Saturday, June 13, 2009
Iranian Culture Wars
Landslide or Fraud? The Debate Online Over Iran’s Election Results - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com:
A reader using the Web alias “Iranian Voter” reminds us that the repeated warnings from Iran’s intelligence service that opposition movements in favor of reform in Iran are nothing more than foreign government plots are believed by some Iranians:
"Color revolutions were masterminded by the West to turn former Soviet states into western satellite states, thus encircling Russia with hostile pro-Western states. Iran is of course the missing gap, the vulnerable underbelly of Russia. Yet, is that all you westerners conceive of us, your stooges? You have not learned the historical lessons then. A few days before the election the Moussavi camp turned green, made human chain, simulated 1978 street clashes, their puppet masters at CIA headquarters & MI6 in rapture. Soft green-colored coup turned to be a putsch and a grief to its organizers."
I do hope--and believe--that the US will have the good sense to stay out of this one.
Personally I've never understood why anyone cares one way or the other about being the "stooge" of a foreign power or some other alien group. But there are clearly a significant number of people who prefer to live in shit so long as it's their own shit.
It's hardly peculiar to Iran. We've been fighting this culture war in the US for over 30 years now: the war between the educated urban upper middle class and the lower classes--working class urban white ethnics and and rural rednecks. And we've finally won. Interestingly, Ahmadinejad had support for the same demographic that voted, against their material interests, for Republicans in the US for the past 30 years: the urban lower classes and the pious rural poor. The matter with Iran is the same thing that's the matter with Kansas: a large body of resentful peasants and proles who would rather sacrifice material well-being and live in their own shit than be "stooges" of the educated, urban-coastal upper middle class--the lawyers and liberal politicians, college professors and journalists or, in Iranian terms, "the West."
Marx got it right and wrong. He was right in recognizing that the one really significant international conflict was class war. He was however wrong in thinking that it was a war between the peasants and proles on the one side and the capitalists on the other and, even more importantly, that the peasants and proles were the good guys. It was a natural mistake because he couldn't have anticipated the significance of "knowledge workers" in the 20th century and beyond. He saw "intellectuals" as a small, peripheral minority, potentially allied with the proles and peasants. He certainly never imagined that the proles and peasants would ally themselves with the capitalists against a large and growing professional intelligensia. Adam Smith writing a couple of generations earlier didn't even know what to make of educated professionals like doctors and opera singers--upper middle class professionals just didn't fit into his system.
It's a pity that we who lived through the Revolution ignored what Marx got right but picked up what he got wrong. Out of a laudible intent to stick up for the underdog we gave the proles and peasants a free pass. They were religious bigots--excusable, just a feature of their culture. They were crude, tasteless and ignorant--a mark in their favor: they weren't hypocritical or pretentious. The men were brutal, sexist and beat women up--no problem: women's rights could wait. I say "we" however in the generic sense for which there is no equivalent in American English. I was furious about my fellow student radicals who admired the working class, valorized their "culture" and the cultures of non-western peoples. I knew what these people were like at first hand and loathed them.
But returning to the Iranian elections, I'm reminded of own stolen election in 2000. As a thought-experiment imagine that after all the dirty tricks and the selection of George W. Bush by a Supreme Court packed with his supporters, some foreign power like the EU had intervened. Personally I'd have been delighted, but I suspect most Americans, obsessed with notions of national pride and the avoidance of stoogery, wouldn't have liked it one bit. I would love to be a colony of the EU because all I've ever wanted politically is a social democratic welfare state and I don't care who runs it: I couldn't care less about sovreignty, independence or national pride and being a colony wouldn't bother me in the least.
But most people don't feel that way, either in the US or in Iran. So I hope, and optimistically, expect that the US will bud out. This is their culture war, not ours, even if it is part of the larger global culture war between the educated upper middle class and the masses.
And we will surely win that culture war--not we Americans but we the global educated upper middle class, allied with the liberal populations of affluent countries and educated elites throught the world against the proles and peasants in the US and abroad. When things get too bad for the masses, as they did when the US economy collapsed last fall, they will decide that they would rather throw in their lot with the lawyers, college professors, journalists and urban-coastal yuppies than sink in their own shit. That's how Obama got in. But even more interestingly and importantly, when things get better for the masses they, or at least their children, will become us.