Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Dangers of Divisive Politics

This next blog entry is basically just part of a conversation I was having with a friend, but I thought it would work as an entry. It is a response to a Foreign Affairs article (Foreign Affairs is a magazine that has been published since 1922 according to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Affairs ). The article seeks to shift blame for the ouster of a democratically elected government in Iran in the 1950's from the CIA and over onto MI6 and internal politics of Iran.

The article is rather long. You can listen to a recording of it, but the recording is 37 minutes long by itself. This gives you an idea of the length of the article. For me reading is much faster than listening, but it is nice that they have multiple options, especially if you are in a place where you spend a lot of time in your car.

I would like to provide what I would see as a balanced digest that provides external contextualization in order to illustrate biases for this article, but I really can't. I know very little about Iran, so my response to this article has very little to do with Iran. Feel free to read the article, but it is not necessary if you are more focused on my blog entry.

This article is very long, and I suspect quite slanted. I do not know enough about Iranian politics to form an opinion, but it does highlight a scary problem to me. People tend to look only at the nearby near-term effects of political maneuvers, but they can carry longer term generational effects. This article is about coups and counter coups and what Britain and America did when, but I can't help but think that all this stuff created a generation that was very distrustful of their institutions. It doesn't seem too surprising that when the generations born and raised in this environment became adults, the Shah was overthrown by people who claimed to have a good and godly plan.

The article seeks to shift blame for the ouster of the democratically elected Prime Minister away from the US. Without more information I couldn't really evaluate that idea, but to me the article certainly seemed to suggest that Western activities likely had a strong impact on the eventual ouster of the Shah and the formation of the Islamic Republic.
This is what really scares me about divisive politics in our country.  
I consider the success of our own democratic rebellion to be a miracle, but I fear that it only remains a miracle as long as people believe in it.  When you look around the world and at history it certainly seems that revolutions that result in better conditions and more freedom for the people who have revolted are exceptionally rare. By the standards of history I would argue that the Soviet Revolution in Russia and the Cultural Revolution in China were actually very successful. Considering how horrible things were for the citizens of those respective countries before their revolutions there certainly was marked improvement in the general standard of living. If you realize that most revolutions result in worse outcomes than Lenin and Mao, it makes our own revolution's outcome seem truly miraculous.
As politicians spend more time demonizing each other and less promoting common values it becomes hard to convince up and coming generations that the country is worth supporting. What keeps our country working is common values and the majority of people having a stake in the system. What will the long term ramifications of our current politics be in this country?
The left tells its constituents that they have no stake in the country. that all of the benefits of our society are going to the rich. The right warns that the left seeks to destroy Murkah! and that our only defense is supporting policies that reduce the broader population's stake in society. And of course both sides claim that the other is the devil. But this idea of two Americas, one red and one blue is creating a fertile ground for revolution. Not now, but in a generation or two. And who is going to lead that?
More important to me is what can be done to avoid that. I would like to see plenty of changes in our society, but I'm scared of what kind of attitudes our current politics are instilling in our youth. Despite our problems almost everyone in the US gets a pretty phenomenal share in our prosperity (as compared to history and the broader world). We are so prosperous that poor people are fat in this country. Poor people have cell phones and TVs. But if people are just being told that they aren't getting their fair share, or that the godless commies are coming to take their guns and property, then what is going to keep people believing that our country is worth supporting?


  1. Ahh... The godless commies... Sometimes I miss having a clearly defined enemy that we were supposed to fear and hate. It was an easy way to rally and justify our atrocities. Now we are stuck with the ambiguous enemy "terror". Life was simpler when you could blame all the bad stuff on the other superpower.

  2. It is much easier to create a collective identity for something as large as a nation by using an oppositional other. I kind of miss the Evil Empire myself. It's a lot harder to figure out what America is when we can't just say "not the USSR."