The Iran thing.

John Perry Barlow called me a smug dick on Twitter tonight because I pointed out that the collective outraged Twittering about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rigging of the elections in Iran probably wasn’t going to change a goddamn thing. He’s half-right. I am a dick, but I’m not feeling particularly smug about it. (I also think JPB misunderstood me, though the error is mine; Twitter is not the place for nuanced thought.)

Look: Iran is a (very) thinly-veiled theocracy. It’s run by a group of clerics led by Ayatollah Khamenei, who is just as far out to lunch as his predecessors. Ahmadinejad is just their front man, a polite face to turn to the international community. But underneath it’s the same bad craziness that’s been there at least since they overthrew the Shah.

Theocracies of any stripe are totalitarian, almost by definition: their control relies upon their forcing of faith upon their people. That’s why they control the media and access to information: if people can see alternative viewpoints, they might begin to question the validity of the theocracy’s underlying faith, and by doing so, undermine the theocracy’s power. This is all obvious, right?

Until Iran overthrows the Revolutionary Guard (and what an ironic name) and the clerics and establishes a secular government, they will never have any sort of real freedom.

The real problem with totalitarian regimes, whether it be in Iraq or North Korea, is that they are essentially immune to public opinion. They don’t give a fuck what you or I think about their policies, because a) they can’t be toppled by bad public opinion, and b) they control the ability of their people to engage in political discourse with you or I in the first place.

So: yes, I am absolutely outraged that people are dying in the streets of Tehran right now. I am furious. But I can’t do anything about it. My opinion won’t save those people. My righteous fury serves no purpose at all. And neither does yours.

The riots and the deaths in Iran today are a symptom of a larger problem. The Iranian people have to get rid of their government. Until they do, this will just keep happening again and again, and more people will die who don’t deserve to, and the rest of the world will keep tut-tutting away, and nothing will change. Unless America decides we want Iran’s oil, in which case we’ll go in and bomb them back to the fucking Stone Age and make martyrs of all those God-deluded fuckers who are turning that place into a nightmare. Which will, of course, simply turn it into another kind of nightmare.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have watched this happen for a long time, in Iraq, in Uganda and Liberia and the Sudan and Rwanda and all of these other places. I have spoken out, asked people to get involved, done as much as I could from where I sit. (Hell, I’ve even offered various groups my services as a tech geek in these places, though no one has taken me up on the offer yet.) I believe as strongly as anyone in the right of every human to be in charge of their own destiny, and to be free of fear and violence for their beliefs. Don’t ever bring up the subject of Uganda with me, or the Lord’s Resistance Army; I’ll start frothing at the mouth and ranting. I’m a Human Rights Bore, and I know it. Sorry.

But I’m just tired. Tired of watching passionate students take to the streets to defend their human rights and to proclaim truths which much of the world holds to be self-evident, only to be mowed down by dispassionate thugs hired by a government that will commit murder to hold on to power. Tired of seeing the horror. Tired of watching politicians in my country pretending to be concerned, because they have no economic basis for helping to change things. Tired of watching celebrities (far more smug than I could ever be, John, thanks) doing PSAs trying to get bovine fucking America to be concerned about a bunch of jabbering foreigners half a world away.

The idea of throwing my brain into this current Iranian horror just makes me want to curl up in a ball and vomit. I can’t watch the videos. I can’t read the news. Because I will just become enraged, with no outlet for it and no way to change things, and I will have to watch yet another group of poor bastards get crushed by history.

Does that sound cynical? Surely it does. Surely I am cynical. But man, I’ve seen this movie too many fucking times, and I know how it’s going to end. And whether I watch it or not, it’s going to play out in the same way. I wish I was wrong, I hope I’m wrong, I pray that somehow this will all be resolved with as little more bloodshed as possible, but I just don’t see it happening that way. I know people. I know history.

I know I’m a coward. Man, don’t you know that I know that? I am. And I am truly sorry if I sound like a smug dick. But I just can’t get in on this one, folks. I need to be able to sleep at night.

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  1. Oh, isn’t it? Gee, Adam, I thought it was. Thank you for correcting the error of my ways.

    My post was about me, thanks, and my feelings about activism. When I decide to talk about the Iran situation as a whole, you’ll know because I won’t preface it by explaining that somebody called me a dick.

  2. I gotta side with you, Josh.

    I am a dedicated, conscientious and lifelong liberal, but what I’ve learn after 5 years of living in Portland is that 99% of all activism, whether from the left or right, is a pointless, masturbatory exercise in preaching to the choir. No hearts or minds will ever be changed because they only ones paying attention to you are the ones who already agree.

    It’s not about making a difference, even if that’s what people tell you. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about consensus and identification; knowing that you’re not alone in your fiery outrage about… whatever.

