30 June 2009

The Generational dynamics of Iran ~ An interesting hypothesis, imo

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

There have now been two really exciting international events for Generational Dynamics this year.

The first was the end of the Sri Lanka crisis civil war. We got to see and analyze the climax of a crisis civil war as it's happening in real time.

Now we get to see a "Summer of Love." type Awakening era event as it's happening in real time in Iran.

The comparison with America's Summer of Love Awakening era event in 1967, along with the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, is very apt. Although the sequencing and details are different, the generational behaviors and attitudes are almost identical.

First of all, Iran's protestors are like America's Boomers -- that is, they're in the Prophet generational archetype, the first generation growing up right after the end of a crisis war. America's Boomers grew up right after World War II, and Iran's protestors grew up right after Iran's last crisis war, the 1979 Islamic Revolution, followed by the Iran/Iraq war that ended in 1988.

And so, Dear Reader, if you're one of the many people who love Iran's protestors, but who hate America's Boomers, then you may be in conflict with yourself. If you want to know what today's doddering Boomers were like when they were kids, just look at today's Iranian protestors.

(For more information on generational archetypes, see "Basics of Generational Dynamics.")

Let me put it another way: Today's Boomers are anxious, frightened, moralistic, judgmental, arrogant and narcisstic. If you'd like to know what these Boomers were like when they were cute kids, just look at today's Iranian protestors. You'll see that they're fearless, moralistic, judgmental, arrogant and narcissistic. The only thing that growing old does to them is to change them from fearless to frightened.

Thus, it's not surprising that Iran's young protestors are becoming more and more furious and outraged about what they see as a complete betrayal by the government. Like our Boomers, they're arrogant and narcissistic. They'll demand the moral high ground, and they'll never back down unless Iran's security forces perpetrate a massacre -- and even then, the protestors will be back when they think it's safe.

Outrage versus pragmatism

That's only half the story. The other half is about the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose harsh Friday speech I described a couple of days ago.

Khamenei was born in 1939, 30 years after the end of the Constitutional Revolution, Iran's previous crisis war. That means that Khamenei is in the Nomad generational archetype, like our Generation-Xers, including President Obama.

So this is a delicious twist. Like today's Xers, Khamenei grew up in the shadow of the previous Prophet generation, the one that grew up right after the end of the Constitutional Revolution. Khamanei probably hated them as much as today's Xers hate the Boomers.

So now Khamenei is dealing with a new Prophet generation, and as the saying goes, he must feel like it's "déjà vu all over again." The young protesters are just like the older generation he grew up with -- just as arrogant and narcissistic -- except that now they're much younger than he is. And he probably has the same visceral hatred for them.

Like Gen-Xers, people in any Nomad generation are considered to be "pragmatic," doing anything that's necessary to get the job done. So we can assume that Khamanei will take whatever "pragmatic" action he believes that he has to take to regain control, and defeat the protestors.

There's an old philosophical paradox: What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

Since the protestors -- the irresistible force -- are going to continue protesting, and Khamenei -- the immovable object -- is going to use whatever he force he has available to end the protesting, we have a kind of political variation of the old paradox.

I always say on this web site that the attitudes and behaviors of a small group of politicians are irrelevant to the great events of a society or country, except insofar as the politicians' attitudes reflect those of the masses of people. What matters are the attitudes and behaviors of those masses of people, entire generations of people. That's a fundamental concept of Generational Dynamics.

Unless Khamenei and the clerics perpetrate massive slaughter on the protestors, there really is no question about who will win this political battle -- the protestors. I'll discuss this further later in this report.

A Revolutionary Confrontation

One key to understanding the generational confrontation in Iran today is a statement that I heard several times from BBC commentators: "The Islamic government has always been contemptuous of the way the Shah of Iran, [Iran's pre-1979 leader,] buckled 30 years ago in the face of popular protest."

To put this into context, think of Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Nomad archetype) as being the Barack Obama of the 1979 Islamic revolution. In 1979, Khamenei would have been contemptuous of all the accomplishments of Iran's previous Prophet and Artist generations, just as Obama is contemptuous of the accomplishments of the Boomer and Silent generations. According to the BBC statement, Khamanei was particularly contemptuous of the way that his predecessor, the Shah of Iran, buckled to popular protest.

Khamenei was in the generation of protestors in 1979. Today, he's in the position that the Shah occupied in 1979, and he's in the generation that opposing the protestors. Even so, the generational dynamics are very similar. He's not going to buckle to the protestors, Iran's new Prophet generation. He's as contemptuous of this new Prophet generation as he was of the previous Prophet generation, including the Shah.

