The Telegraph has an absolutely horrifying piece entitled, and how we all wish we were joking about this, "Meet the ‘elite’ couples breeding to save mankind." Yes, it is a real thing. The Telegraph introduces us mostly to Simone and Malcolm Collins, "two 30-something American entrepreneurs turned philosophers” who are among the de facto leaders of the "pronatalism" movement that has taken wealthy Silicon Valley assholes by storm. Pronatalism is a "philosophy" that claims humanity is doomed if the worldwide human population falls off by any appreciable extent, and therefore everybody (not everybody) has to get to work pumping out babies (with certain genetic profiles) in order to save us from the literal collapse of human civilization.
You can immediately see, then, why this has become a favored conceit of Silicon Valley assholes in particular. It has all the hallmarks of a "philosophy" that faux-entrepreneurial trolls of a certain societal niche would glom onto. It's premised on the collapse of humanity, and the notion that only Silicon Valley assholes can understand the crisis or save us from it. It requires no change in lifestyle; you can continue to be ostentatious in your consumption, you can still abuse workers or lease a private jet to wander off to this or that vacation hotspot.
No, the only requirement is to have as much sex as possible. Silicon Valley troll Elon Musk keeps getting held up as an exemplar of the movement for having ten children with three women. In any other context our society would be bashing a man who fathers children with an assortment of different mothers, but if you are very wealthy, very white, and hold the right kind of parties, you can declare that your inability to "remain faithful" or "keep your pants on" is in fact a noble effort to save all of mankind.
Not "stop exploiting child labor." Not "stop turning the oceans into an acidic slush that will kill entire marine ecosystems while supercharging world weather." No, just devote yourself to having sex and the rest will work itself out. If you do it right, you'll even get newspaper reporters beating a path to your door to ask you about your philanthropic efforts.
Our rich people are ... not all right.
As for the Telegraph piece, it's a little unclear whether the reporter is having a bit of fun with us or not, at times, but it's ... not badly done! The core problem with covering pronatalism is that the internal logic of it is a complete mess, so there's simply no way to explain it without your audience suspecting that you're possibly making the whole thing up. The micro-movement is also extremely fragmented between actual damn Nazis, Aryan-minded eugenicists who don't like being called Nazis, and mostly well-off, mostly-white free thinkers who don't like being called any of those things and spend much of their time explaining that while all three groups advocate for a lot of the same things, it's different because reasons.
Reporter Io Dodds manages to give us a pretty grisly look at all of that, but what's been gaining more internet traction is the extremely alarming photographs of our main philosophers in question.
Oh. Oh dear. While the Telegraph story makes it very, very, very clear that the Collinses are not fans of either the Silicon Valley version of pronatalism or the Nazi eugenics version, it's still a bit alarming to come face to face with members of the "our genes will save humanity" crowd only to find that they (1) look like brother and sister, (2) dress like 1940 German spies even in the confines of their own home, (3) both have substandard visual acuity, and (4) are blatantly overlooking the dad here being two 10-year-olds stacked in their grandfather's borrowed suit.
This has led to a lot of very rude tweets.
Okay, all right, fine. We get that. But the story itself is pretty well done, I'll say again, and while the rest of the internet is questioning what sort of world we'll live in if we let “Harry Potter” cosplay couples guide us to the future, the more significant bits are the utter incoherence of the whole "charitable breeder" premise.
For all the absurdity of a movement that believes humanity is doomed if they, personally, don't run around impregnating themselves and others at a rate more associated with rodents than people-sized mammals, the underlying philosophy is sketchy. Really, really sketchy. And it hasn't gotten any better, no matter how much time it's had to cook.
Its core tenet is deceptively simple: our future depends on having enough children, and yet life in developed countries has become hostile to this basic biological imperative. Linked to the subcultures of rationalism and ‘effective altruism’ (EA), and bolstered by declining birth rates, it has been gaining currency in Silicon Valley and the wider tech industry – especially its more conservative corners.
