Tiger Mother talks tribalism: Amy Chua on why U.S. society is slipping into perilous territory
Tribalism leads to a state where 'facts start not to matter,' warns Yale professor
If you've heard or uttered the words "Tiger Mom," then chances are you know who Amy Chua is.
But unless you're someone who happens to read popular non-fiction about law and foreign policy, you might not know that among other things, Chua is also an expert on foreign policy.
While the firestorm ignited by Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother may have made her a household name in parenting circles, her latest title has nothing to do with controversial approaches to child-rearing.
Rather, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and The Fate of Nations is about ethnic and cultural rivalries, and the profound impact they have on people and nations.
The 55-year-old Yale law professor argues that if the U.S. wants to avoid making foreign policy blunders and getting embroiled in unwinnable wars, it must stop being blind to the realities of political tribalism abroad.
- WATCH: Rosemary Barton's interview with Amy Chua from The National
And, she adds, "if we want to save our nation, we need to come to grips with its growing power at home."
Chua says the U.S. is falling victim to a dangerous social phenomenon that has, until now, been more typical of developing and non-Western countries.
She says the signs include "ethno-nationalist movements, backlash against both the establishment and outsider minorities — and above all, the transformation of democracy into an engine of zero-sum political tribalism."
When facts 'start not to matter'
In an interview with The National's Rosemary Barton, Chua describes human beings as inherently "tribal" creatures.
"We need to belong to groups. And once we connect with a group, our tendency is to want to cling to it and to defend it, and to think it's better than every other group."
She adds that this isn't always a bad thing.
"Family can be very tribalistic, and sports is very tribal.
Chua says society is going through an unprecedented period in America. Its demographics are changing, and white Americans face the prospect of becoming a minority.
When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism.- Amy Chua
"When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism," she writes in her book.
"When groups feel mistreated or disrespected, they close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them. In America today, every group feels this way to an extent."
Losing the nuance
Chua says she experienced the impact of what she calls the "tribal mindset" in a different context when she wrote the book that made her infamous around the world.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherwas released in 2011, and it immediately polarized opinions on that most universal and primal of human functions: raising children.
Her descriptions of denying her daughters sleep-overs, making them practice piano or violin for hours a day, and threatening to set their stuffed toys on fire if her expectations weren't met provoked outrage and even death threats.
However, Chua tells CBC News the book was deeply misunderstood.
What she intended as a semi-satirical memoir about the costs and rewards of her arguably extreme parenting style instead came to be seen as a deliberately provocative how-to guide.
She says all the nuance in her book was lost when both critics and fans seized on the parts that reflected their own experiences.
"More than half the people were like, 'this is a parenting manifesto … I'm so glad you did this," Chua says.
Others, meanwhile, were enraged at Chua for promoting parenting tactics that fed into damaging stereotypical views of Asian Americans.
Betty Ming Liu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was one of those who railed at Chua's ideas. On her blog, Liu described Chua as representing "lunatic, prestige-whoring Chinese parents." And she told the New York Times, "I'm horrified that she's American-born and hanging on to this when most us are trying to escape it."
Blinded to basic humanity
Chua says the aftermath of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother made her more cautious about expressing opinions. But she decided it was time to go back to her foreign policy roots in a new book after an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher back in 2014, where she talked about Ukrainian nationalism.
The seeds of what would become Political Tribes were sown when Chua was faced with a barrage of tweets questioning why the "Tiger Mom" was qualified to talk about topics like the Crimean crisis.
Still, looking back now, Chua says those reactions gave her unique insight into what it's like when tribal thinking blinds people to the basic humanity of others they disagree with.
"At a very gut level, that experience I think alerted me to the dangers of that tribal mindset, because it was really intense."
Whether it's Sunnis or Shias , or pro-Trump or anti-Trump, once tribalism takes over the political system it's easy to demonize or dehumanize the other side.- Amy Chua
Chua says she wants to be clear that she didn't write Political Tribes as a conscious response to what she faced in the aftermath of Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother. But the experience did inform her understanding of how dangerous the tribal mindset can be.
"I think a key part of it is that I experienced the destructiveness of tribalism. It was a harrowing, really difficult period," she says.
"I do write about that in the political context. Whether it's Sunnis or Shias, or pro-Trump or anti-Trump, once tribalism takes over the political system it's easy to demonize or dehumanize the other side. And that's exactly what happened to me."
Watch Rosemary Barton's interview with Amy Chua from The National: