Iran: Evolution, Revolution, or Regression?
June 24, 2009 22:07

Iran: Evolution, Revolution, or Regression?
Jeff Salzman, Steve McIntosh, and Robb Smith
Written by Corey W. deVos

Iran, a nation that has spent the last century struggling to make its way into the modern world, now finds itself beset on all sides by massive internal and external pressures.  An enormous amount of civil unrest has been ignited during the recent 2009 presidential election, a response to apparent voter fraud that has crippled one of the few stable modern structures found in present-day Iran.  A maelstrom of cultural, political, economic, religious, and historic forces conspire to turn one of history's proudest and most colorful cultures into a volatile powder-keg in the 21st century—and if we have learned anything at all from these past 10 days, it is simply that a fuse has now been lit.  What happens next is almost anyone's guess—will Iran find a way to evolve its own political systems?  Will it retain its currently theocratic status quo?  Or will the country begin to fall apart altogether?

In this exclusive hour-long commentary, Jeff Salzman, Steve McIntosh, and Robb Smith discuss the strife we are seeing in Iran, exploring the past, present, and future of the mighty Persian empire.  They talk about both the universals and the particulars of the Iranian struggle, identifying the central problem as a conflict between modern and traditional worldviews, while plugging the conflict into the much larger context of history’s unfolding.

For those unfamiliar with the recent events in Iran, see below for a general summary of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.

Topics Include:

• Why Integral? There are thousands of voices in the mainstream media currently engaged in the Iran discussion, offering some highly sophisticated perspectives from all over the political and cultural landscape.  What does the Integral approach actually have to bring to this already-crowded table?  Jeff and Steve share their own thoughts, discussing some of the unique contributions and observations Integral thought has to bear, and why only an Integral approach can make sense of so much complexity by offering a comprehensive view of psychological and social emergence.

• Your Revolution Will Not Be Televised... Instead, it will be on Twitter, YouTube, and FaceBook!  Information technology has been critical to the Iranian resistance, helping people combat the state’s dictatorial control of media and to quickly communicate with each other and the rest of the world.  Steve, Jeff, and Robb talk about the powerful role social media plays in Iran and the world at-large, exposing previously isolated cultures to outside influences and modern ideas, while giving a voice to many who might not otherwise have one.

• President Obama's Response: Some have criticized Obama's reaction to the Iran election as weak and diminutive in the face of Iranian oppression, making the case that America should ally itself with the resistance as a way to defend freedom and liberty on a global scale.  Others are praising Obama's composure, decrying violence in Iran without taking a strong stance against the Iranian regime, noting that even the perception of American support would further embolden a regime that already sees Western influence as the "Great Satan" (a fair characterization, some say, considering America's extremely meddlesome involvement over the past 50 years).  Is Obama right or wrong?  What sorts of roles should America play to help similarly developing nations around the world?

• Going Nuclear: Iran has been pursuing the development of nuclear technology since the 1950's, initially with America's assistance.  Their first fully operational nuclear power plant is scheduled to come online later this year, and there have been "high confidence" allegations of an active nuclear weapons program.  If these allegations prove to be true, this would make Iran the tenth nation to possess nuclear weapons—which, when combined with radical Islamic fundamentalism and a culture of martyrdom, seems to make the threat of mutually-assured destruction much less of a deterrent than it has been for fully modernized nations.  What are the real-world implications of a nuclear Iran?

• What Can We Do? As the rest of the world watches, waits, and wonders how to help influence things for the better, the best thing we can do is to get our own houses in order—to offer our personal and cultural support while maintaining political distance, to continue ripening the fruits of modernity while finding better ways to mitigate its disasters, assuring that globalization remains a positive evolutionary force in our world by prioritizing moral conduct as much as we do making money.

• What Can I Do? Regardless of what happens in coming weeks, one thing is clear: we are witnessing a sea change in Iranian culture, and the country will never be the same.  Fragments of information are flooding through our TVs and computer screens in a chaotic gush, words and images that arouse our inspiration even as they torpedo our hearts.  Jeff, Steve, and Robb offer their own advice on how to hold the powerful emotions and confusion that so many of us feel, emphasizing the importance of immersing ourselves as fully as we can into all perspectives on all sides of the conflict.

Iran is home to one the world's oldest continuous civilizations, stretching more than 7000 years into the dawn of pre-history, with a profound heritage of Persian philosophy, art, science, mathematics, literature, and astronomy—a heritage that in many ways forms the cornerstone of Islamic civilization.  Geographically, Iran is located at the outer tip of the "Fertile Crescent," a swath of rich soil that also cuts through present-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, and Turkey.  Often referred to as the "Cradle of Civilization," it is a region where both writing and the wheel were first discovered, and represents the geographic origin point from which all of human society has descended.  Iran shares this legacy as the Womb of the World—a womb that is again suffering violent contractions, shaking the foundations of civilization and rattling our very notions of freedom, justice, and human dignity.

