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Eureka: An air-conditioner side chat on Iran
by Jay Gutman
2018-07-06 08:36:48
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The average Iranian will have endless cups of tea, smoke countless cigarettes, bet on backgramon and chess games, enjoy conversation about ancient Persian history and Persian poetry, have an almost unhealthy fascination with cats and Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment, a healthy fascination with football, and will try to avoid the drug gangs and the moral police on his or her way home. Stories about the moral police checking smartphones for forbidden pictures, internet search history to check if forbidden websites were not visited, drop a few rials in the moral police's palms and get away with trouble. The police's code word for asking for a bribe will be “show me your pass” and you better not say “what pass?” Stories of torture at police headquarters are also frequent, but the average Iranian will always know someone who knows someone who can help get a “get out of jail free” card for a family member who gets arrested. Iran is also the country of semi-official drug trafficking and prostitution rings and a country where you're never quite sure if you're on the wrong side of the law. I hope this air-conditioner side chat will be somewhat a complete, holistic, realistic view of what goes on in the country. 


Demographic pressures


tehran01_400The main problem for Muslim countries in general is that while marriage has the same complications as in Europe and elsewhere, with all the expensive housing, kids' education and the economic side of the equation, for a lot of people, marriage is the only escape from virginity. That is you can't just date a girl and take her to the motel, or bring her home and have fun sexually. This means Iranians, like most Muslims, tend to marry young, as parents don't want to punish their kids with virginity for too long. This often means people living in overcrowded houses. Contraception is not on the minds of many, and in the male-dominated society that is Iran you wife can't tell you “let's do it tomorrow.” This means lots of children, and a demographic time bomb.



I've discussed the problems that come with demographic pressures in another chat. The problems are mainly a GDP per capita that tends to recede while the GDP grows, the consmption of resources like water and electricity keeps going up, young populations need to constantly be fed and clothed, schools are overcrowded, parents tend to be too busy for leisure or cultural activities thus the leisure and cultural scene is bleak, and of course, people tend not to think twice about the consequences of the actions of their government because they're too busy looking for food, and only protest when the future looks bleak, that is if bread, frying oil and sugar become prohibitively expensive.



Agriculture, years or drought



Growing populations means resource consumption keeps going up. Water consumption keeps going up, yet no one is really trying to come up with a plan to rationalize water consumption. What I tend to do with beer is I'll buy beer in bulk, drink heavily for less than a week, and then spend the next three or four months dry. That's about how Iranians use water, although in my case beer is not vital to my survival. Iranians get water is bulk, use it all in a few days, and then spend the next several months dry, barely squeezing in water for drinking, hygiene and cleaning purposes, and with no water left for irrigation purposes. This has several implications, including agriculture that has come to a standstill with only the smart farmers producing anything, a lot of the agriculture being imported, and Iranians with the habit of not taking showers, washing up in the morning, washing their clothes or cleaning their houses. This means there's a heavy reliance on importing agricultural products, and with oil prices going down, the Iran deal going down and agricultural product prices going up worldwide, this means a lot of times Iranian cuisine is all meat and little else. But bread is a staple, and cooking oil is a basic necessity along with sugar, and if those can't be imported, expect riots.




Industry and the service sector, sticking to the basics



Like South Korea or the Philippines, Iran has a crony capitalism system where you can technically make money, but you need relatives or friends in the government or the army to start a business and to get people to book orders. There is a small industry in Iran, mainly agro-industrial and construction industry, but you have to give away a lot of goodies to cronies to stay in the business, along with parts of the profits. In exchange, business owners get security protection, better education oppportunities for their children and live in protected homes in posh areas.



The Iranian welfare system



Like most Muslim countries, the idea is that no one should starve to death. So most if not all Iranias are fed and clothed by the system, either by family members and relatives, or by neighbors or onlookers, or by the local charities and mosques. Still, there have been stories of people taking to trash bins to find food, not just homeless men, but also women taking to the trash bins to put food on the plate. The welfare system exists, but as the Quran says and I'm paraphrasing, you should never ask for help. This means a lot of people who will need welfare will be shy about asking for it.



