The Iranian “Spring”: Will We Ever Learn?

Once again, we are witnessing the ancient truth (going back to Plato).   It seems that humankind is doomed endlessly to re-live an age-old story and then promptly forget it.  The underlying lesson of the “Arab Spring,” we now know, was that the prevailing deep poverty in many Middle Eastern countries was exacerbated by a set of regional droughts and a steep spike in global grain prices driven by financial speculation.  The root cause of the Arab Spring was desperation, coupled with a failure of leadership.  Iran represents only a variation on this common theme – the Iranian Spring.

In the final analysis, the legitimacy and public acceptance of any regime – from democratic to monarchical – depends on whether the governing “elite” takes responsibility for assuring that the basic needs of the population are provided for.  This is the foundation of the implicit “social contract” that undergirds any government.  These days, this requires more than government handouts – “bread and circuses.”  It also requires gainful employment in a viable economy.  As one of our leading capitalists, Bill Gates, put it: “Markets only work for people who have money.”

Every organized society is, in effect, a “collective survival enterprise.” Its deep purpose – with roots that trace back millions of years in our evolutionary history -- is to provide for the basic survival and reproductive needs of its people.  Any regime that does not understand this biologically-based “common good” and act accordingly is ultimately doomed.  We’ll see how the latest chapter in this ancient story plays out.



Peter Corning

Peter Corning is currently the Director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems in Seattle, Washington.  He was also a one-time science writer at Newsweek and a professor for many years in the Human Biology Program at Stanford University, along with holding a research appointment in Stanford’s Behavior Genetics Laboratory.  


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