Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has written with Jed Rubenfeld another controversial book about ethnic drive: The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.
Members of certain cultural groups do really well in terms of economic and social success. Others don’t. Those that do, according to the book, have three traits: a sense of cultural superiority; a sense of personal insecurity about measuring up to that superiority; and strong self-discipline and capacity for delayed gratification. We’ll let the Washington Post book reviewer explain after the jump, though I want to make some religious connections.
Chua and Rubenfeld seek to explain why certain cultural groups in America “do strikingly better than others in terms of wealth, position and other conventional measures of success.” They argue that eight groups are exemplary in this regard — Cubans, East Asians, Indians, Jews, Lebanese, Mormons, Nigerians and Persians — because they share a set of “unlikely” cultural characteristics.
These characteristics — transparently trademarked as the Triple Package (always in capitals) — are the same ones we’ve been hearing about since Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” was published nearly a century ago: a belief in your own group’s self-worth and superiority; “an anxious uncertainty about your worth or place in society”; and the discipline to resist temptation and endure in the face of opposition, sacrificing short-term comfort and pleasures for a long-range payoff. The first two traits — shortened to “superiority” and “insecurity” — create driven personalities, an observation Chua and Rubenfeld keep repeating as if it were a surprising discovery, rather than a central theme of countless literary, dramatic and journalistic works through the centuries.
Other groups, of course, don’t exhibit the Triple Package: Appalachian people, African Americans and those who’ve embraced the allegedly permissive and hedonistic “mainstream, post-1960s liberal American principles” that have, we later learn, led to our national downfall. America, we are told, must regain the Triple Package it lost in the secure, undisciplined go-go years between the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Sept. 11, 2001, as if the country itself were a cultural group.
The reviewer goes on to castigate the book for inadequate research, false generalizations, historical confusion, and ignoring contrary evidence.
I’m intrigued by what the reviewer says about religion. Max Weber, in his classic study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, credits early Calvinists for laying the groundwork for capitalism. Pretty much for these same three reasons: Calvinists considered themselves to be God’s elect; but individual Calvinists often worried about their election. They considered that earthly blessings could be a sign of election, so they worked hard to achieve them. They were also highly disciplined, denying themselves earthly pleasures and ostentatious displays of wealth, unlike wealthy people in Catholic countries with their palaces and gorgeous apparel. Since they didn’t spend all of their earnings, that allowed capital to accumulate, which they plowed back into their businesses.
Now I myself have criticized Weber’s thesis. I question whether Calvinists or “Puritans” thought they could prove their election by their success. But it’s interesting how Amy Chua is applying basically the same ideas.
If, as the reviewer says, this analysis doesn’t really work with different ethnic groups, might it work with individuals? That insecurity can contribute drive? Or is maybe self-discipline all you need?
(I’m thinking Lutherans, in general, don’t consider themselves superior, nor do they feel particularly insecure. They may or may not have discipline. Which is why tend to be not particularly successful, but satisfied where they are.)