Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Written: July 12, 2015

A few years ago, this book came out, and it caused a big stir. Most people never read the book, so I figured, I might as well read the entire book before passing judgment. Truth is, the author has some good points but mostly bad points. She confuses things frequently and her thoughts are superficial and constrained with a very narrow, closed-minded perspective. And this is the result of rote memorization and obedient and submissive thinking. First off, if any parent is willing to spend hours alongside their kids coaching and teaching them, those kids will excel. Is it the coaching and teaching technique or the simple fact that the parent is there providing quality time? I think it’s more the latter. I have to fully disclose at this point that I am the son of Asian parents who were as stereotypical as you get. I’ve thought about this a lot, and it is my conviction that it is no coincidence that all Japanese, Korean, and Chinese parents are almost identical with regard to raising their kids. (It is not all Asians. Vietnamese and Cambodian parents are different.) These three Asian nations all realized that Europe and America were both economically and militarily greater than they were, and they feared European or American colonization or imperialism. Their leaders made a conscious, methodical effort to coerce every parent to raise their children the same way, in a highly disciplinarian, structured, academic manner embracing European and American ways, for example classical Western music. They adopted the Industrial Age mentality of Europe and America at the time which focused on strict hierarchy and complete obedience and subordination. It may already have been easy for these three nations to adopt, because they already followed Confucian ways of parental obedience, strict hierarchies, and meritocracy. But a big part of what makes Asians successful is how much their parents dedicate time and effort into their children which would make any kid successful. What makes Asians successful in the Industrial Age (all three nations excelled in industry) is that they accepted the culture of the Industrial Age, namely obedience, submissiveness, and hierarchy. But is life about drilling your kids all day long to be obedient masters of a skill? The good thing about this book is that the author is relatively honest and winds up portraying herself as a crazy, often cruel, verbally abusive monster. Yes Northeast Asians have exceled and now compete evenly with Europe, but the costs are tremendous too. Countless Asians have no idea how to enjoy life and be happy. There are also the countless ones who cracked, who failed, and now believe their lives are irredeemable and that they are losers. Basically, if you want to pull your nation out of the Third World and compete with the best nations on Earth, it will cost you. Your citizens will have to study hard as kids and work hard as adults. Most will succumb to psychological disorders and many will have mental and psychological break downs.

The author ridicules western parenting and culture, but what she fails to realize in her narrow telescope is that the great inventions of the Information Age are not coming from Asia but Silicon Valley and mostly the western world. The reason is rather simple. While the west may have embraced the Industrial Age culture of obedience and hierarchy, it also maintained a subculture of rebellion, self-expression, creativity, autonomy, and independence which is now thriving. What the author considers self-indulgent and fragility, the west would consider vast sources of creativity and innovation. Certainly, a neglectful parent will have a scatter-brained child that cannot succeed in anything because they lack any self-discipline. Certainly a neglectful parent who demands straight-A’s may have a kid who initially gets straight-A’s but eventually fails. But an attentive parent who encourages her child to be creative will create a brilliantly creative successful child just as an attentive parent who encourages her child to be obedient and narrow-minded. But let us also consider another matter, happiness. In my last review, How to Win Friends and Influence People, I believe the greatest source of our happiness is our social lives, the fulfillment of social goals and avoidance or overcoming of social threats like humiliation and isolation. I honestly don’t believe any successful person can be happy unless they have strong social connections and highly value their relationships. The Asian Industrial Age model has almost zero interest in your social life and in fact parents constantly tell kids that their social lives are virtually meaningless and if anything, a detriment to their future success. This is perhaps the cruelest thing they could ever do. No matter how “successful” their kids become, whether they graduated from an Ivy League School and received the Nobel Prize (even when Murray Gell-Mann won the Nobel Prize, he was never truly happy in life), it all is for naught if they are not happy and do not have strong social connections. Your kid is not strong if he is willing to sacrifice everything, including happiness, for some meaningless medal or piece of paper that says he graduated from Harvard. He is actually weak, more prone to mental breakdowns, depression, anxiety, and moral crises.

My parents were both neglectful AND demanded high academic standards, which I guess was a good thing, because I didn’t wind up a “successful” automaton incapable of a single creative, independent idea. Fortunately, I found parental surrogates, role-models, and mentors to guide me through life and eventually toward the realization that the most important thing is our social connections. Certainly, her two daughters will appreciate the time their mother spent with them, albeit focused entirely on their “success” and talents instead of their happiness. In some cases, it is better than a neglectful parent, but ultimately, will these kids become happy or just “successful” automatons? As cruel and odd the author seems, her candor also leaves us feeling sorry for her instead of condemning her. She is a victim of her parenting and culture. She’s trapped like a drug addict. She’s invested so much time and energy into the singular goal of making her kids successful that to stop and admit that it’s not want they want and actually hurting them actually is quite courageous. Spoiler alert, she finally gives in to her youngest daughter and lets her give up intensive violin for tennis. My new boss told me something that was particularly startling recently. We have the same department head who is both neglectful and overly critical. But my new boss is ever the positivist always trying to spin everything positively. He told me that when the department head criticizes, questions, or makes suggestions, it is his way of showing his approval of you and what you are doing. When the author berates her daughters, in her mind, she’s doing it for their own good, and this is her way of showing them how much she loves and cares about them. Yes, this is one way of looking at things, and it may be helpful, but it’s also insidiously deceptive and harmful too. If you are in an intractable situation where you cannot escape someone oppressing or harassing you, for your own mental health, it may be beneficial to reinterpret all their behavior as caring, friendly, and kind. This is called the Stockholm Syndrome. In the author’s mind, she really doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing or expressing. She’s an automaton who like an ant, simply follows a script without thinking and only looks back to rationalize or excuse whatever she did. Any evil person does this. “I only rounded up and killed Jews to help Germans. It was out of my love and devotion to Germany that I did this.” The author can easily excuse her abusive behavior as some warped cultural thing and trying to toughen up her daughters. In one particular passage, she berates one daughter for eating too much. Can you say eating disorder? We are humans, not only social but moral creatures with freewill. While you can argue to the end of the world whether we truly have freewill, we do have greater freewill than ants. A human can be raised Chinese, by Chinese people, speak Chinese, and always do things the Chinese way, but when it doesn’t work and she senses that it may actually be harmful, freewill means the ability to say wait a second, I’m not going to do things the way I was taught and raised, I’m going to decide to do something different. While I applaud the author for changing at the end, it’s a bit too little too late. You know the damage has been done, and both her daughters will be spending a lot of time at therapy in and out of abusive relationships.

The author continually compares her parenting style to the worst kind of American parenting style and then portrays all Americans and westerners as junk food-eating, spoiling, slovenly, negligent assholes. It’s an obvious logical trick that is sure to offend her targeted audience, Americans. What she fails to mention is that there is no American parenting style. America is a multiple cultural system comprised of both English early settlers and every other migrant group after that with all different types of parenting. What she fails to note is that so many Americans have done well and succeeded, and for all intents and purposes, westerners have won more Nobel Prizes, if that’s her standard for success, than Asians. But success in my book is not a prize or a title. Life is the journey, and as I said before, it’s about our connections, because that is who we are, we are part of all our social connections. To grow up to be highly skilled and win awards and yet to be only connected to your parents is ultimately pretty pathetic. http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Hymn-T…/…/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0…

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