The Un-Chinese

Will Wilkinson stands up for western individualism:

There are two questions. Are tiger mothers doing their kids a favor? Are they doing society a favor? The answer is maybe and probably no. On the whole, discipline makes life easier and better. On the other hand, who the fuck cares about the piano and violin? If all tiger mothers push the piano, say, the winner-take-all race for piano becomes utterly brutal, and the tiger-mothered pianist will likely get less far in the piano race than a bunny-mothered basoonist. That just seems dumb! Gamble on the flugelhorn!

The Western ethos of hyper-individuation produces less of the sort of hugely inefficient positional pileup (not that there aren’t too many guitarists) that comes from herding everybody onto the same rutted status tracks. It also produces less discipline and thus less virtuosity, but a greater variety of excellence by generating the cultural innovation that opens up new fields of endeavor and new status games. It’s just way better to be the world’s best acrobatic kite-surfer than the third best pianist in Cleveland. Also, the ethos of hyper-individuation is about activity/personality search and matching. It’s better to be happily mediocre at something you love than miserably amazing at something that never quite felt right.