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April 20, 2006

Hundreds of Elections A Day, Part II
Guest Author: Mehrdad Hefazi

Figure2-Hefazi.jpg Read Part 1 here!

The Iranian Personality

Whatever its etiology is, the personality dominating our society has long proved to be incompatible with prosperity and progress in the modern world. To address this issue, I believe we should first stop accusing others, be they our own officials or foreign politicians, of being responsible for all the failures and frustrations of our nation. We should, instead, recognize the undesirable character traits which have led to our downfall and try to replace them by more constructive healthy ones. To get an overview of the peculiar personality traits that prevail in our society, one can just observe the stark contrast that exists between the driving habits of Iranians and those in more developed countries. In Iran, almost no one can tolerate having another car in front of him/her. Driving regulations of any kind are considered a nuisance, which reflects the general attitudes towards restriction. Finding ways to bypass traffic laws is interpreted as the ultimate sign of genius and courage. Achieving the slightest personal advantage justifies compromising the good of all other drivers. Last but not least, in the case of an accident, the only language that seems to be understood is physical aggressiveness prior to any dialogue; forget an apology or a compromise.

Iranian driving style may be an exaggerated example. However, a tinge of all these detrimental habits is evident in our overall personal and social behavior. Even those who are critical of the current situation in Iran consciously or subconsciously follow the main stream so as to survive in such a malfunctioning system. That is why, I hold that any bright future prospect is far out of reach unless the whole system is reset and a different mentality dominates our society.

Can we, however, change this mentality and reshape our national character to ensure a more promising future? Is it possible for humans to stop a vicious cycle that has been impairing their country’s character over generations? I believe so, but this will be neither as simple nor as quick as we expect of other changes in life. There is a famous adage stating that disciplining children needs to be started from the previous generation. This is actually based on the fact that, to successfully bring up children, one needs well-disciplined parents and teachers who themselves have been raised in a healthy and constructive atmosphere. The transformation of a whole society’s nature, thus, requires a systematic and comprehensive long-term approach which works hand in hand with the discipline of children in families, the education of students at schools, and the promotion of human rights and mutual respect by all members of a society.

Instead of passively waiting for a savior to miraculously rescue our society, we should collectively foster positive traits; characteristics such as honesty, diligence, composure, discretion, and courtesy, which are the building blocks of a prosperous civilized nation.

A Practical Approach

From this moment, let us start with ourselves. When driving, swear not to run a yellow light, no matter how late you are. When standing in a line, respect the other’s turn. Similarly, if someone tries to cut into the line, never remain indifferent; assertively object to this behavior even though you may not be the one violated. At home, instead of lecturing your kids about moral values, become a role model by personally striving to live out these virtues. If you are a teacher, reward students for their creativity, not just their memorization skills; encourage the open expression of opinions and mutual respect; motivate pupils to constructively cooperate rather than frantically competing with each other.

By our daily actions, at the university, at work, at a restaurant, or in a cinema, almost everywhere, we participate in a type of election to choose the path towards our nation’s prosperity or decline. The results may not be readily available, but when they appear they will have such a profound long-lasting effect which revolutionizes our entire social, economic, and political system.

Mehrdad Hefazi is a General Practitioner and a graduate of Mashhad School of Medicine and Mashhad NODET highschool (SAMPAD).
An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 20, 2006 08:11 PM [permalink]:

I don't understand and don't reallyt buy this kind of over generalizatiosn as national character. Iran is too diverse for such simplifications. Mayebe those who talk the most and whose words are heard the most have among them many with such character, but attributing this to an entire nation is done based on what evidence?
Instead of such word plays, one shoudl propse better ideas and people in Iran, like any where else in the world, will hear them, analyze them and if it contains some truth, they'll recognize it (the smartest first, the idiots never!) and adopt it and change their behaviours , each in as an individual and in an individual manner.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 20, 2006 08:12 PM [permalink]:

I don't understand and don't reallyt buy this kind of over generalizatiosn as national character. Iran is too diverse for such simplifications. Mayebe those who talk the most and whose words are heard the most have among them many with such character, but attributing this to an entire nation is done based on what evidence?
Instead of such word plays, one shoudl propse better ideas and people in Iran, like any where else in the world, will hear them, analyze them and if it contains some truth, they'll recognize it (the smartest first, the idiots never!) and adopt it and change their behaviours , each in as an individual and in an individual manner.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 20, 2006 08:42 PM [permalink]:

I don't understand and don't reallyt buy this kind of over generalizatiosn as national character. Iran is too diverse for such simplifications. Mayebe those who talk the most and whose words are heard the most have among them many with such character, but attributing this to an entire nation is done based on what evidence?
Instead of such word plays, one shoudl propse better ideas and people in Iran, like any where else in the world, will hear them, analyze them and if it contains some truth, they'll recognize it (the smartest first, the idiots never!) and adopt it and change their behaviours , each in as an individual and in an individual manner.

