Natalism and Hipster Eugenics

Biopolitical Times
Front page of the Natal Conference website

Front page of the Natal Conference website

Last November, this blog published a piece with the title “Hipster Eugenics: Better Babies for Billionaires.” It focused on the ideologies known as “effective altruism” and “longtermism” (popular in parts of the tech world), and their links to an emerging embrace of “pro-natalism,” the promotion of having more children. “Hipster Eugenics” featured one billionaire (Elon Musk), one former billionaire-on-paper-maybe (Sam Bankman-Fried) and an eccentric family headed by Malcolm and Simone Collins. One of them is in very big trouble, but the others are still around and it’s time for an update on their ideological predilections.

Bankman-Fried is in jail, having had his bail revoked for witness tampering and lost a bid for release. He is accused of wire fraud, securities fraud, money laundering and various related conspiracies, and his parents are being sued for millions. He has been complaining about the food and is worried that jurors might be biased against the concept of “amassing wealth to support causes to improve the world.” He might also be concerned that jurors would react against his contingency plans for the Apocalypse

The Collins family are probably not billionaires (yet), but they are indefatigable entrepreneurs. The Collins Institute for the Gifted is pitched as “a new model of at-home and boarding education optimized for self-motivated young scholars who thrive when given freedom.” Among many other enterprises (12345), they founded, and are featured speakers at the Natal Conference, to be held on December 1 & 2 in Austin, TX. 

The event is being organized by Kevin Dolan, founder of the EXIT Group, which is anti-corporate on the grounds that “corporate employers control private speech and behavior in ways that we would never tolerate from our government.” According to a report in The Guardian, Dolan has been promoting the Natal Conference on the far-right podcast circuit, and has explicitly linked its “pro-natalist” orientation to eugenics.

Why Austin? That is due to Musk money: UT-Austin is the home of the Population Wellbeing Initiative, to which Musk has already committed $10 million. Just this week, the Initiative’s Director, Dean Spears, authored a visually striking Op-Ed in the New York Times: 

The World’s Population May Peak in Your Lifetime. What Happens Next?

Good question. Spears’ answer tries to thread the needle between tones of alarm and common sense. He concludes:

Humanity needs a compassionate, factual and fair conversation about how to respond to depopulation and how to share the burdens of creating each future generation. The way to have that conversation is to start paying attention now.

That appears reasonable – except for the fact that many experts, including the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, believe that drastic long-term population loss is unlikely. Nonetheless, the rationale for the Natal Conference insists that:

Thousands of unique cultures and populations will be snuffed out. 

Really? Whose? This is starting to sound like a variant on nationalist paranoia. Surely this will not devolve into another “Jews will not replace us.” Absolutely not! 

… Natal Conference has no political or ideological goal other than a world in which our children can have grandchildren. If you are concerned about collapsing fertility, the economic challenges of having children, the increasing difficulty of dating for men and women, we want to hear from you. 

It’s very improbable that Elon Musk would deign to attend the meeting, but he certainly agrees with the concern about declining birth rates. Indeed, he is personally attempting to rectify this tendency: 

“Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis. Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming.”

Someone should explain to him that climate change could cause population collapse due to low agricultural yields. 

Meanwhile, according to Forbes, Musk takes “an engineering approach to reproduction,” with five boys conceived via IVF and at least one girl with the assistance of a surrogate. He has fathered 11 children. Moreover:

“He really wants smart people to have kids,” [Shivon] Zilis [a senior executive at Neuralink] said of Musk, who offered to be her sperm donor so that “the kids would be genetically his.” 

The New York Times reported, from the recent biography of Musk by Walter Isaacson, that:

The amount of human intelligence, [Musk] noted, was leveling off because people were not having enough children.

Oh dear. This is reminiscent of the “longtermism” fallacy, in which the well-being of possible future humans (who may never exist) is seen as cumulatively more important than that of people living now. Intelligence is not cumulative at all. It is not even easily defined, let alone quantified. Adding up the IQs of each member of the population produces a completely meaningless number.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the likes of Musk and the Collinses are worried that the “wrong” people are having too many babies and the “right” people are not having enough. According to the UN report, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa will have the highest rate of population growth in coming decades and may have more than 3 billion people by 2100, almost three times as many as today.

Arwa Mahdawi, in The Guardian, on April 4, discussed the Collins family under the rubric ‘Hipster eugenics’ and drew the obvious conclusion: 

Why is the media cosying up to people who want to build a super race?
Self-proclaimed ‘pro-natalists’ don’t go around saying that they only want white babies, but there’s a thin line between their movement and the ‘great replacement theory’

Techno-eugenics appears to be on the rise. That should concern us all.