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Iranian History: A Story of Evolving Consciousness

Thu, Feb 17, 2011


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Social consciousness has evolved through time, according to the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber (see A Brief History of Everything), and this evolution can be traced through distinctive stages. Viewing the development of Iran through these stages sheds an entirely new level of understanding on its history.

First, lets outline the basic levels of consciousness.  There are two major tiers of consciousness: tier 1 and tier 2.  Tier 1 consciousness is consciousness that is not self-reflective; at this level of thinking a culture is not aware of its own assumptions or limitations, considering its point of view universally true and all other points of view defective. Tier 2 thinking, by contrast, is self-reflective. A fancy way of saying this is that tier 2 consciousness possess meta consciousness, i.e. consciousness of consciousness.

The history of Iran can be described exclusively with the stages of tier 1 consciousness.  These stages are as follows (note – I’ve departed slightly from Wilber’s exact descriptions):

  1. Beige – Focused on survival through instinct
  2. Purple – Magical animistic community based with elders and shamans
  3. Red – Tribal with chieftains, overwhelming pressures to conform, warlike and male-dominated
  4. Blue/Amber – Empire and nation states held together through absolute authoritarian rule
  5. Orange – Rational, scientific, believing in clock work and exact universal laws
  6. Green – Pluralistic, self-expressive, tolerant of multiple points of view, relativistic, disavowing any universal principles and believing that all are equal

Two rules apply to these stages:

  1. Each stage developed in response to a growing more advanced society faced with new problems.  In effect, the development of a stage was necessary for these more advanced societies to exist. Advanced here implies a society with more advanced technologies enabling it to support a larger population, for example an agricultural society as opposed to hunter-gatherer.
  2. Each stage actually incorporates the systems and ideals of previous stages, even though it might disavow the previous stages and not be conscious of how it does so. In effect each stage is built upon the foundations of the previous stage.

Now lets see how these stages apply to the history of Iran.

1. Purple Stage – Animistic Independent Communities – before 10000 BC to 4000BC

The first real encounter with civilization in Iran is at Siyalk where the oldest settlements are found around 5000 BC. Here we can find mounds, huts, pottery fragments, stone tools and evidence of textile weaving, agriculture and animal husbandry. Burials provide evidence that man believed in life after death, and bone carvings sow a belief in power of animals. This civilization then continues to more advanced stages around 4000 BC with new pottery depicting stylized creatures. And then there are the figurines, chalices, and votive offerings, many being in the form of the goddess of fertility and abundance. And more remarkably, in the various valleys in which settlements started there is little unity of style; in other words, each settlement pursued its own development. Thus we we may conclude that this stage was occupied by independent civilizations that believed in magical nature spirits (Purple consciousness), and were possibly matriarchies.

2. Red Stage – Tribal – 3000 BC to 2000 BC

Then a very real change comes to the plain. There is increasing evidence of weapons, military orders, unity of culture. We know that during this period there was much raiding and campaigning. Art changes from pure animal depictions to hybridized man/animal creatures, showing that man now occupies at least an equal footing with the animal. This stage can be considered the tribal stage.

3. Blue stage – Authoritarian – 1000BC to Present.

3.i. Small Blue Stage 1000BC to 550BC

The civilization from 1000 BC onwards goes through rapid change. First the tribes begin to unite into larger and larger groups and begin undertaking large military campaigns with the civilizations of the Iranian plateau attacking the civilizations of the Mesopotamian plains. We now encounter the Elamites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Parsis. These civilizations were creating the Blue consciousness, albeit on a small scale.

3.ii. Green stage on a massive scale 550BC to 500 BC

Then suddenly in 550 BC we have Cyrus II, often referred to as Cyrus the Great, who within his lifetime unifies the entire plain and plateau. But Cyrus achieves this in a unique way: negotiation and pluralism. Everywhere he goes he pays homage to the religions and customs of the people he conquers, and most places are conquered without an actual fight but through negotiation. In effect Cyrus skips Orange consciousness and directly build the green consciousness empire, with everyone being almost equal, no ideology dominating, and the empire controlled more through trade and transportation rather than authoritarian rule.

3.iii. Reversion to Blue stage, unstable but on a massive scale 500BC to 224 AD

But when Cyrus is killed in battle the empire almost crumbles and it takes his successor, Darius I, all of his life to put the pieces back together, and this time there is little negotiation, but mostly authoritarian force. This becomes even more prevalent with Darius’s successors crushing Egypt and burning Athens.

The Achaemenid empire only lasts 220 years, is followed by Alexander’s broken empire that lasts 200 years, And then the Parthians. Each of these maintained an authoritarian empire based on a feudal system, and were thus very unstable, involved in constant warfare and threat of disintegration of the empire.

3.iv. Stable Blue – Zoroastrian – 224 AD to 700 AD

With the coming of the Sassanians in 224 AD a major innovation took place. For the first time anywhere, the state declared an official state religion, in the case of the Sassanians, this being Zoroastrianism. Any alternative point of view was mercilessly eradicated, but the result was a much more stable empire that held together, because the lower classes now had a unifying belief.

3.v. Stable Blue – Sunni Islam – 700 AD to 1500 AD

With the Arab invasion of Iran religious Blue authoritarian structure gained a new lease on life, especially once the Zoroastrian priests converted to Islam and under the Abassids laid down Sharia Law and other structures for governing empires. This system combated and defeated Roman ambitions and survived the Mongol invasion, with the Mongol rulers themselves converting to Islam and adopting the system. And finally in 1979, with the arrival of the theocratic state, the system took over all aspects of Iranian life, being perhaps the end point and culmination of Blue consciousness in Iran.

3.vi. Stable Blue – Shiite Islam – 1501 AD to 1979

Beginning with 1501 AD Iran passes into Shiite Islam with the rise of the Safavid dynasty, but again pretty much the exact same methods of state control through an official relgion are transferred to the new system.  This whole process culminates with the eradication of Iranian Monarchy and the establishment of a theocratic state.

4. Transitioning to Orange – Rational – 1979 to present

During the theocratic era of Iran, the population of Iran went through an unprecedented transformation on a massive scale. Whereas before, roughly 80% of the population was illiterate, now perhaps 80% is literate, the literate percentage being almost 100% for those aged 30 and below, constituting all of Iran’s new generation. This population no longer accepts the Blue forms of consciousness, preferring scientific and rational arguments, together with all its political trappings, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and a democratic state. And here we see the conflict between the theocratic state, almost exclusively older men upholding Blue/authoritarian standards of governance, with the new generation, clamoring for reason and science.

In Conclusion

Unlike previous analysis that attribute most development to a few individuals in leadership, this model posits that for those individuals to function and bring in a new order there has to be sufficient support in the population to make the change possible. We saw, for example, how Cyrus’s Green state failed as soon as he was gone because the population was only just transitioning from Red to Blue. And we see now how the Theocratic state of Iran is struggling as the population has moved past the level at which they govern. Thus looking through the history of Iran through this consciousness lens brings the analysis and understanding of the history of Iran into a new and sharp focus.

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