Lions, tigers, and Mormons, oh my!

Here’s the list of exceptional groups for the New Year:

  • Jewish
  • Indian
  • Chinese
  • Iranian
  • Lebanese-Americans
  • Nigerians
  • Cuban exiles
  • Mormons.

This list, as reported in the New York Post,  is presented by “Tiger mom” Amy Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld.  Well, at least the groups of both husband and wife made the list.

While I’ve no argument with the fact of the success of these groups (who hasn’t gotten a personal message from a Nigerian prince?), it’s hard to have much sympathy for Chua and Rubenfeld. They’re innies, the rest of us on the outs. Nobody likes to feel that they are excluded from the in-groups that they’ve identified. After all, if we can have No Child Left Behind and, cue Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

But in the real world, of course, we are no such things. Chua’s and Rebenfeld’s thesis boils down to this: groups that are insecure yet culturally superior (according to who, I wonder?) tend to do well. Some good logic there, as being insecure makes people take chances that otherwise they would not but which can lead to great success.

Here’s my issue: I’ve got one group excluded from the exceptional list that should not have been. The group without which there would be no United States of America: WASPS.

Too bad WASPs aren’t on their list. We used to fit the bill: Growing up, that pesky old Protestant work ethic (study hard; work hard; play only when you got the first two done) was beaten into my thick skull.

My experience used to be common, and crossed ethnic boundaries: my Irish and Jewish neighbors shared that good old Protestant work ethic. Without, of course, ever acknowledging that the English could have ever done anything good…

The simple truth is that our nation was founded with a good healthy dose of insecure yet culturally superior English immigrants (yes, technically many were “immigrants” as they were not native-born Americans).

Insecurity was manifest among those who chose rebellion: hanging was the best that could be hoped for had the rebellion failed. That would make any of us insecure.

My central point is that absent our grounding in English language, culture, and the liberal (old-school meaning) politics of the Enlightenment, it’s not likely that America would look much like it does.

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