I should probably provide a little background on how the Supreme Court of Assholedom ended up taking the case of Amy Chua, the achievement-obsessed Yale-professor “Tiger Mom” with the fully-inflated basketball up her ass who didn’t let her kids have sleepovers or playdates and helped make demented racist stereotyping chic with her Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”
The Court originally was bandying about several different potential cases, and at one point Justice Timothy Kreider rather insistently suggested that we put “the Chinese” on trial. “They’re positioning themselves as a major 21st century superpower but they still act like such crude, thuggish, third-world tinpot tyrants,” he said. “Every time they make some public pronouncement they sound like The Red Skull — witness the foreign ministry’s official reaction to news of the Dalai Lama’s retirement yesterday: ‘We think these are his tricks to deceive the international community.’”
The thing is, Kreider very pointedly was referring just to the assholish Chinese government in his original case memo. But without coordinating their responses at all, the other Justices nonetheless immediately jumped all over him for being a xenophobe and pretended that what Kreider was actually saying was that all Chinese people were assholes – or perhaps even that the physical territory of China was an asshole. Justice Rees, trying to agree politely with Kreider, noted that, it’s true, he had once had a really bad vacation in China. My own response was to ask if maybe, while judging the Chinese, we could at least exempt Chow Yun-Fat.
Kreider eventually had to set us straight. “Let’s just reiterate I’m proposing a ruling on the Chinese government,” he snapped, adding he was certainly not referring to the elderly calligraphists he’d seen in Beijing or, he added with vicious irrelevance, “the Chong Qing Dry and Spicy Chicken at Grand Sichuan or Lao Tse or any martial arts film at all.”
It should be noted, incidentally, that the way this Court is evolving, Kreider is quite rapidly becoming its Scalia figure – aggressively outspoken, occasionally unhinged, unabashed in his attempts to influence other judges and form ideological cliques. It has reached the point where Justice Boylan, who has recused herself from several key votes, is actually afraid that she is becoming this Court’s Clarence Thomas to Kreider’s Scalia. “Following the Thomas/Scalia rule, I begin to suspect that instead of my voting on anything, we ought to just give Justice Kreider two votes,” she says. “This is how Scalia and Thomas have worked it out, and it’s been just fine. For them.”
Anyway, the Court deflected the Chinese question for a while, but eventually came back to it, sort of, when Clerk of the Court Amy Bearden presented us with the case of Amy Chua, who seemed like an ideal candidate for several reasons. Among other things, some of us had been anxious to hear a case involving a female defendant, if for no other reason than to consider the question of whether or not a woman can even be an asshole.
Some of us Justices had wondered whether the word “asshole” is by its very nature associated with masculinity and its attendant stylistic features: loudness, bad hygiene, farts, uncareful peeing, etc. Justice Magary, for instance, was fairly adamant that men were assholes, while women are “bitches” or “cunts.” But we heard eloquent argument on the subject and in the end, minds were changed. Justice Schmid, rapidly evolving into the Court’s preeminent researcher and also its authority on gender issues, was succinct in her opinion.
“I’m pretty sure women have as much natural asshole talent as men,” she wrote. Then, echoing an argument also made forcefully by Justice Sirota, she added that, “however, our culture (still) encourages men to go for it, be aggressive, take control — traits that easily and obviously lend themselves to assholism. Women, on the other hand, are conditioned to be pleasers, to nod and smile and try to make everyone happy. So our inner asshole is more repressed.”
In the end it was the Court’s opinion that while women have not, traditionally, been called assholes, that does not mean they are not assholes. As Justice Schmid put it, “’Asshole’ tends to connote ‘in-your-face obnoxious’ (more traditionally masculine), not really ‘conniving and clever’ (more traditionally feminine). But I would say that conniving/manipulative behavior can certainly be assholish.” We mostly all agreed that society’s failure to call the reprehensible, obnoxious woman an asshole was rooted in stereotyping and inequality, and that therefore women who are assholes should be called assholes more often, even if some kind of affirmative action-type effort is ultimately required to balance the scales.
With that in mind, the case of Amy Chua was highly convenient “triple” defendant, representing as she did three realms zealously commanding the Court’s interest: Kreider’s China fetish, women, and Yale University. As might perhaps have been expected, the Court wasted no time in riding Kreider in anticipation of his inevitably overenthusiastic ruling on the Chua matter. “Let’s do Chua, and then Kreider can spin his judgment into a xenophobic condemnation of all 1.2 billion Chinese,” cracked Justice Rees (incidentally, the increasingly pointed and sarcastic rivalry between the two cartoonist-judges is becoming one of the more amusing subplots of the Court’s deliberations). Kreider, playing along and embracing his inner Scalia, now says he intends to “reiterate my xenophobic loathing of The Chinese at every public opportunity” and initially gave Chua 4020 points – “and the extra twenty,” he said, “was just because she is Chinese.”
