The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The last thing I have to say about Tiger Mothers I hope
Tom Smith

I was going to make this point in another context, but as it is bugging me, I will just make it now.  It connects with my political views, why I am a libertarioid-whig-little R republican (as in Republican Form of Government) classical liberal, whatever you want to call it.  And it is this:

On the one hand, if some parents want to push their children, even to an extent that seems crazy to me, so that they will end up wonderful musicians or inventive scientists, this is much to my advantage.  Who knows, little tiger girl may end up playing Mahler in a new way, and add some new meaning to my life.  I may download that mp3, listen to it on my iPod or whatever we have 25 years from now, and the world will be a little better place. Or some Tiger dad will make his kitten memorize the periodical table at age three and when he grows up he will invent donuts that make one lose weight.  You never know.  It could happen.  These would be good things for the world, maybe not so much for the kid, or maybe it would.  I am happy leaving that one for the psychologists.

But here's the thing.  And here the point has been made easier to make by the curious fact that Tiger Mom is a Yale Law School professor and as Professor Bainbridge has pointed out, it seems almost an epidemic among faculty parents in New Haven.  My fear is that little tiger kittens are not being groomed to make things that you and I can buy if we feel like it.  I'm afraid, call me paranoid if you like, that those little achievers will want to grow up to, well, rule.  Not in the imperial Chinese way, though I take it that is the ultimate inspiration for this model of child rearing.  If my high school understanding of Chinese history is correct, that Empire used to be ruled by a giant bureaucracy into which one got by passing extraordinarily difficult exams, competing against other fanatically hopeful parents who saw it as one of the few ways to get the young persons out of a life of horrible drudgery.  But rather in something more like the imperial Chinese way than my ideal, which is more like Thomas Jefferson's, without the antique and misguided dislike of commerce.  So, if I'm sitting in the middle of my Jeffersonian space, able to order whatever I want, within my budget of course, from Amazon, working at something I like, not taxed to death or harassed by officious officials;  if I can provide for my family and hope to provide a similarly independent life for my offspring, then what's it to me if some mom somewhere wants to drive her children so that someday they will produce a recording or a pill I might want to buy?  Only good.  But if we are sliding toward a world like the one that is, to exaggerate only a little, like that I was taught we should be sliding toward when I restlessly roamed the hallowed halls the The Yale Law School many years ago, then I am not so sanguine.  Then I worry that all this fierce intelligence, all this ambition, all this work are going toward the building of world in which my children will be mere, well, what do you call the people who support those who so intelligently manage things from on top.  Not to mention the unbelievably well educated 35 year old who will tell me someday I didn't score well enough in some algorithm I can't even understand to get my arteries bypassed or my prostate cancer treated.  I want to live in a world, and I want my children to as well, where we are free individuals, and geniuses can sell us stuff if we want to buy it.  When I suspect the little elites of tomorrow are just being made more formidable still, it excites not my admiration as much as my anxiety.

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They're being taught to be infallible.

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 30, 2011 4:02:05 PM

Educated, or Credentialed? Or perhaps educated, but unable to find their backside with both hands.

Posted by: firecapt | Jan 30, 2011 4:19:34 PM

I think you've gotten cause and effect reversed. These consummate middle-class strivers embody, advocate powerfully for, and--at first, at least--cannot but embrace the ethos of a free, democratic and individualistic society, where they can make the most of themselves through their own hard work. The catch is that too often these days, "the most of themselves" means "Ivy Leaguer", which is equivalent to "neo-feudalist aristocrat".

As long as American society foolishly worships and obeys a smug, self-important elite, one can hardly blame individualistic strivers for trying to join it. And learning to mouth its requisite shibboleths is by far the easiest part of the challenge.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Jan 30, 2011 9:52:15 PM

It does not matter how educated 50 or 100 million Chinese become. The astonishing fact about economics is that order generated without design though the compact of liberty--bound only to an abstract system of law--is so powerful that it cannot even be foreseen. The Chinese have a horror of involving themselves with something so unpredictable and uncontrollable as liberty, economic and otherwise--if there is an otherwise. Obama and friends can relate.

Their cards are made in the West, but the deck is Mandarin solitaire, and it can lead no where beyond the cards that are dealt.

Posted by: james wilson | Jan 30, 2011 10:11:54 PM

"They're being taught to be infallible."

Like those geniuses in Goldman Sachs. When they fall, they will be bailed out. Their genius is in making us pay for their mistakes, and they profit from their mistakes.

Posted by: ic | Jan 31, 2011 12:31:57 AM

Yeah, well. As long as my grandkids know how to shoot I'm not overly worried about the Tigers Mom crowd. We outnumber them and our kids will be the ones with the guns. It's our kids who join the Service, after all. Even if the Obama crowd, or the Tiger mommy crowd decide to take over the country, it's our kids in the military. Our kids that actually paid attention to that oath to defend the constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

So, relax. Worry when you see the Obama kids, Malaria and Sushi enter into West Point.

Posted by: Peter | Jan 31, 2011 1:09:52 AM

I don't know what you call this who support "those who so intelligently manage things from on top," but the Chinese have a great word for the managers. Mandarins. And we have plenty of those on the way.