The Middle Eastern arms race



Like most Middle Eastern countries, Iran reinvests a lot of its cash reserves into its military. Iran is not the only Middle Eastern country to do so, and you would be surprised how the high-tech world in the army contrasts with the deteriorating buildings of Tehran or Isfahan. Iran is surrounded by failed states, and on the one hand needs a strong army to counter threats from failed states. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are all threats to Iran. Bur just like when the cheating husband tells his wife off for not heating dinner enough and hope they'll call it even, Iran has been grossly exaggerating threats from failed states and trying to overtake the entire Middle East, hoping to solve the Israeli question their way, and perhaps even engage in a fist fight with Europe and the United States. A lot of it is the same trash talk Algerians engage in with Moroccans or Colombians with Venezuelans, but the kind of trash talk that destabilizes the region nontheless. The idea would be for the rest of the world to put pressure on Iran to have enough means to defend itself from failed states, without conquering or destabilizing the failed states or the region.



Islam, “represent or die”



I remember when Facebook started becoming big and Facebook encouraged most people to mention their religion. I remember jokingly mentioning “shamanism” as my religion, because for some reason when I start talking loudly and passionately a car alarm often seems to be going off for some reason. I put Judaism a couple of times only to feel sharing something like that felt wrong and deleting it within hours.



Iranians? Most of them will proudly mention Islam as their religion on their Facebook profile, and will mention the Quran, often as the only book they have read. I once went on a field trip with a group of Iranians in Asia, and they kept asking what the food was and kept interrupting the field trip during prayer times. And they were shocked I was not a Muslim, and almost got into the fight with the tour guide when the tour guide mentioned a lot of people did not claim to have a religion. If you go to Iran it's Islam this and Islam that, and they won't be shy about disliking atheists, Jews, Christians, or any other non-Muslim.



Emigration as an access to leisure society



For Iranians as for many Middle Easterners, emigration is not just about jobs and economic opportunities, it's also about access to a leisure society. Iran has few cinemas, few restaurants, no pubs, no night clubs, no dating opportunities, no places where men and women mix. To them merely seeing women in shorts and tank tops walking in the streets is leisurely enough. Many will try to go to countries with good welfare systems, and will eventually end up surviving with welfare checks they will spend at fast food joints and night clubs. You'll spot them in night clubs dressed neatly, sipping Coca Cola and standing alone with a strong, confident demeanor. A lot of times they will be talking loudly on the phone showing off alleged language skills they have, mumbling away in Farsi, then in English, then in French, hoping some girl will fall for a guy like that. 



Algeria likes to bash and bully Morocco, Iran likes to bash and bully Israel



Having spent years in Algeria, I find it hard to tell any Algerian something positive about Morocco. Take any Algerian graduate student in politics and they will either write a thesis bashing France for colonialism, or bashing Morocco in one way or the other. Algerians also like to bash Egypt when they can, but Israel's kind of taboo and only the crazy ones bash Israel. Take any Iranian graduate student, and the thesis will bash Israel or the United States in one form or the other. The problem is that the bashing a lot of times is not even rational. Just like that school kid you wanted to punch in the face for no specific reason, Iranians a lot of times can't really name a reason why they would want to bash Israel. It's kind of like the media with President Trump, they just need to bash.



Conclusion: A journey through the Iranian mind and soul



The Iranian likes people to notice them. Outside Iran, they'll make a lot of efforts to dress elegantly, men comb their hair in public, women fix their makeup in public, and if they're not getting the attention they need, they will start chatting loudly on the phone hoping to get people to notice them. In the political world that translates to Iran trying desperately to make the headlines, even if it means organizing a conference on Holocaust denial or threatening to get the nuclear weapon. This need to constantly be the center of the attention is the main driving force around some of Iran's risky behavior on the international scene. So the main advice to Iran will be that it's never good to be the center of attention. It's good when friends notice you and say good morning every time they see you, but it's never good when you become the main conversation topic. So I'll conclude by saying that I hope this will be the last chat dedicated to Iran, unless it's a chat that involves fixing minor political, economic or social questions that need some food for thought.



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