Wednesday, April 20, 2011

illuminating!

So apparently, the daughter of Amy Chua, of "Tiger Mother" fame, has a blog. Interestingly, it seems to work as evidence against Chua's point. A big part of that whole idea, after all, is bound up in the continued mythology about individual outcomes being the product of individual inputs. In other words, pushing her daughters so hard and advocating others do the same is bound up in the hoary old philosophy that one's life is the product of one's smarts, hard work, and talent. The question of whether one determines the outcome of his or her own life, I will insist, is empirical, and further I think that sophisticated enough scholarship could eventually determine the degree to which this is true with great quantitative accuracy. There is great deal of very interesting scholarship being produced considering various Matthew Effects, such as Pygmalion effects, and the degree to which they contribute to our usual metrics for success. Personally, I don't think the idea that you largely determine the outcome of your life bears empirical scrutiny even now, and I think continuing research will demonstrate the idea as the pleasing, quasi-religious fantasy that it is with great analytical sophistication.

But in the meantime, consider Chua's daughter. By the usual metrics of bloggy success-- how many people read her-- she is quite successful, with dozens of comments for each post and 200 followers on Blogger. Could anyone, though, argue that this success is the product of hard work, initiative, practice, and the general instrumentalization of human life that attitudes like the Tiger Mother advocate? Obviously not; even independent of a consideration of the quality or value-added of her work, blogs with four posts don't tend to have large readerships. The interest in her blog stems from the particular celebrity of her mother, a situation that has nothing whatsoever to do with her ability, drive, talent, or intelligence. As this post from Double X suggests, I'm sure Chua-Rubenfeld could get a book deal today if she wanted to. The question is how her mother could possibly assimilate that fact given the dictates of her parenting philosophy.

Not that she couldn't maintain her belief in self-determination; I'm just not sure how she would go about explaining it. What always strikes me is the persistence of this belief in the face of overwhelming personal evidence that undercuts it. Regardless of the empirical undermining of this traditional mindset, I'm sure it will endure. It's too baked into our foundational ideology.

5 comments:

Liam said...

Like Vonnegut wrote:

I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.

Freddie said...

Perhaps I should say that I am largely of the opinion that there's little choice but to act as if we have greater control over our own lives.

Liz said...

Self-determination is all about degrees ... I think one can simultaneously believe in it and know that on other levels its complete crap ...

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

You seem pretty optimistic that the idea of self-determination being the sole factor deciding success will be disproven one day Freddie and, although I hope you're right, I have a hard time believing Americans would ever consider that much less believe it.

The Horatio Algiers view that in the U.S. anyone can be successful if they work hard is seems just too deeply ingrained in this society and even though research can debunk that belief (and will likely make a stronger case against it in the near future) I just have a hard time believing Americans will want to listen.