The most exciting part of being introduced to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (aside from the books being ridiculously engaging and well written) is being able to dwell on politics, religion and governance on such a grand, versatile scale.
Watching the cat fights, dog fights and Russian roulette from inside Iran today raises so many important questions that consume me on a daily basis.
[Disclaimer: these are questions, thoughts, pondering, whatever you want to call them ... not prescriptions.]
What is democracy? Yes, I have read Plato, Aristotle and Rawls … It is not an academic answer I seek, but a practical one. I live in a ‘democratic’ state where the nation’s top builder can block our roads and driveways indefinitely, and the city doesn’t even wink, (despite the residents having tried to take the case to court). Where all funding for Gay Pride is threatened unanimously by the city council if the 15 member strong “Queers against apartheid” participate in the festivities, where most people are so consumed with American Idol and shopping that they fail to notice their country going up in flames (albeit slowly). Where signs, roads and billboards are splashed with the name of the nation’s top communications companies more avidly than you see Khoemini and martyrs in Iran. Where my friends gets assaulted on campus for handing out Israeli Apartheid Week brochures, and the dean asks her to apologize to the violent bastard (hey, at least she’s not being expelled like students @ U of Irvine).
Sure, it shit loads better than theocracy I hear over and over again and I am routinely blasted by Iranians for being “ungrateful”, namak nashnas. Sure I appreciate wearing my cute two piece while frolicking on the beach, I realize that is something Iran would forbid me … But I am hinting at something more … structural here. Granted that democracy, like freedom, is not an absolute, but it is not in absolutist terms that I ponder its meaning and significance.
No kidding. If the modern democratic state can only claim to be so much better than a theocracy, that’s not sayin’ much at all.
When we Iranians say “democracy” we mean very immediate things: release of prisoners, not having our sons and daughters killed by militias out on the streets or their bodies mutilated in prisons or a totalitarian “supreme” leader who can fuck us all with a simple gesture of his hand … things that were more or less summarized by Rafsanjani and Mousavi two years ago, after the
But when we chant and cry and yell “democracy” there is more depth to it than those immediate demands. So what is it? Where do we find it? I don’t live in a democracy, I live in a populist oligarchy, a consumerist authoritarian state, leagues worse than the one Marcuse envisioned. When he wrote One Dimensional Man, he was being too kind, or too optimistic … all that is left, it seems, is .0000000001 dimensions of a man.
So is this what we are striving to become? Is it a consumerist authoritarian state which we seek? Is that an end worth ones life, day or even hour? I’ve watched this nation go from being one of the best countries in the world, one of the best practicing examples of fair and just governance … to a semi-totalitarian state and still going … In fact, it seems to me that the (relative) freedom and equality people enjoyed as I was growing up, worked to make them lazy and pacified, to take things for granted perhaps? To not see when the rug is being pulled from under their Birkenstock and Louboutin clad feet. And herein itself lies one of the biggest quandaries capitalist “democracies” face: to have a real, vibrant, functional one requires daily maintenance, effort and pain.
Iranian admiration for this state of affairs is no indicator either, as for all intents and purposes, the Iranian population that enters the West is highly educated or professional, and so the lower echelons of society they do not see. I’ll hurl if I hear one more Iranian-American croon about how great America is on youtube, unless they’ve spent a day with the millions and millions of Americans living without healthcare, education, clean water or housing, the 12 year olds working 14 hours a day to pick the apples we so “thankfully” shove into our pies for Thanksgiving. Spend a day with the victims of American bombs and bullets in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, etc, etc and then sing “land of the free” while you wolf down a McBurger.
Not that this shit doesn’t go on in Iran. But as I said before: if the modern democratic state can only claim to be so much better than a theocracy, that’s not sayin’ much at all.
Yes, thank goodness for the iPod, and highly advanced medical research. But I am not looking on a local level here. There are 6+ Billion of us and growing. What percentage would give a fuck about the glory of your research institution or the awesomeness of your new app? What percentage are actually working as slaves to bring it to you?
So yeah, how’s that democracy thing working out for ya? I’ve heard folks in Scandinavia enjoy the more authentic kind, but I’ve never been there, so who knows?
Another point of interest to me is the the continuous irrelevance of the expat community, and our continuous insistence on the ‘significant role’ we play. I don’t even understand why citizens living outside countries are allowed to vote. If you don’t live in a place, your opinion ceases to matter. You may like to fall into the Friedmanian “world as global village” bullshit, but that’s just what it is: cow dung. Many Iranians I see are so far removed from daily life in Iran, where at best, their claim to any connection is the family dinner conversations over kabob they have once a year (or decade) whey they fly to the “mother land” for family visits. And don’t get me started on “Iranians are …” or “Eyeranians believe … ” where “Iranian” is cousin Aghdas and Aunt Shirin and Amou Morteza. Yo motherfucker! The world is not your dinner table, so quit yacking!
Most of it sounds like self-righteous banter to me, and quite self-serving too as they claim “revolution” will sweep the country by next week and they can fly back to Shangri-La by the end of September and purchase that penthouse by the Caspian sea.
It’s one thing to care about your homeland, it’s another to make prescriptions for it. I think I realize the role that an academic community can play, in spreading ideas and democratic debate. But to write rubbish and make uneducated assumptions and claims ad nauseum … As an expat, it makes me cringe. As an Iranian inside Iran, it makes me angry. I don’t understand how that is helpful, although it certainly does make a lot of us feel better.
To me, it’s a feast for crows, always. Totalitarian crows inside and outside Iran pecking on the bodies and blood of real people, living real lives. Leaving them the hell alone is the only way I’ve found around this dilemma so far. Thus the silence here.