It’s like the answer to a question nobody asked: which “cultural groups” are best positioned to thrive in modern society? Well, if you live in America, the answer is apparently Chinese, Jews, Nigerians, Lebanese, Indians, Iranians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons—at least according to notorious “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua and husband Jed Rubenfield. Do you not count yourself among the ranks of the chosen? Well, don’t despair; someone has to rear the next generation of fry cooks.
Chua and Rubenfield make the case for their elite eight in a new book entitled The Triple Package that is currently being greeted with the sort of critical reaction that a new and revised printing of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf might receive. According to early reviews, the husband and wife co-authors combine the worst instincts of Malcolm Gladwell, with specious reasoning, pseudoscience, and anecdotal arguments. The net result is a book that emerges with the unpleasant whiff of eugenics wafting up from its pages.
Just what are the elements that compose the “Triple Package” that the earlier mentioned groups supposedly possess? Well, the magic ingredients are supposedly:
• A superiority complex
• Insecurity (aka an inferiority complex—dig the seeming paradox!)
• Impulse control
(Were you brushing Cheeto crumbs off your shirt when you read that last bullet? If so, you can forget about ever achieving anything meaningful in your life.)
You might remember Chua from 2011 when an earlier book of hers, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, became a sensation. In it, Chua criticized the lax methods of “western” parenting and touted her own harsh and uncompromising approach. Some of the highlights (lowlights?) included explanations of why she wouldn’t let her daughters participate in sleepovers and an anecdote about a time when she threatened to give away a cherished toy if her daughter couldn’t learn to play a piano piece to her satisfaction.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother turned Chua into a lightning rod, attracting praise from some quarters and vituperation from others. Along the way, the book also moved a ton of copies, so it seems here that Chua, Rubenfield and publisher Penguin are hoping that lightning will strike twice.
Hopefully, they won’t be so lucky. Whatever one thinks of Chua as a person, the first-person viewpoint she presented in Battle Hymn was undeniably interesting. She portrayed herself in a way that rendered herself unlikeable to many readers, and while that was in many ways a knowing choice, it was still a bold one. And while her overarching conclusions were dubious, the contentions she raised were worth discussing, and the debate she provoked was worth having.
In contrast, The Triple Package is lazy fear-mongering garbage that belongs on the same shelf as Glenn Beck’s dystopian novels. It’s at once calculated to offend, while at the same time it contorts itself to ensure that its carefully selected list of superior groups includes representatives from almost all races and major religions. Relying on generalizations and cherry-picking, the three legs of The Triple Package tripod are monolithic thinking at its finest and most useless, and they end up supporting nothing more than a fairy tale—and if history is to be our guide, a dangerous one at that.
At this point though, I have to believe that Chua and Rubenfield are just deliberately trolling their fellow Americans. I can laugh at their antics, but many others won’t. The more serious debunking is already underway; Maureen Callahan at The New York Post has done a good initial takedown and I’m sure there will be many more to come.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I will take my leave. I have an unhappy toddler who has a date with the piano to practice his melodic minor scales, whether he likes it or not.