ali at April 21, 2006 01:58 AM [permalink]:

I would like to repost my comment on the first part of your article again:
It was a real treat to read your article. I personally agree with your point of view.
Your unpleasant impression about the line of attack of the Iranian student can also be analyzed in the framework of your paradigm: One of the traits of the contemporary Iranian society has been herophilia. The elite are generally not exempt. They look for a person (like Khatami), a nation (like US), a system (like liberal democracy) to bring prosperity to their nation, while they do not always pay enough tribute to the importance of the national-traits.
As a second point I would like to mention that I am not underestimating the effect of the government on changing national-traits, as the degradation in moral standards in the Iranian society in recent decades can be attributed to a great extent to the policies of the Islamic Republic. As an example, the widely accepted belief that "the government is responsible for providing the citizens with their basic needs: food, electricity, jobs" is a result of the slogans preached during the revolution, and the policies taken by the Islamic Republic. As a result the value of genuine "labor" has been eliminated from the man in the street's mind. He has been looking for somebody to hand-feed him.
My final point is that "construction is always much harder than demolition". Changing the mentality of the people and their traits, for the better, is unbelievably hard. It may need decades and generations. Do not forget that many cultural traits and mentalities are passed on from generation to generation.

ali at April 21, 2006 02:21 AM [permalink]:

What AIS is saying, is true in general. But I would like to express my objection to part of their comment.
AIS has written, "... like any where else in the world, will hear them, analyze them ...". This sentence by itself, contains too strong a generalization to be easy to prove. A point Mehrdad is trying to make, is that "nowhere is like any where else".
But I have an argument against what AIS has said. "... analyze them ..." as they have mentioned does not appropriately apply to the typical Iranian. Analytical thinking is not in the nature of human being. People learn to think analytically. Due to many different reasons, this capability is very low in the typical Iranian. One of the most obvious reasons is the religious teachings, which ban questioning, and put too much emphasis on "what is stated in the Islamic literature". We have been taught, that we must act like this, because it is in the tradition.
Now AIS has spread the people over an spectrum from "the smartest" to "the idiot". Unfortunately a large propotion of the Iranians lie on "the idiot" band of that spectrum. The point I am trying to make is that if Iran is going to go anywhere, this situation has to change at first.
There is also a lingering concern in me, which I would like to surface now. I wonder whether some Iranian elite prefer to be involved in a government which governs "sheep" instead of "intelligent human beings".
A final point is that I cannot express the exhilaration I feel from reading what Mehrdad has written. I thank him again.

سرزمین رویایی at April 21, 2006 08:00 AM [permalink]:

good job man !
that's it

farhad at April 21, 2006 03:57 PM [permalink]:

well, I agree with you to some extend. I think that you are absolutely right about encountering "thousand elections" everyday. however, sometimes you have to compromise between the moral values and social benefits. Assume that you want to establish a private school for poor children, if you pay the bribe you would be able to do the paper work in a week, otherwise in two years. so you sacrifice the moral values for the sake of the education. it's like choosing among two candidates; Hashemi (ending in a better society with all sort of bribery) and Ahmadinejad (not to pay the bribe).

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 22, 2006 12:42 PM [permalink]:

I still don't see the need for such obscure language or makinga big deal of it.
Yes, each place is different, because in each place specific kinds of idea are being transmitted from one generation to the next. You promote right ideas to convince enough people and eventually the right ideas will be transmitted. It is a dynamic process.
Anyway it is important to not that it comes down to ideas, not to inherent ANYTHING. Because this also shows how to change it if needed. . there is no short cut. What needs to be done is to see and investigate the wrong ideas that are adopted in each locality and correct them with relevant right versions. Is that what you mean?
All this talk what does it tell of the remedy? Again it all comes down to promoting teh right ideas at the end. the danger of speaking about mutations in a bilogical sense is that it might tend to treat it as from outside, by manipulating these mysterious forces, taht would lead to catastrophies like Communism.
Indeed even the bilogical evolutionary theory ultimately distinguihses between blind mutatiosn in primitive organisms and goal oriented more "conscious" mutatiosn in higher species.

There has been inetersting studies on such issues from teh right perspective (of ideas). People have introduced the notion of idea genes (memes) and so on. See here.

