Controversial author and "tiger mother" Amy Chua thinks she knows what leads to success — and which eight "cultural" groups will achieve it.
In a new book, "The Triple Package," written with fellow Yale law professor and husband Jed Rubenfeld, Chua says Chinese, Jews, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons have the key to success. The three factors that give them the edge, referenced in the book's title, are "a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control."
The two argue that feeling special in some way helps groups succeed, especially if coupled with some insecurity that makes one anxious to prove one's worth.
As for impulse control, writes Jana Riess on a Religion News Service blog, "In the book's least surprising argument, the authors contend that successful groups are the ones that routinely emphasize hard work, thrift and delayed gratification. What successful people have is grit, not high IQ or exceptional self-esteem."
She adds that success is defined primarily in the book as economic.
Chua has said her earlier book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which exposed a brook-no-argument approach to parenting coupled with high expectations of her children, was a memoir, not a how-to-guide. That wasn't how it was largely received, though.
The Guardian's Hermione Hoby explained the back story of "Tiger Mother" this way: "Louisa, or Lulu, her youngest daughter, was in the throes of teenage rebellion and their confrontation reached its peak in a Moscow restaurant where, Chua recounts, her 13-year-old smashed a glass and screamed: "I HATE my life, I HATE you!" at her mother. Chua began writing 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' as you would a diary. It poured out, she has said, and was finished in just two months."
The book became a bestseller, which has rankled critics, as well. In an aside to her column, Hoby noted that "A few days ago the essayist Ayelet Waldman tweeted: "Amy Chua out w/ volume 2 of 'I'll Write Something Insane So You'll Buy My Book and Make Me Rich '"
"The authors argue that, generally speaking, members of these groups regard their culture as exceptional. Accurate or not, group members often believe that their culture’s values, resilience, and/or lineage are special. They believe that they have an obligation to maintain this exceptionalism, and that failure discredits the group," explains Jennifer C. Braceras in a Boston Herald op-ed.
Chua's critics have been swift to criticize the ideas in the new book.
“One of the worst things a parent can tell a child is that he or she should automatically expect to be the best — and, yet, this is something many Asian children are told. Its impact is far-reaching; at best, a superiority complex prevents students from working hard. At worst, it prevents them seeing what's great in other people - a tragedy far worse than a low IQ,” writes Kelly Yang for the South China Morning Post.
Yang founded an after-school program for children in Hong Kong and is a Harvard Law School graduate.
She continues: “That's because success today is no longer defined by who has the best grades. Rather, it's about doing well after school. The most successful people I know did not get where they are by acting superior. They got there by working well with others, communicating effectively and being liked . The only thing I agree with Chua on is self-control. This absolutely governs success. Yet, self-control is not only lacking in children; many adults struggle with it, simply because it is so hard to resist temptation — the temptation to perhaps write an incendiary, racist, yet no doubt lucrative, book."
Some have charged the book and its authors as more racist than real. For example, Time's Suketu Mehta notes that, "Recently, though, the language of racism in America has changed, though the plot remains the same. It's not about skin color any more — it's about 'cultural traits.' And it comes cloaked in a whole lot of social-science babble. The new racialists are too smart to denigrate particular cultures. Instead, they come at things the other way. They praise certain cultures, hold them up as exemplary. The implication — sometimes overt, sometimes only winked at — is that other cultures are inferior and this accounts for their inability to succeed."
The authors have supporters, along with detractors. Euny Hong of Quartz, for example, says flatly that Chua and her assertions are not racist, as many others charge.
"If you bother to read the book through to the end," Hong writes, "it states clearly and at length that the traits that augur success start to dissipate as the younger generations become assimilated into mainstream American culture. 'The Triple Package,' the book argues, 'is worth aspiring to precisely to break out of it.' Like, for example, a set of braces or the Committee to Re-elect the President, the Triple Package’s potency lies in its ability to obsolesce when it is no longer needed.
"If the authors are saying that these traits disappear via assimilation, then obviously they talking about cultural traits, not about racial traits." Hong continues. "Can Chua and Rubenfeld reasonably be accused of racism? No. Cultural exceptionalism? Definitely."
Braceras notes that "although critics argue that 'Triple Package' relies too heavily on anecdotal evidence, they, ironically, attempt to prove the authors wrong with a silly anecdote of their own: the African-American Barack Obama defeating the Mormon Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. (Apparently, these critics fail to understand, as Chua and Rubenfeld do, that Romney’s financial and occupational successes support, rather than detract from, the 'triple package' theory).
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