    Because seriously. Anyone who thinks tweeting his opinions about politics (particularly foreign politics) does anything for anyone but himself is suffering delusions of grandeur.

    Trying to “make a difference” in Iran by spouting off on the social networking utility du jour (in 140 characters or less!) is a bit like trying to stop a hurricane in Florida by farting in your basement.

  3. Well, for one thing, it seems to have forced, or, at least, influenced the mainstream news networks to actually mention that something was happening. So, yeah. Awareness? Maybe it’s just a difference of opinion, whatever, but I’ll side with the thousands and thousands of people that think it will make a difference, because if their opinion means nothing, I guess that means your opinion is worth, what, 0.001% of nothing? Sure makes it easy to unsubscribe from, that’s for sure.

  4. “Trying to “make a difference” in Iran by spouting off on the social networking utility du jour (in 140 characters or less!) is a bit like trying to stop a hurricane in Florida by farting in your basement.”

    the point is, Twitter is one of the only means of communication out of Iran, we aren’t just “chattin’ an’ whatevs” you fucking chucklehead.

  5. Are you fucking serious, man? You think the mainstream media wasn’t going to cover riots in Tehran unless you fucking TWITTERED ABOUT IT?

    Jesus, what a remarkable sense of self-importance and self-empowerment.

    I didn’t need Twitter to find out about what was happening in Tehran. I saw it on the AP, CNN, and pretty much every other major media news outlet.

    What I didn’t feel the need to do was watch a fucking tragedy unfold that I could: a) see coming from a mile away and b) do absolutely nothing to prevent or even alleviate.

    And neither did you, so get off your fucking high horse like you’re Lawrence of Arabia. Awareness DOES NOT EQUAL RESISTANCE. When is everyone finally going to understand it? It doesn’t matter fuck all that you saw people Twittering from Tehran, mate, because those people — the ones who stopped Twittering suddenly — are probably just as dead or in prison. You couldn’t help them. You are strictly a spectator.

    If that makes you feel empowered, by all fucking means, have at it. But you’re not helping anything. You’re just another mourner at the funeral.

  6. “Are you fucking serious, man? You think the mainstream media wasn’t going to cover riots in Tehran unless you fucking TWITTERED ABOUT IT?”

    One of the only ways for the PEOPLE of Iran to COMMUNICATE to the people NOT in Iran right now is through proxied connections Twitter. We aren’t patting ourselves on the back about using Twitter in a new and creative exciting Web 2.0 way, WE ARE TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT IS HAPPENING TO PEOPLE THERE. People OUT HERE are supplying people in Iran with PROXY ADDRESSES not FUCKING CUPCAKE RECIPES.

  7. You need Twitter to tell you what’s happening there? Really? Well, it’s like this: imagine a boot, stomping on a human face, forever.

    I’m not reading the reports because I’ve read them a dozen times before, only they were coming out of Bosnia, and Darfur, and the USSR and China. This kind of shit plays out exactly the same way every time.

    Figure out what you can do about it. Really do about it. Then let me know.

  8. Yes, because life is a simplistic cartoon, there is no difference between any of these things. Just one big greyish not-really-real mass of faces on the periphery of your almighty interest. Wouldn’t want to disturb your feeding times. I reiterate, to attempt to penetrate your thick shit skull. IRANIANS BEING FUCKING SENT PROXY ADRESSES TO MAINTAIN COMMUNICATIONS IN AND OUT OF COUNTRY YOU STUPID SHIT.

  9. Ah. So you’ve overthrown Ahmadinejad, then? You’ve stopped people from being killed? You’ve, um, made what happen, precisely?

    You’re allowing people to Twitter. What are they Twittering? “Shit is on fire.” “Fuck, somebody just hit me in the head.” “My cousin Khalid just got shot. :-(“

    That sucks, man, and I really mean that. But knowing something’s happening isn’t the same thing as preventing it or alleviating it. So tell me, again, what you’re ACTUALLY DOING TO FIX THIS.

  10. For one thing, the fact that a total information lock down is not easily done right now may be giving Ahmenijad pause. That MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO SATISFY THE GREAT JOSHUA FUCKING ELLIS, BUT IT’S ONE OF THE FEW THINGS WE CAN DO, IF IT EVEN DOES ANYTHING. “oh my god” you are screeching “why do anything at all, you don’t know it will do any good, stop trying you are dumb” You have a statistical good chance of a 3 pound lump of ass fat breaking loose and heading for your brain but you still probably shave every day on the slight chance that you won’t die of a “being a fat fuck” induced stroke. Why bother? Just lie done and insert the gravy pipe, yes?

  11. Ah, the Internet. Raising the bar for discourse every minute. I guarantee you, if you were in front of me, you’d lay off the personal attacks and keep a civil fucking tongue in your head, or I’d give you a personal example of what it’s like to be a protester in Tehran right now, kitten.

