Why cultures collide and what you can do about it



Hemisphere iconsFrom the Introduction: “Hearts and Minds, East and West”

No TV. No computer games. No choice of free-time activities. And when noncompliant, no food, no water, no bathroom, and no shelter.

To many people, these rules sound like they came straight out of an American prison on a bad human rights day. In reality, they are a few of the parenting tips Amy Chua offers in her 2011 memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. An American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chua reveals the parenting secrets of the Chinese, who are famous the world over for their successful children….

…What if she is right? What if raising successful children requires the rigid enforcement of old-school rules? What if the European-American preoccupation with self-esteem, self-expression, and self-actualization is turning our children into hothouse flowers who will wither in the grip of their Eastern competition? What if the clash of Eastern and Western cultures in American classrooms, and around the world, ends with the East on top? ….


GenderFrom Chapter 3: “Women Are From Earth, Men Are From Earth”

Look out, America! Women are taking over the joint. Women now hold more managerial and professional jobs than men, and urban women under thirty now make more money than their unmarried and childless male counterparts. To scale the socioeconomic ladder, the fairer sex is using decidedly American ratchets: education and entrepreneurship. Women now earn more bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees than men, and as many or more professional degrees in most fields. On the entrepreneurial front, women own or half-own 47 percent of all U.S. firms.

Meanwhile, American men seem to be languishing. The Great Recession of 2007–2009 hit men harder than women—so much so that bloggers dubbed the economic spinout the “he-cession.” As the male-dominated manufacturing, construction, and finance sectors sustained the recession’s hardest hits, 5.4 million men lost their jobs, compared to 2.1 million women….

…For all their hard-won triumphs, women and girls aren’t exactly doing a victory dance in the end zone. Women have always suffered more from depression than have men. But now women are getting sicker, younger, than ever before….

Beneath these upticks in suffering, we detect the clash of independence and interdependence…..


RaceFrom Chapter 4: “Color Lines”

“I am so sick of this,” said the man, hastily clicking through the slides of a PowerPoint presentation. “I mean, we have a Black president, for Christ’s sake! Why do I have to waste my time on these?”

Hazel looked up to see what was irritating the passenger on her left. She recognized the bullet points of a diversity training course. She also noticed that the man’s face was reddening above his button-down collar. A vein at his temple had begun to throb.

“You know, I treat everyone at work exactly the same, no matter what color they are. I don’t even see color. Do you? Does anyone anymore?” …

…Not everyone thinks that race and ethnicity have dropped off the nation’s issue list. In particular, most people who are not White—Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color— believe that race and ethnicity matter very much, for better and for worse. Some of their evidence is hard to dispute. Racial inequality persists. Blacks indeed have the worst education and health outcomes, the shortest life spans, and the highest violence and incarceration rates in America. Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans also suffer poor outcomes in many areas, including housing and health….


ClassFrom Chapter 5: “Class Acts”

On September 17, 2011, some one thousand people convened in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to protest, well, a lot of things: the failure of the government to take banks to task for the global financial crisis, high unemployment, bad health care, runaway income inequality, and corporate interference in politics, to name a few. Despite their disparate grievances, the protestors united under one slogan, “We Are the 99 Percent,” and directed their fury at the richest 1 percent of Americans, who own some 43 percent of the nation’s wealth.

The broad appeal of the Occupy movement demonstrates that the clash between the haves and the have-nots is growing ever louder. Yet in the United States, the deepest divide isn’t between the 99 and the 1; it’s between the 70 and the 30—that is, the 70 percent of Americans who don’t have a college degree versus the 30 percent who do. College-educated Americans have better jobs, earn more money, enjoy more free time, suffer from fewer physical and mental illnesses, and live longer lives than do Americans without a college degree….


RegionFrom Chapter 6: “States of Mind”

Watching Lisa Radloff sprint across a marathon finish line, or vanquish her competition on the racquetball court, you would never guess that just four years ago she weighed 281 pounds. “That’s like a linebacker,” she points out.

A few years after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, the native of Palatine, Illinois, saw the writing on the wall: “I was surrounded by athletic girls who all wore a size 2. If I wanted to be successful here, I had to lose weight.”

So, over the course of eleven months, the six-foot, one-inch information technology manager dropped 110 pounds….Radloff’s rotund husband, however, was a different story…. The couple slowly drifted apart until last year, after twenty years of marriage, Radloff asked for a divorce. Her husband promptly packed up his car and moved back to his hometown of Peoria, Illinois.

The shimmering lure of relocation is a staple of America, a nation of people from somewhere else….Some of these internal migrants will discover, as Radloff did, that they prefer using the selves their new homes require. Yet many others will find, as did Radloff’s husband, that their new worlds and old selves just don’t jibe. These mismatches take a toll….


