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Why People Fail

The hysterical responses to Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua's book discussing why some cultures succeed and others fail are revealing. Even though Chua was talking about cultural elements, rather than genetic ones, the accusations of racism are entirely predictable.

Chua's thesis, like most similar arguments, is plausible in some areas and implausible in others. Any explanation that tackles as big a subject as that is bound to have as many hits as misses.

And yet it's undeniable that some cultures succeed where others fail.

The politically correct left has long ago lost the ability to distinguish between culture and race; denouncing everything from criticism of Islam to complaints about gang culture as racist. It treats culture as equivalent to race because it doesn’t believe that people are capable of change.
The left views people as static. Culture is equivalent to race for them, because they don’t believe that people can change. Or that they should change.

The cast of successful cultures in Chua's book is more than racially diverse enough, but it's the idea that people succeed or fail because of their attitude toward life, rather than because of their privilege or lack of privilege that infuriates the left.

Setting aside the details of her positions, Chua's last two books can be boiled down to the simple fact that people who try harder are more likely to succeed and that is not an argument that the left wants aired in the public square. What was once common sense is now dangerously reactionary.

No one succeeds on their own, Elizabeth Warren and Obama insisted. They succeed only through the grace of state institutions. It's not family or culture that matters. It's the support of the state.

But the support of the state isn't enough for individuals or for businesses. Obama lavishly doled out government money to Green Energy companies only to see them fail. With corporate welfare, as with social welfare, the need for government money is a reliable predictor of failure. Those who cannot succeed on their own, will not succeed through the government.

Government money could not compensate for what was inherently wrong with companies like Solyndra, Fisker or A123. It also can't compensate for what is inherently wrong with individuals and communities that are prone to failure, not because of someone else's privilege, but because they have never learned how to try.

The left does not want to deal with the question of why some people succeed and others fail since its entire ideological infrastructure is built around the argument of unequal access. Individuals don't fail, progressives from Obama to Bill de Blasio insist, social institutions fail them.

The New York Times trotted out a young black girl named Dasani living in a dilapidated homeless shelter as its argument that the city had been subdivided between the rich and the poor. Dasani made another appearance at Bill de Blasio's inauguration as a prop for class warfare.

But the city didn't fail a girl whose parents are criminals and junkies and have burned through tens of thousands of dollars. Dasani isn't living on the margins because Mayor Bloomberg or the institutions of the city failed her. On the contrary those institutions have lavished huge amounts of money and resources on her schooling and on every aspect of her life.

If Dasani fails, it's not because the larger society failed her, but because her parents failed her. And the roots of their failure lie in communities where drug use and delinquency have become accepted and commonplace.
The left insists that people are interchangeable. They are not. It insists that their failures and successes belong to the guiding hand of the state. They do not.

Institutional determinism is why the Great Society measures failed. The progressive response to these failures has been to discover new and more abstract forms of racism culminating in white privilege to explain why the lack of access is holding some groups back.

There is an entire academic industry dedicated to turning out proofs of racism to explain failure and yet there are indisputable studies out there documenting things such as the diminished grade levels and higher crime rates for students from single parent homes on a worldwide scale.

While the left pushes harder for its post-family world of powerful institutions, there are reams of data showing how destructive trading the family for the state is. And there is no group of people that embodies that better than African-Americans whose lives have been taken over by the state.

Black families have fallen apart while state intervention in their lives has dramatically increased. It was a bad bargain and its consequences can be seen in the streets of every major city and the lives of little girls like Dasani who are used as props by activists calling for more welfare from a government that can spend millions of dollars, but can’t fix the lack of responsibility of her family members and her community.

And she is not alone.

Welfare not only correlates with social failures, it causes them. And it doesn't just cause them in our own country.

Third World activists complain that Western aid destroys local capabilities and cripples domestic economies while promoting a culture of corruption and violence. The best evidence of that may be in the world's biggest welfare state in the Palestinian Authority where the locals know how to do little except make demands and threaten to kill everyone if they don't get what they want.

The Jordanian and Egyptian Muslim populations within Israeli territory who act this way bear a lot of the blame for their own miserable behavior, but it was their Western patrons clamoring for them to have a state who have crippled their ability to take responsibility for their own lives.

During the election, Mitt Romney was blasted for suggesting that cultural differences were responsible for the successes of Israelis and the failures of their neighbors. But Romney was right and his critics were wrong. Obama's latest peace process bid is already imploding because it's not a state that the Palestinian Authority wants; but an international welfare state.

