Kris: “Hey, Murphy, did you hear the good news?”
Murphy: “What? The President and VP will die in separate plane crashes on the 4th of January?”
Kris: “Making Nancy Pelosi, the likely Speaker of the House, President? Nice fantasy, but no, sorry. Speaking of women, though, they’re having fewer babies!”
Murphy: “This is good news?”
Murphy: “You’re sure of that?”
Kris: “Data look solid to me.”
Murphy: “Not to me. There’s a shortage of bays, you know.”
Kris: “… whut?”
Murphy: “Especially since the Boomers, who aren’t having children any more, have successfully locked up all the choice properties by the bays, so that the people who can have children have to have them somewhere else. Like the suburbs, for instance, or even, shock horror, the countryside. So, of course the data will show that the number of baybies is going down. Now, prove to me that the number of burbbies and countrybies has been accounted for in those totals. Plus the farmbies and the ranchbies and the …”
Kris: “Murphy! Geez. Buck up!! I know things are tough, the students are tougher, and the university’s nothing but a pandering service center any more. But don’t flake out on me now! We’ve still got a month to go in the first semester!!”
Murphy: “Alrightalright. Let’s accept the numbers. Fewer children per woman are being borne, on average, worldwide. For half the nations on Earth, the number born per woman is less than that needed to replace those who have died. That number, if it continues, will eventually start bringing down the number of humans on Earth, and that will eventually start bringing down the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the air, and the amount of plastic being dumped into the oceans. And this is good. Yes?”
Murphy: “Who is going to be paying your salary? Or mine?? Speaking of pandering service centers. The universities are already desperate for enough students to fill seats and pay fees. If the pool shrinks … And now multiply that across the entire economy, which depends on growth for prosperity, and has no prospects for growth if the number of customers is, perforce, shrinking!”
Kris: “Yeah, well, good luck getting any of today’s women, whom we’re assiduously training for professional careers, to give up or even delay those careers for the sake of bearing and raising children. Good luck getting today’s males to get off their fat asses and do anything, especially child-rearing. Not that any of the women I’ve spoken with lately would trust any male with the job.”
Murphy: “Yeah, don’t even ask how many times I’ve been told by women, ‘I look at the man I stuck myself with, asked about having children by him, and said to myself, no way it’s happening.’ That neither grows the economy nor gets us paid.”
Kris: “But fewer children means more investment in each one. Perhaps that will mean, eventually, that each one will be as highly intelligent and efficient as they’ll need to be to keep standards of living up.”
Murphy: “Do you know of any of our administrators who would be happy to see class sizes shrink? Regardless of how able each student in those shrunken classes was?!?”
Kris: “Only if we were all living out of our cars.”
Murphy: “Precisely. And since when can we presume that all of those individually coddled students will be healthy enough to achieve the necessary levels of intellect and productivity?”
Kris: “What? Surely, with modern medicine …”
Murphy: “Dan over in Biology would be screaming at you. He sure screamed loudly enough at me over this last week at the faculty seminar. Apparently, there’s this estimate that about 80% of the human DNA is ‘functional’, it’s doing some work, it isn’t just sitting there.”
Murphy: “So, Dan calculates that, if this 80% figure is accurate, and it’s a goal to keep the human population genetically stable – that is, without increases over time in the percentage of those in the population with, let’s say, hay fever, or peanut allergies, or autism …”
Murphy: “Then each woman, in her lifetime, should have a dozen kids, only two of which – the ‘best’ performers, and those most free of bad gene juju – ever get to have kids of their own. Otherwise, the mutations that lead to things like autism increase, and eventually overwhelm the population.”
Kris: “OMG! This is surely ridiculous!”
Murphy: “It’s elementary population genetics, according to Dan. Which we assiduously and rigorously apply to every sexually-reproducing species of life on Earth, except our own! Dan uses this calculation to argue that the 80% figure is wrong, and a lot of money’s being spent to get a better number. Meanwhile, the number of cases of autism is increasing, and the only thing that’s been even partially reliably tied to that increase is the number of tiny mutations (‘single base pair changes, or SNiPs’, I’m told) in those affected. Which Dan would predict is resulting from the low number of children being born, and the high survival and reproductive rate of those that are.”
