Tiger Mum's new book raises hackles

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 11, 2014

SHE'S back and her claws are out.

Author Amy Chua, more commonly known as the Tiger Mum, who shot to fame after penning the Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, is back with another controversial offering - The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain The Rise And Fall Of Cultural Groups In America.

Ms Chua's first book centred on overly demanding parenting strategies she used to mould her children into successful adults - she called her children insulting names such as "garbage" and rejected their sub-standard birthday cards. This second book identifies three qualities as the drivers of success among certain cultural groups in the United States.

Ms Chua, together with her co-author husband Jed Rubenfeld, in essence claim that some cultures - not races or ethnicities - are just superior.

The groups they choose to single out are: Indians, Chinese, Jews, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons. Ms Chua is Chinese American, while Mr Rubenfeld is Jewish American.

"It's a series of shock-arguments wrapped in self-help tropes, and it's meant to do what racist arguments do: scare people," said an early review by the New York Post.

The review also says the book, which will be released next month, has so much "dubious data... that they undermine every assertion of so-called 'cultural' supremacy".

The authors, both Yale University law professors, claim the three traits that have led to the rise of some cultural groups are: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.

The authors suggest that "all of America's most successful groups believe (even if they don't say so aloud) that they're exceptional, chosen, superior in some way". At the same time, however, these groups also tend to feel insecure and therefore have an impetus to prove themselves.

Then there is the point on impulse control which the authors refer to as "the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task".

These theories - valid or not - are causing a stir in the Twittersphere.

Some have called Ms Chua "an intellectual embarrassment to Yale", while others have accused her of being a "full blown eugenics-pushing racist".

However, there does seem to be some hope for those not part of the eight elite groups.

The write-up of the book says, in self-help fashion, that "The Triple Package is open to anyone" and that "America itself was once a Triple Package culture. It's been losing that edge for a long time now".

Can the US be a Triple Package nation again?

Eschewing a simple yes or no, the authors conclude that the real promise of a Triple Package America is "the promise of a day when there are no longer any successful groups in the United States - only successful individuals".

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 11, 2014

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