained about. When one is in a bad mood, the games of other people look silly. When one is defending an immoral candidate, one tells oneself that the opposition’s concerns about his sexual misbehaviors are malicious.
Finally, when we look back at real indicators of intelligence, such as literacy rate, or real indicators of the advance of civilization, such as the nobility of our laws and institutions, the world two hundred or two thousand years ago does not stand out as being peopled with a substantially greater number of geniuses or moral paragons. A frivolous crowd watching a gladiatorial duel was not necessarily of greater average IQ than a frivolous crowd watching Survivor or American Idol.
I, for one, do not regret the passing away of the institutions of slavery, or the sport of bear-baiting. Are these developments due only to a drop in the IQ rates?
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 divorce 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 divorce and unwed mothers, what we used to call bastardy. The same population suffers the highest rates of domestic violence and the highest rate of child-murder.
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 (a stable homelife is correlated to high grades in school and low drop-out rates) which promote better education and higher intelligence, not the other way around.
Mr. Bova is indulging in the only pleasure left to sour intellectuals: looking down one’s nose at the normal people, and pretending every difference of taste and opinion is due to a difference in intellect. Usually, it is not a superiority of wit, but a defect of normal human affections, sympathies, and pleasures, that makes the intellectual differ from his neighbors.
Prediction? Humbug.
In order for Kornbluth to make an accurate prediction in 1950, he should have predicted that the self-anointed intellectuals, rather than slaving to save the world from the morons, would do their best, both by appeasing communism and by promoting the erosion of common decency, to wreck their world. We have been saved from their ministrations precisely because the common man with his common sense of decency and fair play ignored the fantasies and apocalyptic visions of the elite.
Swift’s prediction in GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, depicting the various projectors, academics and experts of Balnibarbi who, imagining to produce all sorts of revolutions and improvements in the human condition, merely create instead a comical mess, is a more accurate a picture of the modern world than anything Kornbluth pens.