Why Parsis Love Classical Music And Why They Are Becoming “Extinct”

Parsi-Work-sareesMy father teaches Rohinton Mistry’s “White Hairs And Cricket” in college. Though I had heard from the people familiar with Indian English literature that Rohinton Mistry is the best Indian novelist, I have never really read him. Yesterday, I noticed that Rohinton Mistry is a Parsi, and remembered what Aakar Patel says about them:

“Parsis have civilization; other Indians don’t. Parsis have civilization, but not culture. They cannot speak old Persian and their Avesta they cannot read. For language, they lean on Gujarati, for music they lean on Brahms. Their beautiful women wear saris. Parsis cannot even speak their own first names. The real Parsi surrender came in Bombay when they submitted to the individualism of Enlightened Europe. We hate sweeping statements about Indians, and generalizations about India. The problem is that everywhere in India the same evidence keeps slapping us in the face. We’ve become good at looking away.” 

I am reading about Parsis, a community about which I know close to nothing about. But, let us assume that the Parsis have high IQs. What could have happened? Intelligent people are likely to do evolutionarily novel things. So, they are not likely to cling too much to their own traditions and customs. Intelligent people are also more likely to enjoy classical music because purely instrumental music is an evolutionary novelty. Parsis love western classical music. Intelligent people are also more likely to be individualistic because individualism is an evolutionary novel concept too. The savage was governed by his tribe.

Now, observe. Their population is dwindling. From Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters:

“Demographics show we’ll be extinct in fifty years. Maybe it’s the best thing. What’s the use of having spineless weaklings walking around, Parsi in name only. Extinct, like dinosaurs. They’ll have to study our bones, that’s all.“If, if, if,” said Dr. Fitter. “If we are meant to die out, nothing will save us. “Yes,” said Inspector Masalavala. “But it will be a loss to the whole world. When a culture vanishes, humanity is the loser.”

But, still Parsis live longer than ordinary Indians. This is not surprising. Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. Intelligent people live longer than normal humans. So, what could have happened? Though the Parsis live long lives, the incidence of genetic abnormalities is high. Some researchers inferred that genetic abnormalities and high IQ are correlated because this is true of the Ashkenazi Jews too. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) But, I am surprised that all of them missed a very obvious explanation. The Parsis marry late, or not marry at all, and this was true even in the late 19th century. Their fertility rate is lower than Japan’s.

“Zubin Shroff, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been working on a new demographic study of the Parsis for the past two years, and using data from 2001-06 he has observed a TFR of 0.88. I recall him telling me that, when he disclosed this figure to a professor of demography at Harvard, she had a look of complete horror on her face. To provide some context, let us look at what the TFR is like amongst general populations in some countries. According to a United Nations report published in 2006, TFR between 2000 and 2005 was, for each country?s total population, 3.11 for India, 2.04 for the United States, and 1.29 for Japan. In other words, indicators for the Parsis of India are well below that of Japan, a country where the government has thrown a significant portion of its resources into reversing its population decline and educating its population about how, precisely, its population has fallen.”

But, why? High IQ people marry late or not marry at all. Marrying late or not marrying at all, or being childless is evolutionary novel. So, children born when parents are older might have genetic abnormalities even if the parents are smart.

Satoshi Kanazawa observes in The Intelligence Paradox:

Marriage and parenting are among the very few exceptions to this pattern in a comprehensive review of American life. In fact, “very bright” individuals are the least likely to marry of all the cognitive classes. Only 67% of these “very bright” white Americans marry before the age of 30, whereas between 72% and 81% of those in other cognitive classes marry before 30.  The mean age of first marriage among the “very bright” whites is 25.4, whereas it is 21.3 among the “very dull” individuals and 21.5 among the “dull” individuals. The more intelligent you are, the later you marry. The pattern is similar in parenting. For example, general intelligence does not confer advantages in giving birth to healthy babies. For example, 5% of white babies born to “very bright” mothers suffer from low birth weight, compared to 1.6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 3.2% of those born to “normal” mothers. Only babies born to “dull” mothers (7.2%) and “very dull” mothers (5.7%) fare worse. The lack of IQ advantage continues later in the childhood. “Very bright” mothers are more likely to have children who are behind in motor and social development or have the worst behavioral problems. Specifically, 10% of children born to “very bright” white mothers are in the bottom 10% of the motor and social development index, compared to 5% of those born to bright” mothers and 6% of those born to “normal” mothers. Similarly, 11% of children born to “very bright” mothers find themselves in the bottom 10% of the behavioral problems index, compared to 6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 10% of those born to “normal” mothers.  It is important to note that the problems suffered by children born to “very bright” mothers are not just social and behavioral—for which there might be varying and changing cultural definitions of what constitutes “normal”—but are also physical, such as birth weight and motor development, for which the criteria of normal development are objective and invariant.”

But, this isn’t because high IQ and genetic abnormalities go together, but because high IQ people are more likely to be evolutionarily weird.

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