...efforts to isolate Iran from the cultural degradation of the American "great Satan" have produced social pathologies worse than those in any Western country. With oil at barely one-fifth of its 2008 peak price, they will run out of money some time in late 2009 or early 2010. Game theory would predict that Iran's leaders will gamble on a strategic long shot. That is not a comforting thought for Iran's neighbors.
Two indicators of Iranian morale are worth citing.
First, prostitution has become a career of choice among educated Iranian women...
...Second, according to a recent report from the US Council on Foreign Relations, "Iran serves as the major transport hub for opiates produced by [Afghanistan], and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that Iran has as many as 1.7 million opiate addicts." That is, 5% of Iran's adult, non-elderly population of 35 million is addicted to opiates. That is an astonishing number, unseen since the peak of Chinese addiction during the 19th century. The closest American equivalent (from the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health) found that 119,000 Americans reported using heroin within the prior month, or less than one-tenth of 1% of the non-elderly adult population.
This provocative article may be from the nether edge of journalism but it is worth noting. Asia Times Online is the cyber-child of another newspaper of the same name, and "Spengler" is a pseudonym designed to protect the writer from being made the target of a fatwa.
Wikipedia has an article on Spengler.
Spengler is a pen name (after Oswald Spengler) of David P. Goldman, a columnist for the Asia Times Online. Writing the first "Spengler" column in 1999, Goldman only revealed his identity in April 2009, although Philip Weiss and others had earlier argued that he was the author. In 2009 he was hired as an associate editor at First Things, for which he had previously written under the pseudonym "David Shushon."
A religious Jew, Goldman writes from a Judeo-Christian perspective and often focuses on demographic and economic factors in his analyses; he says his subject matter proceeds "from the theme formulated by Rosenzweig: the mortality of nations and its causes, Western secularism, Asian anomie, and unadaptable Islam."
It's a longish article elaborating on how Iran's economy is wasting while the national birth rate declines, two trends which may soon converge to put Iran in the "nothing to lose" column, therefore more likely to go to war. I take note of it more for future reference than current importance. My own impression is that Iran may have problems but not of the magnitude indicated by this writer. But just as Americans cannot reliably know or understand a lot about what really matters abroad, I have no reason to say this piece is not credible.
"More than 90% of Tehran's prostitutes have passed the university entrance exam, according to the results of one study, and more than 30% of them are registered at a university or studying," reports Der Standard. "The study was assigned to the Tehran Police Department and the Ministry of Health, and when the results were tabulated in early January no local newspaper dared to so much as mention them."
The Austrian newspaper added, "Eighty percent of the Tehran sex workers maintained that they pursue this career voluntarily and temporarily. The educated ones are waiting for better jobs. Those with university qualifications intend to study later, and the ones who already are registered at university mention the high tuition [fees] as their motive for prostitution ... they are content with their occupation and do not consider it a sin according to Islamic law."
There is an extensive trade in poor Iranian women who are trafficked to the Gulf states in huge numbers, as well as to Europe and Japan. "A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women," I wrote in a 2006 study of Iranian prostitution, Jihads and whores.
Prostitution as a response to poverty and abuse is one thing, but the results of this new study reflect something quite different. The educated women of Tehran choose prostitution in pursuit of upward mobility, as a way of sharing in the oil-based potlatch that made Tehran the world's hottest real estate market during 2006 and 2007.
A country is beaten when it sells its women, but it is damned when its women sell themselves. The popular image of the Iranian sex trade portrays tearful teenagers abused and cast out by impoverished parents. Such victims doubtless abound, but the majority of Tehran's prostitutes are educated women seeking affluence.
Only in the former Soviet Union after the collapse of communism in 1990 did educated women choose prostitution on a comparable scale, but under very different circumstances. Russians went hungry during the early 1990s as the Soviet economy dissolved and the currency collapsed. Today's Iranians suffer from shortages, but the data suggest that Tehran's prostitutes are not so much pushed into the trade by poverty as pulled into it by wealth.
A year ago I observed that prices for Tehran luxury apartments exceeded those in Paris, as Iran's kleptocracy distributed the oil windfall to tens of thousands of hangers-on of the revolution. $35 billion went missing from state oil funds, opposition newspapers charged at the time. Corruption evidently has made whores of Tehran's educated women. (Please see Worst of times for Iran, June 24, 2008.)
The writer then moves on to the sad and growing problem with substance abuse with opium as the drug of choice. After elaborating on a parallel observation of a decline in the national birth rate, he concludes with these bleak paragraphs...
A better explanation of Iran's population implosion is that the country has undergone an existential crisis comparable to encounters of Amazon or Inuit tribes with modernity. Traditional society demands submission to the collective. Once the external constraints are removed, its members can shift from the most extreme forms of modesty to the other extreme of sexual license. Khomeini's revolution attempted to retard the disintegration of Persian society, but it appears to have accelerated the process.
Modernity implies choice, and the efforts of the Iranian mullahs to prolong the strictures of traditional society appear to have backfired. The cause of Iran's collapsing fertility is not literacy as such, but extreme pessimism about the future and an endemic materialism that leads educated Iranian women to turn their own sexuality into a salable commodity.
Theocracy subjects religion to a political test; it is hard for Iranians to repudiate the regime and remain pious, for religious piety and support for political Islam are inseparable, as a recent academic study documented from survey data.
As in the decline of communism, what follows on the breakdown of a state ideology is likely to be nihilism. Iran is a dying country, and it is very difficult to have a rational dialogue with a nation all of whose available choices terminate in oblivion.
This is one of those "I report, you decide" posts.