By Judith Gayle | Political Waves
Modernism is not a word I use much because it's too generic to be useful; and overused, as well. The innovation of the moment is always tagged modern, but having tucked a number of seasons under my belt, I remember when color television was the ultimate in modern -- or the microwave, which had my mother so concerned she would be nuked in her very own kitchen, she used it as a breadbox for two years before attempting to reheat a cup of coffee. New technology is always modern -- cutting-edge, we like to say -- and those of us who don't keep up with the latest stuff are constantly on the cusp of being obsolete; I'm there. I don't have a cell phone, let alone an iPhone or a Blackberry, so I'm obviously an old fogey. John McCain lost votes when it was revealed he couldn't e-mail -- now he's discovered the power of Twitter. Day late, dollar short, for John; and every comment he tweets is patently obsolete to the direction modernity is taking.
Modernism is a defining concept, however, in the big picture. Here in America, we consider ourselves the forerunners of modernity. That's pretty arrogant, considering how backwards we are on many important fronts. Still, we won the space race, put the web on the map and gave the world little blue pills to keep its resolutions firm so we're there; entrepreneurs of the first water, full of interesting ideas that change the outlook of the day and, ultimately, drive the marketplace. Notice that we've just connected the dots back to money. In this nation, profit and modernity are kissing-cousins; hand in hand, they offer us a chance to worship at the throne of the AmeriCo god and buy more techno-toys. Our American deity, it should be noted, does not seem to have an ethical or moral center; just a self-indulgent one.
For years now, the conversation about Middle Eastern culture as compared to Western has centered around modernity; they show little evidence of democracy as fundamentalist Islam forbids much of what we think of as modern thought. In places like Afghanistan, where war lords rule and tribalism runs deep, the Taliban, even though it is repressive and brutal, is welcomed by many because it offers structure in a chaotic collection of territories threatened by the West. It seems logical that squatting in the sand century after century, fighting the elements and one another, has proven to the locals that their survival requires some umbrella under which to gather and collectively fight against intruders. That the umbrella is radical Islam at its most stringent probably doesn't bother them; live in the empty desert for a few millennia -- every day the same, scratching out a survivor's life -- and then you tell me what's radical and what isn't.
It's impossible for the Western mind to approve oppressive Mideast traditions, such as marrying an eight-year-old or denying women the ability to walk in public ... shrouded black ghosts protected against the glance of strangers ... unaccompanied by a family member. This has little to do with politics or development and everything to do with the patriarchy granted by religion. Saudi Arabia, a country rich with oil, a developed infrastructure and structured social order, marries its children as well; because they can, I suppose, from the war lords to the oil princes. They see no problem with this ancient system, the Mullahs don't speak against it, and nobody on their side of the world ever calls them child molesters or sexual deviants. Modernity really isn't about money, then -- it's about belief systems; but when so much of our old belief system centers around the amalgam of money, religion and tribalism/nationalism, pounded into our brains day after day, it's difficult to move into 21st century thought. In case you missed it, I'm talking about us now; the good old US of A.
In Persia this week (now Iran, but this reminds me of all the historical achievement this ancient culture gave civilization; provides a little balance on the 'axis of evil' stuff) we have continued to see the poignant outcry of a population pitted against militant bullies. It's ironic that the most modern technology of the day has played so vital a part in destabilizing the only remaining theocracy on the planet. Best guess
on what's happened there tells us that the Ayatollah feared that Ahmadinejad's win would be put to a run-off because of the close vote; and decided to end the conversation in ham-handed fashion. As the Iranian Constitution provides for free elections (and little else,) huge numbers have protested what can only be called a government coup and some have given their lives; others, now that there is a special court gathered to try any dissenters, will likely give their futures.
Citizens, both living and dead, have been disappeared by the government, and the essential Muslim traditions of mourning denied the population. Massacres have been reported via Twitter and Facebook, but with no reporters permitted in the country nothing can be verified. Paramilitary Basij troops -- not the Guard but more the morality police and God Squad of the Ayatollah -- have raided neighborhoods at night and surrounded the homes of candidates, intellectuals and clerics who spoke out against fraud, carting many off to prison; some are being forced to confess they are shills of 'foreign powers,' so the Ayatollah can cover his overreach and rally his true believers with anti-Americanism. Most recently, the Brits are taking the hit; old enemies.
Foreign push for regime change is a legitimate enough factor, and while I won't speculate, pro
on how we might have helped this along, it's counter-intuitive to think Khamenei would tell the truth about either our motives or his own. What could he say? These ruthless foreigners are trying to free you from theocracy and encourage your democratic yearnings?
No, if he's to keep power, we must remain "The Great Satan," ready to smash their culture and corrupt their souls; and he must remain the voice of God. Too late on that last, I think.
No matter what happens now, the political unity of which Iran was so proud is destroyed; in the eyes of the watching world, unless another vote is approved this government will be considered unstable and fraudulent. And certainly the Ayatollah no longer has the credibility, granted by his own followers, to speak for "the Divine." This is the end of the mythology of Islamic purity, Revolution-style; and the beginning of an awareness of its dictatorship.
Mousavi's newest Facebook post
spells out the dilemma Khamenei faces in no uncertain terms:
Guns versus 'the greatness of God'; armed forces versus mobile phones, batons versus mourning, lies versus cameras, state-run television versus Twitter, bullets versus Facebook, power versus dignity ... who wins?
