Demography Redux

A post at First Thoughts this week links to some recent rumblings over much of the world’s fretting about the global population reaching 7 billion, despite the fact that nobody seems to be worried that most nations now have a falling birth rate.

So which is it? Does the world have too many people, or too few? The most honest answer is probably that the threat of “overpopulation” is alarmist and emotion-based, whereas worries about declining birthrates are underappreciated, even though they are more grounded in hard facts. Indeed, if predictions like Kotkin’s play out, and emerging nations follow the demographic trends of advanced ones, the strange phenomenon of societies breeding themselves out of existence may no longer simply be a first world problem but a global one. It’s entirely conceivable that, 100 years from now, should the ‘birth dearth’ continue to spread, our progeny will look back nostalgically on earlier times when people fretted about “overpopulation.” Indeed, in a growing number of contexts, professional demographers already are.

Quite right.  As a teacher, I often hear people pay lip service to the trope that “children are our future,” but few seem to appreciate just how crucial that human capital is.  In the long run, fewer children must mean less of a future.

This reminded me of an exchange about demography on NPR about a month ago.  Even they’ve had a few stories in recent years about the dangers of falling birth rates, but a comment by the snob interviewer in this one irked me a little.  Continue reading

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A Silly Test of Book of Mormon Authorship

This morning, First Thoughts featured a link to a new tool called “I Write Like…” where writers can compare their work to the styles of famous authors.  The site is clearly an ad for a publishing agency, and gives wildly illogical results: for example, though it correctly identified the first chapter of Huck Finn for me as written in the style of Mark Twain and the short story “Araby” as by James Joyce, it also said the first chapter of Genesis (King James Version) was in the style of Kurt Vonnegut and that the first few paragraphs of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” sounded like H.P. Lovecraft.  Those comparisons are plausible, I suppose, but still a bit far-fetched.

The site does not provide any commentary on its analyses, nor does it even explain its program’s methodology.  Such background information would make this much more enjoyable.  As it is, it’s little more than a cute novelty. 

However, as I played with this toy, I thought about the issue of Book of Mormon authorship.  Though this would hardly be a scholarly study, I wondered what this site would say about it: does all of the text seem to come from one author, or many?  Does it sound like Joseph Smith?  (Though, to be fair, “I Write Like…” surely doesn’t have Smith in its program, nor is it consistent: in the space of two pages, Faulkner’s short story goes from sounding like Lovecraft, apparently, to Vladimir Nabokov.  My test here is purely facetious fun.) 

1 Nephi chapter 1 is written in the style of cyberpunk master William Gibson.  (Strange, I don’t remember Nephi spending much time dwelling on malevolent artificial intelligence.  Perhaps the desert wilderness into which his family was exiled was the Matrix?) 

1 Nephi 22 sounds like Daniel Defoe.  Makes sense.  Nephi Robinson and Lehi Crusoe sure could have used Friday. 

Alma chapter 1 could have come from the pen of Jane Austen, it says.  Continue reading

The Condensed Book of Mormon, In 15 Verses

Today I read the most amazing blog post, courtesy of our friends at First Thoughts.  A seminarian named Sarah Wilson thought to abbreviate the Bible by selecting just one representative verse from each book, resulting in a breathtaking tour through the highlights of scripture.  Her method was basically to find the verse in each book that best represented the majority of the material.  Please read it here.

What a great exercise!

My own first thought was to adapt her list for an LDS audience, but I quickly saw that that was pointless.  I already agree with virtually all of her choices.  Truly, she has a solid grasp of the text, and has produced a universally valuable list.

I wanted to do the same for the Book of Mormon.

My selections are below, with notes on my reasoning at the bottom:

1 Nephi “And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” 1:20

2 Nephi “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” 25:26

Jacob “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.” 2:35

Enos “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” 1:4

Continue reading

My Ten Most Influential Books

After reading this great post about the ten books that most influenced an author over at First Thoughts (one of my favorite blogs) a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on my own list.  The list changed drastically over a few drafts, and I’ve been surprised by the final results.

These are not necessarily my favorite books (though many of them are), nor are they what I’d consider the best books I’ve read (though, again, some of them are).  These are the books that have most contributed to who I am today.  For better or for worse, these are the ones that stuck with me, changed me, that left some deep imprint impossible to explain me now without. 

The only caveat here is that I decided not to include any scripture on this list.  For it to be accurate, they should be on here, but I ran into too many problems.  Should I count them all as one monolithic book called “Scripture,” separate them into Standard Works, or separate them even further into individual texts by author?  The more I broke them down, the more I had to wrangle with how to rank them.  It got too thorny, and I just decided to ignore that altogether for this list.

The original list at First Thoughts, along with many of the comments afterwards, cheated by doubling up on books and squeezing more than ten onto these “top ten” lists.  This draft has significantly fewer than my first couple, but I’ve still elected to cheat, also.  My top ten list has twelve titles.  If you really want to be a purist, cut off the last two. 

I’ve listed them here roughly in order of just how much they’ve shaped me, and I’ve included the general period in my life when I read them. 

1.  Hugh Nibley, Nibley On the Timely and the Timeless (college).  This isn’t my favorite Nibley book (his Book of Mormon works or Approaching Zion would probably get that nod), but this “greatest hits” collection deeply impressed me at the time with its range of classical literacy to social criticism to studious, spiritual discipleship.  It was the first Nibley book I read cover to cover, and started me on the path to the rest of his oeuvre.  The way that I read scripture, study history, and understand the practical relations between things ancient, esoteric, and pragmatically modern are all heavily influenced by his life and work (though, since reading his biography–which I took with me to read on my honeymoon because it had just come out and I couldn’t wait to start it–I have attenuated this idolizing a bit and tried to expand my circle of influence).  Undeniably, his books have had more of a profound effect on me than any other.  I bought an old copy from E-bay several years ago…right before it was reprinted in a new edition.

2.  Hopkins and Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive (high school).  I owe this one to my older brother.  Like all boys, I worshipped my older brother, so when I was old enough to emulate his adoration of classic rock, I followed suit.  I came across this biography of Doors frontman Jim Morrison and devoured it.  For a moody, pretentious adolescent, it provided a role model worthy of my own egomaniacal imagination.  This book’s influence reached far beyond my devoted memorizing of every note on the legendary Best of the Doors two CD set.  Even back then, I would read biographies with an eye especially keen for what great people had done at my age.  Morrison had been, above all, a voracious, even a ferocious, reader, and a nascent poet. 

My own forays into poetry reading and writing were not terribly productive (though I still like The Lords and the New Creatures), the titles and authors cited by Hopkins and Sugerman as formative on Morrison–James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, the Romantics and French Symbolists–became my bread and butter for years, and sprouted branches of further influence that still dominate what I read today.  Though I certainly no longer emulate Morrison or his lifestyle, I can’t deny that this book has had a huge impact on me over the years.  Just last week I was flipping through radio stations and heard “L.A. Woman,” and I fondly paused to listen to some of it.  This book may be dormant, but it is in my DNA.  Continue reading