Babak S at April 22, 2006 03:16 PM [permalink]:

Indeed even the bilogical evolutionary theory ultimately distinguihses between blind mutatiosn in primitive organisms and goal oriented more "conscious" mutatiosn in higher species. I am totally confused here! Are you advocating a Lamarckian theory of evolution. In any case, this is not the content of the Darwinian theory of evolution as we understand it today (I am not sure if it has been actually falsified for genes but it is certainly not favoured). Mutations are blind -- there is no such thing as concious or goal-oriented mutation. The situation is different, however, for memes because of the mutation mechanisms in the host organism (brain).

Mehrdad H at April 22, 2006 04:26 PM [permalink]:

Dear AIS, I am glad that we both agree on the need for “investigating the wrong ideas that are adopted in each locality and correcting them with relevant right versions.” However, I believe, trying to promote positive characteristics in the society is neither a short cut nor a commonly accepted fact in our society. Actually, nowadays, we are in dire need of underscoring the effect of people’s mentality on their prosperity. If you just disagree with the term “national character” and believe this makes the article obscure, you can call it “ideas that are adopted in each locality” as we have already agreed upon this. By the way, I still cannot understand how believing that people’s personality is evolving over generations and based on different social pressures can lead to threats such as communism!!!! Would you please explain this a little bit more. And one final point, “mutations”, which, in fact, have nothing to do with my article!, always happen blindly in both primitive and higher species. But, what makes their selection, and not their happening, goal-oriented is the effect of environmental factors on their promotion and survival over generations.

Mehrdad H at April 22, 2006 04:58 PM [permalink]:

Oh, and I forgot to say that the site you introduced ( is such a wonderful one, thanks.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 22, 2006 06:49 PM [permalink]:

OK. agree the term conscious mutation is confusing and quite meaningless. Sorry about that. (I was in a hurry. ) What I meant is that in lower organisms you have mutations by chance and survival in any given environment and that's it.
In higher organisms mutation is still a matter of chance, but what constitutes survival and thus also what mutations become permanent features is no longer just the characteristic of the environment but instead is determined by the interaction of the species with its environment and the methods it uses and chooses in its struggle for survival.

Dear Mehrdad,

My point about the danger inherent in neglecting the importance of ideas (or the need to mention them explicitly) in these kinds of debates is that it could tend the whole endeavours in trying to use so called "social forces" or manipulate "environmental factors" or other stuff like these, controls from above in large scale "entities" to "guide" the evolution to a desired direction etc. Instead of using and promoting correct "ideas" that affect people individually but which gradually correct the social behaviour. In that respect the problem is similar to the whole communist trap of using abstract pseudo-scientific sociological "methods" of pushing the society in the "right" historical directions and similar crap.
I guess you and I agree on this, that's why I asked whether you meant the same thing as I. I'm just insisting on the central role of ideas in all of this.
Sorry about the typos and unintelligible sentences. i am writing from a laptop and the touch sensitive pad always seems to change the place of the cursor accidentally so stuff gets replaced, overwritten etc. I should double check before posting but I seldom do it! :)

And you are welcome about the link. :)

Babak S at April 22, 2006 08:33 PM [permalink]:


I still think you should completely separate genetic mutations from mutations in the world of memes and ideas. I think what you are saying could only be true about memes. There may be memes in "higher organisms" as you say, but I have never seen someone claim they play an important role in their biological evolution and survival. If we are to assign an important role to memes in our survival as a species, we should perhaps do so exclusively for humans on earth and perhaps other types of extraterrestial intelligent species who have developed a complex enough memosphere. Other than this, I agree with the core of your point on getting the right ideas, or memes, as agents of our social theories.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 22, 2006 09:18 PM [permalink]:

Babak S,

I don't see why you exclude every species except humans. Any highly advanced species determines his survivle a certain amount of skill and intelligence. Take any land living hunter animal for instance. I am not talking about self-consciousness or even consciousness in its proper meaning here. The humans didn't just jump out of no where. Actually I think this can be generalized to the big picture. Genes themselves are the result of prior evolution, which was very slow and ineffective. Once the gene structure was achieved, the new "entity" could use it to enhance its survival rate considerably. That's why the pace of evolution is so fast compared to the history of the planet.
The transition to memes is also a result of this added complexity in survival. In humans, because of our high capacity to survive using our skills, genetic evolution is more or less stopped (except for trivial stuff) and natural selection works for memes.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 22, 2006 09:36 PM [permalink]:


just to give you some very concrete examples about our situation to show why I am so concerned about this point (this is itself an example of how the local character determines the need for the right idea!):
Take the reform movement. It is easy to see how such talks about local characteristics were bent by the reformists to talk about nonsense such as Islamic democracy or Islamic civil society. The reason was because they were not willing to target the problematic ideas. What was their methods? To use bureaucratic means, such as elections or municipalities etc to "eventually" bring about the new forms of modern civil society without any content. The same goes with women rights. The sophistry that for traditional societies one has to go slowly and take the "sensitivities" of the "indigenous culture" into account comes directly out of such neglects. that also goes for European multi-culturism and the nonsense usually known as political correctness.
The fact that both reformists and European muti-cultis have failed so miserably is an important lesson.
Because once you stress the centrality of ideas, the problem is revealed. The approach should have been the exact opposite. The more inflexible and dogmatic a social prevalent idea is, the more urgent is there a need to confront it with the most advanced and revolutionary form of the anti-dote idea, not the pathetic "domesticated" version. (That is also the main point Ganji is making, which the fools of the reform camp constantly miss.)

