Iran Election Mess Is Just a Reflection of Global Human Failings
by Louis René Beres
Islamic Republic Acronym
We haven't made nearly the progress we like to think
Iran is only a microcosm. Whatever happens now within that particular troubled country, the underlying problems and divisions will remain genuinely global.
Revolution, despotism, war, and terrorism are always generic issues in world politics. In the end, they will therefore need to be understood and confronted at a broadly international level.
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed," observed the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and "everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned."
Today's dramatic Iranian instability is more a specific symptom of general civilizational fragility than an isolated disease. Beneath the surface, all world politics readily reveals a distinctly common disorder. This is the incapacity of human beings to find both meaning and identity as individuals, within themselves.
Iran is only a microcosm
From the beginning, all world affairs have been driven by some form or other of "tribal" conflict, by incessant struggles between groups. Without a clear and persisting sense of an outsider, of an enemy, of an "other," most people feel lost in the world. Drawing self-worth from our membership in the state or the faith or the race -- from what Freud had insightfully called the "primal horde" -- we humans still cannot satisfy the most minimal requirements of interpersonal coexistence.
Every sham may have a patina. Our very obvious progress in the technical and scientific realms still has no counterpart in basic human relations.
Yes, we can manufacture jet aircraft and send astronauts into space and even communicate by Twitter, but before we are allowed to board commercial airline flights we must first take off our shoes. The point of such removal is not to enhance our comfort, but simply to ensure that we won't blow up the plane.
Iran is only a microcosm.
We humans want to be upbeat about the whole world. We are turned off by anyone who speaks candidly about life's day-to-day vagaries or its manifestly absent ecstasies. Whenever a friend or colleague is asked, "How are you?" the answer must always be the same: "I'm great."
In fact, there remain great pain and loneliness throughout the world. Further, in certain matters, nothing important ever really changes.
Indeed, in the truly critical issues of mega-survival, we humans may now be living far more precariously than ever before.
Iran is only a microcosm.
The veneer of human civilization is still razor thin. However conversant with statistics and science, entire nations can still glance smugly over mountains of fresh corpses, and announce without apology that "progress" is underway and that "life is good." Everywhere, it seems, all of our assorted mass societies greedily suck out the very marrow of human wisdom, reverence, and compassion in a deeply misguided dash to "power."
Hope exists, to be sure, but it must now sing softly, in an undertone.
The "blood-dimmed tide" creates a deafening noise, but it is still possible to listen for transient sounds of grace and harmony. We must all quickly learn to pay very close attention to our most intimate human feelings of empathy, anxiety, restlessness, and desperation. These feelings are always determinative, and always universal.
Life on earth must ultimately be about the individual
In essence, the time for "modernization," "globalization," "artificial intelligence," and "new information methodologies" is over. To survive together, all must first learn to rediscover an authentic human life that is detached from meaningless and corrosive distinctions ("us" and "them"), banal conformance, shallow optimism, and contrived happiness.
Only in this vital expression of an awakened human spirit may we finally learn that agony is more important than astronomy, that cries of despair are more serious than the disembodied powers of technology, and that our tears have a much greater significance than robotic smiles.
"The man who laughs," commented the poet Bertolt Brecht, "has simply not yet heard the horrible news."
Iran is only a microcosm.
The true instabilities of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economics, by building larger missiles, by fashioning new international treaties, by spreading democracy, or even by periodic revolutions. We interrelated humans -- all of us -- still lack a tolerable future not because we have been too slow to learn, but because we have stubbornly failed to learn what is truly important.
Louis René Beres is professor of international law at Purdue University.
Born in Switzerland at the end of World War II, he is the author of many books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature, and philosophy.
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(c) 2009 U.S. News & World Report