Startec long distance

email us

NamehNegar Persian word processor

US Transcom
US Transcom

Puma jersey


Fly to Iran

Ariana Consultants

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

Advertise with The Iranian


 Write for The Iranian

Instability has undermined our value-systems

By Mehrdad Emadi-Moghadam
October 19, 1999
The Iranian

I read dAyi Hamid's "Persian work ethics" which portrayed a very negative and cynical picture of us as a nation. I found a common trend in his 'stream of consciousness' observations in that there is a commonly held belief that as a nation or society we have fallen to such a depth of depravity that there was no hope of resurrection. I believe that there may be an alternative interpretation to his observations. This alternative view is based on what I call 'incentive-compatibility' problem. The problem arises from the fact that what is recognized as 'success' in Iran involves behavior which as an individual, especially as a child, we have been taught to consider unacceptable. In Iranian society, to get ahead, we observe that those who are dishonest, lout, and fluid in terms of their loyalties and values do better than those who are honest and show devotion to their principals. This is not some thing specific to the revolution though the situation has deteriorated since 1979.

Yet, at a personal level, we know that being dishonest and corrupt are not attributes in which we can claim credit. Privately, most of us admire the positive value of these characteristics and like to be affiliated with them. As a nation, there is nothing intrinsic to make us less hard working than Spaniards, Italians, the French, and yes even Germans and Japanese. However, it is the value-system in which we are brought up and the continuous inconsistency between what we are taught as proper behavior and the behavior that is rewarded and perceived as success which have induced us to behave in the manner for which we deserve some criticism.

We need to recognize that a society is more than the sum of the individuals who live in it and the historical memory of people have a great impact on their interaction with each other. Historically, we have had a strong sense of instability of the society in which we live. This arises from the lack of continuity in our environment. We know that changes in government or regime have been the outcome of invasions, uprisings, or social unrest out of which the incumbents have been displaced with a new group who as a general rule have been as prone to discarding people's rights as their predecessors. Much more importantly, each group of new arrivals has done its best to destroy all the social, political and personal heritage of the society hoping to erase our collective memory of our history and the value system to which we belong.

This process has been going on for centuries and has undermined our sense of own-identity. The overall effect of this continuous rampaging of our social and national identity is that as a nation there have been very few values which have held dear to all of us. Instead we have learned to be concerned with our own interests and self-preservation. Ruler after ruler, government after government, have left us be disillusioned with the way in which promises have been left unfulfilled. The sense of outrage at this intergenerational destruction of our values and beliefs have lead us to become very cynical and untrusting of each other. The mirror image of this has been to become abusive of other people's trust and call this 'zerangi'.

Going hand-in-hand with this behavior is our lack of confidence in ourselves which again arises from historical observations. We know that merits and personal efforts play little in our advancement in the society and it is the links and networks to which one belongs that determines one's progress. It follows that under such conditions we become slaves to the whims of those who exert influence over us and hence we lose our sense of social responsibilities toward each other. Compounding the problems is the fact that since, as a rule, the rulers themselves have been interested in lining their own pockets, we have been left to either join the 'bandits' and follow suit or stay uncontaminated and poor (and therefore be labeled 'beeorzeh').

As for the level of our efforts, it is only normal that when efforts are not the yardstick by which we are measured and when the rulers themselves have been auctioning off our national interests as fast as possible and have been running off with the booty, most people feel deeply disenchanted. In most cases this is expressed in disrespect for one's sense of national identity and those values affiliated with this identity.

The situation in Iran today is not different from what existed before transition began in central and Eastern Europe, Spain, Greece, and Brazil. Firsthand, I have seen the same type of social disrespect for values, disenchantment, bribery, wide spread corruption, low-productivity and quota allocation to universities in many of these countries. However, in some cases when the transitional government has managed to introduced incentive-compatible values which actually reward hard work and honesty, people's behavior began to change for better for quickly. However, when the transitional government was just a change in outfit rather than values, the situation stayed the same and the sense of crisis continued.

A government itself can not be separated from the collective values to which people subscribe and hold dear. Understandably and unfortunately, the link goes both ways and hence is contingent on everyone's effort in self-improvement. Nevertheless, the value-system upheld by the government has to be incentive-compatible with constructive and responsible behavior. I have hope that that once enough of us decide to push for improvement and at the same time improve our own behavior, the collective effect of this would leave a positive impact upon government behavior and the nature of government in our country.

I personally am not as negative. I have seen many many times the achievement of my compatriots and their adherence to good behavior both inside and outside the country. I have seen how with empty hands and no resources Iranians have made a success out of their lives and have stayed honest and truthful to their positive values. Of course we like to work less when efforts are not recognized or when short cuts are possible. But in this, we are not that different than Europeans or North Americans. I have hope that the end of this journey will bring an improvement in our lives as a nation. Yes there are many problems but none that could not be overcome.

- Send a comment for The Iranian letters section
- Send a comment to the writer Mehrdad Emadi-Moghadam

Copyright © Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form

 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.