THE CASE: THE PEOPLE VS. AMY CHUA
The defendant is a professor at Yale University who in the last three months has become famous for her book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which reads a little bit like what would have resulted if Stalin had collaborated to write a parenting guide with Hannibal Lecter. Chua’s book is basically 256 pages of totalitarian sadism, simultaneously presented as a celebration of modern China’s lunatic achievement ethos and as a blistering attack on the pathetic parenting habits found in the crumbling culture of the weak and dissolute West. She pats herself on the back for denying her children playtime of any kind, calls her kids “garbage” to motivate them, stands over them for hours every day as they practice piano and violin (Chua laughs at Americans who think they’re being strict when they demand one hour of daily practice), and in one celebrated passage in her book rejects a birthday card one of her kids has made for her: “I don’t want this,” she tells Lulu, throwing back at her a handmade birthday card. “I want a better one.”
Perhaps most irritatingly, Chua has pretended to be mortified by the overwhelmingly negative reaction to her book, and now spends a lot of time during her book tour appearances (which inevitably are teeming with curious onlookers who’ve come to rubberneck-gape at her spectacular car-wreck of a public monster-persona) trying to undo the damage and present herself as a kind, introspective person. Hilariously, she tells reviewers and reporters now that her book was intended as “self-deprecating memoir” of the sort that David Sedaris would write. You know, if David Sedaris was a heterosexual Asian woman with no sense of humor who engaged in the systematic psychological torture of his children and then bragged about it in a luridly self-congratulating, race-baiting best-seller.
Justices voted 7-0 (Justices Sirota and Rees absent) that Amy Chua is an asshole. And though this ruling was, perhaps, an obvious one, the Court feels it is important to explain the essence of Chua’s assholery, for though she is an extreme character, in many ways she is also a reflection of our society’s less obvious broader Assholedom.
When Larry Summers once said that he thought that “countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted” compared to countries in the West, his reasoning was that Western human beings were economically far more productive than Africans (if you go by GDP per capita) and therefore it made more sense to pollute in Africa because the quantifiable cost, in economic terms, would be less. This instinct to numerically measure the worth of people by how much money they make is the kind of social psychosis that produces an Amy Chua; she’s what you get when you live in a world that completely devalues qualities like honesty, integrity, decency and kindness, and conversely celebrates things like Having Stuff, Looking Good and Winning.
Justice Schmid had an eloquent take on the subject.
“I understand Chua’s disdain for the ‘build self-esteem at the cost of reality’ atmosphere of American parenting and the US in general (see: Sheen, Charlie). I understand she wants her daughters to be/have the best,” she wrote. “But she is an asshole because she measures success ONLY in an asshole way. Money, a prestigious career, thinness: she embraces a shallow and materialistic definition of achievement. Success, to her, is creating a specific veneer to show the rest of the world. Integrity, true happiness, peace with oneself, even love: all secondary, if not entirely insignificant. I honestly feel sorry for her.”
I don’t (feel sorry for Amy Chua). I do, however, find her to be an asshole. I gave her 5020 points on the scale, using the same rationale some of the other Justices have developed, which is that 5,000 is the maximum number of points any asshole can get without, as Justice Whitmer put it, “death being involved.” In solidarity with Justice Kreider, I added another 20 points just because Chua is Chinese.
Overall, the Justices on average gave Chua 4,024 points, with the highest being Justice Kourkounis’s 8000, the lowest being Magary’s 1,006. That places her below George Will and above Elton John on the asshole-ometer.
The Court in addition was asked how many additional points a Yale degree adds to the baseline asshole score of any human being.
The general consensus was, not many. The surprisingly forgiving Magary said a Yale degree added no points at all, explaining that: “An Ivy League diploma only gets you a head start on douchebag points, and that’s a whole other category of human being.”
My take on this was that it depended on the offender: a Yale degree is completely inoffensive on your average cancer researcher, but it adds 600 to Fareed Zakaria.
Justice Kreider was decisive on the topic, saying that a Yale degree added fifty points. “Given the disproportionate advantages having this name on your degree bestows on alumni I think fifty asshole points is a pretty small price to pay, which they can well afford,” he said. “However, mentioning that you went to Yale, in any context at all, adds another hundred.”
In a rare show of judicial-cartoonist unity, Kreider’s counterpart Rees bolstered the Kreider opinion, declaring that “if someone’s an asshole and they went to Yale, add another 25% to their asshole points.” Under the Rees formulation, William F. Buckley might be the Court’s first 12,000-point asshole… but that is another subject for another day.
Justice Boylan, in Thomas mode, expressed disdain for the entire points system and abstained from speaking disparagingly of Bulldogs.
We have more rulings to come, and in addition, the possibility of an official swearing-in ceremony is being discussed. More later…