It's not immediately clear if pronatalism is closely tied to "effective altruism" because "effective altruists" are already the people preaching that they get to do whatever they goddamn want, indulging their every impulse, and it all works out in the end if they can argue that their in-group selfishness somehow spared us a future of giant murder-robots. It could also be the opposite; Silicon Valley's elites have tended to be eugenics-curious and democracy-skeptical, a group that needed to invent "effective altruism" to support a whole host of theories more historically linked to fascist white supremacy than any actual premises of "science."
The Silicon Valley tech crowd is, at this point, notorious for the embrace of extremely bad ideas, and asking which of those ideas begets which is an exercise for future historians. But the Collinses are both quite adamant about not being part of that Silicon Valley crowd or the Aryan-minded far-right while still being veritable quote factories for both groups.
To wit: "The reason why you see Silicon Valley people disproportionately being drawn to this is they’re obsessed with data enough, and wealthy enough, to be looking at things – and who also have enough wealth and power that they’re not afraid of being canceled," says Malcolm. What kind of philosopher gives two shits about far-right "cancel" paranoia?
"People often compare our group to Handmaid’s Tale-like thinking," says Malcolm, "and I’m like: excuse me, do you know what happens if we, the voluntary movement, fails…? Cultures will eventually find a way to fix this; how horrifying those mechanisms are depends on whether or not our group finds an ethical way."
That's the argument for why their own version of pronatalism is magnanimous, and a top-notch segue into Effective Altruism tropes. We're being nice here! If voluntary pregnancies don't succeed in staving off depopulation, then we're going to see some horrifying mechanisms for enforcing pregnancies. We're doing you a favor here, liberals.
Though they define themselves politically as conservatives – Malcolm invariably votes Republican
No. Effing. Kidding.
As [Collins] says [things], her five-month-old daughter Titan Invictus – the couple refuse to give girls feminine names, citing research suggesting they will be taken less seriously – is strapped to her chest, occasionally burbling, while Malcolm has charge of their two sons Torsten, two, and Octavian, three.
Imagine naming your daughter Titan Invictus to make people take her more seriously.
You want an androgynous name? Try Hunter. Hunter's a great one. Time-tested. But no, the Extremely Not Nazi Couple appears to have an ancient Rome fixation, and they're gonna make that everybody's problem.
To reiterate, this is a super not-eugenics-based movement (though yes, Titan was selected over other viable embryos more likely to suffer from "obesity, migraines, and anxiety") associated neither with the far right nor with Silicon Valley. Sure, the Collinses' pronatalist organization was the beneficiary of nearly a half-million dollars of funding from an eastern European tech billionaire who backs "effective altruism" causes, but none of this is related! Not related, we emphasize!
Research by [Collins' organization] found that higher birth rates are associated with what some psychologists call the ‘Right-wing authoritarian personality’ – or, as Malcolm puts it, ‘an intrinsic dislike and distrust of anybody who is not like them’. That is, says Malcolm, emphatically not his or Simone’s brand of conservatism, which welcomes immigration and wants a pluralistic, multicultural society in which
At the core of the "pronatalist" movement, no matter how it is defined, is a fundamentally bizarre argument. World population growth is slowing, and might even drop below 8 billion people at some point. And this is existential because ... why? No, that's the whole question. Why?
‘If this was an animal species it would be called endangered,’ says Malcolm. ‘We would be freaking out that they are about to go extinct.’ He begins our interview by speaking without interruption for nearly half an hour, incredibly quickly and with frenetic intensity as if chased by the enormity of what is coming.
If humanity is "endangered" by having fewer than 8 billion living people all competing for the same planetary resources at the same time, then humanity has been "endangered" for its entire existence. Why is it necessary to sustain a population of 8 billion rather than the 2.5 billion population of 1951 or the 3.0 billion of 1960? The world population did not exceed even 1 billion until 1800—why is 1 billion not a perfectly sustainable number?
There aren't any credible scientists pitching fits over a possible momentary shrinkage of population during a time of stressed agricultural production, overstressed water supplies, unsustainable sprawl and growing climate catastrophes, while there are quite a few scientific papers that suggest that our current population is, barring a whole lot of changes, disastrously unsustainable. Why do the freethinkers of pronatalism see a depopulation crisis where the experts do not?
Another advocate in the piece gives you the rundown.
