2013 Reading

Reading 2013: What to Expect When No One’s Expecting

December 11, 2013

Well before publication, I had heard snippets of Jonathan Last’s recent book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, but still wasn’t sure what to expect going into the book, particularly as I saw it being promoted from groups with a very clear reputation on other matters. Was he a right wing conspiracy theorist? An adherent of mass, militant fecundity? Did he just like clever plays on words and base the book on his wordsmith skills?

Sometimes, when reading such books and I’m unfamiliar with the author, I find it’s best not to form an opinion until after I’ve read the book. Thankfully, although I’ve seen this book referenced by those who teach militant fecundity, I found that Vast was neither conspiracy theorist nor fundamentalist extremist. (While the book gives a few glimpses of Last’s personal beliefs, most of the time readers are left in the dark on this matter. His few smatterings of colorful language and eclectic ideologies make it hard to fit him into any one box.)

Instead, Last provides readers with facts and research to create the picture of what he sees will be the fallout of our current demographic decline. Superimposed upon these facts are his assumptions as to why we’ve reached this point and how we can change, many of which I did agree with, and many of which I think further consideration would lead me to disagree with. And of course, there are a lot of stories and anecdotes to create another layer, too.

Last’s book addresses the myth of Western overpopulation that was popularized by Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, in which the author presented the horrid devastation of a future overpopulated Earth, predicting that  global scale famines would decimate millions by the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, time has told us that Ehrlich’s theories were not quite as plausible or as urgent as he originally presented them. And yet, while disproved, the belief of an impending overpopulation crisis still looms large. (And such comments linger in just about every online comment section for articles and news regarding parenting or children!)

On the contrary, Last does believe that the situations is dire, yet entirely opposite of Ehrlich’s prediction: future demise will come from our failure to reproduce at a healthy rate of replacement.

There are literally millions of subsets of ideas that could be linked to this phenomenon and to attempt to answer why, even if we can’t agree on an eventual outcome. And the answers to those questions are nearly as vast and arguable, which certainly doesn’t leave much room for discussing every possibility in this book.

Some are obvious reasons for the decline of reproduction rates, and some are hidden, like the increase of more intensive carseat laws and similar safety regulations.

Overall, I found the book fascinating, particularly as I  personally find this subject matter fascinating. Segments seem perhaps a bit alarmist, as is the nature of most pendulum swing reactions. But other portions address questions many are not asking, yet are important for society as a whole to consider. And in continuation of the wordsmithery, I suspect that Last’s work on reproductive expectation will not be the last or final word. (Meanwhile, I’m still praying we’ll be blessed with twins someday. ;))

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