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September 02, 2003

Tax Cuts or Freedom?
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

sequence.jpg inspired by This weekend, Pedram Mo'alemian from Eyeranian was visiting us in our Iranian club at University of Toronto and he talked about some aspects of politics in Canada. He kept his talk short but gave enlightening answers to questions that were raised afterwards. He inspired me to ask some questions about the nature of political processes in Iran in this place.

In one point in his talk he told us that the debates in politics in the West are not about basic principles, but about down-to-earth and everyday aspects of life and the economic system; This can be seen in municipal, provincial and national levels, especially in Canada. Basically the most important political agendas here have to do with (1) welfare, (2) wealth and (3) security.

It is interesting to contrast the above three concepts with the main political agendas in Iran or many non-West countries: (1) freedom, (2) education and (3) employment. Let me quickly add that this distinction is more or less arbitrary, and we get to hear about all of these concepts and many other things in the political debates all over the world, but these seem to me, to be the most notable trends in politics.

The fundamental distinction between political discussions in the different countries is nonetheless visible. Let me now ask, do we have to debate over freedom before talking about welfare, or is it the other way round? What is the sequence and what keeps it in a sequence? Is there a cause and effect sequence?

The sequence for most of European countries, in terms of realization/negotiation of these concepts is something like this: wealth, employment, education, freedom, welfare, security. In the US the sequence would look more like this: freedom, wealth, employment, security, education, welfare. [The above is my version, yours might be different, we can talk, outside of the class!]

How would this sequence look like for Iran? Iranian history and that of many countries that were under the influence of the West for a long time, do not seem to offer a similar sequence. We found many of these and then lost them again in the process; A process that never actually was. We had freedom and lost it; We still have a good education but it is not a base for anything; We never had security and I am not sure Iranians would have it for a long time to come. We had good employment for masses at some period but we lost it ...

This brings me to my final question: Who is supposed to remember the outcomes of all these debates? Who will remind us of them when they are at stake? One simple answer is political parties. I am not sure if this answer is enough ... A bookkeeper is needed in every successful political system.

Senior Grad at September 2, 2003 01:01 PM [permalink]:

Thanks for an interesting article, Kaveh.

I think one has to note that although it is useful to make such categorizations because they offer a manageable model for the complicated phenomena at hand, but, as Mehdi Yahyanejad once noted, one should not rely too much on such distinctions. I, for one, do not exactly know what you mean by "welfare". Doesn't it have a great overlap with the "wealth" item? Or maybe you mostly had "health issues" in mind, by using the word "welfare"?

Also, you need to specify what you mean by "security". I think Iran's streets are much more "secure" compared to a lot of Western copuntries, in particular, the U.S. And of course, attempts towards defining "freedom" can fill the pages of books laid on a long shelf.

In any case, the most important thing that I want to talk about in this comment is that, even having thoroughly understood and agreed on the meanings of these categories, the *cause and effect* mode of thinking proves to be too simplistic to account for the interaction of such items like freedom and welfare. I have to admit that at this point I have no idea what a more sophisticated model (rather than the mechanically inspired cause and effect one) could look like.

About bookkeeping. I assume that thanks to internet, these debates will remain on the cyberspace for an indefinite time. This should take care of your concern. Secondly, and more importantly, once fully engaged in such debates, we will automatically make these ideas our own, and we carry them around in us. Because of such intellectual wrestlings, our way of thinking, our vocabulary, and our way of seeing things will be all forever changed. And for the better.

Navid at September 2, 2003 03:28 PM [permalink]:

I see one point worthy of mentioning here, should we put words ahead of our matters of discussion or are the concepts ahead of words? I can see the same dilemma in Kaveh ‘s reasoning. Social and political debate by having numerous factors and continuous nature is un-quantizable in many occasions, putting a process like political thought’s improvement in some distinct words like wealth and welfare results in confining the discussion to a matter of words and kills the dynamic spirit of a political continuous progress.