ReligionFrom Chapter 7: “Getting Religion”

The conservative Protestants vying for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination left many mainline Protestants wondering what had happened to their religion, not to mention their country. For most of the United States’ history, science had been the helpmate of Protestants, who viewed it as a gift from God to help them learn about their world and make more pious choices. Those years of persecution back in Europe had also impressed upon them the benefits of building a high wall between religion and government.

Yet here was Ron Paul, a Southern Baptist, rejecting evolution as just “a theory.” Rick Perry, who attends a Southern Baptist church, similarly told a schoolboy that evolution is “a theory that is out there—and it’s got some gaps.” Michele Bachmann, an evangelical Lutheran, dismissed not only evolution, but also climate change, calling it “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.” Mitt Romney, a Mormon, acknowledged that the weather is getting weird, but wondered whether humans were causing the change….

…Meanwhile, conservative Protestants were wondering what had happened to their religion and their country….[H]ere was their president saying that two men should be able to legally wed, even though the Bible often does not smile upon such configurations. Here was a Supreme Court upholding abortion, even though the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” And here were legions of lawmakers enforcing the separation of religion and government…


WorkplaceFrom Chapter 8: “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

The XO is as cute as a laptop can be, with its bright green buttons, chunky handle, and bubbly logo. In 2005, MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte unveiled the idea of selling the XO for a mere $100 so that children in poor countries could use it for school. Intel, Google, and several other technology giants were eager to get in on the feel-good mo- ment. So they became official partners of Negroponte’s nonprofit, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), pledging cash, materials, and expertise.

Soon, however, one partnership began to fray. Beholding the huge market at the bottom of the world’s wealth pyramid, Intel began to manufacture its own low-cost laptop, the Classmate PC. Because Intel’s Classmate would directly compete with OLPC’s XO, Negroponte asked Intel to stop selling its machine in regions where his nonprofit was active. But Intel was unwilling to let OLPC put the kibosh on a profitable venture. In 2008, Intel backed out of the partnership. An offended Negroponte summarized the organizations’ conflicting visions by saying, “[OLPC] views the children as a mission; Intel views them as a market.”

Intel and OLPC are not alone in their mutual exasperation. As social and environmental problems take on global proportions, many nonprofits and corporations are attempting to join forces to fight for the common good… Despite their best intentions, many sector-hoppers soon lock horns…


Economic EquatorFrom Chapter 9: “The Economic Equator”

In early 1998 a famine descended upon southern Sudan, despite a United Nations–led effort to monitor and alleviate food shortages in the region. Aid workers suspected that military and tribal chiefs had been hoarding the food, so they began delivering rations directly to the most vulnerable people: nursing mothers, children, the ill, and the elderly. To the workers’ dismay, however, these beneficiaries rerouted the rations right back to their leaders. The aid workers concluded that corruption and inequality were so ingrained in the local culture that the least powerful people were colluding in their own destruction.

Anthropologist Simon Harrigan was sent in to investigate. One day he followed an elderly woman after she had received her ration. She indeed secreted the food away to her chief, rather than eating it all by herself. But instead of digging in to his newly supersized supper, the chief added the woman’s contribution to a collective pot. He then split the pot equitably among his people, including the elderly woman. Harrigan discovered that these redistribution practices were the norm, while so-called resource capture by leaders and other elites was relatively rare….

…When the Global North attempts to help the Global South, the clash of independence and interdependence undermines many of its efforts. On the wealthier, northern side of the equation, scientists, policymakers, and aid workers assume that people everywhere operate according to the ground rules of the independent self. In the Sudanese famine, for instance, aid workers assumed that a person given food would keep it for herself, with no regard for the needs and practices of everyone else in her kinship group. Largely trained in the Global North, these workers strove to deliver their aid with efficiency, accountability, and transparency.

On the poorer, southern side of the equation, what donors call “irrationality,” “corruption,” and “inefficiency” are what many aid recipients call “sound operating principles.” The mistrust that pervades West Africa, the cronyism that besets India, the conflicts that pepper the Middle East, and the slow pace that hobbles Mexico are the flip sides of interdependent qualities, including a profound sense of history in West Africa, of duty in India, of honor in the MENA region, and of simpatía (Spanish for “pleasant and harmonious social relations”) in Mexico. The culture cycles supporting these different aspects of interdependence have brought meaning and order to the Global South for the past few millennia. And though the shape that interdependence takes in each of these regions is distinct, all versions promote and proceed from a notion of the self that is relational, similar, adjusting, rooted, and ranked….


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