Monday, April 25, 2011

Amy Chua And Book VIII

Phoebe writes:
Chua's contribution, "Chua" defined as an amalgam of the phenomenon as understood by those who did and did not read the whole thing, was to say a) that it's OK to want certified-wonderful offspring, and b) that amorphous, milieu-propelled, 'privilege' alone is not enough to get them there. Oh, and c) that, absent the kind of obstacles that the kids we generally think of as less privileged (more specifically, children of immigrant families) experience, young people have no drive to succeed, so if you want your privileged kids to stay that way, you have to create an artificial atmosphere of absence-of-privilege. Not just stuff like, no designer handbags in 8th grade, but more like, if you get a B, you will starve to death in the gutter. Basically, Chua's innovation was rethinking the concept of privilege, both in terms of declaring it acceptable to perpetuate hard-won high-status, and in terms of pointing out that we-as-a-society overestimate the extent to which simply having educated and well-off parents guarantees class maintenance across generations. To put it another way, aka to repeat myself, we're used to thinking of social mobility in terms of its inadequacy as a way of propelling people upward; she's reminding us that it functions decently well in propelling some downward.

FLG immediately thought of Book VIII of Plato's Republic; wherein Plato describes how regimes regress, but, as regular readers know, FLG believes is actually more about the soul and so more about raising children. Aristocracy (rule of the best) becomes Timocracy (rule of the honor-loving) becomes Oligopoly (rule of the wealth-loving) becomes Democracy (rule of the freedom-loving) becomes Tyranny (rule by one, or rule of the self-loving).

The Aristocrat can't fully pass on the full conception of The Good. Instead, his son focuses solely on honor and becomes a Timocrat. The Timocrat is, in turn, unable to pass on the full conception of honor to his son, and raises an Oligarch, who believes the status from wealth to be superior to honor. In an Oligarchy, "the young men of the governing class, are habituated to lead a life of luxury and idleness both of body and mind; they do nothing, and are incapable of resisting either pleasure or pain." Thus, they become Democrats. The Democrat's son, raised on the wine of freedom, pursuing his appetites without regard, becomes the Tyrant.

What's FLG's point here? Well, the way in which Phoebe is describing Chua's parenting, and as FLG understands it as well, is somewhat like being an Oligrach trying to prevent his children from becoming a Democrat. Instead of a life of luxury and idleness, Chua is creating an artificial micro-polis of intense necessity to pass on the virtues of Oligarchy amidst a Democracy. And FLG means Democracy in the Ancient meaning, more negative connotation.


Withywindle said...

I like that reading.

Anonymous said...

Amy Chua strikes me as the type of woman who when she decided it was the right time in her life to get up the spout - took her temperature to see if she was ovulating- and when she was, called her husband into the bedroom.

Just no sense of the fun or magical about life.

Have you heard about this?

Mrs. P

George Pal said...

From Bryan Caplan’s nature vs. nurture book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think, page 3:

“A second child always undermines parents' belief in their power to mold their children, but child-rearing books hush this up because their market is first-time parents.”

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