Dr. Popp, the First Computer Virus, and the Purpose of Human Life: Studies in Crap Gapes At Popular Evolution
Your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.
Popular Evolution: Life-Lessons From Anthropology
Author: Joseph L. Popp
Publisher: Man and Nature Press
Discovered at: "Borrowed" from Your Crap Archivist's old job in a Harvard alumni office
The Cover Promises: The worst A Chorus Line ever.
"With the reproductive imperative always in mind, this book offers an unadorned explanation of the purpose of human life and how we can fulfill that purpose." (page xv)
"See that your children get a good eighth grade education . . . Avoid smoking tobacco unless you are a teenager who would otherwise not be having sexual intercourse . . . Individuals should not use any form of contraception . . . Keep no pets. Have another child or help a relative have another child instead." (page 260)
By my count, Harvard-trained evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Popp managed at least four wholly unique accomplishments before his death in 2007:
Studying hamadryas baboons in East Africa for fifteen years.
Opening a butterfly sanctuary in upstate New York.
Self-publishing Popular Evolution, a "new model for the ultimate kind of self-help "that argues that humanity's only purpose is "maximizing reproductive success" and points out, as a point for further research, that "Rape appears as a reproductive strategy in other species."
Mailing out 20,000 floppy disks containing a computer virus aimed at holding hostage the world's accumulated knowledge of AIDS.
Let's look at that last one first.
According to accounts in the British press, in December, 1989,Popp sent out his diskettes to attendees of the World Health Organization's international AIDS meeting. Labeled "AIDS Information - Introductory Diskettes," the disks contained a Trojan devised by Popp.
After a certain number of reboots, a bug encrypted the hard disk's directory, hiding all files and flashing a message instructing users to send a couple hundred bucks to a postal box in Panama. (The Guardian reports that Popp had suffered a mental collapse after being turned down for a WHO job.)
There's some question as to whether this constituted blackmail. Soon after his arrest and extradition to England, where one medical organization reported having lost a decade's worth of research, Popp took to wearing a cardboard box on his head. Soon, he was pronounced unfit to stand trial.
Stranger still, Popp had packed a leaflet with the diskettes the offered the bluntest terms-of-use statement in computer history:
"These program mechanisms will adversely affect other program applications on microcomputers. You are hereby advised of the most serious consequences of your failure to abide by the terms of this license agreement: your conscience may haunt you for the rest of your life; you will owe compensation and possible damages to PC Cyborg Corporation; and your microcomputer will stop functioning normally.''
Forget all that evolution business! Popp should have been working for Microsoft!
Shipped back to the U.S., a chastened Dr. Popp wound up in Lake Jackson, Texas, where eleven years later he published Popular Anthropology. At first glance, it might seem like satire or a "thought experiment" or a stab at maintaining that "unfit to stand trial" designation. Unfortunately, it seems to be entirely earnest.
Its thesis is simple:
"Start reproduction early, preferably at puberty, have a long reproductive life, and maximize your reproductive success."
Or, even more baldly:
"If you are a man, find a fertile woman; if you are a woman, find a fertile man."
In the opening pages, Popp pronounces traditional religion, morals, and ethics as all unsuited to the age of science. Instead, he proposes we live by an "evolutionary ethic," one that stands up to a culture hellbent on staunching our reproductive potential. He explains why breastfeeding should be legislated against ("it suppresses ovulation in the mother") and points out that "rather than increase reproductive success, the pathological search for true love reduces it."
He even proposes this amendment to the constitution:
"The maximization of reproductive success is an undeniable right afforded to all."
For over 250 pages, Popp holds the issues of the day to the evolutionary ethic..
Chastity and Celibacy:
"If chastity, celibacy, environmentalism, or homosexuality cause a person to fail to reproduce, it is the equivalent of a preproductive death of that person in terms of evolutionary consequences."
"Euthanasia may be justifiable under carefully controlled circumstances for those in the final stages of a terminal disease and who are unable to reproduce or to be of assistance to others."
"One recent nominee for Surgeon General during the Clinton administration built his entire career largely on suppressing the reproductive health of teenagers. This linkage between the post of Surgeon General and antigenitivism would be fine material for an expose."
"In the strange environment in which we currently live, there is an an inverse correlation between wealth and reproductive success. In this sense, if you are dedicated to gambling look at it as a dependable way to reduce your wealth and thereby increase the number of children you will have, rather than hold the unrealistic notion that it is a way to get rich. Four hundred billion dollars is spent on gambling in America each year. That may not by itself be enough to turn around the low rates of reproduction in America, but it is a large step in the right direction."
"I do not intend to argue that the morality of the evolutionary ethic maintains that politicians should not lie, rather if they do lie, the lies should be ones that increase the reproductive success of their constituents."
Popp suggests these "policies that would help elevate the teenage birth rate."
Low levels of socioeconomic modernization
A lack of openness about sexuality
A relatively small percentage of household income distributed to the low-income population by wage-structure
A low minimum legal age for marriage
The key to achieving Popp's vision?
RNC platform or Popp's factors that increase adult fertility?
Fewer working women
Less abortion due to legal prohibition
Less use of modern contraceptive techniques
Less openness about homosexuality and lesbianism
Ignorance of the doctrine of environmentalism
In the chapter "The Meaning of Life," Popp admits that the long, lonely hours that go into book-writing mean he hasn't done much to maximize his reproductive success. But it might someday.
"I have an unspoken contract with my readership: I will help to enhance their reproductive success, and they will compensate me with something that I hope to convert, perhaps with difficulty, to reproductive success."
But I thought money made you less likely to have kids! Still, his money might help you. If, someday, a trip to the Joseph L. Popp Butterfly Sanctuary gets you in the mood for some loving, he's done his job from beyond the grave!
(For a fuller account of Popp's virus misadventure, including his scribbling "DR POPP HAS BEEN POISONED" on a WHO official's suitcase, see Steve Connor's excellent December, 1991, Independent piece "Dr. Popp and the Trojan Horse" andthe hacker history Approaching Zero by Paul Mungo and Bryan Glough.)
The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice's sister paper, The Pitch.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.