Obama’s call for compromise may infuriate his liberal critics now, but it was once one of the things they admired about him. After eight years with a President who traded in absolutes, members of what Obama calls the “literary class” were refreshed to hear an intelligent person speak thoughtfully about working together to achieve something worthwhile. … [But] it is premature to laud or condemn President Obama’s emphasis on deliberation and compromise without examining the end for which he thinks they should be deployed: the common good.
Much of the power of a traditional culture comes from the assumption of an authority that does not need to be articulated or justified, so it is refreshing to hear someone willing to argue for an autocratic style of parenting, and to do so in public. By making a case for the Chinese style of parenting, Chua opens, perhaps inadvertently, a much-needed dialogue, not simply about different parenting styles, but about the underlying assumptions on which they are based—assumptions about how to live, the proper relation between parents and children, and what we should aspire to as human beings.
As foreign observers from Tocqueville onward have noted, Americans like to think of themselves as forward-looking and self-reliant. But in the South, where history is cluttered by shameful episodes like slavery, Jim Crow, Reconstruction and inglorious defeat in war, to focus on the future can become almost a psychological necessity.
Therapy, in all its forms, teaches us how to express our subjective experiences in a socially recognizable form, and so allows us to connect with others on the basis of our purportedly private difficulties and dilemmas. Some people pay thousands of dollars a year to learn these lessons; others watch “Oprah.”
Franzen has reflected repeatedly on his differences with his friend and rival, for instance in the aftermath to his lengthy exploration of the so-called Status vs. Contract models of literature in the 2002 essay, “Mr. Difficult,” and then again early last year, when he told The Paris Review that he considered his relationship with Wallace to have been “haunted by a competition between the writer who was pursuing art for art’s sake and the writer who was trying to be out in the world.” Then, in a highly anticipated piece for the April 18th, 2011 New Yorker, Franzen proposed a brand new distinction, the simplest yet. The real difference between the two writers, he argued, was that whereas Franzen cares about other people, Wallace had always been a narcissistic jerk.