I want to use an analogy here that is not very pretty but shows the point. Take Diarrhea!
In traditional medicine was to forbid the patient from drinking water or liquids, because the symptoms showed the problem to be an excess of liquids. The correct remedy of course is the exact opposite. The patient must consume even more water to make up for the body's inability to absorb enough water from the food and drinks.
Maybe Azar Nafisi expressed this much nicer. When she quoted and spoke of how those subjugated by totalitarian systems who are faced with a threat to their intellectual existence need the highest products of human intellect to survive the threat. See here .

ali at April 22, 2006 11:15 PM [permalink]:

Thanks to AIS and Mehrdad for the interesting discussion.
However, I do not agree with the terms "right ideas" and "wrong ideas". A comparative study of the prosperous nations on the face of earth today will show that many of the presumed "right ideas" have nothing to do with prosperity. For example consider Japan. The Western idea of individualism does not exist in Japan. I call Japan "Communism in the skin of democracy". Russians achieved prosperity with communist ideas in their minds. South Koreans reached prosperity with a military regime. (Even in today's South Korea, the police closely watch people in the street to ensure proper social behavior).
What I'm trying to say is that, instead of reading books on political systems, philosophical ideas, bla bla bla I would prefer to make a comparative study of prosperous nations, or poor nations, with an emphasis on social behavior, or national traits. I think Mehrdad agrees with me on this that there must be something in common between us and democratic African countries bogged down in bureaucratic scandals and bribery, in terms of national traits.
Two points arise from what I've been saying thus far. The first is that I am putting the emphasis on "prosperity": economic growth, marketing power, power of media, military power... Many put the emphasis on universal values: individualism, human rights, liberal democracy, .... I should clear my position here, I am not against any of these but I should say, I'm afraid they have little to do with prosperity. So I think we should clearly define what is the most important for us.
The second point is that one might argue that "ideas" are behind "national traits". I argue, not necessarily. The action of a human being at a certain circumstance can have different reasons. It might be an uncontrolloed reflexive action caused by the nervous system. It might be instinctive. Seldom is it a result of an idea, and analytical thinking needed to deduce the right action based on that idea. More than not it is "habitual" or a result of "national traits" or "culture", as Mehrdad has called it.
I'm not sure about this, but I guess in countries where people have adopted modernity and rational thinking, people analyze the situations based on their ideas more. But I'm sure that is not the case in Iran.
In summary, I think that "national traits" is a more appropriate term for what Mehrdad is trying to say. Nevertheless I agree with AIS, that dissemination of ideas is the only medium through which we can change these "national traits" and not use of communist means.

Babak S at April 23, 2006 05:55 AM [permalink]:


I don't think is correct to say, for instance, "Russians achieved prosperity with communist ideas in their minds." They did not. Whatever prosperity they achieved during the communist era in narrowly defined aspects of their lives (for instance feeling happy to have been assigned a larger house by the state, or feeling proud of their gold medals in the olympic games) was negated by the more general non-prosperity and misery brought upon them by those very communist ideas. If it had been otherwise, they would not have abandoned those ideas.

It is important to see that "prosperity" is subjective and subject-oriented. A South Korean who feels prosperous economically, would not feel prosperous when the police in the street stops him to comment on his social behaviour. So one cannot talk of South Koreans haveing achieved prosperity while "the police closely watch people in the street to ensure proper social behavior."

This is why the correct approach is actually idea-based which provides the basis for and the means to a wide array of "prosperities" as well. No indicator, such as prosperity, which is the consequence of the ideas and theories giving rise to them can be taken as the basis itself.

