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.