Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Amy Chua and the Narcissism of Some Parents

Disclaimer: This is in no way directed at any family member.

I used to be a fan of Amy Chua.  She is the author of World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability and in it she describes how all over the developing world, cultures are marked by an elite ethnic group that controls most of the wealth, coupled by a resentful ethnic majority.  It reminded me of Liberia, where despite being 5% of the population, Americo-Liberians controlled most of the land, leading to the civil war that brought me to the US.  She described the ethnic conflict in my (second or third) favorite country Brazil, where Luso and Italic-Brazilians lord over the black and brown population, and where, if not for a mulatto buffer zone, there would have been intense racial tension.  World on Fire was highly informative and gave me pause to consider if free market democracy is really what this world needs.

Now I can no longer consider myself one of Chua's fans.  Her two most recent books are Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.  The former piece is an exercise in self-congratulation where she essentially asserts that she is a superb mother because she verbally abuses her children and forces them to succeed on her terms, making blanketed statements about Chinese mothers.  The latter piece has even more over-generalization about superior parenting, this time with six ethnic groups, including Jews and Nigerians.

People have children for selfish reasons and then have the unmitigated gall to excoriate the child-free as being the selfish ones.  Having children is typically an example of ego extension, the desire to impose one's values and lifestyle on another individual.  People have children because they want mini-me's.  There is nothing holy or benign about that, and it is rather nefarious, particularly if it doesn't end on the child's 18th birthday.

Chua's parenting style is highly problematic.  She lives vicariously through her children, forcing them to play the piano and violin (whereas I excel at piano because I have the passion for it), probably because she never learned a musical instrument.  She cares deeply what people think of her and is a braggart, even as her own children have mutilated egos.  Most noticeably, she is a conformist. What if her children were gay?  What if they didn't wish to marry?  What if they wanted to be child-free?  What if one of them wanted to convert to Paganism? If she is the typical Chinese mother, then there is no difference between her and every other Chinese mother, no unique quality that differentiates her from other people.  She is just another "keep up with the Joneses", married with 2.5 kids and dog, tennis camp, PTA, Latte drinking sheep. 

As a civil libertarian, I feel that people have a right to ruin their lives.  This doesn't mean I should encourage them to do so; rather, I would let them figure out what path they want to take.  After all, it's better if you ruin your one life than if someone else or some other group of people ruin it.  If you are the sole reason for your failure, you can take full responsibility for your mistakes, which feels much better.   Then you can pick yourself up and keep on trucking as king of the road.