In Defense of Ugly Children
Pronatalists promise a dystopia where the strong prevail and the weak do customer service.
"I do not think humanity is in a great situation right now,” Malcolm Collins of the Collins Institute says. “And I think if somebody doesn't fix the problem, we could be gone.”
This admission comes at the very top of a 5,000-plus-word feature by Julia Black for Business Insider of which Collins and his wife Simone are the subjects. It is not an especially promising opener. Not because the Collinses have a dire prognosis as to the future of our entire species, but because almost every thinking person who wants to be taken seriously, even when they do unserious things like throw various liquids on artworks, will declare a variation on that dismal thesis.
Thinking the unthinkable has lately become the most unobstructed impulse of our present age. There is no shortage of scenarios among people either public and popular or private and repulsive for our death throes. When we put our minds to it, humanity is capable of a vast and rich kaleidoscope of extinction methods. We are not like dumb, bumbling dinosaurs who trip into huge tar pits or let massive space debris fall onto us. We explode, drown, disintegrate, and dismember one another with a painter’s nuance. Though for some people, like the Collinses, it is less a matter of burning out than of fading away. Though the problem is no less alarming to them.
Malcolm and Simone Collins are fraught with nightmares of a human race that suicides itself not by miles but by inches; by the refusal of individuals to do what they were put on this earth to do: make more of themselves. “People like the Collinses,” Black writes, “fear that falling birth rates in certain developed countries like the United States and most of Europe will lead to the extinction of cultures, the breakdown of economies, and, ultimately, the collapse of civilization.” To counter this, Malcolm and Simone, and a slew of the tech industry’s leading monied-folk like Musk and Thiel, have embraced “pronatalism.”
Pronatalism, as you may have guessed, is an idea the central tenet of which is making babies – lots of them. A simple, even elegant concept that hardly seems controversial or even worthy of an -ism. But because nothing can be simple anymore, except for the certainty of our oncoming doom, pronatalism is one idea entwined at the center of many others. The Collinses like to throw around other -isms to accentuate their worldview: “ruthless pragmatism,” “secular Calvinism,” “effective altruism,” “longtermism,” and so on. If that’s too great a mouthful, here are some pop culture references. From Valley Forge, PA, the couple manage what they call “an Underground Railroad of Gattaca babies” who want to prevent the formation of a Gilead-like dystopia, which is made possible by demographic collapse “without a soft landing.” Though, taken all at once, it’s probably simpler to say that the Collinses want to do a reverse-Idiocracy.
Mike Judge’s dystopian satire came out in 2006, when everything was bad but no one was miserable. Its vision of a society in terminal freefall by the stupid spawning like meth-fevered rabbits and the smart dying out got decent reviews and an appreciative but small audience, making no great impact. But as society added to its quilt of catastrophe, the film had a kind of piecemeal resurgence by way of memes and out-of-context quotes. The demography message of the film (less perhaps the health insurance slot machines) percolated among select, influential corners who wished to replace Judge’s fecund trailer trash with “ultrahigh-net-worth, high-birth-rate parents.”
The Collinses are appreciably candid about their intentions. “‘If you want to make the future better for everyone and you could choose to dramatically increase the educational outcomes of the bottom 10% of people or the top 0.1% of people,’ the Collinses say to choose the 0.1%.” The Collinses themselves, who seem to be hopelessly addicted to quant and systematizing, have what they call “The Index.” "We record how your kids do emotionally, how your kids do in terms of their career, and do your kids stay within the culture they were raised with." The Collinses are confident that within eleven generations, their genetic stock will make up the “dominant culture” of whichever planet we end up on, and “they'll have hundreds of years' worth of data to look back on and learn from.”
Already there may be some fissures over vision. It is rather presumptuous to say that you have mastered the math far better than your no less posterity-obsessed peers in order to establish your future ruling caste. But for the moment, at least all seem united under the guiding principle that no ugly children shall prosper in the World Order to come.
Okay, so they don’t say that specifically. But let’s be real. All this quantum tabulation and “high-achiever” matchmaking is not being done for their personal amusement. (They have Rick and Morty for that.) Every positive vision must have a negative target and a corresponding negative outcome, something regrettable but inevitable in their logical framework. The extinction of the ugly and the stupid is as strong an indication as they could ever hope to see in the triumph of their designs. But from this foreseen consequence there may ripple several less foreseen consequences that will complicate their vision.
Consider for the moment that you are the parent of ugly children, destined to sire still uglier children, and in greater numbers. Though you lack ambitions on the scope of the Collinses, you are just as invested in your own posterity and the robustness of civilization, whatever that means to you, as they are. And yet this White Stripes by way of Sprockets duo and their VC orbiters are declaring outright their intention to price you out of the gene pool forever. You lack their resources, their expertise, and have not enough energy to fuck your way out of the problem. Is there any incentive against getting your wires snipped or having your tubes tied into a fancy bow?
All well and good! say the pronatalists. Hold up. Yes, they pressed fast-forward on the existential arc of some confirmed undesirables. But that’s not exactly a “soft landing” is it? The one pop culture reference conspicuously absent from the whole piece is Children of Men, another badly timed doom vision of a world driven mad by deadly contagions and infertility. If the ugly receded into oblivion before the Collins genetic-elect have time to make up the difference, there will be bad and bloody side-quests aplenty to attend to before any sort of cultural “dominance” can be assured.
Furthermore, as I don’t see the genetic-elect being all that interested in doing the low-level maintenance, or being eager to distribute power in any mutually participatory sense, they will require a sufficient force of work-beasts, non-procreative concubines, and customer service reps for the grimier tasks of life. Of what stock do you think that force is going to be made up? Ugly, truly and manifestly ugly stock, that’s what.
And to all the hot people reading this: if you feel secure in the face of the Collins ascendency, I’ll break this to you as painlessly as I can. We’re in the same boat as they (the ugly) are. Indeed, by the Collins’s standards, we, by virtue of our being wrought by no more quantitative framework than parental horniness, are ugly as sin. Think about that.
I’m not averse to planning ahead, even eleven generations ahead. But even the most advance planning needs to have all the working parts on-hand in order to be carried out competently. Considered so far, the Collins trajectory for cultural domination has all the makings of some nerd sitting down to construct a model plane or whatever and realizing that the glue is missing because his older brother is using it for “recreational” purposes of his own.
No great civilization ever survived for long without a sturdy glue to hold it in place. Ugly children are the glue of civilization, is what I’m trying to say.