    You think you’re giving the Iranian government pause? They don’t give a fuck what you think. Come on, man, seriously. They’re a theocracy with nukes whose primary export is a substance that your society can’t live without. That gives them the position to laugh their asses off at pretty much anything you throw at them.

    You know what, though? Maybe I’m right. Maybe you’re really changing things. Keep doing what you’re doing. I mean it.

    But don’t come crying to me when all those poor bastards you’re proxying stop posting, because some God-deluded fuckhead cleric’s ordered them all shot. Maybe you can find somebody to Twitter at their funerals.

  12. maybe I’m just keeping your fat sausage fingers from spreading your cynicism amongst people that are rising up and demanding their freedom. oh wow, looks like words on the internet can affect things. weird.

  13. Yeah, ’cause the rioters in Tehran are hella reading my blog and going “Fuck, Ellis is right. What are we fighting for? Let’s go have a kebab and shut the fuck up.”

    Which is not what I’m saying. Nor am I saying that nobody outside of Iran should do anything. You’re misunderstanding me, because you’re a self-righteous little toe rag.

    I’m saying that Twittering ISN’T ENOUGH. FUCKING DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE, DIMWIT. Call your Congressperson, if you’re American. (You’re obviously American — you’re awful at sarcastic humor.) Demand that your government — which, unlike you, can actually DO SOMETHING USEFUL ABOUT THIS PROBLEM — do that useful thing. I’m not entirely sure yet what that might be — sanctions? Invasion? But it’s more useful than telling people that being in Tehran right now sucks. We got that, thanks.

  14. Keeping someone with a destructive attitude penned up fighting a sock monkey is constructive. I’m just trying to understand the basis of your rationale though, do you think that people find cynicism slimming because it’s not working sorry.

  15. That’s funny. You’re a funny guy. You in Las Vegas, funny guy? Name a time and place for this discussion in real life, funny guy. Hell, I’ll FLY TO WHERE YOU ARE, just to hear you drop this stuff in my face.

    I don’t mind you disagreeing with me. I don’t even mind you calling me stupid or cynical or cruel or mean. But I’m getting a little tired of the fat jokes.

    So seriously, “Dexter”. (And what’s it like, being too much of a chickenshit to even use your real name like a grown-up? I’m just curious.) Either you stick to the discussion at hand or you name a time and place where you can stand up to me and call me a fatass to my face.

    Or you shut the fuck up. Or I simply block your silly ass from commenting on my blog.

    And save the self-righteousness, kitten. I’ve spent more time and energy fighting for human rights than you can imagine. I don’t need to be lectured by the likes of you.

  16. Sorry, Dex, but retweeting a couple of IP addresses does not make you a member of the French Resistance. You are a compassionate voyeur. That’s all. Just as you’re appalled by the horrors in Tehran, you’re also fascinated by them, and you’re trying to justify your own fascination by “helping” in whatever way requires the least amount of actual effort. Then you smile a satisfied little smile and say to yourself “I did something!”

    Well, sorry, but no. You didn’t. And you need to either be okay with that, or find a way to ACTUALLY do something.

    Write your representative, as Ellis suggested, or call the local Red Cross and find out if they’re sending blood to Iran, maybe buy one less Xbox 360 game this month and donate that money to EquityNow, instead.

    There are ways to help, if you’re serious about helping. But sitting on your ass and tweeting things — doing exactly what you would normally be doing, in other words — doesn’t count.

  17. …it doesn’t count.

    I suppose that must be why all the Iranians in my network are preface the lists of proxy servers with “please RT,” then. Or maybe they don’t meet your criteria for ACTUALLY doing something, either?

    Look, it’s clear by now that Twitter is very definitely one of the channels the popular resistance is using to organize itself and communicate the situation on the ground to the outside world – obviously more so than Facebook, obviously to a lesser extent than SMS, but undeniably so. To deny this is to betray a lack of basic understanding of the situation, and of the technical savvy and sophisticated media strategies employed by the Farsi blogosphere..

    I’m glad you’re discussing the situation here. More Americans should. But please don’t make this about you and your (more or less sophisticated) takes on Persian culture. This is their moment. We should limit our involvement to helping out when and as we can, when and as asked. Retweeting proxy server addresses definitely helps – my friends in Tehran believe it does, anyway – and it certainly can’t do any harm. Anyone who would quibble with this isn’t paying attention.

  18. After watching this morning’s events, I think you’re right, and I have been retweeting addresses like everybody else.

    But again, this post was specifically about my own reactions to things. Which I’m perfectly entitled to do, on my own blog. If you want a less personal take on these events, check out the next post, entitled “The Kitty Genovese model”.

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