Also, let me try and challenge the notion that because somehow people in Iran are less analytical in their thinking and decision makings, even if true, so the idea-based approach is inappropraite there. The reason is simple: not only the idea-based approach is not limited to analytical thinking, it is actually applicable to even the most primitive life forms. Only, for them the ideas are usually hard-wired in the organism's DNA and perhaps only subject to the slower dynamics of biological evolution. As one goes up in the hierarchy of life forms closer to primates, say, the social behaviours become more and more sophisticated and "memes" also come into play. These are what is usually meant by "idea." They are subject to the ever faster pace of "memetic" evolution. In human beings this form of evolution is so fast it could affect one individual many times in her life time, transforming her effectively from one person to another, etc. Critical or analytical thinking is not a necessary or sufficient condition for the idea-based approach to be applicable, though it usually enhances the powers of the indivduals using them in grasping, using and transforming the ideas presented or occuring to her. In this way, "culture", "habit", "national trait" etc. are all covered as different sorts and collections of ideas, though exactly how to change and improve each may require different responses.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 23, 2006 01:04 PM [permalink]:

Yes, indeed.
People who are less analytical in their thinking are also acting according to ideas. It's just that the ideas aren't analyzed by them that much. They have adopted it by their parents, friends, the mullah of their mosque or their favourite TV presenter.
Those who do take the time to think for themselves and analyze end up with more sophisticated ideas. But its all about ideas at the end,

ali at April 24, 2006 03:56 AM [permalink]:

I thought these links might be relavant.
The contents are in Persian though.

Mehrdad H. at April 24, 2006 06:06 AM [permalink]:

Dear AIS, Ali, and Babak,

I guess we are eye to eye on almost all the vital issues. The disagreement is, in fact, just because of our different viewpoints on the meaning of “National Traits” and “Prosperity”, which I should have more explicitly defined in my article so as to prevent divergent interpretations.

As for the definition of “National Traits” vs. “Ideas adopted in a locality”:

1- Ali favors the term “national traits” because he believes an “idea-based approach” may exclude the important role of habitual beliefs, culture, etc, which he does not include in the same category as “ideas.”

2- Holding that the term “idea” includes both rational/analytical thinking and habitual thoughts, Babak points that an “idea-based approach” is still appropriate and applicable to all countries, as well as to Iran, where habitual beliefs and non-analytical thinking have an obvious role in shaping people’s attitudes and behavior.

3- AIS says “people who are less analytical in their thinking are still acting on their ideas.” Thus, like Babak, he applies the term “idea” to both analytical and non-analytical thoughts.

To conclude, I would like to say it is just a matter of preference because the words “national traits” and “ideas” are broad enough concepts to encompass both analytical and non-analytical thinking. I myself preferred the term “National Traits” for this article because, I believe, not only is it more concise than terms such as “ideas adopted in each locality”, but it also better points to the need for changes from within the nation and not from its outside.

As for the definition of “Prosperity”:

Again it would have been better if I had distinguished between materialistic (economic/ military/ marketing, etc) power and humanistic (individualism, human rights, democratic, etc) values. As Farhad very well noted, these two are not necessarily in accordance with each other, and sometimes, even we have to sacrifice moral values for social benefits or vice versa. In this article, I meant the very literal meaning of “prosperity”, namely having a flourishing economy and successful business, industry, etc. However, I do agree that the need for the promotion of humanistic values is also an ever increasing concern in today’s modern life and is definitely worth paying attention to.

I cannot agree more that the amendment of social behavior is plausible only through the correction of the ideas that affect people individually. By using the word “national traits”, I never ever wanted to justify the use of “social forces” as was/is experienced in socialism or communism. On the contrary, the ultimate aim of my article is to divert people’s attention from the governmental means of changing the society to their individual roles and responsibilities. However, as Ali noted, one should not underestimate the impact of governments on changing national traits either.

penny ashford at April 24, 2006 07:50 AM [permalink]:

Dear commentators

It is very interesting reading your comments. I am Australian and am coming to Iran in June on a trip. I don't mean to insult you, but much of what I have been reading on Iranian blogs (admittedly only the English version blogs) seems like what an Australian would call 'navel gazing'. This would mean that you were being introspective for the sake of being like that. The payoff/reason for doing it is that you are all intelligent, very well read, and like to hear yourselves talk/write? Or maybe you are just having more serious discussions about real activities to create change, but you just don't talk about them in this forum?

The apathy that you think you can identify in your 'culture' is present in all cultures. I live in a democratic country, with a reasonable human rights record. When there are injustices here, people don't protest as they should. They don't even vote out the people who are responsible for the injustices. Instead, they worry instead about having enough money to buy a house, and feed their children. These are reasonable worries, but they don't reinforce our democracy where it needs reinforcing. And I have come to the conclusion that democracies are only as good as their citizen's participation allows them to be.

ali at April 24, 2006 12:08 PM [permalink]:

Dear Penny,
I'm afraid I cannot respond on behalf of all Iranian bloggers. Sorry! I don't have a personal blog either!