Institutional determinism promotes learned helplessness. It teaches people that their failures can only be remedied by blaming someone else. And that can never lead to success. Without individual responsibility, all that's left are institutional subsidies for failure and there are only so many companies that can be bailed out and only so many individuals who can live off the welfare state without the entire economy collapsing past the point where it can subsidize them.

Many of the cultures that Chua lists are refugees with no place to return to. That distrust of government may be a powerful antidote to Hillary Clinton's village of the state.

And all of the cultures on the list are family oriented.

A basic difference between Asian-Americans and African-Americans is that the former are most likely to be married and the latter are least likely to be married. It is why Asian students succeed in the same “bad” urban schools that are supposedly failing the other minority students.

The magic ingredient is a stable family and parental involvement. It is the difference between Dasani and a Chinese girl who is already working toward getting into Stuyvesant High School; that elite city institution of high-performing students that Bill de Blasio wants to "diversify”.

It’s not that there are institutional barriers of race that exist for one girl, but don't exist for the other. It's that one girl comes from a culture that values success based on long-term planning and short-term sacrifice and the other one doesn't.

Despite the best efforts of the left, Dasani and her family are not typical of African-Americans. If they were the city and the country would be uninhabitable and there would be no black middle class. But it is the mission of the New York Times and the rest of the left to convince their white readers that if not for their social justice campaigns, every black little girl would be a Dasani.

There are black parents who push their children to succeed every bit as hard as Amy Chua does. I have met some of them over the years. The problem is that there aren't nearly as many of them as there were before the wheels of the Great Society began to turn and African-Americans were told that they should accept failure and even welcome it as proof of their persecution.

Culture is just another way of saying that it isn't the state that makes success possible, but the individual and the family.

We are more than the sum of our institutions, we are our parents and our grandparents, we are the things we read and the things we believe, we are the sense of mission that brought our ancestors through thousands of years of trouble and we are their strengths and their weaknesses.

It's not institutions that make our successes possible. It is our beliefs that make all the difference.


  1. Anonymous12/1/14

    Great essay. Individualism is important, as is a national identity. Tribalism/multi-culti denies individuals their ability to create and fulfill their own identities.
    One comment:
    "With corporate welfare, as with social welfare, the need for government money is a reliable predictor of failure."
    Let's add the banks that were bailed out.

  2. Anonymous12/1/14

    Believing Leftard mythology is a huge investment. The sunk costs both on the individual and institutional levels are so high that the.vast majority of believers would rather die than change.

  3. Anonymous12/1/14

    If family is pushing or driving success that is not success on your own either.
    Asian culture is a mess.
    Some cultures succeed through fraud, cheating, graft, and pulling strings behind the scenes.
    Mark Hislop

  4. Anonymous12/1/14

    The life you lead and the hardships of in life can effect a person's attitude towards life.

  5. Mark

    Yes they do, but still better than utter failure

  6. see Thomas Sowell's

    "Black Rednecks & White Liberals"

  7. Another great essay. You say what people don't want to hear.

  8. Anonymous12/1/14

    What is success? Becoming a concert pianist, a doctor, a professor? Or is it a Ford or Standford or Einstein? I can teach a dog tricks that are unnatural and would seem to imply intelligience (on the part of the dog not the teacher). Is teaching a child to be a concert pianist so different then teaching a dog amazing tricks? Did it make the child smarter? did it make the child a "success"? Amy Chau has two daughters and most probably these two young women are "successful" intelligent and a joy to their parents. But are they just trained dogs who in the process of this intense training have been turned into very anal very driven humans who may be of no value to anyne. What kind of a wife or mother would they make. Could their husband or children ever make them happy? Would there ever be joy in their home or would it always be training to make their husband and children do "tricks" designed to make them seem "successful". I argue that any young child can, like an empty vessel, be filled or trained to do tricks. They can be taught to be great musicians or to know all or most all the existing knowledge in some field, say mathematics. But does that in an of itself make them successful? Was it this kind of traning by a relentless mother from an early age that made Einstein? It is my observation that people like this rarely if ever offer society anything new or useful. They may master their musical instrument but never be a Mozart. They may master calculus and higher mathmetics and never be an Einstein. Would you or any normal human want somene like this as your spouse? So where is the "success" in this? It may well be a form of child abuse to spend their children's entire youth teaching them tricks so that the mother can feel "successful".

  9. Learning is being taught "tricks" until you learn to teach yourself. I don't think this qualifies as abusive parenting, though some of the Asian parenting varieties might.

    Yes overtraining children into child prodigies sometimes leads to very little later in life, but we're not talking about extremes. Though Mozart, I would note, was a child prodigy.

