"Helping" Iran– or first, some historical humble pie

Warning: this is a political blog entry. If you came here looking for poetry, you will have to wait until next time I write some. I promise I am trying to do so more regularly and recent events are encouraging in that connection but right now I have a political opinion I would like to speak about.

I do not follow world news all that closely for several reasons including a rather fragile mental health that does not bear up well under sensationalized gloom and doom but I have been watching events unfold in Iran from a more or less medium-distance. Today at What Tami Said, Tami notes that some right wing and even moderate voices in the US “seem eager to see some saber-rattling from the President [of the United States].” To those taken in by that sort of useless testerical exuberance she points out precisely the problem with this idea–bad memory: “How soon we forget that it is our intervention that has helped shape several of Iran’s current problems.”

I am just going to explain briefly why I Agree With This Post.

It is not America’s job to come running in to save the day even when a country’s own people are appearing to be trying to choose a government we believe would look something like whatever our ideal for, say, Persian Democracy in this case would look like if we had our way with it. The Iranian people want their own independence, especially from foreign intervention. Anyone can read Iranian history and figure that out within just a few hours. We already monumentally fucked them over when we thwarted their bid for democracy after WWII; if you have a few minutes, google “Iran Mossadegh” or just go and read All the Shah’s Men for a sobering look at how the United States entered a colonial partnership with the UK to overthrow one of the most popular leaders in recent Iranian history and install a puppet regime to maintain control of Iranian oil.

In 1980, when Iranian students and political activists took over the American embassy and held 52 American diplomatic workers hostage, our reaction was one of outraged surprise. The average Iranian reaction to our outraged surprise was something like “so do you all learn your own foreign policy history?”–because of course we don’t, and few non-Iranian Americans had any idea that resentment towards us had been building there for nearly thirty years before they decided to rid themselves, once again, of a foreign-installed and -supported dictator.

I think most of us do manage to remember what happened next, but the historical lens through which we view subsequent political developments in that region is badly distorted by a lack of supporting context. We have already ignored the Iranian people more than enough to risk running roughshod over what they want in order to try to prove once again that the world really needs Western leaders to show them how to live.

I think it is safe to say that chances are, few Iranians want our active involvement this time around.

There are ways to support popular movements there, like sending funds to organizations that are not mainly headed by Western interests but which are poised to offer material aid rather than come barreling in with soldiers. avaaz.org is worth a look, for instance.

Tired interventionist policy will not only not work here, but it would almost certainly backfire, as it almost always does. If the Iranian people ask for our help, we should ask them exactly what they need, listen to what they say, and give them what they ask for to the best of our ability. Otherwise it is not our place to decide for them how this will play out, and we do not know better than they do what they need to successfully find independence and self-determination.

It is difficult for Americans to grasp, but sending in cowboys to shoot things up a bit is a mistake that we keep repeating because we do not learn from our own history. I could talk about the state of American historical “knowledge,” but that would take a whole new post filled with fresh examples of absurdity. You want to help? Listen to Iran rather than to the dinosaurs who still believe in the White Man’s Burden. Then go and do some research on what you did not learn in schoolroom American history.


the beginning of something

I started something today. I do not know where I am going with it but it was time to set out.

Here’s what happened:

I did decide I have decided I am deciding it has been decided for me that somewhere in the long unwritten and long undead history that is always called prehistory even as it is written proxy-like as the inhabitants of a given tell cannot speak and so someone it seems must step in and find their voice for the tell for the telling in order to tell a story of some sort and this has become an obstacle to finding whatever it was it had decided that I should be looking for but for now I will put it this way: somewhere on the Eurasian continent something like an enigmatic originary mark has been made and I must find it.

No that is not it at all. I risk oversimplifying when I say that not only do I not really know what I am looking for but I have a fairly specific idea where I might find it either in the passage into agriculture of Anatolia and then bit by bit bits of Europe and then more of Europe and then most of Europe and or the imperial expansion of Rome into the Northern Mediterranean and its subsequently opening the killing floor to the bleeding hands of Christianity but I have not yet gotten through the question I have to put to what I am calling the Neolithic Revolution in Europe that is I have not formulated the question well enough yet to consider my work in those millennia as finished well it will never be finished and that is part of the reason behind my taking it on and as such there will never be a time that I can put the last book back on the shelf or the last scrap of pottery back into whatever cubby it has been relegated to as empirical evidence that the Earth is very old and that we are very young in relation although our relatives taken together are also very old but not as old as the Earth itself but in any case.

This was not how it was supposed to start but let me try something. Europeans are fucked up. There is no question of that. Also, Americans are fucked up and by large part because we are heirs of Europe and whatever happened to Europe over the many tens of thousands of years that our particular species and possibly even before that but we inherit every bit of it most of it unspeakably distant even to the extent of making of the animal that writes its own black hole of signification resting on nothing but more figures of speech structured as they are like the plastered walls at Çatalhöyük or Beidha that is not to say anything so much as to create a division in space at first remarkably simple for what could be simpler than a square plaster house but the designation of “inside” and “outside” was to have ramifications far beyond what makers of sun-baked clay bricks could possibly have been thinking as they erected their walls solemnly nonetheless as though they did know after all what happens when arbitrary walls divide into two a space formerly a vast composite of light and texture of varying qualities duration sound and the tapping of the feet of carrion left to bacteria and ravens.