This is the very thing the clerics have feared; a Velvet Revolution. Internal dissatisfactions, handled badly and escalated by political misstep. The Iranian people are allowed protest as a right; the mayhem that has followed their peaceful gathering flies in the face of their own law, hard-won in their ouster of the Shah. Now protest is being met with batons and bullets. Before we sneer at this brutal assault on civil liberty, however, we'd better examine the mote in our own eye; Americans are guaranteed a similar right of protest but we can no longer depend on it. Now we're herded into protest zones far from the eyes and ears of those we wish to influence, our names are put on security watch lists, we're assaulted with tasers and rubber bullets. We don't need an angry protest to earn police ire; a peaceful one will often turn sour. Ask Democracy Now's Amy Goodman
about that. I wouldn't be too quick to finger-point at Iran's government without a realistic glimpse of our own.
In the Middle East they stone their adulterers; they murder mothers of children born out of wedlock. Here, stoning looks different -- John Edwards, the only politician that spoke to the concerns of the truly impoverished in this nation and proposed an aggressive sweep of corporate abuse, has been stoned publically in the media for his sexual affair; he occasionally surfaces, bruised and battered, to prove he's still alive. The mother of his suspected child is writing a tell-all; she may fill her piggy bank, but she will murder any remaining standing in the community; she is not a sympathetic figure. Elizabeth Edwards, who deserves some compassion in this matter and despite her fatal illness, was sliced and diced by media for her own memoir, which briefly mentioned the affair. Tell me we don't stand in national judgment like a paler version of the Mullahs, ready to hand out lashes.
The human condition comes in a variety of guises, but it is still the human condition. Our mirrors are everywhere, our commonalities glaringly apparent, our talent at glimpsing the larger picture affected by our ability to decode the daily manipulations of the callow voices around us. It's easy enough to disconnect from reality if we are not vigilant; we are too often called to prayer in our corporatist nation, and assigned our marching orders from the High Priests and Prophets of Commerce. Buy, trust, ignore. For instance:
How is it that redistribution of wealth is considered an end to American values when wealth has been redistributed upwards into the pockets of fat cats for generations? How is it that devotion to the free market must remain unquestioned, when it's only the lower classes subject to loss -- business, commerce, upper-class citizens and conglomerates are subsidized through tax breaks and giveaways that leave them all but risk-free?
How can we not drop our jaw at Republican Senator Lindsay Graham's
health care commentary that the " ... public option needs to go away?" Isn't it crystal clear that the private, for-profit sector has no hope in hell of competing with a government-run health care system? So Graham's argument is that the people of this nation -- paying twice or more than other nations yet ranking 37th
in quality care, sandwiched between Costa Rica and Slovenia -- need to fall on the holy sword of capitalism and continue to allow themselves to be victimized
because it's the American Way. Seem reasonable in any way?
How is it that, in these times, we trust unregulated bankers, brokers, insurers and corporations to work for the public good? Stephen Colbert recently called inviting health care providers to the compromise table, "like giving a seat to your drug dealer at your intervention." What part of 'fox' and 'henhouse' don't we get?
Ahhhhh, pray Americans! Our corporate god is good, and we are but vessels to magnify its profit margins!
OK, that was snark but just barely. Here's the plain truth -- all Velvet (soft) Revolutions begin when we get that jolting disconnect between what we've believed and what is true, resulting in a visceral response. We begin to use our collective voice; we begin to make our demands known. We've already begun ours here in America, thanks to the wee Bush and his two terms in office; now it's Iran's turn. They're in birthing stage; we're just digesting our first solids and crawling toward baby steps. In order to keep from falling back into the twilight-sleep of outworn belief systems and mindless manipulation, we need to develop skills at non-judgment, non-attachment and non-resistance.
Like the Colin Powell Pottery Barn analogy, each thing we judge, attach to or resist, we own. We can discern old patterns that tempt us into their snare and sidestep them; all this Brer Rabbit
stuff that calls to us is just distraction from our larger goals. Obama's a pro at the nimble sidestep; that's why he won't take a position against the Iranian government on anything other than civil liberties. That's why he uses the word 'justice' over and over, reminding Iran of its own highest Islamic value. The Great Satan meme is nonproductive and he refuses to make it solid in any way. Old struggles fade from importance as we impose new options over the top of them.
Distancing ourselves from traditional knee-jerk response takes a bit of self-discipline, but it allows us to keep our energy levels strong and our hearts confident. In this modern age, efforting toward a new paradigm, what is new is not the latest product or idea, but our own expanding consciousness. As we find similarities with our international brothers/sisters, we must also draw the similarities to the common denominator of governmental systems that make citizens pawns in ancient power struggles and profit schemes; even the most benign of them must be overtaken by the new design.
All over the world, these systems are gasping their last, trying to reposition in order to survive; they will take their time dying but they are growing increasingly frail. And yes, this nation is certainly in turmoil as the old money-god America has served is faltering; but we're still standing, aren't we? Is there any doubt that we have momentum?
We're in a Velvet Revolution of sorts, a kind of Hundredth Monkey exercise that is tipping us forward into progress despite all the irrelevant, high-pitched screaming from those who don't want to come along -- in fact, the entire planet is finding its heart in a Velvet Evolution. When you need a lift, look around and read between the lines; you'll see the Light shining out to urge you forward. Cutting-edge modernity, that; and so much better than color T.V.