Amy Chua Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
|Photo by Jane Scherr|
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You have put together in a distinctive way ethnicity, democracy, and capitalism to make a very clear argument about the world and the way it is that goes against conventional wisdom. What are your thoughts about that? I mean, it all seems to come together so that you're able to talk self-confidently about ethnicity in a way that transcends a PC dialogue, which wouldn't allow you to.
That's interesting. I'm lucky in a strange way. I mean, there are costs, too; but being an outsider -- a person from a different background -- has allowed me to see this phenomenon, which is all about outsiders in these societies. Because I am ethnic Chinese, maybe it's easier for me to talk about the economic dominance of the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. Of course, it might be more difficult for somebody else talking about that. But you're exactly right, that the conventional wisdom, certainly starting in 1989, was that markets and democracy are going to work hand-in-hand to bring peace and prosperity to the whole world, and that in the process, ethnic hatred and ethnic divisions and religious hatred -- all these things -- would be washed away.
Thomas Friedman was an eloquent voice propounding this view that markets are going to turn everybody into consumers and competitors, and that all this ethnic stuff is just going to be swept away. Sadly, if you look at the world, if you look at the last fifteen years since 1989, something very different has happened. Since 1989 we've seen the proliferation of ethnic conflict. We've seen growing fundamentalism, anti-Americanism, and extremism. We've seen confiscations, calls everywhere for renationalization, and two genocides of magnitudes unprecedented since the Nazi Holocaust. So I think it's clear that something has gone wrong, and that the relationship between markets, democracy, and ethnic conflict is not as simple as we'd like to hope.
What would be your advice to students who are intrigued by this set of problems and have to navigate the issues of modernization, law, and democracy on the one hand and ethnicity on the other, and move into the future of putting those together?
The best hope lies in education, both in developing countries and in the United States. Within the United States, it's so important for us to be more international. I guess we're privileged to speak only English and to know only about our country -- not to know what the difference is between Iraq and Iran [for example] -- I mean, most people just don't know! It's not a blame issue, but it's partly because of our geographic isolation, our own history. I think, first, just knowing more about the rest of the world, about other cultures and how they differ, is the first step.
Secondly, in thinking about how to bring free markets and development to the other countries of the world, and how to bring democracy, tailoring those policies to the local conditions. You need to figure out other societies, where they came from, what the people believe in, what they do, how their ethnic divisions work, which is often very different from our own; then design your policies around that. Pay attention. I think that's the simple answer, which is just to realize that not everybody is like the United States. Whether you study history or sociology, or anthropology, journalism, there's room for seeing there are other cultures and other ways and other structures.
Amy, on that positive note, I want to thank you very much for joining us today and talking about your intellectual odyssey and your new book.
Thank you so much for having me. It was really a pleasure.
And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.
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