Amy Chua, who made headlines stomping her foot on the throats of inferior mothers everywhere with 2011’s Hymn of the Tiger Mother, will be releasing her new book the first Tuesday in February. Entitled The Triple Package, Chua’s latest looks to explain why some American cultures are superior to others.
And when she says “culture,” of course, she kind of means “race.”
According to the Chinese-American Chua and her Jewish husband/co-author Jed Rubenfeld, those culture groups most deserving praise include Chinese-Americans and Jews (what were the odds?), as well as Iranians, Lebanese, Cubans, Indians, Nigerians and Mormons. Chua and Rubenfeld’s theory of cultural success apparently dictates that the key drivers to racial/cultural preeminence are a superiority complex, mixed with enough insecurity so as not to get a swollen head, and a good dose of impulse control. (And, I have to assume, moxie.) The book is still a month away from release, but you should probably expect to hear a lot about it in the weeks to come. It promises to be the totally manufactured outrageous controversy of early 2014.
I have to say, I think I am really going to enjoy this one. There will be a lot I will be paying attention to once more is known about the book, such as:
The Nigerians. Everything in my gut tells me that the book will have a very weak case for including this particular group, and that it will be pretty transparent that they are only being included as a kind of semi-reluctant anthropological “some of my best friends” racism-deflection card. (The Triple Package promises to be one of those pseudo-deep, anecdotal, pop-sociological treatises, so I’m making a side bet right here and now that both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon somehow figure into the Nigerians-But-Not-Any-Other-Black-People argument.) But maybe I’m just behind the times, and Nigerians have suddenly replaced stealth-Kenyans as the African-Americans most likely to usurp white civilization. I can’t wait to find out.
Non-Nigerian African Americans. Like most books that tell Americans which races are superior, I’m fully expecting a complete white-washing (or at least profound ignorance) of America’s special history with blacks. Everyone who writes such missives is different, though, and I am curious to see exactly how Chua and Rubenfeld choose to let African-Americans know from up high that they are so inferior as a people.
The Social-Conservatives. Just about every social conservative that speaks up on race does so using the same language that Chua and Rubenfeld have chosen: “It’s not about race, it’s about culture.” “Some races just have better impulse control that others.” “If you reward a culture for being lazy, you should expect them to be grow to be lazy.” In the populist so-con world, however, these phrases are meant to act as a balm for those whites who still want to think of themselves on top — and outside of Mormons, whites are pretty noticeably absent from The Triple Package’s list of worthy races.
It will be fascinating, therefore, to see exactly how the talk-radio and Fox-News set react to the book. Will they denounce it on the very same grounds their own “superior-culture/race” drivel has been denounced? Will they sadly agree with Chua’s assessment, and lament that Obama has finally succeeded in destroying the white race he so virulently hates? Or — and this is my personal guess — will they hear the basic thesis of the book, that some cultures/races are superior to others, but never bother to read or research it and staunchly defend it as they incorrectly assume that they are part of its chosen peoples?
The “Racial Realism” Crowd. Basically, for the same reasons as the social conservatives, but infinitely more so. Sure, they’ve always argued that the white race is being watered down into oblivion, but to have it now pointed now that they’ve already lost the war? Worse, to have it pointed out by a mixed-race couple sporting an Asian and a Jew? I expect the reaction in this quarter to be kind of hilarious.
As for myself, I’ll wait until the book is released before passing full judgment, but my initial thought after having read the publisher’s PR is this:
It’s hard to argue that Chua and Rubenfeld’s mantra of being committed and confident — while having an honest awareness of your weaknesses — isn’t a pretty damn good recipe for success in any endeavor. In fact, I have to say that it’s pretty much the formula we’ve tried to instill in our own boys their whole lives. When you think about it, really, it’s not much different from other “scientific reasons” given in the past about the disparity of wealth amongst different races/cultures: degree of intelligence, level of industriousness, innate ability to solve complex problems, etc. Where I expect Chua and Rubenfeld to slip up is where all that have come before have slipped up: selective reasoning.
Take sports, that ubiquitous cultural arena we like to falsely tell ourselves is all about results and nothing but. For generations, it was simply a fact that African Americans didn’t have the discipline to excel at a skilled sport like baseball — or golf, or tennis. For most of the lifespan of American football, it was a well known fact that only one race could handle the quick-thinking mental demands of being a quarterback. And then there was that well known “truth” that any review of pro and college coaching personnel proved — that people with one color of skin were inherently better leaders than people with other colors of skin. These were all obvious sociological facts at one point. Attitudes about all of these have shifted due to the weight of evidence (once evidence was allowed), of course. Aside from the bit about baseball, every example I just gave is from my own adult lifetime, so we’re not exactly talking ancient history here. But even when that evidence wins the day, it never really matters. Those seeking to make the new culture/race predeterminations of today have already forgotten that the ones they made yesterday crumbled like sand between their fingers. They learned nothing (they always learn nothing) and their exposed ignorance inspired them to do little but find yet another corridor through which to force the belief that human beings outside of one’s tribe are somehow sub-standard.
From where I sit, Chua and Rubenfeld are doing exactly what successful groups have done since time immemorial: declare that their success must surely have been divinely ordained. From everything I have read about Chua, she seems a driven woman — and I believe this to be a good thing. But it’s important to be aware that the universe doesn’t exist to prove you right, unless you set up your vision of it to do so. The eddies and currents of a society of hundreds of millions flows and breaks on an almost infinite number variables, most of which we never even see. To justify your own personal ascendency on some formulaic destiny is as seductive as it is folly.
It’s also dangerous.
To preach personal confidence, commitment and strategy is a good thing; doing so leads to good places. To declare one race or culture inherently inferior, however, usually carries in its maw what might be described as “unfortunate consequences.” Rubenfeld, a Jew, and Chua, whose own parents were surely old enough to remember the Cultural Revolution even if she is not, should know this as well as anyone. That each of them can look at their tribes path and deduce that history’s lesson isn’t that one shouldn’t declare some groups of differing ethnicity worthy and others lacking, but rather that their tribes should have been the ones making such declarations in the first place is depressing indeed.
Of course, by mid-February the entire controversy will have run its cable-news course, and people will forget about Chua, Judger of Cultures and Races as quickly as they did Chua, Damner of All Mothers Save Chua. We will be back to where we were a week ago, which is to say bored and longing for a new outrage to prattle on about. And shortly thereafter, I have to assume, Amy Chua will go back to the drawing board in search of an even more inflammatory book concept for 2015.
But these next three weeks?
Yeah, I admit it. I’m going to enjoy them.