Integral Perspectives on Iran’s Cultural Divide
In Integral terms, the demonstrators can be distinguished from the regime’s supporters by cultural qualities relating to states, stages, and relationships to shadow.
High states are part of the ethos both of the demonstrators and of the regime’s true believers. Most of these high states are evoked by acts of self-transcendence, whether they be self-abnegation or self-sacrifice, whether they be gross physical acts or subtle emotional or mental acts.
Persians are poets and revolutionaries, a heartfelt, brooding, noble, and passionate people. Each year, on Ashura, faithful grassroots Shia men go into a trance and beat themselves bloody to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hosayn Ibn Ali, in memory of whom Shiism originally emerged. Sufi mystics go together into trances in which they dance and sing and enter into ecstatic communion with Allah. Ancient Persian poetry is full of ecstatic mystic language, expressing a rich and passionate love affair with God. Modern Persian poetry is full of ecstatic emotional language, expressing a rich and passionate love affair with life, and pain, and death.
The structure of Iranians’ values are still centered in traditional agreements about symbols, tones, morés and resonances. But their values also now include certain modern and postmodern values like common sense, respect for the dignity of others, thinking for oneself, and the curiosity to observe the modern world directly. Their values are not altogether modern; but they are not exclusively conformist.
Their eyes have noticed a myriad of details and evidence and colors and shades of grey that the regime is telling them aren’t there. “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” Everyone “in their right mind” knows the regime has lied to them.
The demonstrators include people with modern and postmodern and even integral values, but the center of gravity that divides them from the traditionalists is just a half-step beyond traditional, the early “expert” interest in taking a critical perspective on the evidence they have, not the modern “achiever’s” inclination to interpret experience in terms of a modern or postmodern systemic or paradigmatic analysis.
But Iranians will see the images of themselves reflected in the eyes of the outside world. And this will affect the dynamics. The excitement that comes from so much positive attention will be combined with the implicit meta-perspective that comes from imagining how you look to others. How much new evolutionary depth will this catalyze in Iranian thinking and perspective-taking?
A shadow most fiercely denied is usually projected. This happens at the level of individuals but also at the level of whole cultures. Cultural projection has been at the heart of the psychology behind the regime’s propaganda for years. By pointing to foreign enemies, by projecting its own xenophobia, the Islamic Republic has been able to coerce national unity.
The demonstrators want to take a new look at all that, to restore their connection to the larger world. They want Iran’s internal narrative to evolve, to reflectively discard what is not working and make new moves that will produce better results. They are taking the first baby step toward re-owning their cultural projection.
Postmodern nonviolence has been playing an important role in the resolution. Iranian society is sufficiently interconnected and self-reflective for this to have powerful impacts, even if Iran is not sufficiently modern in its values and conscience for nonviolence to succeed as directly it did for Gandhi in his struggle against the British Empire.
I hope that in the days ahead the Iranian people are able to get through to their cousins and friends in the police, armed services, Revolutionary Guard, basij, and government ministries. I hope that the institutions of Iranian society will reflect and flex in response to this horror, and shift its stance and nature. I hope that there can be a transition of values and behavior within the Islamic Republic with a minimum of violence and destruction.
However, cultural freedom may not come to Iran until those who “get it” are not just the most conscious members of Iranian society, but the most effective actors — in the institutions (of government, religion, and society) and on the streets. Moral authority needs elemental strength. The change the Iranian people are calling for so eloquently will not complete itself until trustable leaders are able to grasp the levers of power.
New levels of consciousness sometimes don’t replace the old until they can take more effective responsibility for all the brutal facts of life. Good-hearted Iranians cannot cede the military, the government, and the clerical institutions to fanatics and realistically expect to retain their own freedom. This will become a passionate and frank conversation in thousands of homes and offices across Iran. It will be worked out by the Iranian people, on terms we can only partially comprehend.
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