February 4, 2015

Mormons as the Parsis, not the Jews, of America

Before I get too far into exploring the return toward the pagan worldview in Mormonism, it's worth providing another concrete example of a religious minority group who are likable people, upright citizens, capable builders and managers of institutions, and honest rather than parasitic in professional work -- and who are nevertheless from an earlier religious orientation than the transcendent monotheism of the world's two major religions, Christianity and Islam.

(It needs to be emphasized that the purpose of this series is not to smugly dismiss Mormonism just because it is in many ways more primitive than Christianity.)

The closest parallel of the Mormons, albeit not their identical twin, seems to be the Parsis of India. They are ethnic Persians who practice Zoroastrianism, a non-Abrahamic religion of ancient Persia.

These earlier posts here and here reviewed the role of the Parsis in their Indian host society, contrasting it sharply with that of the Ashkenazi Jews in the West (and the Han Chinese in Southeast Asia). The upshot of those posts was that there is nothing inherent in being a "market-dominant minority" that leads the host population toward distrust, hatred, and persecution of them. That only happens if the ethnic-cultural minority who specialize in middlemen activities are just looking out for themselves, either personally or as an ethnic group, and acting callously toward individuals in the host society, and toward the host culture as a whole.

If the market-dominant minority acts the opposite way -- giving away much of their wealth to charity, running charity hospitals, and managing industries in an honest and wholesome way -- they are welcomed and favored by the host society.

Thus have the Ashkenazi Jews and Han Chinese been loathed and persecuted wherever they have set up camp, while the Parsis are valued so highly in India that the government is willing to pay to boost their fertility rates -- the exact opposite policy of a pogrom.

A popular but lazy comparison (e.g. by Amy Chua) adds the Latter-day Saints to the list of persecuted market-dominant minorities. But Mormons hardly belong in the same camp as the Jews. They were only persecuted during their cult-like and polygamous initial stages, from the mid-19th century up through the early 20th century.

Since then they have been left alone, and in fact valued as more capable and productive citizens than the American mainstream. They are the fastest-growing religion in America, particularly out West, with no signs of persecution despite their exponentially increasing numbers. Their much higher-than-average birth rates would frighten a society that held them in suspicion, yet the average American doesn't seem to care that Mormons have large nuclear families. One of them was nearly voted President of the United States.

In short, viewing them as followers of an off-beat or weird religion with a shady past has not led the mainstream to loathe or persecute the Mormons. The acceptance and even fondness for their presence and growth seem all but certain for the future. They may be the butt of kindhearted jokes, but not the object of curses as the Jews are. The two groups could not be farther apart, deflating "market-dominant minorities" as an insightful model.

If both the Mormons and the Parsis are a kind of bizarro-Jewish or bizarro-Chinese group, that suggests a deeper affinity between their religions, which are the main component of their cultural identity. (They are only distantly related genetically.) I'll save a comparison of their religions for a follow-up, though, to keep these posts digestible.


  1. Do their share a means of productions?(farmers, nomadic pastoralists, transhumant pastoralists, etc.)

    The Parsis in India are known for being merchants and shipbuilders. not sure what Mormons are known for, or how geography factors does it matter that they settled next to a lake?

  2. Re: Chinese tthey aren't really a middleman minority, but much of their divergence from other East Asians like the Japanese could comes somewhat to the middleman minority selective pressure.

    In Chinese society where the people who filled the roles that Ashkenazi Jews minority and the Slavic majority were filled by the same people. The Chinese had a society structured to reward clever, legalistic landlords (the scholar gentry) and clever peasants who could evade landlords on the other, and they have a long history of the cash economy (buying and selling land). Merchants and artisans had fewer advantages in Chinese society as it was structured.

    This is where the Southern Chinese probably diverge the most from other rice agriculturalists in cooler Japan and hotter Thailand - more pressure to be a money minded, urbane, legalist, often unscrupulous landlord, a la the Jews, and more pressure to be a landlord dodging, authority mistrusting peasant, a la the Slavic peasantry. These aren't exactly "opposite" pressures - the Chinese seem more often in one role or the other compared to other peoples or on the gradient between them.

    Rice agriculture as compared to wheat agriculture seems to favour more collective and shared agricultural works than other forms of agriculture, like irrigation systems, so moves rice agriculturalists more towards public humility and loyalty, of a sort, compared to wheat, barley, etc. agriculturalists and compared to pastoralists.

    Whereas in Japan and Thailand, society would operate more on the currency of honour, and in the case of the Japanese a high degree of craftsmanship and planning would be favoured by cool winters (more clothing, saving, etc.). Compared to the Chinese the Japanese are also technically pretty component and run a good country based on high standards, but don't seem as capable in setting up world financial capitals like Singapore or Hong Kong.

  3. I didn't claim that the Chinese were selected to be middleman minorities a la the Ashkenazim. The ethnic Chinese in non-Chinese Southeast Asia (e.g. in Malaysia) do, however, play a middleman minority role in society. And they are hated about as much as the Jews have been in Slavic history, for apparently the same reasons -- callousness toward the individuals and entire society that hosts them.

  4. Sure, right, they're not really evolved to a middleman minority, what you said was that they filled the social position. My thinking was that they may have had an evolutionary spur towards acting as a financial middleman group as well, due to prevalence in Chinese economic history of cash and financial managers who were relatively divorced from a barter and reputation based economy.

  5. while the Parsis are valued so highly in India that the government is willing to pay to boost their fertility rates -- the exact opposite policy of a pogrom.

    I get what you're saying, but the Indian government also sponsors the Haj.

    The Indian government panders to every minority possible.


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