The revolutionary guards have ordered demonstrators to "end the sabotage and rioting activities" and said their resistance was a "conspiracy" against Iran.

A statement posted on the revolutionary guards' website warned protesters to "be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces".

This promise of "revolutionary confrontation" may have stopped some protestors in their tracks, but it's infuriating to the Prophet generation, who will never agree to give up the moral high ground.

This is the confrontation between an irresistible force and an immovable object, as I described it above, and if Iran were in a Crisis era (like 1979), this could result in a violent revolution.

Iran's political split

But it's not a Crisis era. Iran is in a generational Awakening era.

In a Crisis era, like Iran in 1979 and in the 1980s, civic unity is regenerated, and political bickering decreases and tapers off.

In an Awakening era, like Iran today, civic unity deteriorates, and political bickering increases.

That's what's happening in Iran, as the split among the ruling clerics is getting increasingly serious. Here's a New York Times report on the political split:

"TEHRAN — A bitter rift among Iran’s ruling clerics deepened Sunday over the disputed presidential election that has convulsed Tehran in the worst violence in 30 years, with the government attempting to link the defiant loser to terrorists and detaining relatives of his powerful backer, a founder of the Islamic republic.

The loser, Mir Hussein Moussavi, the moderate reform candidate who contends that the June 12 election was stolen from him, fired back at his accusers on Sunday night in a posting on his Web site, calling on his own supporters to demonstrate peacefully despite stern warnings from Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that no protests of the vote would be allowed. “Protesting to lies and fraud is your right,” Mr. Moussavi said in a challenge to Ayatollah Khamenei’s authority.

Earlier, the police detained five relatives of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads two influential councils and openly supported Mr. Moussavi’s election. The relatives, including Mr. Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, were released after several hours.

The developments, coming one day after violent protests in the capital and elsewhere were crushed by police officers and militia members using guns, clubs, tear gas and water cannons, suggested that Ayatollah Khamenei was facing entrenched resistance among some members of the elite. Though rivalries among top clerics have been part of Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution, analysts said that open factional competition amid a major political crisis could hinder Ayatollah Khamenei’s ability to restore order."

This political split is the opening to a solution to the "revolutionary confrontation." The only solution that I can see, short of a huge massacre, is that Khamenei will be forced to back down to the protestors, leaving him to end his life with bitter memories of his failure as a leader. His political opponents, known as "pragmatic conservatives" and led by Rafsanjani, will be the winners.

The role of women in an Awakening era

During a generational Crisis era, women move in the direction of traditional stereotypical female roles and behaviors. See for example my 2004 posting, "'It's going to be the 1950s all over again.'" During Crisis eras, the protection of women becomes an important goal of society, and this continues during the Recovery era that follows the crisis war.

To understand this, think about what mothers were like in the 1950s. There is probably no era so misunderstood as the 1950s, which feminists have painted ridiculously as a time when men were forcing women to stay at home, and refusing to allow them to work outside of the home. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mothers in the 1950s grew up during the 1930s, where they were surrounded by massive homelessness, starvation and suffering. People were living under bridges, and had to depend on soup kitchens just to get enough food to survive. Then, World War II began. Their brothers, fathers and uncles were tortured and killed on the Bataan Death March, and then were shot down like fish in a barrel on the beaches of Normandy. The women themselves took "Rosie the Riveter" jobs that they hated, but took them out of patriotism, and to support their brothers, fathers and uncles overseas.

It's not an exaggeration to say that these women were traumatized by their experiences. By the time the 1950s came, they considered it a wonderful gift from America that they could stay at home with the kids, living in their homes with white picket fences. This was the American way of life that they had earned in the Great Depression and the war, and they wanted to give that as a gift to their daughters.

The same thing happened to women growing up in Iran's Islamic revolution of 1979 and the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. Their fathers, brothers and uncles were maimed and killed by Saddam's forces, and some were gassed to death. It was even worse for these women than it was for American women in WW II, since the Iran/Iraq war took place on Iranian soil, especially because rape is always common during a crisis war. The mothers of daughters growing up after the war ended wanted their daughters to live happy lives enjoying the fruits of the Islamic revolution.

This is what happens to every nation in every Crisis war. But the daughters who grow up after the war ends do not feel the trauma of the war itself. They resent the restrictions placed on them by their parents, who only wish for them to have a happier life, free of the tortures and rape of war.

