If you pay attention to the news, you’ll notice Iran has been engaged in a bunch of bombing campaigns against other countries in the region. They dropped bombs on their allies in Syria, Iraq and now Pakistan, which responded by bombing Iran.
The oldest trick in the playbook to foster domestic support, is to terrorize people with external enemies. This is nothing new and people have observed it for Iran as well. Last year, someone noted that Iran seeks an external enemy, to distract from its domestic failures. We don’t know the degree of Iran’s involvement in Hamas attack Israel, but you could argue the Hamas-Israel war fits into the pattern too.
This leads us to the following question: Why does Iran face domestic instability? There are multiple factors. Iran is a rapidly secularizing nation, with a theocratic regime. It’s also a multicultural nation, with many different ethnic groups that harbor some desire for independence. The Azeri, the Kurds, the Baluchi, the Iranian Arabs who happen to live on top of Iran’s oil, these are some of the groups that harbor some desire for independence.
People generally don’t care for conflict, when things are going well. You don’t bother joining a protest or some militia when you can fulfill all your life’s wishes. But when the economic situation in a country deteriorates, ethnic, religious and ideological tensions simmering under the surface tend to escalate. And that just so happens to be the case in Iran.
In the West we are culturally and economically dominant, so we have the privilege of being able to keep people occupied with bullshit jobs. Even if you have no actual talents, you can just drink coffee, fill numbers into a spreadsheet for a megacorporation and you will receive your share of the economic surplus.
We have prestige. People speak our languages, study at our colleges, use our currencies, push our companies to ridiculous valuations (example: Koreans with Tesla), watch our movies, travel to visit our landmarks, so we don’t really have to do much, except preserving that prestige. Western people depend on the fact that non-Western people look up to us. When that spell breaks, it’s over.
In poorer countries, that doesn’t work. Nobody watches Iranian movies, nobody insists on traveling there, nobody wants to study there, nobody treats Iranian real estate as a store of value, nobody clicks on ads on an Iranian social media platform. A European guy’s name on your underpants that were manufactured in China will increase the profit margins, an Iranian dude’s name won’t.
To survive, people in Iran need to produce actual things of value, that you can physically grasp. In our world, anyone directly interacting with physical reality for a living is at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, directly interacting with physical reality also means that you can’t afford the privilege that American right wing low IQ low status white males have: To pretend that physical reality exists in stasis.
To an American right wing low IQ low status white male, global warming is a series of projections made by ivory tower intellectuals about the year 2100. But an Iranian, who lives in a country covered by deserts close to the equator, is experiencing the consequences of global warming right now.
Between 2015 and 2022, the number of Iranians employed in agriculture dropped by 1.3 million. That’s a quarter of the total population employed in agriculture. These people lived on lands that were once fertile, but now can no longer be used to produce food. The soils may have eroded, there may be too little rain, or the aquifer beneath their feet was depleted. When these things happen, you can’t earn a living growing food anymore and you have to leave.
Those millions of people dependent on agriculture move to the cities, where they end up living in slums. They don’t really have formal qualifications that would allow them to take a bullshit job at a college or an office, like people in the Western world. People protest against the droughts, which leads to violence.
To import stuff from other countries, you need currency with which to buy their stuff. You get the currency by exporting stuff. But just as in Argentina, which elected a crazy libertarian after their harvests failed and they suffered record inflation, Iran is losing its ability to export food. Iran went from exporting 2.7 billion dollar worth of food in 2017, to just 1.9 billion dollar of food by the end of 2022.
In Iran, food shortages are now beginning to emerge. The food inflation rate has surged beyond 50%. And in a country like the Netherlands most of your income goes to paying rent, transportation and utilities, but in a country like Iran, most of your income goes to paying for food, so the pain is massive for the population.
It’s not just the farmers who lost their jobs who are struggling. Most Iranians are now struggling. So if you wonder why Iran has been bombing just about the whole region in the past few weeks, these two things are probably connected.
What we’re seeing in Iran is not very unusual. It’s similar to what we saw in Syria, where a record drought forced farmers to move into overpopulated cities before the civil war ignited. It’s also similar to Argentine, where the poor soybean harvest reduced exports and thereby devalued the currency.
Climate change turns stable nations into unstable nations. It turns unstable nations into failed states. If you live in the imperial core, if you’re not forced to interact with physical reality, you have the privilege of being able to deny it. In Iran, people don’t have that privilege. They’re living with the consequences.