Posted by: Condign | Jan 31, 2011 3:22:07 AM

We've always had elites. Most of the framers were well educated and wealthy. Where they drew the line was in what we call crony capitalism: the same people going from government to business to government to the academy and helping advance each other and their interests along the way. In a nation of 300+ million people, there are lots of talented folks who never get a call because of a relatively closed loop encircling Boston, New York and Washington and their ilk on the west coast.

Those who call attention to the fact that people like Sarah Palin - what school? Idaho State? - really scare the in-crowd are onto something, I think. The idea that the Ivies have an exclusive on accomplishment, understanding and clear thought works only as long as the rest of the nation goes along with it.

Posted by: Perry Fisher | Jan 31, 2011 4:08:51 AM

"all this work are going toward the building of world in which my children will be mere, well, what do you call the people who support those who so intelligently manage things from on top"

I believe that the word you are searching for is "serfs".

Posted by: Joel King | Jan 31, 2011 4:20:15 AM

What you're anxious about Mr. Smith, is that Tiger Moms will be successful.

Posted by: Tom | Jan 31, 2011 4:43:15 AM

"We've always had elites. Most of the framers were well educated and wealthy."

And been glad to have them too--as long as they understand that, in America, being educated and wealthy does not make them rulers.

Posted by: BAP | Jan 31, 2011 4:45:11 AM

I think they're raising kids more likely to fall for Nigerian email scams. Or the future equivalent.

There's only so much you can learn from books.

Posted by: John Davies | Jan 31, 2011 4:45:51 AM

Are we raising a generation without love of others, let alone God? For whom political correctness and the public dole have become a surrogate for charity to fellow man and the Golden Rule? Who equate "success", be it in dollars or friends or webhits or ratings, with being good and having a good life? Where honesty and respect are expected to be received in abundance but miserly given to others? Who are counting on a scientist class to guide their lives and explain the cosmos when they can't even accurately or honestly predict a heatwave, while defaming and intentionally misunderstanding churches and synagogues and those who attend them? Are we raising a generation with not just the power, but also the will to self-destruct its own humanity?

Are we raising that generation, or are we living in it already?

Posted by: TheAbstractor | Jan 31, 2011 5:03:44 AM

...As long as they understand that, in America, being educated and wealthy does not make them rulers.

Yes. One of the interesting aspects of our economic meltdown is that blame goes to greed, Wall Street, regulators, legislators, etc., but when do we hear it suggested that collectively it was the elites running the things that melted down? And we're supposed to have more faith in them now? They're the ones who came up with "to big to fail," aren't they? Kind of self-serving, it seems to me.

Posted by: Perry Fisher | Jan 31, 2011 6:09:06 AM

I thought Tiger's mother was Thai.

Posted by: Mike | Jan 31, 2011 7:30:31 AM

Don't you want competent people managing the USA subject to our collective review? So they might be rulers - it's a lot of work ruling over what are substantially a bunch of ungrateful reprobates.

I think the delusion is that there are no rulers ... there are and should be somehow. Because pure freedom is chaos and chaos is misery.

Posted by: Commentator | Jan 31, 2011 7:47:09 AM

We've always--or at least since the late 1800's had our own Mandarin class. As long as it's small and not too powerful, I suppose it's a good thing--I'm thinking of the Mandarins who ruled foreign policy in the late 40's and early 50's. But they've stumbled and fallen on their faces from time to time; think "The Best and The Brightest" leading us into Viet Nam, and then screwin' the pooch while they were there.

But I think that when the Mandarin class gets too numerous, and too powerful, then we're in for big trouble.

Posted by: Comanche Voter | Jan 31, 2011 7:48:46 AM

"Tiger Moms" may be Chinese parenting gone to extremes, but most western parents seems to let their kids run wild. I'm in a mixed-Asian family and I spent THOUSANDS of hours studying with my son in middle and high school. A 4.0 was expected, but his hobbies were his own choice. He's doing very well now in college (studying Chemical Engineering --I will pass on the 'weight loss donut' idea to him).

His political influences were 'Fountainhead' and 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', so you have nothing to fear from his benign rule in the future.

Libertarians would be wise to target their efforts on pulling more young Asians into their ranks.

Posted by: Sean | Jan 31, 2011 9:29:04 AM

I was once visitng my son at Williams College, and I asked a young woman what she wanted to do when she graduated and she said work for a non-profit - in other words not work in a business that would create jobs and prosperity - scary! That is the brain washing that goes on at the elite colleges.

Posted by: Richard A. Long | Jan 31, 2011 10:59:55 AM

I agree with Sean - libertarians would be wise to encourage these young people into their ranks. They've learned about success through hard work and most likely don't want to 'spread their wealth'.

Posted by: The Musket | Jan 31, 2011 11:17:06 AM

You don't have to worry. I know from experience and conversations with other Chinese-Americans that traditional Chinese parents often present only 3 career options to their kids - doctor, lawyer or engineer. Odds are good that they'll make a good or service you will want to buy.

Posted by: Oscar | Jan 31, 2011 1:45:47 PM

mmm... Mahler... good stuff.

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