Roundup: Pronatalists who defend hitting kids

Read to the end for Elon Musk potentially revealing another of his burner accounts on Twitter

Roundup: Pronatalists who defend hitting kids
Simone and Malcolm Collins with their kids. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The media can’t get enough of Malcolm and Simone Collins, the couple who’ve made themselves the face of the tech-aligned pronatalist movement that advocates having more kids using genetic screening technologies to (theoretically) choose the best possible embryos. The Collinses have been profiled countless times by various publications over the past few years, providing their movement with (I would argue) far more mainstream attention than it deserves, but also slowly unearthing the dark side of their beliefs.

This most recent profile by Jenny Kleeman in The Guardian revisits their attempt to put a tech makeover on eugenics. Malcolm disagrees with that framing, arguing eugenics is about state-backed program, ignoring how “liberal” eugenics is very much a thing with its own deep problems. That only becomes more clear when Kleeman notes how cozy their movement has become with elements of the far right which push the great replacement theory. She quotes Malcolm talking about the “really horrible optics” of “importing people from Africa.”

The real contribution of Kleeman’s piece is the insight she provides on how the Collinses treat their kids. Their three kids have toys and iPads, but Malcolm and Simone argue heating their freezing home in winter is a “pointless indulgence” and say that “pronatalist parenting is intrinsically low-effort parenting” where they claim to be sacrificing what they can give their kids in order to have more of them. Malcolm says he doesn’t like babies. Simone takes care of them for the first 18 months, then hands them off the Malcolm for regular care so she can pop out another.

The big moment of the story happens when Malcolm takes Kleeman out for Thai food with two of the boys. When one hits the table with his foot, “Immediately – like a reflex – Malcolm hits him in the face,” Kleeman describes.

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. And Malcolm has done it in the middle of a public place, in front of a journalist, who he knows is recording everything.

Later, Malcolm explains they hit their kids because Simone saw that tigers in the wild hit their cubs with a paw to shape their behavior. Think of that what you will. But the whole story just adds to the questions we should be asking about this pronatalist movement — not just the broader ideology behind it, but what it means for the kids being spawned as instruments in some supposed political project.

Not long after the profile was posted, none other than the Collinses themselves turned up in my mentions on Twitter to defend hitting their kids. “EVERYONE under anyone else's authority (kids, employees, citizens, etc.) is subject to misguided social experiments,” they replied. “We take this unavoidable reality seriously and are therefore very intentional about our approaches.”

Effective altruists will apparently even point to numbers and charts to defend physical abuse of children now. Not even laughing at their cringe Reddit posts can distract from the growing concern over what they’re doing and the question of how much having all these kids is driven by a desire to go viral by carving out a weird tech niche of their own.

This week in the roundup: your usual recommended reads, labor updates, and other stories you might have missed. There are a number of stories on Google’s AI Overviews disaster and the tech industry’s growing embrace of Donald Trump (after many previously said they wouldn’t support him again). I’d also really recommended the open letter from Kenyan AI workers to Joe Biden.

Over on Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to Gil Duran about Balaji Srinivasan’s plan for tech-aligned “Grays” to take over San Francisco by allying with the police, then “ethnically cleansing” the city of “Blues,” meaning liberals and leftists. It’s a good discussion of how extreme the industry’s billionaires are becoming.

I did some Danish media this week, which I’ll share as it comes out over the next few weeks, and wrote a piece for The Independent about the problems with the legalization of Uber in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was also on WNYC’s On the Media to talk about AI hype and Sam Altman’s manipulation of the press, and did an interview with WDR in Germany on the Hyperloop. Also, just a final reminder that I’m speaking at re:publica in Berlin on Monday.

Have a great week!

— Paris