Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Export Amy Chua

Privately alerted by my cyberfriend Kyle, of Citizen Orange and his Daily Kos diary, I’ve just read an op-ed entitled “The Right Road to America?,” by Amy Chua, Yale professor and second-generation Chinese immigrant.

Throughout, Chua utilizes a variety of rhetorical devices to a powerfully nativist effect. For example, she passes off Wolf Blitzer-style questions as reasonable inquiry. Item: “But are all immigrants really equally likely to make good Americans?”

But this is not at all reasonable. Such questions always lead us to simplistic yes/no responses. For that reason alone, they are instantly suspect. But here, Chua has merely posited a (silly) straw man designed to poke the racist alarm button and stimulate a knee-jerk nativist reaction. “Oh God, Oh God!,” we’re to think. “No, no, of course not! What to do? What to do! Build a fence! Close the borders! Not a minute to spare!”

I’m very much afraid that none of us comes with a good citizenship warranty. Chua's is an idiotic question posing as serious inquiry, and it’s frankly racist. Witness: If we (just as guilelessly) ask, “ But are all native-born infants really equally likely to make good Americans,” everyone instantly recognizes the obnoxious implication that we ought to be culling the babies--especially the poor and dark-skinned ones, right?

Chua summons moronic flamethrower Bill O’Reilly as the Far-Right anti-immigrant racist. Compared with O’Reilly, she seems dispassionate and concerned, and when she cites "Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington," she seems well read, up on her stuff.

Except that Chua gives herself away at every turn. Item:

Around the world today, nations face violence and instability as a result of their increasing pluralism and diversity. Across Europe, immigration has resulted in unassimilated, largely Muslim enclaves that are hotbeds of unrest and even terrorism. The riots in France last month were just the latest manifestation. With Muslims poised to become a majority in Amsterdam and elsewhere within a decade, major West European cities could undergo a profound transformation. Not surprisingly, virulent anti-immigration parties are on the rise.
Chua is writing for an American audience for which the words “Muslim enclaves” are synonymous with cells of incipient mass destruction—well, she herself invokes “terrorism” in the very same breath. But note how she attributes the violence and instability to immigration, pluralism, and diversity with never a hint of proof. This stipulated cause/effect sleight of hand is an old and handy trick. It works as well as it does because nine of every ten of us don’t bother to challenge the hookup. As she makes immigration and, implicitly, European tolerance responsible for the decline and fall of Western civilization, she implies that the same thing is happening right here in UncleSamville.

Let’s pause for a moment and think. If it were true that diversity and pluralism per se cause violence and instability, Europe, San Francisco, and New York City would have dissolved in shed blood centuries ago. Such a sloppy generalization obscures millions of immigrants from all manner of origins who have lived here and there in peace and mutual enrichment. It isn’t immigration. It isn’t diversity or pluralism. Now as always, it’s how all of us frame and deal with these phenomena. When the loudest and longest input is Buchanan, Tancredo, and O’Reilly, not surprisingly, violence and culture clashes are on the rise.

Chua also cherry-picks and elides large chunks of history to make her point:

Not long ago, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union disintegrated when their national identities proved too weak to bind together diverse peoples. Iraq is the latest example of how crucial national identity is. So far, it has found no overarching identity strong enough to unite its Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.
Crap. Chua inverts and suppresses facts, assuming she knows them. (Jeebus, if this is a Yale professor, we’re in deep caca. Does she have tenure? Let us fervently pray not.)

In her rendition of history, Yugoslavia is an ancient nation (it was created following WWI) whose history is easily parsed, and the Crimean War, the Balkan Wars, WWI, and WWII didn't happen. Frankish, Austrian, Russian, Turkish, Hungarian, Nazi, Soviet predations in the Balkans had nothing to do with destabilizing the Balkans. Czechoslovakia, too--ancient (created in 1918), stable, and trouble-free until all that immigration came along. Centuries of military "unification" cammpaigns involving continental complexities and hereditarily antagonistic cultural and religious entities can all be boiled down to too much tolerance of diversity. And conquest, by the way, is not immigration.

Ditto Iraq. (And Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Israel and Palestine, for that matter.) In the case of Iraq, in the 1920s, the (distinctly un-Muslim, un-Arab) League of Nations mandated, and used British armed might to enforce, the creation of a made-up country called “Iraq,” comprised of Baghdad and Basra, and later Mosul. The Western powers thus forced at least three hereditary antagonists—-Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, into a putative nation--this in a region where nationhood is an utterly unknown concept.

Nevertheless, Chua soldiers on to her own ideological drumbeat, evidently not expecting us to know about the Balkans and the Middle East, or not to notice that the provocation, then as now, was foreign control of Arab oil. To suggest that the problem is solely diversity is appallingly dishonest or, at best, uninformed. To suggest that conquest and occupation in any way resemble immigration, which is voluntary, is a typical sleazy Rightwing smoke bomb.