    I'm not sure what alternative you're really proposing?

  10. Anonymous12/1/14

    Yes, fine. As usual, the conservative critique is predictably polite and well-formed-- I didn't need more than the first para to see where you'd go with this.

    But you never seem to address the elephant in the room:


    Daniel, until you begin talk about things the Left is truly terrified of, you're simply playing a stock character actor to their cultural lead in discussions like these.

    The Proposition Nation is a myth we would be well served in burying, not propping up.

  11. Snackeater12/1/14

    One factor I think is not accounted for is that the majority of immigrants from non-Western Hemisphere countries probably come from the upper classes of their former countries (they're the ones who can afford to emigrate) and therefore arrive in this country with a lot more going for them than many natural-born citizens.

  12. Horace Staccato12/1/14

    Our beliefs and culture are defined by many variables; IQ being one of the most important, but not the only. Let's point out that White people single-handedly invented the modern world. Whites are still overwhelmingly the innovators and inventors. The much vaunted Asians aren't even a close second in that respect. The rest can't even use or maintain what we've given them. When nonWhites move to the U.S. or European countries they don't improve at all, and in a malignant climate of Leftist social pathology, nonWhites actually tend to assimilate to the lowest common denominator; the Blacks. This will not change because nonWhites can't change. Their very presence destroys our civilization. Unfortunately their presence is accompanied by aggressive hatred and resentment of the White civilization that has made White countries so attractive to nonWhites in the first place. NonWhites in White countries are parasites; even the ones who support themselves (all too few).

    Even the Asians are no good for us at all.

    The history of Asian civilization is one long chronicle of brutal tyranny. Even Japan has an insanely invasive government. Asians tend to be rigid, arrogant and conformist to an amazing degree. There is no tradition of innovation. They seem to glom on to Western inventions and methods; in some cases improving them, but Asians haven't made or developed for practical use any of the fundamental inventions in spite of their supposed intelligence. High intelligence as a general Asian population trait is only found in a corner of northern Asia in any case.

    I've worked with a LOT of Asians; mainly Japanese and Chinese and Vietnamese. A few India Indians. They all have this attitude that if a project is done by the book and the prevailing theory, then nothing should go wrong. They make no contingency plans. When things do go wrong, they are mystified and confused. They never plunge into a project with an attitude of learning as they go or changing procedure to achieve a goal that is frequently a moving target.

    The Asians I've known are also knee-jerk Leftists, which represents a self-destructive impulse to embrace tyranny.

    The bottom line is that they have no business in a White country. We don't need them. Their presence is, at the end of the day, destructive to Western Civilization.

    And they really are bad drivers. It's a symptom of their inability to innovate or react to changing variables. The chaos of traffic paralyzes them or makes them overly aggressive. I've seen them simply stop in the middle of an intersection because they can't react to an unexpected development. They are not as childishly aggressive as Blacks and Mexicans, but they are as dangerous.

    I like a lot of Asians I've known, but they are essentially cuckoos in the nest; rigid collectivists; supercharged Leftist SWPLs. They need to find someplace else to live. But I guess they've ruined the countries that they come from.

  13. Anonymous12/1/14

    I've seen wonderful parents end up with troubled teens and rather hands-off parents produce stellar students with lovely personalities.
    As my father told me when I had three toddlers, " they may not Hear everything you Say, but they watch everything you Do."
    Never underestimate the value of role models.

  14. Anonymous12/1/14

    You espouse fraud, cheating and graft as better than failure?
    I am shocked and disappointed at that response from this blog.

  15. Wombat12/1/14

    "Those who cannot succeed on their own, will not succeed through the government."

    On the contrary, the greencorp scumbags who banked millions ripping off the taxpayer have been quite successful. Mosquitoes, tapeworms and ticks are also successful in their daily endeavours. It's best to quit furthering the foolish notion that government parasites and their satellite parasite kin are trying to be successful in any honourable sense of the word.

    As said before. The system cannot be fixed because it is not broken. Your masters are not incompetent. That is a fool's illusion. They are very competent at doing what they mean to do. Enslaving you and milking you dry.

  16. I don't "espouse" fraud. I am pointing out that South Korea or Columbia are better than Somalia. A failed state or community is a completely hopeless place. A corrupt society can still be reformed.

    Wombat, they don't succeed, they move money around in a corrupt network that will collapse sooner or later.

