20 June 2009

Taking to the Streets

I posted this originally on Tumblr in response to another poster who was excited to see the young people of Iran fighting to take their country back from 30 years of oppression and fundamentalism. I see that possibility too, but I can't really help but see that with three levels of observational bias in play. Besides, being a misanthrope and cynic means I don't buy into the hype of hope. Ever.
I agree that we’re seeing a lot of young people expressing their anger and resentment and desire for change. These brave souls - and I think they are nothing if not brave and a also little righteous - are risking life for the pursuit of liberty and happiness. I sit here, comfortable in my western lifestyle and struggling to remember how long it’s been since I felt the hot passion for justice burn so hot I needed to do something. Needed to march, scream, protest, fight. It’s been a long time.

But we’ve got a double dose of observational bias - actually a triple dose - acting here. First off, we’ve got our own prejudices coloring what we see. Then we’ve got the media choosing what to show us, framing their narratives in ways that are compelling and speak to their audience. Finally and most significantly, we only see the young people who are expressing their anger and resentment.

We don’t see any of the young people who think things have been hunky-dory under the mullahs, who think the regime is swell. Are they a small minority? Or are they, to repurpose a hideous moniker, a silent majority? We don’t know and really can’t know. We can’t know because Iran isn’t open. Which, depending on the answer, might be very ironic. If the protesters represent a relatively small and vocal minority, it would be in Iran’s best interests to show us that. But that would require them to be an open and free society. And who’d be protesting then?