This shaking of the foundations has yielded an interesting effect: as Steve points out, it is as if a massive earthquake has struck, exposing the geological strata of consciousness and culture in the process.  And here is where an Integral analysis of the Iranian conflict is truly paramount: in order to fully understand what is going on, we must identify these psychological and cultural strata as separate layers of cultural and psychological development, and recognize that at the heart of the Iranian struggle lies the very same conflict experienced by all industrialized nations around the world—the painful and typically bloodstained transition from traditional to modern values.

Integral theory suggests a wide spectrum of conscious and cultural development, a synthesis of more than 50 years of collective research from the world's foremost thinkers in the fields of psychology, anthropology, social sciences, etc.  There is an evolutionary arc that guides our interior growth through increasing waves of morality, complexity, and shared worldviews—ranging from archaic, to magic, to mythic, to rational, to pluralistic, to integral levels of development, and beyond.  Philosopher Ken Wilber has designed an elaborate color-coded system to track these major stages of growth, which you will find summarized at the bottom of this page.

While this sort of 50,000-foot view of human development is essential to our understanding of current and historic realities in Iran, we cannot allow ourselves to become lost in such generalized abstraction.  Like a finely crafted quilt, it is best to admire each individual square and the overall pattern tying the squares together—that is, while the conflict between traditional and modern forces is universal to sufficiently-advanced societies, the particulars of those conflicts vary greatly among different cultures, different geopolitical locations, and different points in history.  The American Civil War, the French Revolution, the Spanish Inquisition, the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire, and the current strife in Iran—all of these share the very same inherent source of conflict (the developmental divide between traditional and modern stages development), but have all played themselves out very differently according to the needs, conditions, and technologies of the time.  Robb, Steve, and Jeff explore those details of the Iranian struggle that are truly unique to this region and this era, demonstrating how the rubber of Integral theory is hitting the road of real-life emergence.

Although we certainly hope to see Iran blossom into a legitimate modern civilization, bringing the mighty Persian empire into a new era of historic significance, it must be a distinctly Iranian form of modernization, rather than being forced upon them by the Western world.  If recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything at all, it is that modern democracy cannot be simply exported and imposed upon foreign peoples—it must arise organically from within its own historic context, the result of a developmental tipping-point of modern and moderate voices coming to the forefront of society.  It is not enough to spout the platitudes of Western liberalism to foreign societies who do not share our history, nor to hope that the iconic struggles of the American forefathers will hold any resonance whatsoever in distant lands. They must discover and express these things for themselves, find their own unique embodiment of the rational wisdom found in Thomas Jefferson's famous quip: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Additional Reading

I - The 2009 Iranian Presidential Election

from Wikipedia

Iran's tenth presidential election was held on 12 June 2009. The President of Iran is the highest official elected by direct popular vote, but does not control foreign policy or the armed forces. Candidates have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, a twelve member body consisting of six clerics (selected by Iran's Supreme Leader), and six lawyers (proposed by the head of Iran's judicial system and voted in by the Parliament).

The Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's official news agency, announced that with two-thirds of the votes counted, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election with 66% of the votes cast, and that Mir-Hossein Mousavi had received 33% of the votes cast. The European Union and several western countries expressed concern over alleged irregularities during the vote, and some analysts and journalists from United States and Europe based media voiced doubts about the authenticity of the results. Meanwhile many OIC member states, as well as Russia, China, India, and Brazil, have congratulated Ahmadinejad on his victory.

Mousavi issued a statement saying, "I'm warning that I won't surrender to this charade," and he urged his backers to fight the decision as well as to avoid committing acts of violence. Protests, in favour of Mousavi and against the alleged fraud, broke out in Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad, labeling his victory as a "divine assessment". Mousavi lodged an official appeal against the result to the Guardian Council on 14 June. On 15 June, Khamenei announced there would be an investigation into vote-rigging claims, which would take seven to ten days. On 16 June, the Guardian Council announced it will recount the votes. However, Mousavi stated that 14 million unused ballots were missing, giving a chance to manipulate the results.