Underlying and fueling current antagonisms isn’t diversity per se. Underlying them is our utter unwillingness to tolerate different theologies and our ever-readiness to oppress and exploit each other. Dissention, violence, and conflict result from diversity and pluralism only when ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and religion have been used as reasons to seize others' resources, and/or strip human beings of dignity, only when aspects of personal identity are forced to become standards in a war of self defense. A disinterested reading of history yields no other conclusion. The social disruption that Chua bemoans in the Balkans and the Middle East is more about the enforced juxtaposition of religions and cultures, or their deliberate oppression, by occupying and exploitative foreign powers (or in the case of Saddam, domestic) than it is about ethnic or religious diversity per se. In Europe and here, it is about economic displacement. Where I live, exploitation is just bound to create a bad mood.

And then there’s this:

The greatest empire in history, ancient Rome, collapsed when its cultural and political glue dissolved, and peoples who had long thought of themselves as Romans turned against the empire. In part, this fragmentation occurred because of a massive influx of immigrants from a very different culture. The barbarians who sacked Rome were Germanic immigrants who never fully assimilated.

Words fail me. Oh please. The plundering barbarians never intended to “assimilate.” To call Aleric and the Germanic hordes “immigrants” is like calling the KKK a very long Tupperware party. I say again: This is a Yale professor?

After a bucolic narrative interlude in which Chua lauds the contributions of the virtual slave labor of Chinese, Irish, and other poor immigrants, insists that she's against border fences, and extols the brilliance of (non-Hispanic, non-working class) high tech immigrants, she advises thus:

Nevertheless, immigration naysayers also have a point.

America's glue can be subverted by too much tolerance. Immigration advocates are too often guilty of an uncritical political correctness that avoids hard questions about national identity and imposes no obligations on immigrants. For these well-meaning idealists, there is no such thing as too much diversity.

“Too much tolerance?” Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahhhahahaaaaaaa! Excuse me while I double up, roll myself to the porcelain throne, and hurl. Has anyone, ever, in 300 years, accused an Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christian nation of “too much tolerance”? Tell you what. Go to the nearest barrio or ghetto and say out loud that America is in danger of dying from too much tolerance. See how long it takes you to get a real education. But call me first. I want to watch.

For starters, every nonpartisan, scholarly, reputable study of immigrants finds the same thing: They contribute more to their economies than they take out. Hispanic immigrants, like others before them, become fluent English speakers in the second generation, and are fully assimilated in the third. Crime rates are lower in their communities than in ours. They use fewer social benefits than other populations. And so on.

So. “Uncritical political correctness?” “Hard questions?” You mean the part about how we say greedy, exploitative corporations and complicit administrations are willing to subject desperately poor brown people to slave wages, filthy conditions, and criminal abuse? Or did you have in mind our demands for fair wages, fair working conditions, and fair immigration quotas so that these self-same corporate interests cannot pit native-born African American, white, and Hispanic laborers against each other? Or perhaps the questions we ask about NAFTA and "free" trade?

Chua offers more idiocies, but I'll rest my case. No, there’s no such thing as too much diversity. It's fun, fascinating, informative, enhancing, enriching, stimulating, compelling, and challenging, and way cheaper than travel abroad, especially now, thanks to Bush's dropping dollar. Besides, without diversity, we get inbred, pustulous, pasty-faced, fascist reactionaries like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. I don't know about you, but that doesn't look like a bright future to me.

But there certainly are such things as too much ignorance, too much arrogance, too much greed, too much power, too much dishonesty, too much fear, too much intolerance, too little emphasis on truly beneficial communal values, too little neighborliness, too little mutual engagement, too little common sense, too little compassion, too little empathy, and too little understanding of history.

And too little gray matter to tell the difference between bullshit and baklava.


kyledeb said...


This is great stuff. This is such a difficult op-ed to criticize because of the slight of hand, but you've done an excellent job at it.

Pico said...

Thanks much, Kyle. High praise coming from you.

Liana said...

My cousin told me on Christmas Day that the US is the most tolerant country in the world. White guy, business owner, clueless. I raised my eyebrows and stifled a screech and uttered, squeaking, "Say WHAT???!??!!" I wanted to invite him to join me in walking with the folk here who are so well tolerated!

Pico said...

Wow. Who knew?

That's such a typical Rightwing argument. Notice that it can't be proved.

Language is sometimes a good reality check. Clearly it's because of our historical capacity for endless tolerance that American English boasts words like fag, geek, dyke, kike, wop, spic, jig, nigger, wetback, right?

Didya ask him if he gets out much?