Wednesday, June 22, 2005

About not voting

About not voting

I'd like to respond to the two comments of TE and Ali M on the previous post both about the election results and why I choose not to vote in the runoff. To put my decision in context, I am going to offer first an edited version of the Putty in the Lala Land post of a few months back. I'll pick up next where the post leaves off.


…[W]e have may dirty secrets few talk about in public ….Let's make some sweeping generalizations here to get some points across quickly ….

We Iranians, I've concluded, are a curious mix of some of the nicest universally approved qualities plus the standard issue European class snobbery, an American sense of exceptionalism, and some typical angry Arab temperaments.

The exceptionalism is not country/mission related. It is personal in a contextual or situational way. You can never have a routine here. In fact, what makes meetings drag on and on is that everyone comes up with that exceptionally singular event which has to be settled first or all will have been in vain.Accordingly, given how exceptional we think we are, and the consequences -- all the phone calls and the sick days, the dead relative days, the insane mother days, the domestic fight days, traumatizes kid days etc. our work force has some of the lowest possible recordable productivity for such organized chaos.

So there you have it. Dirty secret number one.Every one of us, regardless of how ordinary, will in fact fancy ourselves uniquely exceptional.

So exceptional in fact that none of us can wait for the light to turn green before crossing the street, or follow any of the traffic ordinances including the "one way" signs. We are all so exceptionally busy, in fact, that we can't even wait our turn in grocery stores or banks or any other government offices.

Or not drive in reverse in the middle of highways or not go skating in the beltways. It is absolutely mind bugling.

So then most merchants on different streets collect money and bribe the police officers to stay away and not fine customers illegally double parked. But that too is the fault of the regime or that British conspiracy aimed at corrupting us since no one else on the planet is as busy or quite as brutalized as we have been, and so no one quite as unable to park at some distance in order to finish daily shopping.

Every one of us has a grand--I kid you not, truly exceptionally grand--story about an exceptional event which has prevented us from doing what we must. Either that or those standard denials and projections. And the lashing outs in anger. That's the temperament I was telling you about. Putty and his dagger.

And nothing can satisfy us, ever.We had wanted the freedom to read books just for as long as books were banned. The moments we could get any book we wanted freely at the local bookstore, we stopped buying them since obviously this too was a part of some conspiracy to pacify us. Every space that becomes open to us is not worth it because, to paraphrase that most loathsome of pitches, all forms of social openings are just "safety valves" intended to postpone the inevitable.

And then there is all the emphasis on the IQ and on our supposed cunning. (zerangi) In fact, humoring each other's IQs is a favorite pastime here. That and calling people simple, stupid and idiotic. There is even a popular insult articulated in the vocative thanks to an Iranian soap opera:

Ahay…EYE Qui--You

Among the elite, and understandably so even the less fortunate, there is that emphasis on money; oldmoney/newmoney /family lineage/the past achievements /regional background/proper accents, you get my drift. AGAIN THE EMPHASIS ON VERY VERY PRONOUNCD to the point of caricatures. That's the European snobbery I was alluding to.

Of course, we can't ever get beyond the past details. Very unforgiving, indeed. That's the dirty secret number two.

It is not rare to hear…."when we were doing such and such/our family driving this or that/ our house located here or there….they were meandering on a donkey eating cheese and living in a hut. The reason I am telling you all this is because I'd like to give you some sense for the need to believe in conspiracies. Especially given that the discourse itself originates from a particularly bitter and boisterous group that shall go nameless for now.

Think like those Iranian for a minute. Looking around: not as rich as you had hoped or thought you'd be or deserved. You can't dress as you wish in public. Can't drink or dance openly. Can't organize even if you wanted to or could; unable to form a political party or write without trepidations. Can't have the king or queen you want or the courtly ostentations and the fools and the whorehouses especially since you think all those "lascivious" "rich" Arabs in the Gulf are stealing the ones who should be working domestically.

In the good old days, you think, they were all heading "here" and now ours are going "there!" What injustice! Doesn't the sun supposedly shine in the mornings because Iran is in the dark?

What's worst, a group of people you think have "low IQs" have been ruling you and most of them even speak with a regional accent, or might be Arabs; neither shave nor wear trendy clothes or ties in public and it appears that despite your best efforts, they have outsmarted you at every turn and have proven more cunning.

What are you going to choose to believe? That you haven't been as smart, cunning, deserving and competent or that there are vast conspiracies out there lead by the British with the help of other Western powers to rob you of your richly deserved proceeds of that oil money?Just to postpone your inevitable ascension to high heaven! We are a rich country after all, aren't we?