The incumbent was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian reform movement attempted to unite behind a single candidate; former President Mohammad Khatami had been the leading opponent to Ahmadinejad in some opinion polls until he withdrew and endorsed former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Former Speaker of the Majlis Mehdi Karroubi, another Reformist, was also running, as was former Commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezaee, a Conservative with a reputation of political pragmatism. The election marked a return to the public spotlight for Mousavi, who had not received much attention since he served as Prime Minister in the 1980s. Reformist opinions galvanized around him as the election grew nearer. He became the symbol for a groundswell of youthful democratic sentiment, despite his personal background and his political views.

The Telegraph has described the campaign as "unusually open by Iranian standards, but also highly acrimonious." It was marked by heated rhetoric between the incumbent and his challengers. Mousavi and two other candidates said Ahmadinejad had lied about the state of the economy, which was suffering from high inflation and a fall in oil revenues from last year's record levels. Ahmadinejad responded by comparing his opponents to Adolf Hitler, adding that they could be jailed for their comments. "No one has the right to insult the president, and they did it. And this is a crime. The person who insulted the president should be punished, and the punishment is jail... Such insults and accusations against the government are a return to Hitler's methods, to repeat lies and accusations... until everyone believes those lies," Ahmadinejad said.

Debates about the economy played the biggest role in the campaign, with the global economic recession looming in people's minds. About one in five Iranians live under the poverty line, inflation is at about 25 percent, and unemployment is at over 12.5 percent (some unofficial estimates report it as 30 percent). Mousavi advocated further privatization of the economy towards a free market with a tight monetary policy in comparison to Ahmadinejad's populist fiscal policy, with Ahmadinejad making measures to fight poverty a key principle in his campaign. Mousavi drew his electoral base from the middle and upper classes while Ahmadinejad drew support from the urban poor and rural residents. Civil servants, police officers, pensioners, and others dependent on the government also contributed to Ahmadinejad's base. He made financial support from the business class against him into a theme of attack. BBC News has described his campaign as "one that foresees the death of capitalism".

Mousavi also criticized Ahmadinejad for diplomatically isolating Iran by denying the Holocaust and making anti-Western speeches. He opposed the government's current strict enforcement of Islamic dress and social behavior as well, calling for an end to the regime's 'Vice Police'. He advocated letting private individuals and groups own Iranian media. Both candidates strongly supported further development of the Iranian nuclear program. However, Mousavi advocated a less combative and tense tone with other nations about the program. He also floated the idea of an international consortium overseeing uranium enrichment in Iran. BBC News has stated about Mousavi that "[i]n foreign affairs, he seems to be offering little change on major issues". Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Mohamad Bazzi has stated that "[i]f Mousavi wins, it could create a new opening for dialogue with the United States. Ahmadinejad's continued presence would be a major obstacle". Robert Fisk has also remarked that a Mousavi victory would mean closer ties to the U.S.

The campaign was the most expensive in the Islamic republic's history, with the two main candidates spending more than tens of millions of dollars in bid to convince voters to support them. Funds were spent on, among other things, a mass distribution of computerized propaganda, such as CDs and DVDs. Another interesting phenomenon which took place during the campaign was a dramatic rise in the number of text messages sent to Iranian cell phone subscribers, from 60 million messages a day to some 110 million. Mousavi adopted the traditional Islamic color, green, as a campaign symbol. Young male supporters wore green ribbons tied around their wrists and young female supporters wore green headscarves. Activists used the term 'Change' as his main slogan, chanting phrases such as "Green change for Iran", "Together for change", and "Vote for change".

II - Stages of Psychological and Cultural Devlopment

In order to fully understand and appreciate the different sets of values and beliefs enacted around the world, we must allow ourselves to step back and take a developmental view of world culture—one which can make sense of the full spectrum of perspectives that are currently at play in the global conversation.

The premise of this sort of developmental view is simple: people evolve. As people evolve, they move through a particular sequence of stages, a sequence that has been long studied by Western psychologists and has been found to be essentially universal to every culture in the world. Taking a developmental view accounts for the “multiple intelligences” every human being possesses, including cognitive development and intelligence, values and beliefs, charisma and interpersonal skills, etc. There is a long list of these different sorts of intelligences, each growing along its own particular developmental track, but there is enough congruence in their overall development that we can begin to take a meta-view of our growth and development by using a very simple concept known as “Altitude.” Altitude is essentially a barometer of overall human growth, which uses the color spectrum to denote several major stages of development—each of which has slowly evolved over the course of human history, though still very much at play in today’s world:

• Magenta (egocentric, magic, tribal): Magenta Altitude began about 50,000 years ago, and tends to be the home of egocentric drives, a magical worldview, and impulsiveness. It is expressed through magic/animism, kin-spirits, and such. Young children primarily operate with a magenta worldview. Magenta in any line of development is fundamental, or "square one" for any and all new tasks. Magenta emotions and cognition can be seen driving such cultural phenomena as superhero-themed comic books or movies.