Kris: “So, the one-child model many folk who have any kids at all are adopting …”
Murphy: “… is potentially disastrous, on many levels.”
Kris: “Gene therapy?”
Murphy: “In a world that’s screaming ‘NO GMOs?!?’ Get real. Y’see, there are reasons why China has abandoned its one-child-per-family policy.”
Kris: “So it can put a new fuse on the population bomb and light it?”
Murphy: “Well, there’s always global war, famine, drought, or pestilence.”
Murphy: “Humans have always preferred that ‘acts of God’ be the instruments that force us to accept lowered standards of living. Just like every other species on Earth.”
Kris: “Right. And we work in higher education for why?”
Murphy: “So that, for now, we can continue to meet at the faculty club, while we still have one, at the end of the teaching day, and drink wine.”
Kris: “Shall I pour?”
Murphy: “Please do.”
* * *
“And this, then,” Mother Alyusha concluded her lecture, “is why the Selective Service operates as it does. Each Mother produces numerous offspring, who are then evaluated in the Cohorts. After weaning, no contact or identification with any Mother is permitted, lest a Mother succumb to the temptation to be overprotective of any child, but especially of one that she bore. The best and brightest, the strongest and healthiest, are recruited for the next generation, while the remainder contribute their labor to, and their removal of deleterious genetic elements from, the population. All this is accomplished while gradually bringing population numbers down to planet-safe levels. The economy is adjusted to fit the population size, by fiat. So-called ‘growth models’ are inappropriate for our circumstances, and those who advocate for such models, in contravention of the evidence but in hopes of short-term personal gain, are reeducated, or removed from society.
“How does this set with you, Cynthia Stalwart Steadymind?” There was just a hint of sneering lift in Alyusha’s recital of Cynthia’s full name.
Cynthia received the gibe with outward calm but inward turmoil. The inward part, riding the tiger of incipient puberty, wanted to lash out. The outward part, though, recognized how that incipient puberty, plus the mass of information being thrust at her as part of her initiation into Motherhood, was putting her name attributes, the ones she had earned at LaConner Cohort, under pressure. Alyusha was pushing and prodding her into recognizing the new pressures within herself, achieving mastery over them, and acknowledging when and how she had, on individual occasions, fallen short of mastery.
“One thing puzzles me”, Cynthia said serenely, as if she had never heard the belittlement in Alyusha’s voice.
“And that is?” Alyusha brusquely inquired.
“The narrative is presented, not by today’s computers, or humans, but by males, evidently archaic ones from the video quality. How is that?”
Alyusha nodded; apparently, the question was a good one to ask. “The original medium, from which you saw a digitized excerpt, was prepared some decades before the Righteous Revolution. Leilani, in Documents, did a wonderful job restoring the file and converting it to digital format.”
“But … males?!”
“Yes. It’s against dogma, but, as you have expressed both interest and an aptitude for science, I will share with you the data, and ask that you be cautious with your inferences, especially at this early stage in your training and with your first period due. Some males during the run-up to the Righteous Revolution were intelligent and sensible. Had they gained ascendancy, it’s possible that males could still be an acknowledged partner in our society. As things are now, though, we can only assume, from the history as it has unfolded, that these males were unable to gain or maintain influence over the great mass of loutish males who, in the end, led the country, and the world, to ruin.”
“A shame”, Cynthia said.
“Hm?”, Alyusha asked.
“They’re kinda cute, especially the tall one, Kris I think that was. They must have been really cute when they were younger. Wish I could have met them.”
Alyusha, whose tastes were more orthodox, and had found intimate companionship with Mother Anastasia for the past twenty-five years, sighed and shook her head. ‘Perhaps’, she said to herself, ‘Cynthia will outgrow what’s beginning to look like a male fascination. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. I guess we’ll all soon find out.’ Aloud, she said, “Break time. In 15, we’ll review hygiene.”
“Again?”, moaned Cynthia.
“It’s important. Trust me”, Alyusha replied, curtly.