Death by Demographics
Death by demographics: A new novel by Dr. James Dobson and Kurt Bruner suggests a dark future when longer life spans meet lower birth rates
BY: John Kennedy
In the newly-released Fatherless, prolific Christian authors Dr. James Dobson and Kurt Bruner not only collaborate — while each taking their first stab at a novel.(Kurt Bruner, it should be noted has some background in fiction, particularly in radio drama as an executive producer of the long-running Christian-themed series Adventures in Odyssey.)
Here’s the plot of Fatherless (part one of a planned trilogy) as described on the back cover their book: The year is 2042, and a long-predicted tipping point has arrived. For the first time in human history, the economic pyramid has flipped: The feeble old now outnumber the vigorous young, and this untenable situation is intensifying a battle between competing cultural agendas. Reporter Julia Davidson-a formerly award-winning journalist seeking to revive a flagging career-is investigating the growing crisis, unaware that her activity makes her a pawn in an ominous conspiracy.
As Anthony Sacramone notes in his thoroughly-entertaining article for Intercollegiate Review, fictional depictions of dystopian futures are not exactly new. But one can hardly take a look at the data and not be concerned that the unpleasant future imagined in Fatherless isn’t farfetched at all. I recently spoke with the authors. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
JWK: The book’s concept is very interesting. How did it come about?
DR. JAMES DOBSON: Well Fatherless is the first of three works of fiction that presupposes what the world will be like — culturally and socially and every other way — in view of the demographic trends that are taking place at this time. It really comes out of the inversion of the pyramid. As many of your readers will know, the greatest number of people have typically been at the bottom of the pyramid and the fewest number are those who are elderly at the top and that has now reversed itself. So, you have fewer people supporting and caring for those with the greatest needs. And that refers to those who are elderly and getting older. That has major implications for the culture — socially and economically, spiritually and virtually every other dimension of life.
JWK: How do you feel his inversion has come about? What cultural forces are behind it?
DJD: Well there are number of factors that have been increasing in influence in the last forty or fifty years and we are now at a tipping point. Just in the last few months, the birth rate and the fertility rate has dropped below ZPG which is zero population growth. If it were not for immigration, our population would be decreasing in number and that has, as I said, many implications for the future. Now, what’s caused that? Well, one thing is that people are more interested in self fulfillment and in the personal desires that they have. They don’t want to be burdened by children, many of them. It’s time consuming. It’s demanding. Children are not easy to raise. More and more people are looking at that proposition and saying “I don’t think that I want to be burdened by children.” So, even in cases where they don’t feel that way, many of them will not have more than one or two children and that’s not enough to sustain the population.
KURT BRUNER: What we’re trying to do in the novels is move forward 30 years and depict where all these trends unquestionably have been going. And they’re accelerating. So, we’re trying to now depict the world in which those trends come to full fruition. Some of them are already happening around the world — like today Japan has the oldest average citizen in the world and they are already in the Z population tipping point and are already feeling the crisis it’s creating for their economy in terms of becoming a decaying population. And, just a couple of anecdotes from Japan. It interesting. In the last few weeks, in fact, they’re new elected leaders — one of them their minister over the economy (Finance Minister Taro Aso) — said let elderly people “hurry up and die.” Because why? They can’t afford it anymore. The safety net is tearing because there not enough young (people) fueling the economy. Also, last year was the first year Japan sold more adult diapers than baby diapers. So, it gives you a little snapshot as to where the world is heading. The demographic trends are creating a crisis. More and more news (outlets) are reporting it. We hope that by setting it forward, in a dystopian way 30 years hence, it will be easier for people to see where it is we’re heading.
JWK: What do you hope people do with the information you’re conveying?
DJD: Well, there’s a lot of hope in the books. Most of it will be in the third book because we are at this time laying the foundation for where we are headed as a country. People in the United States tend not to be aware of this or they’re just becoming aware of it. In other countries — France, Russia, Germany, China and, of course, Japan — there are anxieties about it. Governments are actually offering incentives for people to have more children.
JWK: China’s one-child policy is actually becoming a growing for the Chinese government.
KB: That’s come under recent attack internally because they see where these demographic shifts are driving them. A couple decades hence it will be a distant memory when we thought China was taking over the whole world economically because they’re going to be into this crisis like no other nation in history.
JWK: Because of the one-child policy?
KB: Well, yeah, but this is another interesting note. The one-child policy which has (included) draconian measures to suppress birth, to punish those and fine those who have more than one child, all those things that have been coming to bear have brought the fertility rate down to…roughly 1.6 in China but among college-educated affluent women in America it is also 1.6. We’ve done it to ourselves for completely different reasons. But it’s true across the globe and across the demographic categories economically. The driver of what’s happening in our future is fertility. It’s whether or not marriage and family are upheld as God designed it. I mean (the) fiscal cliff, all those things are symptoms (related) to the larger issue which is a demographic crisis. In these novels we attempt to depict where it’s going based on current projections. These aren’t outlandish speculations. This simply projecting 30 years (forward) where we’re heading and what is likely to occur — what conflicts will emerge.
JWK: While the books reflects your Bible-based beliefs, it’s actually based on hard demographic data.
KB: In fact many people will notice that these books could just as easily be read by a non-Christian as a Christians. Because while, of course, we understand God’s design for the family to be rooted in Christian understandings — they’re true for all humanity. Genesis 1 and 2 is the foundation of all humanity, God’s intention for the human race.
DJD: There was an article — a very revealing article — in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago and let me read just a paragraph of what the author wrote. He said “There’s been a great deal of political talk in recent years about whether America — once regarded as “a shining city on a hill’ — is in decline. But the decline isn’t about whether Democrats or Republicans hold power. It isn’t about political ideology at all. It is, at its most basic level, about the sustainability of human capital.” And that is the essence of our survivability.
KB: And, John, that’s rooted in, we believe, a spiritual battle that’s been going on since God created man and woman, brought them together and said “Be fruitful and multiply” and now form a family. If you read Genesis 1 and 2 carefully, that’s what’s described as God’s image on Earth. He created a family as the highest expression of his very image. And Satan hates that image of God. And so we believe that these attacks that (are) currently going on and that we depict in these novels is the attack of Satan against the very image of God on Earth.