  17. Wombat13/1/14

    Many of them have lived and died of old age in the lap of luxury. More still will be far better placed to survive the collapse than the peons they've duped. This is still success by any material (non-spiritual) measure. The idea that Bernanke and co will meet a noose or starve on the streets with everyone else is wishful thinking (if you can call equal suffering "wishful"). They have their bunkers filled to the roof with everything they need. Their staff will be paid in the currency of survival.

    You're right that a corrupt society can be reformed, but usually it only happens after the worst kind of catastrophes. Meanwhile the corrupt will continue to fleece those too ignorant or cowardly to stop them, which is 99 percent of the western world, and even when the collapse comes they will still live in luxury relative to the rest of us.

    Their island citadels await, far far away from any place an angry mob can find. I hope for the best, really I do, but the precipice we all stand on is unprecedented and I expect the promised 90% die-off that will follow, not just because it's possible but because it's what's been planned all along.

  18. Anonymous13/1/14

    "The left views people as static"

    I always thought one of the main features of the left was the exact opposite - that they viewed people as mouldable, maleable beings, who couldbe made perfect by having change forced on them by those who know what's best for them - and of course, those who know best are the elite leftists.

  19. Their subsidized businesses have already collapsed. They still have money but they had money to begin with. Their businesses failed though even with huge government loans. That's the narrower point of that part of the article.

  20. Steve D13/1/14

    'Institutional determinism is why the Great Society measures failed'

    Great Society measures butted heads against human nature. That is why they failed and that is why they HAD to fail.

  21. That's what institutional determinism means.

  22. Wombat14/1/14

    "Their subsidized businesses have already collapsed. They still have money but they had money to begin with. Their businesses failed though even with huge government loans. That's the narrower point of that part of the article."

    I think you still miss my point. The idea was never to create a working business, parasitic or not. The entire point was to use businesses as a shell game to steal money and hide it elsewhere. The money is then spent on tangible gains such as gold or land.
    Suggesting that their businesses are failures (including the business of governing) is as misguided as suggesting that the stage one boosters on the latest rocket were a failure because they never made it to space.
    The businesses did what they were meant to do. Suck in dollars and leave IOUs when the creditors came calling. By that (accurate) measure they were a roaring success.

  23. Actually the idea is to create a working business. It's not only the taxpayers who lost money on this. The left really wants a carbon economy. It really does believe that its policies can work.

  24. Anonymous14/1/14

    Yes, culture is created in a vacuum, LOL! Cultures ARE PRODUCTS OF THE A PEOPLE. Cultures are a simply what happens when genes and an environment interact.

  25. Anonymous15/1/14

    DP111 writes..

    Sultan wrote: The best evidence of that may be in the world's biggest welfare state in the Palestinian Authority where the locals know how to do little except make demands and threaten to kill everyone if they don't get what they want. -

    Obama's latest peace process bid is already imploding because it's not a state that the Palestinian Authority wants; but an international welfare state.

    And on the heels of the above

    Palestinian police, refugee camp residents clash over U.N. strike

    Many refugees fear UNRWA is slowly disengaging from its aid activities and believe the international community owes them support since it recognized Israel amid the war that led to its founding in 1948..


    As Sultan states, the Palis want a state that is permanently subsidised by the "International community". If the "International community" meets their demands, it will be the first internationally supported beggar state.

    Well I'm afraid that the "International community" has had it with the spoilt Pali brats.

  26. Anonymous15/1/14

    Andrew Breitbart was adopted by a Jewish couple and the rest is history. Nurture over nature every time.

  27. you really allow yourself to become a second rate propagandist. What responses? To which book? Google search only shows her 2011 book as the latest. Is it really soooo difficult to give a short factual intro to let us know what you rant about? Believe it or not, not all of your readers are Americans, inured in your everyday press.

  28. And you're in bad need for an editor - any editor. What does that mean, "If they were the city and the country would be uninhabitable and there would be no black middle class." ? It's not even grammatical. If FPM won't edit your raw texts, do hire one yourself. It's becoming unbearable, having to decipher this stuff all the time.

  29. I have no idea what the source of this hostility is, but her book was in the news at the time it was written. I write assuming that readers are familiar with current issues.

    If they're not Google makes it easy.


    "Amy Chua book" in Google News brings up a great many results right away. Understanding the article doesn't require any familiarity with her or the book.

    As for your second comment, no one is forcing you to decipher anything. This site is a free project and its articles are written when I have the time to write them. That includes articles written at 2.30 AM.

    Absolutely no one is forcing you to read them. Either you find them worthwhile or you don't.

  30. Excellent as always, D.G. But, hey, props to Will48. He found a typo, clever boy.


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