Living was done upon the dead of the dead and bones and skins may have been tools may have been divine intercessors may have been art commenting on the ubiquity of death in life and so foreign to our understanding the closeness of ancestors and prey to those who lived on the benevolence of animated proteins who gave everything they had so that life would continue. Europe at least knew this then. America has completely forgotten it and this is part of the point the question of what we forgot and when and how and why and chances are good there is no comprehensive comprehensible answer other than the feet and hands spine and ribcages curled as though not yet born and interred for ten thousand years what is it that is left behind in calcium and carbon on their way to becoming stone and what gesture is it that leaves them behind and where does it go an event that no one has been able to step into but for so long none of us even knew it in advance like we do now.

An animal dies completely overtaken by surprise and resignation to wait out whatever calamity has befallen them this time. An animal that writes takes note of the death of others and makes of it a question with varying degrees of elaboration in its answers none of them sufficient. Walls divided the living but the dead were integrated into the floors and intimately with feet and hands and knees or full prone bodies sleeping the waking sleep.

Writing had not yet been invented but writing had always been of the essence of structured domains of thought to the degree that making a mark or drawing a foundation in the dirt was already to decide what sort of utterance would mark any action taken on one side of it as opposed to the other.
Woops. That is my European inheritance showing the naming of opposition the casual dropping of the dialectic into conversation as though it were always there underneath anything said by anyone anywhere but its history is in fact strictly localized and something about this will come up again. And again.

But in Europe, with Europeans, if one is European or studies us enough to begin to take on our features the sort of writing that came out of Europe finally and from the first was from a certain standpoint a disavowal of the gesture of erecting walls and the attempt to naturalize and universalize them instead of noting that one had built for oneself a wall. There are years of study behind this statement: in European were it a language all to itself one can only say the same thing again and again and it is something like this at the site of trauma we erect a wall that keeps us from realizing that we are mortal and subject to suffering.

It may be that I should move this statement across the Atlantic and set it square in the Puritan history of the United States and probably had I not had a firehose placed in my mouth the very moment I opened it to speak I would look at Europe through a lens that is not American but given the gushing in my cranium there is little else that I can see with.

But what I am getting at here is that behind the Euroamerican divorce from nature and its objectification of all that is not Ego it seems to me that there must be something like a traumatic event unsurpassable. All traumatic events are unsurpassable and I do not claim for Europe extraordinary suffering but more of something like a refusal to suffer and a refusal to recognize suffering anyplace it might be happening even to the organism caught in refusal of something that lies at some point possibly irretrievably lost in the blood that forms the dirt upon which we still build new walls and look for old ones that help us to justify ourselves in continuing to build.

I could be completely wrong and in fact I suspect that what I am doing has more to do with the most difficult thing I have been asked of life to do and that is to write as though there were in me a tell or an originary site of trauma which there both is and is not because simply saying “as though there were in me” is to assume a multi-volume saga’s-worth of presupposed truths about what it is to carry on as an instance of a writing animal in a very specific time and place and ultimately it seems to me insofar as I can say such a thing it seems to me that the presuppositions behind that clause are all I have time in my time left on Earth to work out in their relation to the instance of the writing animal that calls itself “I” in my stead.

This is how I came to archaeology: not as an archaeologist of anything except language and even that as a poet rather than a scientist but I do still think that poetry is the key to understanding language and that until you can get a computer to free associate you will never be able to call it “intelligent” nor will you have figured out how to make binary code express even a hundredth of what human language already expresses which is not even a billionth of whatever may happen to be expressed in the very long time we are given which is to say a small slice of infinity that we are unable then to keep hold of because there is no keeping hold of infinity. A writing animal is what the universe has come to express, among other expressions. One among others. Among countless others. Among countless, endless, timeless others. Among others.

Among others. If we could get used to this manner of occurrence and I say this as an heir of European thought if we could make sense of “among others” that is a sense that realizes the among every bit as much as it realizes the others we would have ourselves half cured.

But we don’t. So we aren’t.

When I arrived at archaeology’s door I must admit to thinking once again that I had my hand on the only partition between me and something of some certainty: what it is that had happened to the animal that would eventually write before it wrote. To briefly ruin the ending, it turns out that archaeology is a set of just-so stories told by the Euroamerican to justify the Euroamerican’s dominance over most others.

This is not to say that archaeology is not useful or is not legitimate or is necessarily and I say that with some emphasis: not necessarily an attempt to reduce “among others” to an objective science. It has tried to do so to be sure but it seems to be beginning to understand its own role in the formation of its own founding narratives which themselves are based on hearsay and cultural conditioning and have very little to do with uncovering anything like a truth about a very distant past for at this point in its own history archaeology has not found enough evidence for what it sometimes ventures to say but rather reads like a Freudian tale of What Motivates the Unconscious in this or that situation so sure of itself it once was and so convinced of its own inevitability because someone believes it simply must have had to go this way because everything points to it.

When nothing points.

I am not writing in order to ruin or even attack archaeology although there are ethical questions that it should probably face a little more squarely even than it has begun to do. I am writing in order to make some sort of use of what I have read of what has been written under the aegis of archaeology concerning a relatively specific frame of time in a relatively specific place but not because and this was where I was naive as I was at nearly six nearly in school where I knew that the key to something lay well I am still looking I admit it. I am still looking although I no longer believe either in the key or the certainty it is supposed to unlock. It may be that what I am looking for is no longer a key or anything objective at all but a manner of speaking in a manner of speaking. And so I have found archaeology’s manner of speaking about certain times and places to be at once immeasurably valuable and laughably contrived but is it not that this describes the culture I sit smack dab in the middle of anyway and is it not a kind of truth that we not only make this up as we go along but if we are Euroamerican we mistake what we say for the final word even as we continue on writing and even as we begin ourselves to suspect that the final word is not coming and so we bend to write again and again.