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Iran: Evolution, Revolution, or Regression?

(Note: this was originally written on June 22, 2009.)

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?

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: 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.  We must explore those details of the Iranian struggle that are truly unique to this region and this era, demonstrating how the rubber of Integral theory can hit 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.”

Originally published on Integral Life – Iran: Evolution, Revolution, or Regression? (w/ Steve McIntosh, Jeff Salzman, and Robb Smith)

Categories: Politics Tags: ,
  1. August 5, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Before anyone calls me on it, yes i totally sampled the “womb of the world” thing from Tom Robbins. What can i say? Good poets borrow, great poets steal, and mediocre poets drop clumsily on the ground, reassemble the broken pieces into something vaguely resembling the original, and nervously place back on the shelf–all while hoping that no one noticed the whole embarrassing scene.

  1. September 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

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