Dear others,
AIS had put forward "what does it tell of the remedy?" in one of their earlier comments. I believe Mehrdad has written his prescription under the subtitle "A Practical Approach", and has restated this approach in his last comment ("divert people’s attention from the governmental means of changing the society to their individual roles and responsibilities"). Although I personally follow this prescription, I do not believe it to be effective in solving the problem under consideration. Hereby I would like to present my arguments.
First of all, only a small portion of the society will read what Mehrdad has written here. These are mostly from the elite. Even within this small group of elites, fewer even believe in his paradigm "I don't really buy this kind of over generalization ...". So bringing the elite onboard might be the first step.
Now let us assume that a majority of elite come to accept this paradigm. So what? In this prescription each of them must take certain actions in their lives. But what does it have to do with the populace? Here two different answers might be given to this question.
The first is that, the elite, should also try to disseminate these ideas through some medium. The statistics show that a typical Iranian does not spend much time reading newspapers or books. Infiltrating the state run television and radio might not be that straight forward. This causes great doubt about practicality of Mehrdad’s approach. Even if this were not the situation, after Islamic Republic’s experience, we know that sermons are not that effective, after all!
The second answer (which I guess would be Mehrdad's) is that, each of these elite will affect a small circle around him: his family, his friends .... This will eventually lead to a betterment of the whole nation. I do not believe in practicality of this approach either. This approach has an inherent assumption in it: "There are enough people to start this movement, to ensure its effectiveness". Mehrdad knows very well that a single virus does not affect a human being (or the probability of being affected by a single virus is insignificant). But due to three reasons, there are not enough people who have the "will" to take that prescription:
1. The persecution and massacre of the elite by the Islamic Republic shortly after the revolution.
2. The war with Iraq: Many of the people with strong wills (apart from their ideological beliefs) became martyrs for Iran.
3. The current Diaspora of the elite.
These three factors, in my opinion, also constitute some of the reasons for the moral degradation of the Iranian society in recent years.
Even if this were not the situation, the solution Mehrdad is promoting will cause the ordinary people to mimic the elite. I do not believe that "mimicking" is the solution to anything. We already have the “mimicking” model for the behavior of people in Iran. Where has it taken us so far?
I would like to postpone the rest of this analysis, and my own prescription to another comment, as this one has become long enough!

penny ashford at April 24, 2006 11:12 PM [permalink]:

Dear Ali

Thanks for kindly acknowledging to my post. It was a bit late at night, and I was generalising for which I apologise.

The way that an idea/ideas could be disseminated, and has been disseminated in many countries, is through the union movement, where it can be shown that ideas can have a concrete and useful application.

I hesitate to go further on this, because I don't wish to bring up a discussion that no-one is interested in. So if you are interested in hearing more about it, let me know.

Otherwise I will keep quiet, and 'get back in my box' as we say in our country.

This website is good, and I wish you all the best of luck.


Mehrdad H at April 25, 2006 03:20 PM [permalink]:

Dear Penny,

I think your first comment about the impracticality and inconclusiveness of many of the comments posted on this forum and/or some other Iranian blogs is right to the point.

Your proposing “union movements” as a practical means of putting people’s ideas into effect is also true. This is, no doubt, a major missing part in our political system, as well as in many other less democratic states. However, as for the dissemination of ideas and for fostering more positive personal characteristics in each individual, I doubt this can be of much help. For instance, in the last presidential election in Iran, in which Mr. Ahmadinejad, a rather hardliner, came to power, the masses were given the opportunity to choose the candidate who best matched their ideas and system of thought. But, the problem was that those with an appropriate system of thinking were in the minority.

In my article, I have proposed a somewhat practical approach for fostering positive characteristics in each individual member of a society. However, I do admit that my approach is not perfect due to the reasons Ali has mentioned in his last comment. I, therefore, would like to put forward the following question, hoping to find a more practical solution:

Assuming that our national character, or as AIS calls it the dominant ideas adopted in our country, is responsible for and also able to change our future, what practical approache/s do you propose for improving our citizens’ mentality and system of thought?

I, personally, am waiting impatiently to read Ali’s next comment.

BTW, Penny, I wish you a very nice trip to Iran, and look forward to hearing about your experience afterwards.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 26, 2006 06:10 AM [permalink]:

Dear Penny,
I definitely agree with you on this. It has been one of the points I have been trying to stress all the time as well.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at April 26, 2006 07:06 AM [permalink]:


I also completely disgaree with your point about unions. They are definitely not on the side of freedom and propogation of ideas.

