Planned Parenthood has teamed up with a Silicon Valley “incubator” to develop new uses and find a broader audience for its smartphone app. “The 100-year-old nonprofit is joining the seed program normally meant for young companies at 500 Startups, a top Silicon Valley accelerator,” Business Insider reported last week. And, meanwhile, those of us still convinced that technology cheapens human life just got a robust argument in these uses of “seed” and “incubator.”
The collaboration between the abortion provider and the start-up coaching business, who’ve also handed Planned Parenthood $100,000 to expand their current app’s offering and user base, was also portentously timed—and not just because the anti-Trump resistance brought massive funding influxes to progressive non-profits, inviting renewed efforts in momentum maintenance. The kick-off event, a “growth hackathon” this past weekend, also aligned with the season premiere of Mike Judge’s HBO sitcom Silicon Valley: a delightful satirical mirror, too accurate for Valley natives to enjoy, on the excesses and moral vapidity of tech titans and struggling start-ups.
A joint effort with the shallowly self-righteous technocrat really does seem the perfect vehicle toward that eugenic utopia originally envisioned by Margaret Sanger, the controversial birth control activist, old-school puritanical Progressive, and co-founder of today’s Planned Parenthood. Or, to use the Valley vernacular, it’s an opportunity to harness the power of the algorithm to make the world a better place.
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Rather than forget the founding spirit of the organization, though, coders will want to honor Planned Parenthood’s mission with this new and improved app. Distilling the spirit of Sanger into an iPhone-ready user-friendly interface, in other words, might require a few core features they hadn’t considered yet.
Sanger’s motivating faith was a conviction, common to Progressives of her day, that some people were more fit to reproduce than others. “The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective,” she wrote in 1921. Scanning users’ faces and fingerprints for a background check of documented misdeeds, be it a criminal record or a tasteless Facebook feed, would be a clean first step in the work of weeding out the over-fertile defectives—the second step being a self-driving livery to a “defective” mother’s nearest and most efficient Planned Parenthood facility.
Not unlike Elon Musk, whose fear of our national descent into Idiocracy (that other uncannily right-on Mike Judge satire) informs his belief that smart people like himself should have as many children possible, Sanger would want at least a rudimentary IQ test and an multiple-choice education screening. Select your highest level of education: A, Some high school. B, High school diploma or GED. C, Some college or associate’s degree. D. Bachelor’s or higher. A’s, B’s, and C’s with below-average IQs would have an automated ride waiting outside within minutes.
But if an expectant mother’s intelligence quotient and education surpass the national average? She’ll get the pop up: Interested in other options? Swipe right on this window, which will include an animated gif of a cherubic baby cooing at late-middle-aged mom and dad, and she’ll activate a phone call to a local adoption agency. Swipe left, and she’ll be delivered by a superintelligent Prius to a shuttered Planned Parenthood branch or to one of the “crisis pregnancy centers” they’d otherwise warn her about.
Now, Sanger’s defenders—they are many—will argue that she did not desire prenatal extermination of undesirables, per se. Sanger would rather grant the undesirable mother her choice to better the population by staying sterile, hoping she’d decide rightly under the influence of what she called “birth control propaganda.” “The eugenic value of birth control propaganda,” Sanger argued in an eponymous article, is to educate the unfit mother. Pending sufficient reeducation, a fitter populace will eventually prevail.
Even so, “Birth Control is not advanced as a panacea by which past and present evils of dysgenic breeding can be magically eliminated,” Sanger said—dysgenic being the opposite of eugenic, much as a techno-totalitarian dystopia is the opposite of a spiritually perfect utopia beyond earthly comprehension. But anyway, Sanger went on, “Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.” And, really, what hath “stupidly cruel sentimentalism” wrought if not shades of Idiocracy beyond even the mother of modern family planning’s darkest nightmares?
I have no doubt old Madge’s spirit, looking out on 2017, would see cause for a thoroughly modern eugenic propaganda that doesn’t just seep into the social consciousness but makes mothers’ decisions for them. And in the age of the iPhone, we know convenience trumps choice, although on-trend branding always helps. The new app should be called the Spirit of Sanger: The home screen badge (what oldsters call an icon or logo) would read “SOS” in white, on-brand sans-serif over a pink background.