Asian Vs. The Tiger Mom
The commenter Political Atheist is on fire this week. Here’s the second E-M comment he’s made this week:
Speaking as a Korean-American who was raised in a high-pressure home environment (though not to the extreme of Tiger Mother, which my mother found much too harsh), there are definitely diminishing returns to the methods described by Chua. Success appears defined in narrow, materialistic terms, and thus the only incentives appear to be either increased wealth or improved status. As Engineer Scotty points out, there seems to be little room to consider the common good, and how best one can serve it. But acquiring wealth and status are different things from finding one’s vocation, of committing oneself to work that one loves or that is rewarding because it helps others. Being under stress to excel academically tends to destroy the joy of learning and make one averse to taking risks or to trying something new. To truly excel at anything, one must learn how to challenge oneself, rather than respond to external pressure or even material incentives. There is a barrier to true and substantive achievement beyond receiving top grades or academic recognition that can only be cleared by the love of one’s work and a sense of duty to one’s discipline. Dangling prizes like money and status is a substitute for true accomplishment, and achievement that is purely directed toward material gain and social status is not likely to be lasting.
If there is anything like a successful culture that can endure over generations, it will always aim at something higher than success – success will not be sought for its own sake but be the byproduct of some more intense and all-consuming mental and spiritual effort. Machiavelli speaks of archers who strike distant targets by aiming beyond them. Weber invokes a similar principle when speaking of the Protestant ethic. The mixture of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control will probably work for a generation or two to make people into affluent and hip consumers, but once people without some form of spiritual commitment become comfortable, there is nothing to stop them from delaying gratification or from trading their sense of superiority for the enjoyments of the permissive culture made possible by liberal values. I think most people know on some level that this is true, but they lack the heart and the stomach to confront this knowledge or to act on it, which is why there is so much hyperventilating over privilege these days in the mainstream media.
In Dante’s Paradiso, the pilgrim learns that the blessed have peace because they don’t envy.