In Iran's Islamic culture, these restrictions took many forms. Young women would have to wear loose clothing and headscarves, and could not spend time alone with a male. These restrictions actually do make a lot of sense during a crisis war, but not in times of peace.

Neda Agha-Soltan and young women today

While a generational Crisis era is dominated by men, a generational Awakening era is dominated by women (or, at least, women's issues), as the austere rules of the Recovery era begin to unravel.

For years I've been mocking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "morality police," who swoop down on women with loose headscarves, and carry them off the police station. Ahmadinejad has managed to piss off practically every young woman in Tehran.

Well, now the young women are getting even.

I wrote last week that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, had taken an active part in the campaign, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had insulted her during his debate with Mousavi.

Neda Agha-Soltan - undated picture

A number of news stories have been reporting that women have been playing a leading role in the protestors, especially since the violence by the security forces began. There was a lengthy interview on CNN on Monday with a 19 year old girl who has been taking part in all the Tehran protests. She has been beaten by a baton by the security forces, but says that after you've been beaten once, further beatings don't matter. She says that she and a number of other women have been confronting the security forces, asking them, "Why are you killing your sisters, your mothers and your daughters? Why are you killing your own people?" The logic is that the security forces are less likely to kill or beat a woman than a man, so the women are taking the lead.

A pivotal event in the protests occurred on Saturday when Neda Agha-Soltan, a pretty young 26-year-old girl, was shot dead by the security forces, and the entire incident was captured in a video that's been spreading around the internet.

The video of Neda's death can be viewed below.

However, this 40 second video is VERY GRAPHIC. If you watch this video, you may have nightmares, and it may haunt you for a long time. However, if you think you can handle it, then watch it to understand why it's playing such an important role in Iran's chaotic political crisis:

Neda has become an icon for the Iranian protests, and for young Iranian women in particular.

The future of Iran's crisis

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Ayatollah Khamanei doesn't stand a chance of getting through this unscathed. If he ever had a chance at all, it ended with the Neda video. He will be forced to back down, and since he's already staked his reputation on not backing down (see "Iran's government panics, as Supreme Leader hints at violence against protesters"), it will be a humiliating end to his career.

The reasoning in reaching this conclusion is as follows:

Khamanei has dug himself into a hole, so that no compromise is possible.

The only way to stop the protests is a huge massacre of the protestors, but my judgment of the Iranian/Persian culture is that such a massacre will not occur.

In fact, the political split into factions led by Khamanei and Rafsanjani will not tolerate much more violence.

However, to say that Khamanei will have to back down does not mean the end of the Islamic regime.

The Walter Cronkite effect

During the last week, all the political shots have been called by Khamenei, making it clear that Ahmadinejad is nothing more than a cypher in Iran's government. However, this did not increase the stature of Khamenei. Khamenei is supposed to be a spiritual leader who stays above the fray, but his actions this week have brought him down into the political mud with everyone else. So the stature of the entire Islamic "religious democracy" has been stained.

It's not clear whether Ahmadinejad can survive (politically) in the current crisis. But even if he does, his rantings about holocaust denial and pushing Israel into the sea will no longer have their former panache and charm.

More significant will be Iran's reputation as the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, particularly as it applies to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Early in 1968, during the Tet offensive of the Vietnam War, CBS reporter Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam, and came back and reported that the war was unwinnable. This report is thought to be the turning point in public opinion over the Vietnam war. It led immediately to the forced decision by President Lyndon Johnson not to run for another term, and later to increased protests and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

A major part of Ahmadinejad's legacy is the huge amount of money he's spent funding Hizbollah and Hamas through Syria. This has always been a manifestation of Ahmadinejad's insanity anyway, since Hizbollah is Shia Muslim and Hamas is Sunni Muslim. But more to the point, Iran's economy has been deteriorating since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, and many people blame his monetary support of these two terrorist groups.

All that would be needed at this time or in the near future is for someone prominent in Iran to make a similar "Walter Cronkite" type statement, referring to the funding of Hizbollah and Hamas.

Thus, this political crisis in Iran may have substantial effects on the balance of power in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.

Finally, there may be a resolution of Iran's schizophrenia, as I've described for years as a country where the people, especially young people, are pro-American and pro-West, while the government was virulently anti-American and anti-West. One possible outcome of this crisis (over time) is that Iran will become much more pro-Western and much less anti-American. Iran would still be an Islamic "religious democracy," but its foreign policy would be substantially different.


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