Friday, January 24, 2003

MY PEOPLE: You have to check out this site on Utah baby names! It makes you proud to be a Utah Mormon (except of course for the Scientist who grew up among godless Gentiles).

Monday, January 20, 2003

END OF THE DISCUSSIONS: It's official. The church is jettisoning the old missionary discussion program. Here is the story from BYU News service, which unlike the Salt Lake Trib got an interview with Elder Ballard. This sounds like a good move, although the new program is going to demand MUCH more out of missionaries, and I suspect that the extent to which memorized discussions are really abandoned will vary greatly depending on where you are in the world and how difficult the language is. There were plenty of missionaries in my mission -- Korea, Pusan -- who were linguistically incapable of elaborately personalized discussions even at the end of their missions. Interestingly, this seems almost like a move back to more 19th century modes of missionary work, where Elders were expected to preach the Restoration, but to do so more contextually. I just point this out, because it also seems to parellell the move in instructional material to emphasize substance (frequenly of 19th century origin -- Hurray!) over prepackaged form.

One is even tempted to see in the shift a reflection of trends in organizational prefrences. In the 1950s and the 1960s when the discussions first came on-line, people in developed countries -- especially America -- were besotted by the possibilities of bureacracy and mass-production. This extended from the private sector -- where the cutting edge companies were massive command-and-control corporations like Chystler or U.S. Steel -- to the public sector. In particular in the decades after World War II, large government bureacracies enjoyed a halo of omnicopetence as a result (I think) of the New Deal and the success of the most massive of government bureacracies (the U.S. military) in the war against totalitarianism. For all of these institutions, the emphasis was on mass production and the deployment of massice resources that such mass production allowed. By contrast, the beginning of the twenty-first century finds an emphasis on flexibility, innovation, and decentralization. The old ABC bureacracies of the New Deal and the the 1960s are discredited and the move is toward more flexible, decentralize modes of governance such as negreg and devolution. In business the giants of mid-century are lumbering dinosauers that are trying to repackage themselves in the mold of smaller, more flexible businesses. Economic growth in the private sector comes mainly from starts and innovators rather than from the expansion of gigantic, Ford-style empires. Even the military has moved dramatically to smaller, more flexible, more competent units. Arguably the day of the mass produced, mass conscription army is decisively passed in the developed world, replaced by small, intesively trained, high-tech armies. In the early 1990s the U.S. and its allies went to war with Iraq with half a million soldiers. Today, as the U.S. builds up towards a possible strike against Iraq it is deploying an army that is only a tiny fraction of the one that marched into Kuwait slighly more than a decade ago. In short, the entire world seems to be moving towards smaller, more flexible, more decentralized institutional approaches.

Whatever the reasons, the move on the discussions seems like a good one to me.