"If people assume that the economy is going to shrink in future, and shrink indefinitely, then it’s not just a recession – it’s like there’s no point investing in the future," says Babu, who defines her politics as economically liberal, feminist, and pro-immigration. "If that happens, your pension breaks down because your pension is gambled on the stock market. You withdraw your savings; the government can’t borrow. A lot of these structures just break down."
That's not a "humanity is in danger of extinction" problem. That's a capitalism problem. The premise is that we have to maintain current population levels because capitalism will be screwed, not humanity. It's Wall Street that's going to face problems, if we don't maintain at least the current population of investors. Screw resource sustainability and the rest of it; pensions are going to shrink.
There now, that's the sort of "effective altruism" we're used to. What percentage of the world population even has a pension to be worried about? What's the percentage of living human beings who can plausibly retire ... ever?
The rest of us are trying to figure out what happens when we drain the Ogallala Aquifer down to nothing and a good chunk of the country has to start drinking their own pee, and meanwhile, the world's techbro community are laser-focused on making sure the stock market can continue to post good gains during the resulting resource wars. Altruism, you scientific jerks! Learn it!
That might be unfair. We should probably hear from the main philosophers of the movement rather than the second-tier versions. You'll be happy to know that a better reason for reasonable mostly-conservatives like the Collinses to pump out babies is to save us from a future of genetically inbred Nazis.
There is also emerging evidence that the personality traits thought to undergird political beliefs – such as empathy, risk-taking, and a preference for competition vs cooperation – may be partly inherited. A literature review by New York University and the University of Wisconsin found evidence that political ideology is about 40 per cent genetic. Hence, the Collinses fear that as fertility declines it will not be some racial Other who outbreeds everyone else but each culture’s equivalent of the neo-Nazis. ‘We are literally heading towards global Nazism, but they all hate each other!’ says Malcolm.
Are we sure this is a real philosopher, and not two kids stacked in a coat who both got hold of unprescribed ADHD medication. I want to know the reporter specifically checked for that.
What is to be done? "Our solution is, uh, we don’t have a solution," he admits. He says the only things proven to increase birth rates are poverty and the oppression of women, which are bad and should be stamped out. The only hope is to find those few families that combine liberal, pluralistic politics, such as support for LGBT rights, with high fertility – or create new, hybrid micro-cultures that value both – and help them multiply.
So our only hope, then, is to find the most fertile liberal communities and encourage them to outbreed the FutureNazis. Possibly through Pell Grants or whatever, it's going to need to be worked out.
I'm not going to lie, it's a ride to go through paragraph after paragraph of the Collinses expressing revulsion at the "Silicon Valley people" who have latched onto pronatalism for self-serving reasons. One of the problems with being in an abjectly ridiculous movement is that you have to spend a lot of time distancing yourself from every single other person involved. It's hard enough to explain your "we must find fertile cultural liberals to outbreed the eugenics-obsessed Nazis, who I do not support" without having to explain what goes on in Elon Musk or Peter Thiel's head.
The central premise of "pronatalism" is nonsensical. It's not science, it's not philosophy, it's not “pro-life” or pro-humanity or anything else. It's simply garbage. A group of people who are predisposed to thinking themselves smarter than anyone else looked at the real economic adjustments being made or considered in a handful of low-birth rate countries like Japan and decided that If These Trends Continue, all of humanity will collapse. They moved past "maybe these are short-term trends specific to individual nations" directly to "the proper number of people on the planet is however many it takes to be economically more significant than the current number and if we don't get it everybody's going to die."
Look, I'm willing to settle this here and now, if we have to. The proper number of people on earth is 1.2 billion. That's it. That's how many people were around after the industrial revolution did its thing, and you certainly can't argue we need more workers now than we did back then. We've got to cut population numbers until we reach that goal, and if it means property values are going to tank in future centuries that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
What's my evidence for the 1.2 billion number? I don't need any. I'm a goddamn philosopher is what I am, and if I declare that the best world population is whatever it was back when Herman Melville wrote “Moby Dick,” then write that down and put it in your news articles. I don't even need an Eastern European tech-daddy to finance my conclusions on this one. My philosophical conclusions are self-made and self-sustaining.