Fluctuating Fortunes of Techno-Prophets

Biopolitical Times
Malcolm and Simone Collins

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Prophets of techno-paradise tend to bloom and then fade but not necessarily disappear. Malcolm and Simone Collins, a husband and wife team, have been on quite a roll for a couple of years. However, their time in the spotlight may at last be coming to a close, after a report revealed their parenting style.

The Collins family have already featured on this blog (1, 2, 3). Of course they use preimplantation genetic screening, including checking for the embryo’s relative happiness, expected IQ, and “future predicted income.” They are also convinced that, to reverse the “fertility collapse,” the only “realistic solution” is a new &/or fortified religion, an idea which recently stirred up some controversy. They wrote a whole book about this. 

In short, they are indefatigable entrepreneurs who are committed to having lots of babies and telling others they should too. Their Pronatalist.org scored a $420,000 grant from Jaan Tallinn, the Estonian high-tech billionaire (Skype, Kazaa, Deep Mind) to counter what they claim is impending population collapse. Pronatalists definitely include Elon Musk (52 and biological father of 12) and other prominent men are advocating for large families — Donald Trump (78, father of 5: “You men are so lucky out there.”), JD Vance (39, father of 3, hopes to be Trump’s vice-president), Sam Altman (39, recently married and a newly-minted billionaire).

We learned from a report in The Guardian by Jenny Kleeman that the Collins family’s approach to childrearing is apparently a sort of post-modern, data-driven yet rather Victorian version of effective altruism, based on what Simone “observed when she saw tigers in the wild.” Kleeman observed Malcolm slapping their two-year-old in the face because he kicked a table:

“It is not a heavy blow, but it is a slap with the palm of his hand direct to his two-year-old son’s face that’s firm enough for me to hear on my voice recorder when I play it back later.” 

Later, she relates going upstairs with the couple while the four-year-old stays in the living room and they come down to find him distraught. “Malcolm tells him to take a deep breath.” No hugs? They consider heating their house in winter to be a “pointless indulgence” and recommend “intrinsically low-effort parenting.” This they combine with their own “intentionally constructed religion, technically atheist” that replaces Christmas with Future Day, on which they take the kids’ toys away until they have written a contract about how they will make the world a better place. “What does Christmas teach them? Get random toys if you’re vaguely good?”

 All in all, these ideas seem unlikely to have mass appeal.

That does not mean that the Collins family will disappear from media, but they are likely to fade somewhat from public view, as have other prophets of unusual futures, for instance:

  • Zoltan Istvan, an old favorite in these parts (1, 2, 3, 4), is the subject of a new biography: Transhuman Citizen: Zoltan Istvan’s Hunt for Immortality, by Ben Murnane.
  • The Raelians were the cult that claimed in 2002 to have cloned “Eve” (they had not). They are still in business! Still insisting that “Extraterrestrials Created All Life On Earth” and still promoting the idea of cloning.
  • Another blast from the past, who had far more long-term influence than Rael, is Max More, President of the Extropy Institute (1990–2002), with a lively listserve. He moved on to Alcor, the cryonics company, and now writes Extropic Thoughts on Substack.

Fast talkers can make a name for themselves with dramatic and absurdly optimistic promises of improving humanity and presumably their own fortunes. Journalists flock to them, editors cede them space in newspapers and periodicals, and this exposure has a generally pernicious effect on the broad conversations within which modern society develops. Some of these self-created stars vanish almost without trace after a quick flurry of headlines; some find a niche in academia or as advisors to the rich; a rare few (most notably Peter Thiel and his one-time business partner Elon Musk) actually step beyond their early notoriety into serious wealth and influence. 

Stupid but superficially credible concepts sometimes get undue attention. But attend to them we must, lest one ride down a gilded escalator.