"The Marching Morons" is probably the best-known science fiction story written by Cyril M. Kornbluth. First appearing in Galaxy magazine in 1951, it was reprinted in 1978, in the premier issue of Bob Guccione's slick new magazine, Omni. In it, "Honest John Barlow", a real estate dealer from Evanston, is put into suspended animation during a freak dentistry accident, and is accidentally discovered centuries later by a potter who happens to be one of the few intelligent people left on the planet, overwhelmed by a sea of morons. The few remaining thinking people huddle at the South Pole wondering what to do. Some of them think John Barlow has a solution. Oh, he has a Solution all right, and he demands to be made world dictator first.
The superficial premise of "The Marching Morons" is that intelligent people limit their reproduction while stupid people do not, and
the Social Darwinistic consequence that reason will drown under a tide of stupidity. Something that Harvey Danger would probably agree with. In the words of one of these latter day supermen:
"We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and shortsighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers, and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and shortsightedly having children -- breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!"
Probably something the authors of The Bell Curve would agree with, too. If you read the above paragraph and do not recoil in horror, wondering about the character of the author, thinking "What a fucking racist!" you have something wrong with you.
But, never fear, dear children. Never confuse the attitudes of a story's characters with the attitudes of its author. Hollywood has so conditioned us to expect a happy ending to a story, that some people might think Kornbluth wrote the ending as "happy". In little ways throughout the story, and very clearly at the end, he shows that this is not the case.
Barlow's Solution would have been chillingly familiar to readers of the early 1950s. Kornbluth would have seen it firsthand in Germany, as a soldier at the end of World War II. And when Kornbluth wrote this story, he was at the height of his talent; there are layers upon layers of subtlety here.
So what's the real premise? I've had to think about that for awhile. "Knowledge may be power, but remember power corrupts" is the best I can come up with right now. Perhaps "The world is what we make of it", something that comes across more clearly in his collaboration with Frederik Pohl from about the same time, The Space Merchants.
Still, even the superficial premise gives an eerie premonition of today's consumer society. The catch-line "Would you buy it for a quarter?" originated here, even though inflation has brought it to a dollar.