Justin at April 26, 2006 07:33 PM [permalink]:
Unions have proven effective in the short-term for providing a sufficient catalyst for political and social change; however, they aren't without costs. And they don't gurantee a universially deserible outcome. If the subject of modern unions is too unpallettable, consider the problems trade guilds of old wrecked upon their respective societies. Or if you do find it palettable, look at the situation that plagues and disrupts modern, prosperous civil societies -- week-long riots in France that hold the government and private sector hostage, people tossed from a train in South Africa for not being union supporters, overwhelming financial burden on American automakers in the form of post-employment liabilities, etc. "The first is that I am putting the emphasis on "prosperity": economic growth, marketing power, power of media, military power... Many put the emphasis on universal values: individualism, human rights, liberal democracy, .... I should clear my position here, I am not against any of these but I should say, I'm afraid they have little to do with prosperity." From my perspective, universal values are't the tools of prosperity, they are a foundation. Without universal values, the tools will be misused (corruption), unmaintained (infrastructure/societal decay), or lost (mismanaged/pissed away). Could the "universal values" be strengthened and refined in the Middle East and specifically in Iran? Definately. Are they completely absent? No, even if you view the current regime as repressive, obstinate, or even just disagreeable, there is a sense of opportunity, right, wrong, and justice -- perverted as it may sometimes seem. If we are at the very least in the same chapter, if not on the same page, the tools of prosperity are the fundamental scarce resources of economics: capital (buildings, equipment), land (and everything contained or constrained to that piece of geography), entrepenuership (adept manager/leader/visionary), and lastly and more importantly -- labor (physical and mental toils). Forgive me, but the way I see it from a general point of view towards the Middle East, based on other Middle Eastern bloggers, is that it is certainly not lacking for land, or potential for quick acquisition of capital. The tools lacking and needed are entrepenuership, and labor. Entrepenuership can be remedied, not easily or necessarily quickly as those truly gifted are a rare breed (regardless of society or time period or any other discriminat) -- but like foreign investment of cash and capital, it can be imported, if even on a short term basis while more home-grown varieties are cultivated. Furthermore, I'm sure if the univeral values aspect was improved the "brain drain" that has occurred over the past several decades may reverse itself, and you may see patriotic expats with that talent attempt to repatriate and apply their skills where they are demanded. The remaining component needed to fill the toolbox is labor -- will people work with realistic expectations of compensation and routinely deliver expected levels of productivity? The general feeling I get from reading others who ponder the concern is unfortunately, no. They are generally inclined to believe that many who find themselves unemployed or underemployed view most available jobs as "below" them, and even a good number that do "lower" themselves in taking a job won't put the expected effort into keeping it. It's not a problem that is unique to the modern day Middl ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
ali at April 26, 2006 10:51 PM [permalink]:

Dear Justin,
Thank you very much for your insightful comments.
1. On the fundamentality of universal values, I have made my arguments, you have made your own. Let people decide. Nevertheless I see a double irony in your comment, I cannot refrain from mentioning! It is a historical irony, as well as an irony in your comment, that the prosperity of the US has something to tribute to the labor of the African slaves (the ones "imported" to handle the "dirty work"), from the work on the farms to the expansion of the railway system. I don't think there is anybody here who believes "human rights" promotes slavery. Nevertheless it has helped bring prosperity to the US. A third irony is that, while black nannies were taking care of the house, the white women had the opportunity to educate themselves and later join feminist movements, and materialize other universal values, such as sexual equity.
2. The point you mentioned about the attitude towards labor in Iran (and Middle East in general) was the main subject of one of the links I gave in an earlier comment. The contents were in Persian though. Thanks for restating it in English.

Dear Mehrdad,
Don't expect that much from me. My prescription is no more practical than yours. I should look for some material on the web to strengthen my arguments. I was not ready for it, so give me some time.