About the reason why the concerns in developed countries and a country like Iran are different let’s have a comparison and a few clarifying sentences: let ‘s look at these words:
(1) welfare, (2) wealth and (3) security
(1) freedom, (2) education and (3) employment
Aren’t they representing the same things in different phases? I mean as some direct sequences and in different aspects. I do not want to get into another play of words but I think it should be clarifying when we think about these words in their own place of implementation, for our country “freedom” is needed to have “Welfare” ,Wealth” and “Security” and in return, having “Wealth” helps to gain “freedom” , “education”, and “employment”…
Nice play with words! Let ‘s think of it as the same quest in different levels.

Kaveh Kh. at September 2, 2003 03:42 PM [permalink]:

A note about security: I am not sure streets of Tehran are safer than say New York City or Paris at night. Of course your Tehran might be smaller than mine. Do you have any statistics on that? One other thing, do you feel safe to go to the police in Tehran? Is there a real "911" number?

I guess I should've not written my train of thoughts here and just have put the final two paragraphs, that are really questions about bookkeeping, collective memory and political parties. I think there are enough indications in my text, that I don't take these classifications and serializations too seriously either!

Senior Grad at September 2, 2003 03:58 PM [permalink]:

Something still remains unclear to me, Kaveh. I do not yet see the link between your last paragraph and the rest of your article! Also, I didn't mean to suggest that you took such categorizations too seriously. A comment can simply emphasize a point; can't it?

Regarding Navid's wordplay, the most efficient way that we humans have at our disposal to communicate with each other *and* think seems to be language, which was invented/discovered a very long time ago. Unfortunately, however, this vehicle is far from perfect, so for the time being we have to make do with it.

Senior Grad at September 2, 2003 04:01 PM [permalink]:

And, by the way, I suspect that "my" Tehran is not only smaller than yours, it is older too. :-)

Navid at September 2, 2003 04:28 PM [permalink]:

The language problem is the major drawback in most of the social and philosophical discussions, attention to the language obstacles is suggested, the load of each word at its place created not by the concept but by the heritage of the "word" itself. Words as misleaders.

hajir at September 2, 2003 06:28 PM [permalink]:

West is going through its own challenges; challenges like homosexual rights, tax cuts, security issues, terrorism, drugs, teenage pregnancy, retirement age, etc.

These are not our problems! Our intellectuals must define our problems correctly. It is not wise to consider such problems while we have more fundamental problems such as: torture, severe poverty, prostitution, high unemployment, sexual frustration amongst the youth, injustice towards minorities, etc. Our problems are different, our concepts of words (as naveed correctly pointed out) are different.

Pick freedom for example. What an iranian understands from this term is different from what an american understands from it.
Iranians need freedom for more economical progress, more respect on personal and community levels, developing communication tools between the members of the society, overt criticism of the government, etc. While in America these kinds of problems are solved (still not perfect, I know) and civil rights movement is working on homosexual rights, minority rights, workers rights and welfare in all its aspects.

Development in the west gave definition to words like "welfare", "right", "crime", "security", etc.
for example spet. 11th changed the concept of security. What a normal american was thinking about the term "security" has changed after sept. 11th. While if you mention this word to an iranian, most probably he would think about "thieves" breaking into his house to steal his property. Then one could say: We don't have a problem of security while americans have! while the problem is not presented correctly and the two issues are totally different and hence cannot be compared.

So my point is that the terms that Kaveh discussed are not well-defined for our society. We need to pass stages to "give meaning" to these terms (like freedom, welfare and rights) and then we can discuss what is more important.

A Reader at September 2, 2003 11:04 PM [permalink]:

Navid and Naveed; Hazhir and Hajir. Words are misleading, we 're the same guys :)

A Reader at September 2, 2003 11:04 PM [permalink]:

Navid and Naveed; Hazhir and Hajir. Words are misleading, we 're the same guys :)

A Reader at September 3, 2003 12:49 AM [permalink]:

Thanks for interesting article Kaveh! But about the US I would object to your sequance. For the US sure nothing holds any priority rather than wealth. I think for the US we'd better sort like this: wealth, employment, welfare, freedom & wealth, education, and security holds the last position (all aspects consisting of walk_in_street safty and job security, etc.)

AliH at September 3, 2003 12:52 AM [permalink]:

PS. that was me (last one):D