It seems Andrew Sullivans explanation struck a cord. Salon’s clickbait comes from Chauncey DeVega. DeVega’s explanation of Asian outperformance is basically a non-explanation. He dances around the topic but never really get in any blows. But what can you really expect from the poor man’s Ta-neshi Coates.
He trots out some liberal standards. Asians are not a monolith. Some Asians such as Cambodians are actually doing worse than the general population. Its really kind of hilarious. This fact doesn’t weaken the idea that culture explains success…it actually supports it. I am really kind of amazed at this rhetorical jujitsu.
They way he managed to accomplish this feat is by first creating a strawman. He says that Andrew Sullivan is really supporting the model minority myth. He then tried to tear down the idea of model minorities by claiming Asians are not a monolith. He is right they aren’t. But the point that Andrew Sullivan was making was not that Asians are a monolith…his point was that culture matters. This point is made even stronger when you disaggregate large categories like Asian and look into sub-components. You can do the same with Whites and Blacks.
With Blacks you will see African groups like the Nigerian Igbo’s consistently outperforming in schools regardless of where they immigrate. With whites you will see groups like the Azores Portuguese consistently failing in school. Andrew Sullivan used the short hand Asian but disaggregating into sub-groups, his argument is even stronger.
Chauncey DeVega isn’t the first to engage in this jijitsu. The best job of it was done by Stephen Steinberg. He tried to account for Russian Jewish success but in doing so he outline a series of advantages Russian Jews had due to their history, values and practices. For instance, Russian Jews lived in cities and so tended to have strong experience when it came to urban professions and so they tend to do well when they move to cities. Stephen Steinberg does not consider this to be part of their culture. Its a typical move, you construct a weak argument you say your opponent is making and then you try to destroy the weak argument.
But of course your opponent was never making that argument. In Stephen Steinberg case the weak argument is the idea that some groups like Russian Jews have some mystical grittiness and ambition the enables them to succeed in every possible environment. This is of course ridiculous. But that was never the argument that conservatives like Thomas Sowell were making. Sowell was really saying that it was incorrect to presume that the differences between different ethnicities are the result of current racial discrimination. Instead different groups would have massive variations in their success due to historical circumstances, culture, values etc. Stephen Steinberg doesn’t actually weaken this point he massively strengthens it. He makes nearly the exact same argument as Sowell that Jewish economic success can be explained by their history in Eastern Europe: the skills they learned as primarily urban inhabitants and how well these skills matched the requirements in urban US cities, their relatively high rates of literacy etc.
This is exactly the point Sowell made. Its interesting that Steinberg fails to realize how massively his arguments weaken the idea that differences between ethnic groups can be explain by current discrimination. Steinberg doesn’t bother to even try to explain what happened to the Russian Jews by current discrimination. When your opponent in arguing against your point actually is forced to support your point with your exact arguments its a pretty strong indication that you are right.