• Red (ego- to ethnocentric, egoic): The Red Altitude began about 10,000 years ago, and is the marker of egocentric drives based on power, where "might makes right," where aggression rules, and where there is a limited capacity to take the role of an "other." Red impulses are classically seen in grade school and early high school, where bullying, teasing, and the like are the norm. Red motivations can be seen culturally in Ultimate Fighting contests, which have no fixed rules (fixed rules come into being at the next Altitude, Amber), teenage rebellion and the movies that cater to it (The Fast and the Furious), gang dynamics (where the stronger rule the weaker), and the like.

• Amber (ethnocentric, mythic, traditional): The Amber Altitude began about 5,000 years ago, and indicates a worldview that is traditionalist and mythic in nature—and mythic worldviews are almost always held as absolute (this stage of development is often called absolutistic). Instead of "might makes right," amber ethics are more oriented to the group, but one that extends only to "my" group. Grade school and high school kids usually exhibit amber motivations to "fit in." Amber ethics help to control the impulsiveness and narcissism of red. Culturally, amber worldviews can be seen in fundamentalism (my God is right no matter what); extreme patriotism (my country is right no matter what); and ethnocentrism (my people are right no matter what).

• Orange (worldcentric, rational, modern): The Orange Altitude began about 500 years ago, during the period known as the European Enlightenment. In an orange worldview, the individual begins to move away from the amber conformity that reifies the views of one's religion, nation, or tribe. The orange worldview often begins to emerge in late high school, college, or adulthood. Culturally, the orange worldview realizes that "truth is not delivered; it is discovered," spurring the great advances of science and formal rationality. Orange ethics begin to embrace all people, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...." Ayn Rand's Objectivism, the US Bill of Rights, and many of the laws written to protect individual freedom all flow from an orange worldview.

• Green (worldcentric, pluralistic, post-modern): The Green Altitude began roughly 150 years ago, though it came into its fullest expression during the 1960’s. Green worldviews are marked by pluralism, or the ability to see that there are multiple ways of seeing reality. If orange sees universal truths ("All men are created equal"), green sees multiple universal truths—different universals for different cultures. Green ethics continue, and radically broaden, the movement to embrace all people. A green statement might read, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, regardless of race, gender, class...." Green ethics have given birth to the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements, as well as environmentalism.

The green worldview's multiple perspectives give it room for greater compassion, idealism, and involvement, in its healthy form. Such qualities are seen by organizations such as the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Doctors Without Borders. In its unhealthy form green worldviews can lead to extreme relativism, where all beliefs are seen as relative and equally true, which can in turn lead to the nihilism, narcissism, irony, and meaninglessness exhibited by many of today's intellectuals, academics, and trend-setters... not to mention another "lost" generation of students.

• Teal (worldcentric to “kosmocentric,” integral): The Teal Altitude marks the beginning of an integral worldview, where pluralism and relativism are transcended and included into a more systematic whole. The transition from green to teal is also known as the transition from “1st-tier” values to “2nd-tier” values, the most immediate difference being the fact that each “1st-tier” value thinks it is the only truly correct value, while “2nd-tier” values recognize the importance of all preceding stages of development. Thus, the teal worldview honors the insights of the green worldview, but places it into a larger context that allows for healthy hierarchies, and healthy value distinctions.

Perhaps most important, a teal worldview begins to see the process of development itself, acknowledging that each one of the previous stages (magenta through green) has an important role to play in the human experience. Teal consciousness sees that each of the previous stages reveals an important truth, and pulls them all together and integrates them without trying to change them to “be more like me,” and without resorting to extreme cultural relativism (“all are equal”). Teal worldviews do more than just see all points of view (that’s a green worldview)—it can see and honor them, but also critically evaluate them.

• Turquoise (“kosmocentric,” integral): Turquoise is a mature integral view, one that sees not only healthy hierarchy but also the various quadrants of human knowledge, expression, and inquiry (at the minimum: I, we, and it). While teal worldviews tend to be secular, turquoise is the first to begin to integrate Spirit as a living force in the world (manifested through any or all of the 3 Faces of God: “I”—the “No self” or “witness” of Buddhism; “we/thou”—the “great other” of Christianity, Judaism, Hindusm, Islam, etc.; or “it”—the “Web of Life” seen in Taoism, Pantheism, etc.).


« recent entry | return to index | previous entry »

  © 2015 Ken Wilberhome | what's new | professional | personal | cultural | social | cool stuff site design by ursa minor