The book starts by talking about how Americans’ blindness to tribalism as a social and anthropological fact has been disastrous for us overseas. She quotes President Woodrow Wilson saying that “America does not consist of groups” — a statement that was bonkers on its face in a time of legal segregation, among other things. But that was the myth that Wilson wanted us to believe, and that many white Americans wanted to believe. Chua doesn’t say this, but it seems to me clear that in the same way that many liberals today conceal their own racism, and racist policies, from themselves by framing their worldview as “inclusive” and “diverse,” many in the ruling white establishment in Wilson’s day (I don’t think “liberal” or “conservative” in the way we understand the terms makes sense applied back then) told themselves that “America does not consist of groups” as a way to conceal from themselves the ugly facts of discrimination against marginalized Americans.
That was the American ideal, though not the American reality. Chua doesn’t use that to slam America as hypocritical, though. She says that this sentiment represents America “at both its best and its worst.” That is, America aspires to be a nation where loyalty to ideals and principles trumps group loyalty — that is America at its best — but is also a nation where the better angels of our nature are so comely that the cause us to overlook our demons.
A friend says:
It’s funny to read this and realize how ignorant Dreher actually is about real world things. I don’t just mean in terms of looking at things through a racial or tribal lens (which once you do it explains a lot more things about the real world including the voting on the Voice) but on factual things, such as not knowing that Chinese dominated commerce in Vietnam and were resented by the Vietnamese or that Chinese dominate almost all the economies of southeast asia and that gives rise to things like the Malaysian “pogroms” against Chinese merchants a few years back. Of course he fails to pick up on the fact that Amy Chua is herself a descendant of the Chinese diaspora (I think her parents were born in Malaysia) and that she is married to a Jew. Both ethnicities are tribal to an extreme. I don’t know if you read Sailer yesterday, but multiculturalism has brought the caste system along with Indian immigrants, where the Dalits or untouchables are facing very real harassment and discrimination from higher caste Indians in the United States.
One of the things about Dreher is that I like him and I think that he is very open and honest about what he writes. I know that Paul Gottfried for one things his thinking is puerile and has no respect for Dreher. The problem with this post is that it triggers in me the insight attributed to the great physicist Murray Gell-Mann (sometimes called the Gell-Mann effect.) Gell-Man was reading the paper one day and realized the person who was writing the science article knew nothing about what he was writing and was wrong on every point. Gell-Man then extrapolated from this that he shouldn’t trust anything he read in the paper, especially the articles about which he knew nothing since he had no way of judging how right or wrong (or true or false) the article was. So since Dreher considers himself a social commentator, to see how badly he misunderstands both immediate historical events (such as the war in Vietnam; my recollection he was very enthusiastic about Ken Burns’ recent documentary) and what drives competing ethnicities, races, groups etc, it makes me question the wisdom and insight on other things, including his pet project the Benedict Option, or his conclusions about the problems facing the church.