Can’t decide if our level of Iran comprehension is comical or pathetic. Was the picture hard to miss? Soon as the Shah was out the voices for Iranian democracy seen on US news were also gone, their purpose fulfilled. The Iranian revolution went from absolute Shah to absolute Ayatollah. The reformers representing democracy in Iran were told “You were a big help on the world stage, but now you have to go.” Reformers were silenced and in many cases the people we saw in US news representing democracy (and as well in France where the Ayatollah had been in exile) were sidelined and silenced. Many if not most reformers were thanked with persecution or execution. A revolution touted as the popular will of the people produced a theocracy run by religious thugs claiming to follow divine principles laid down a millennia and a half ago as (according to he to whom it was revealed) perfect. Try to beat perfection. Go ahead. Give it a whirl. Supposedly you’d arrive at government based on religion, a theocracy. Government based on heavenly precepts how can you go wrong with that, well, except for the people running it?  

Wise, heaven-guided governance knows how to deal with sinners. It punishes them in the here and now as it did the democracy reformers by handing them their heads. We have a term for beliefs (including religious) that require enforcement. It’s called tyranny. For the ordinary individual caught in a regime where you follow the line or suffer the consequences the usual and understandable response is obedient cooperation. Obey or die works damnably well. Dictators and single party systems can attest to this. A common denominator for human tragedy and suffering is the strict application of doctrine. It matters not if the dogma as perfected religion or a socially just society. One-size-applies-to-all policy can’t, no matter how well intended, actually reflect the complex needs, drives, and desires of individuals in a human community. People are just too messy to stay put in boxes of dogma without force used to keep them there.  

I’ll give an example. Would we have trouble rejecting the notion there is only one way to be a mother, one way to be single, one way to be a father, or one correct way to go about any of the complicated operations we do as humans in a society? We understand one way might work better for a particular individual in a certain situation, but that doesn’t mean the same thing will work for others in another situation. Then if you go to the other end of the spectrum and say there is an infinite number of ways to be human and no right way to go about it you’re left with no way and nothing because all options are supposedly the same. It’s not unusual for individuals or societies to find themselves groping in such mazes. Iran tries to make religious control appear democratic and reasonable while democracies try to make their chaos be somewhat more orderly and fair. The difference is adjustment in a theocracy is more limited than adjusting in a democracy where the rules used are open to change. Freedom isn’t a perfect answer. It makes blunders, but being beaten to death for questioning your faith won’t likely be a worry in a free society.  

I look back at family gatherings back in Chicago and see a mixed bag of individuals, each different from the other. But when it came to politics and sports there was unanimity. The family had one republican, tolerated only because of blood and because she wisely remained silent. The other on-the-outs was a Cubs fan among the staunch White Sox followers. Finding agreement in a context of individual differences is not easy. For all we knew there could have been another secret Republican in the Democrat fortress or even a Yankee fan. Who knew? My concern at gatherings was that Uncle J. would not run out of blustering clichés before the dinner was over so he wouldn’t sit there looking like an empty pustule wanting to spew. It was a meal ruining ugly sight. Ugly, too, but mostly ignored was the corruption a third of the family was involved in. It was Chicago and the political machine was strong. If someone in the family got a political favor and was paid for doing work never performed so what? We’d overlook corrosion for the sake of peace. People are complex after all. Why bring up the obvious if it causes trouble? Bad behavior went unchallenged because we valued peace. Don’t stir up Auntie because when she’s drinking she’ll take it out on the kids. Forming a consensus and then a plan to address bad behavior takes time a tyranny won’t bother with because they have a free hand to act now.  

I’d have thought the US and its media would have got wise to situations like Iran long ago, but then I have to get realistic. Sympathy should also be included because if nothing else is true this much is: we happy human animals have an immense talent for inventing and tolerating weapons of mass confusion. Take a somewhat neutral example in the Irish Republican Army (don’t hear much of the IRA these days so for most of us it’s not a too loaded topic. The IRA clearly favored Irish nationalism, was essentially socialist in view, and aggressive as you’d expect from an army. Those three things (nationalism, socialism, aggression) all but define fascism but the IRA was steadfast in its position of fighting fascism. Go ahead, figure that out. All I can say is an ordinary human can carry on as normal while operating with amazing contradictions. We’re all capable of it because we select what we want. In a group called Vegetarian Cannibals Against Coal Mining there’s something for almost everyone. A thing doesn’t have to be valid to sound OK. A timely case thanks to VP Biden -- How much code does a coal miner code if a coal miner could mine code?