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July 28, 2003

What are the equations?
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]


Since Canada has recalled its ambassador from Tehran, I have been thinking of whether foreign pressure would help the democratization process in Iran or not. I talked to several people and thought about similar cases in the past in other countries and still I donít have any solid answer. I also read Yasharís post about how much conservatives in Iran could use violence and I donít have a good answer to this question either. But why are these questions so difficult to answer?

Luckily, the answer to this question is not that difficult if we look back to our history. In the last twenty five years, two events have happened in Iran which have shocked the world. In 1979, a year after Jimmy Carter called Iran the Stable Island, the revolution took place. In 1996, Khatami won the presidential election in a 90% turnout. Neither of these two had been predicted earlier. Why?

In order to know how a system evolves in time, first we have to know what are different parts of the system, and then the equations which govern them. Considering the system to be our country, first we should know about the people and their demands, then how they try to achieve them and how they respond to the environment. Though I agree with Babakís post that peopleís demands are not clear, I believe the main problem relies on the second part. We do not fully understand how people in Iran react to things that happen around them. They seem to have their own unique way of political and social behavior which does not necessarily follow any particular rule. They may on one day decide to participate largely in an election, as in 1996, and the other day fully boycott it, as in 2003. In both cases you couldnít have predicted it untill the very last moments. Moreover, Iranian people sometimes change their minds during the time faster than the analysts could trace. This complexity also shows itself in different parts of our government. When reformists canít have any idea of how conservatives respond to the them in a certain case, then it would be very difficult for them to decide what should be the next step. This is when all the models also fail. We cannot even use the experience of eastern European countries against communism in the late 90ís and apply it to Iran for the reform movement.

BHS at July 28, 2003 10:14 PM [permalink]:

Whatever the equations are, I tend to believe they are not different for different nations or groups of people. We can't apply the exact same methods as those of the Eastern block movements because we have different boundary conditions.
I believe knowing people's demands is a big step forward in knowing these boundary conditions.

yahya at July 28, 2003 10:58 PM [permalink]:

In playing many games, there is always a certain level of uncertainty and unpredictibility. A good player is the one who takes initiatives and sets the rules of the games. I admire the people of Iran(especially Tehran) because they have tried to take initiatives. They have done so through their patterns of voting. There is a high level of communication between people in Tehran through the backbone of taxi drivers, grocery cashiers, and newspaper sellers. This helps people to make collective decisions and make it relatively late to surprise the opponents.

Although people have been great in taking initiatives, reformist in the goverment have been great in losing them. They are pathetic. Khatami was given so many votes four times(two presidential, one parlimentary, and one city councils) but he was unable to use it.

Yashar at July 29, 2003 03:04 AM [permalink]:

I can't agree more with Yahya. And I don't think it's limited to Tehran at all. The strong correlation that you see in election results, or in spontaneous celebrations after football matches in different parts of the country is amasing i think. which shows the strong communication that somehow exists between people in iran. I kind of agree with babak too in that i dont think Iranians are so different from other people, and i dont think they have been whimsical in their collective decisions.

yaser at July 29, 2003 01:36 PM [permalink]:

Dear Babak,
Every system in physics regardless of its complexity follows the simple Newton's law. But sometimes there are many parameters which make the equations very difficult and solving them so challenging. The same for our country comparing to other countries.

michelle at July 30, 2003 11:48 AM [permalink]:

If physics (and the other sciences) have something to offer to the study of politics, I suspect that it is on a more conceptual level. Scientists attempt to identify potential mechanisms by which observed phenomena might come about, and then gather data to test the validity of those mechanisms. Historians and social scientists do the same thing when they attempt to explain people's past or present actions, though they use different types of "data" and explanations-- and these explanations are much more easily colored by politics. Scientists, engineers, and statisticians, who are often more comfortable with the quantitative analysis of data and the building of quantitative models to explain complex systems than social scientists, can sometimes help to expand the range of methods used in achieving an understanding of social phenomena-- but we must watch out for oversimplification! The actions of people are far messier than those of balls and springs...

elnaz at August 1, 2003 03:40 PM [permalink]:

Among all these comments there is one important issue that I think nobody is paying attention to. True the system is complicated, but even the most complicated systems get much more comprehensible if at least some of the important parameters are known. The fact that people's collective behavior in Iran seems so strange is hugely due to the lack of information. There are basically no real polling agencies in Iran. and even if somebody tries to get more accurate information from people, the censorship doesn't let them to publish the results(remember the "newsmakers" trial case*). Even in well-behaved simple systems if there are lots of unknown parameters, there is no way to find out the current state of the system, let alone finding the dynamics or predicting the future.

* A couple of years ago there was a poll taken in Tehran by a private independent iranian agency that showed 80% of capital's population are supporting negotiation between Iran & America. After the results were out the newspapers were banned to publish it, the polling agency got closed and its executives were sentenced to prison.

BHS at August 1, 2003 08:32 PM [permalink]:

Elnaz, I agree with you totally. A couple of notes though: I did pay attention to this factor, and my comment was exactly in this line. Take a look at the posts, Peoples Demands: Retrospect and Present. The pollsters trial case was not a couple of years ago; it was in October 2002, and the polls' results was first published by IRNA in September 2002, as reported by BBC.