Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Here are two book reviews posted on the Internet by people other than me. They review a newish book that has gone on my wish list for Christmas:

The Book of Mammon: A Book About A Book About The Corporation That Owns The Mormons
by Daymon M Smith


So, the book is an accidental satire? Sort of. It poses practical and metaphysical conundrums, meditates on the moral dilemmas avoided, embraced, and stumbled upon, when God and Mammon are made to synergize. A compelling, light-hearted but serious memoir, fictional ethnography, and, yes, even apocalypse, this book crosses genres, fact, fancy, and everything between.

With this key it opens the doors to Mormon corporate offices, the most secret of spaces, and invites you inside. Come. See the author "work" as a media evaluator with the Mormon Church's corporate arm. At the Church Office Building (it's actual name) spiritual ambitions speak through quarterly evaluations, mission statements, digital personas, and website designs. Look! There is no conspiracy, although as at any office, there's lots of unintentionally humorous, fatuous banality. Here employees chant "cultural beliefs" composed by Human Resources and test whether a new DVD hits your "spiritual hot buttons." See us market food storage to religious consumers. Read a stack of documents never before published which declare and depict the "best practices" of the corporation, from smuggling underwear into banana republics to marketing strategies for the Book of Mormon. The author, a cultural anthropologist, provides insight into a place where men argue about DVD scripts and the color of book bindings, while children starve. Woven through his constant surprise at encountering religion fed through the pomposities of corporate-speak, you'll find revelations of the financial "waste" and this-world investment strategies of this wealthiest of religions. And understand the internal power struggles and culture of the same. See corporatized religion battle spirituality, art, welfare and people. Come with me and have a look around. (This text refers to the New Faith-Promoting Book of Mammon.)


I just added a new book to my wish list: The Book of Mammon by Daymon Smith, an LDS anthropologist. Smith recounts his experiences working at the Church Office Building where religious concerns are uncomfortably wedded to corporate ones. As a Mormon, he is concerned that his church is increasingly led more by profit (mammon) than a prophet.

The Book of Mammon reads like an entertaining and informative exposé of the LDS Church’s corporate practices, from the banal to the unusual. It has been receiving rave reviews. C. L. Hanson over at Letters from a broad wrote a review of the book that has further piqued my interest. Informed by the book, she points out an insightful irony:

According to Daymon’s tale, working at the COB has all of the crazy office politics you’d expect at an ordinary fortune-500 corporation. There’s a big difference, though, and it’s not just the church devotionals on company time or opening meetings with prayer. The problem is that they have absolutely no motivation to figure out whether their products are useful to their consumers. Mormons pay 10% of their income per year to the corporation (in order to be eligible for the saving ordinances in the temple), and the corporation gives back manuals, magazines, films, scriptures, garments, etc. — but the direct market feedback that comes from consumers selecting the goods they purchase is completely cut off.

As I’ve said before the private sector and the public sector each have their strengths and weaknesses. In economics, it’s not a question of choosing which one is “right” and which one is “wrong” — it’s a question of optimizing your strategy by using the best of both. The COB has the worst of both because it has the advantages of neither: there’s no market incentive to produce good products, and there’s no public oversight either.

(The biggest irony is how ferociously right-wing the Mormons are, yet they give so much money to a corporation that functions just like the very worst stereotypes of the Soviet government economic system.)

No comments: