Friday, March 11, 2011

Amy Chua's Tiger Mothering:

I'm a little late to the discussion. Tiger Parenting, seems to me, something that can shape successful, productive people, but that uses emotionally abusive means to get there. And this in turn leads to either unconscious or conscious hatred towards parents.

I'm interested this issue, in part, because of its geopolitical implications. China and other Asian nations have quite effectively adopted market oriented reforms. However, contrary to the notion that it's democracy and capitalism that always go hand in hand, capitalism in the Asian world seems to work with a more authoritarian style politics. Likewise "democracy" has worked with socialism. It could be that authoritarianism actually produces a more effective use of capitalism and markets precisely because it is less "me me me," "rights oriented" than democracy.

But whatever the utility of authoritarianism, I prefer democracy because it's less mean spirited.

I recently discussed, personally, the issue of Tiger Parenting with a Chinese Immigrant who got the real deal in China. His mother beat him and made him stand in the same place for a number of hours because he didn't do well on a test. He told me he still bears the emotional scars from that incident and remembered thinking how much he hated his mother and wished she weren't his mother at that moment.

I know Amy Chua never, as far as we know, beat her children and her children seem to speak very highly of her, just as she speaks very highly of her parents who "tiger parented" her. However, it's also possible that some kind of Stockholm Syndrome might be in effect.

To use a bit of a reductio ad absurdum example, the Westboro Baptist Church are examples of extreme Tiger Parenting. What strikes us about them is not their craziness. We can observe folks, borderline homeless, selling pencils from a tin cup (as Christopher Hitchens once put it) carrying signs in every major city, as crazy as the Phelpses. No. It's that they are so effective at what they do. That they are very intelligent, productive lawyers who know the Bible as well as any of their Christian critics.

Fred Phelps was an extremely successful law student and attorney for the state of Kansas, helping to desegregate the public schools there. His kids are likewise successful attorneys (many of whom work for the state of Kansas prison system). And Margie Phelps did an outstanding job arguing their case in front of the Supreme Court. If you can do a good job at Supreme Court oral advocacy, that's a marketable skill that can make you millions in private sector litigation (though I doubt any private law firm would ever hire her).

So how did he produce these "Fred Phelps" like clones who speak and think very highly of him? Through emotional and physical abuse (as the Bible says, spare the rod, spoil the child). I see this as a form of Stockholm Syndrome, like a hypnotic spell that people are under.

Something else I've noticed that's hypnotic about parent-child relationships is parents tend to see their adult children as their babies. I know a friend of mine, about 60, says when he sees his now 20 something nephew, he still sees that little boy he helped raise. And that can be sweet at times. But God forbid Amy Chua sees her twenty something adult daughters and goes into Tiger Parenting mode.

Parents pretty much own their kids until they are 18 and as long as they don't physically abuse or neglect them, I think parents should get a pass from their emotional imperfections they subject their children to. It's called forgiveness. But once a child reaches his or her early 20s, 25 at max, parents have no business, as I see it, ordering their children around and using emotional pressure in their interpersonal relationships. (I would suggest parents NEVER use emotional pressure on their children, never be impatient with them, never express their anger on them, but rather parent with a patient, peaceful strength that is strong as steel; but that is much easier said than done and a topic of discussion for another day.) No at that point, the child is their equal and parents MUST resist the urge to treat them as anything but, else they do the wrong thing and persist a dysfunctional relationship.

Alas, middle class America, the whole world even, is awash in such dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. Psychiatrists call this a "disorder." And the problem I have with psychiatrists is they cast the "disordered" as "the other," when in reality, it's arguably everyone, (including them!) to some extent (the most extreme suffers of what everyone suffers from get labeled neurotic or psychotic). But that everyone does it is no excuse. It's like original sin. "Everyone does it" doesn't make everyone innocent. No, everyone is guilty.

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