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Sociology 101A

By Kam Zarrabi

In a perfect world the ideal and the practical are one and the same. As the species of life evolved on our planet, success in the struggle for survival depended on the effectiveness of each species' tools and methods of control and dominance; whatever worked and by whatever means. There was no good or bad, moral or immoral, legal or illegal, until a self-conscious species showed up on the scene.

What was done purely by instinct before, had now to be rationalized or reasoned, justified or legitimized, as the self-conscious human had evolved a conscience, as well. This peculiar sense of conscience became the dynamic behind all human endeavors, from interactions and harmony between individuals and groups, to wars of conquest and dominance.

When a shark goes on a feeding frenzy among a school of tuna, no laws are broken or sacred covenants violated. Humans even watch over and try to safeguard the balance of nature in Serengeti or Tsavo as the lions or cheetahs make their violent kills of the zebra and the wildebeests. Our children watch such educational scenes on the National Geographic TV programs with much awe and pleasure.

Our adult populations are now watching broadcast programs of generically identical nature, this time of human groups in pursuit of their own kind, with much noise and fanfare.

Human societies came to realize early on that their habits of culture, moral and ethical values, had to be preserved and protected, each safeguarded in the sanctuary of their respective Divine Order. This worked well until civilizations grew big enough to trespass into each other's domains. Quite naturally, conflicts of interests ensued, each civilization driven by instinctive impulse to pursue its own advantages at the expense of others. As the Gods of the victorious celebrated, their chosen faithful claimed their gains as their rightful manifest destiny. The Gods of the defeated felt great pain and sadness for the lot of their faithful, but they retained their people's loyalty and devotion. They did this by assuring them of days to come when their wrath would be unleashed against the arrogant believers in the wrong Gods.

The Indo-European tribes of the Siberian steppes were facing increasingly harsh conditions when their prophets received revelations from above to lead the Aryan tribes south onto the more fertile plains of the Indus Valley and the Iranian plateau. They "liberated" other tribes along the way of establishing the great Persian Empire. The Hebrew tribes were given similar sanctions by their God to go and take over a certain fertile land promised to them as their birthright. They also had instruction from Divine Authority to deal harshly with any peoples that might resist mandates of Heaven. Centuries later a young Mongolian named Temuchin (Chengiz Khan) led his hordes across Central Asia, bringing total devastation to populations that dared to challenge their divinely ordained mission.

This scenario has been repeated over and over again to this day. Nobody seems to have ever dared ask why Gods do not settle their scores among themselves and leave the poor masses alone! If not Gods, at least their self-appointed spokesmen or representatives on earth, the leaders of the tribes, might perhaps engage in a duel to see who is more "Right". I can just picture in my mind the old movie, High Noon.

Old legends have it that such duels did actually settle scores to avoid much unnecessary bloodshed. But, since these chivalrous practices have long been abandoned - Rostam and Afrasiab are no longer - our modern civilizations deal with international conflicts in a much more complex way.

Why is it so complex now? Well, in today's world nations are governed by two types of dictatorship, elected and non-elected. The elected types are called democracies, while the non-elected kinds can range from the hard-edged tyrannies to theocracies and to softer varieties of mom and pop monarchies. Legend has it that Darius the Great of ancient Persia believed a benevolent dictatorship was far superior to the Greek model of democracy. The Athenian model worked well for a relatively small city-state, especially when only the elite, meaning only moneyed men, were the decision makers. He said, quite correctly, that government by consensus could not work in a vast empire consisting of disconnected populations lacking the wherewithal to care - Internet was not invented as yet!

The non-elected dictatorships last as long as the regime can contain and control any opposition to its rule. They are usually replaced through violent insurrections or outright revolutions. In democracies, once leadership is freely (almost) elected, the dictator rules for the duration of the term, until the baton is passed to the next elected dictator.

The situation becomes even more complex where democracies are governed by some system of checks and balances. In such cases the ruling body must be supported by public opinion in formulating major policies for the nation. However, as it happens all too often, public sentiments and "proper" policies as viewed by the government do not coincide. Fortunately, there are highly effective tools at the disposal of any dictatorship to handle critical issues such as creating a consensus of public opinion.

In a non-elected dictatorship, depending on the degree of its repression, people either disregard as routine propaganda, or remain skeptical, about anything that the regime says - they are quite used to that. In democratic dictatorships, however, a great majority accepts the official or major media channels as conduits to Gospel truths. This is made easy because in a large affluent society the public awareness, or the need for awareness, of anything far away is minimal. People are generally concerned only with living a good life, something that the rest of the world can only fantasize about. In this situation the only skepticism expressed is about skepticism itself. This is why in a grand democracy skepticism is so often viewed as unpatriotic cynicism.

Now that we have mastered the course, Sociology 101A, we should have a better appreciation and understanding of the currents in world affairs that confuse the rest of the people in the world.

A couple of decades ago a greedy dictator from Iraq correctly felt that he had the blessing of the superpowers to flex his muscles and attack Iran. He had miscalculated the Iranians' nationalistic zeal and resolve, and began to lose ground. For the superpowers and their local surrogates this aggression was an opportunity to have one evil combat an even bigger evil. So, they helped the little dictator revamp his military and equipped him with what is now called weapons of mass destruction so that he could keep the advancing Iranians at bay. Some million and a half humans lost their lives and both economies were shattered. I was not surprised; I was the one who wrote the text for Sociology 101A.

I remember twelve years ago someone asked the idiotic question whether the Gulf War I was truly for the liberation of Kuwait and restoration of democracy in that area. He was wondering if we would have embarked on this humanitarian mission if Kuwait, instead of being a major oil producer, was the broccoli capital of the world. This fellow had obviously not passed Sociology 101A!

Some people have even wondered why such philanthropic efforts were not adopted by the international community when a couple of million Tutsis and Hutus began massacring each other. Don't these people realize that, according to Sociology 101A, you have to be the right color for the civilized world to care?

For those who cannot stomach the sight of innocent civilians, women and children, lying dead or injured in pools of blood, from nightclubs in Israel and streets in Gaza to the marketplace in Bali, Delhi, or Baghdad, remember, collateral damage is an inevitable byproduct of noble missions.

Please don't ask me, "Noble, according to whose definition?" For that, you'll have to study Sociology 101 B.

About the author:
Kam Zarrabi is writer, lecturer, author: Necessary Illusion; Looking Through the Kaleidoscope of Existence.

... Payvand News - 4/3/03 ... --

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