And we can all have everything we want immediately and without sweating for it. That the entire amount Iran earned after selling millions of barrels of oil everyday given the high prices of last year was a meager 28 billion is never all that pertinent. We must have everything come to us the moment we will it without much work or effort. Just divide everything up the revenues by a population of 70,000,000. A net worth less than that is a travesty.

Try building the country you're after on that attitude. If we haven't succeeded, then there must be something fundamentally wrong with the universe.

Recall for instance that one of the most frequently conjured up insults hurled at the "Supreme Leader," Mr. Khamenei, by certain boisterous circles is that he worked for a living--horror of horrors--in the past at low wages giving sermons house to house."Vagabond," I believe is the term used. What kind of an insult is that, really? In what obscene world view working for a living becomes a political insult?

Hence, the dirty little secret number three. One of the reason there hasn't been a revolution around here, really, is that for a developing country, there is so much money going around that it is obscene. Money and power, in my opinion, have never been so diffused in the history of modern Iran. And the degree of whining from the wealthy in opposition just doesn’t add up.

Let's do some simple math for a change.Multiply the number of students registered in universities and those already degreed by the tuition required +housing and living expenses (from 500,000 to a couple of millions for medical students a semester); add the number of cars on the streets on any given day; the home ownership stats; and the number of nose jobs and the face lifts, weekly hair removals and the hair do's; land grabs and property ownership; mobile phones and computers and other gadgets; the perpetual shopping sprees, the marriage , birthday and funeral feasts; the number of people traveling to Europe, Canada or America, Turkey, Kish, Dubai, Mecca and Syria each year; all the souvenirs that is a must with each trip for the entire family; the good-by parties; the hello-I am-back parties; the remodeling, the satellite dishes and the latest appliances, trips to the Caspian sea on the weekends and the weekend villas; the widespread weekly gambling, the opium and other drugs and alcohol; not to mention the preposterous number of legal cases involving fraud in huge sums pending in the Ministry of Justice etc, all this versus the widely reported/repeated average monthly earnings and unemployment rate to get a sense for why some are politically inactive.

The Gold Quest scam alone here recently has had, to the best of my knowledge, 700,000 plaintiffs with 600,000 minimum investments from what I understand. Central Bank official reported $3 billion in money lost in a short span of time.

Some of these people have been the loudest about poverty and injustice here. Fair enough. You don’t have to be poor to find poverty distasteful.But do you really think any are willing to risk their precious positions to fight for change or risk life and limb to ensure better opportunities for the poor--the very same people most are quite comfortable in ignoring on any given day?

And when confronted with the question of whence the expectation for manna from heaven, the answer always: "we deserve better; we are a rich country. We have oil."

And so, the pitch here is: the country is corrupt, the rulers are crooks but I am that exceptionally well off one who made my money the exceptionally clean way. And I deserve more. Incidentally, these are some of the folks most likely to position themselves on the fence to go with the winner in case of any conflict.

And they normally corrupt anything they go near and subsequently come to blame everything as always on others.In the meanwhile, the dissatisfied, quiet contingents who bear more than any human being should suffer in a civilized society continue life as they have always. With some measure of dignity left and an admirable degree of self restrain.

They are watching very closely.What they see is how quite a large number are obscenely well off and living it up as a result of a revolution that promised equality and justice. They are swallowing their pride everyday because for the reasons obvious to all who have ever visited the developing world, the elites and the wealthy are some of the most obnoxious, rude and insufferable you'll ever encounter.

The same people who demand prestige and respect at every turn are most disrespectful of others. Those Sadr city slums were no accident. Neither are some of our own. And our good folk see ostentations in an Islamic Republic and they hear constantly the rhetoric about a better future, on the one hand, and all the loud chatter about the "Bi-Sar-O-Paha" literally "the head/ foot less," i.e. those "with no class!" (the poor).

Do you really think they are going to risk life and limb for the promise of a better future? So some could use their battered bodies as their ladder of success? Or risk precious life to end up where some pimple faced, spoiled brat lectures them again about the need to suck it up and stop all this "class envy"!

What would you do if this was the exhortation aimed at you: "Losers, you deserve your fate. But do get out there and risk what little you have so we can have a better life!"There are simple reasons, after all, that Herbert's spice merchants often make poor revolutionaries during periods of turmoil.

They've heard all this before. What hope is there for them? What precisely are they going to have to look forward to with the track record they've witnessed under both the monarchy and this regime?

Thus the dirty secret number four.Some of these very same people have been getting in on the loot and have had their share of certain social services unimaginable during the previous regime. And they now want more. Lots more! They think they deserve everything they can get. I think they should get more too. But how? What mechanism? And to what extent?

That said they really don't want to risk losing what they have been getting.More later.

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