Justin at April 27, 2006 01:57 PM [permalink]:
ali, Thank-you for considering my comments. I didn't really intend to be arguementative, but I know I can certainly come off as a bull in a china shop -- lacking of grace and finesse, and quite frank. I'm not sure I strongly agree that the correlation between slavery and prosperity was also causation. Certainly there was a brief period of marginal prosperity for those who employed slaves (and near-aggregate effects), but I suspect most of the benefit gleamed from the situation and arranagement was subsequently lost via a combination of events -- including the reaffirmation of universal rights through the emancipation process (and resulting Civil War) and later, the Great Depression (and the precursive drought) which literally put the nation back at a zero or negative balance of prosperity. What prompted me to mention it, and allude to more recent events, such as the migrant worker situation in the US, and the non-native workers of the Middle East (such as the Indians, Pakastanis, etc), is there are jobs which native people are not willing/enthusiast to do that can not easily be off-shored. In the past, this was accomplished through conscripted, imported "employed" labor. Today, they are mutually willing participants -- employer and employee performing a criminalized process. It's a social-economic dilema that can not easily be solved. Take the case of the current situation in the US with migrant workers. I'll use this as an example, as it is what I am most familiar with. The US could clamp down on migrant workers who are here illegally, but the result would be the loss of industry, either in scale or entirely as it would become immediately a less rewarding effort. Margins would tighten and consumers would opt for imported or substitute goods/services. Alternatively, they could approach the problem from the perspective of maintaining the status quo, which given the volume of discussion, I don't suspect can happen. Thirdly, they could repeal minimum wage laws -- which to me is the correct course of action, both economically and socially, but the immediate political cost might be too high. A stronger enforcement policy might seem reasonable at first glance, but at the end of the day it's no solution. The migrant workers come, despite the lack of legal protection and great physical peril they face, because there is a great opportunity for them. Even if the punishment was mandatory immediate death on discovery, they would still come. The only way they would not come is if the opportunity no longer existed -- either the jobs themselves were gone, the jobs were filled by willing and dependable native US workers, or the situation in their native country/region improved to the point that the marginal benefits for traveling to and working illegally would be minimal compared with what was offered more locally (ie they could earn 50-75 percent of what was offered in the US). Removing the minimum wage would alleviate the necessity for these workers and employers to operate in the shadow. Bringing them out of the shadows would allow the native population's citizenry to be more willing to provide them with protection of universal rights. Thirdly, the value of the labor would be allowed to either appreciate or depreciate normally as competiation could adjust more appropriately to the instantaneous and projected situation. You are probably saying that's great, but what does it do for, or how might it relate to, Iran? I'm not fa ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Justin at April 27, 2006 02:23 PM [permalink]:

As an addendum in regards to my last comment of my most recent reply, let me just further clarify...

Communist countries like China, North Korea, and Vietnam tried this approach of seeking universal prosperity by initially making everyone equally poor and crushing the economic tools that existed so that everyone was at the same starting point in their experiment. To some degree the ANC in South Africa sought this technique as a remedy to the apartheid situation. I think the results speak for themselves. A completely negative reinforcement won't motivate people and it doesn't rely on universal values to constrain corruption, and other effects of totalitarianism.

Alternatively, places like France and a great deal of Western Europe responded to an unmotivated work force by shifting the burden to those who produced the most, which stifled long-term, sustained growth. This was the approach the US flirted with, but never really embraced as fully as their Atlantic neighbors.

What would solve the problem, is if the problem itself became increasingly more responsible for their situation. The government, through taxes and public works projects, can continue to provide the helping hand off the ground into the naturing of the nest, but must eventually/occassionally push them out of the nest so they are encouraged to test and strengthen their atrophied wings.

ali at April 28, 2006 07:39 AM [permalink]:

Dear Justin,
Thank you very much for the analysis. I agree with most of your arguments, although some of them do not apply directly to the situation in Iran.
But the whole thing is a bit out of context (regarding the problem we are discussing here). As you seem to be informed about the American history more than me (I really know little), I would like to ask you whether during the Great Depression looters took off railway tracks or transmission wires and melted and sold them? Because that is what looters do with transmission wires in Iran!

Victoria Balderrama (Azghandi) at May 19, 2006 03:54 PM [permalink]:

I was inspired by Mr. Hefazi’s article. I was especially interested in the observation that the quality of an individual’s social interaction eventually determines the leadership of the society. The power of one is amazing indeed. As a foreigner residing in Mashhad, I had resigned myself to the terrible driving habits, non-existent customer service, and a general lack of common courtesy among the general public in Iran. I accepted this as a part of the cultural package of living here (this, by the way, contrasts with the other many wonderful traits of the Iranian people and the unique experience of dwelling in their amazing country). Mr. Hefazi’s message has encouraged me to discard my expatriate complacency for the country in which I live and take a personal and positive interest in how I, not "they," interact with the public here. It will require demanding more of myself than of others.

ali at May 25, 2006 09:01 AM [permalink]:

Take a look at this paper.
The contents are in Persian though.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at May 26, 2006 09:32 PM [permalink]:

This speech by Dr. reza Mansouri was wonderful.
It was interesting how he was making the very same points in a very professional way. People like Dr. Mansouri are building up the professional basis of sustaing the proces sof growth of ideas. These are or greatest men today.

Yaser, although you are a reformist! and we had dufferences (or I had), but really thanks for setting these meetings. Your network is working great.

... at May 26, 2006 09:36 PM [permalink]:

Better quality

... at May 26, 2006 09:37 PM [permalink]:

Better Quality!

John More Taugh at August 19, 2007 09:38 AM [permalink]:

I agree with you Dr HEfazi to a great extent in that the major problem of the people living in Iran is the cultural problem having been brought about by the economic problems.
I hope we'll have brighter tomorrows.