What does it mean to be Iranian?
Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Question: What does it mean to be Iranian?
Khakpour: It means a completely different thing to be Middle Eastern in our post-9/11 era. It meant a completely different thing before that. But I’m very interested in Pan-Middle Eastern identity, and I think that after 9/11, rather than even thinking of myself as an Iranian, I began to think of myself as a Middle Eastern person more than ever. And it is very loaded, and it’s very mixed. But probably when I grew up . . . When I was growing up I felt a little bit ashamed. You know I was born the year before the Iran hostage crisis, and I was always taught that we were Persian, not Iranian. You know I had one of those families where they’d say, “Oh, say ‘Persian’”. Then I even for a while said “Iranian”. I remember growing up as a teenager, I knew Americans were saying “Iranian”, so I was Iranian. And then after 9/11 it sort of forced me to confront who I was and what that meant. And the ultimate outcome was pride, so that was . . . it’s a happy ending.
Question: Why have you become more Iranian with time?
Khakpour: Well part of it is, you know, politics and world affairs. Generally I think when you feel somewhat marginalized and you’ve become the new minority, you tend to gravitate towards your heritage, I think, more. So that’s been happening to me. I think naturally as you get older you go back to your roots, too, for the most part. But the novel had a lot to do with that. The novel . . . For many years it felt like I had forgotten what it was to be Iranian. And you know when I was in New York I was a New Yorker. And when I was in California I was a valley girl. And so it brought me back full circle because I was constantly immersed in issues, whether in the writing of it, or even in the press phase.
Question: What draws you to Iranian culture?
Khakpour: It’s interesting to be from a place that’s dominated so much world news in the last 30 years particularly. I think that, you know, a lot of people joke with me when my novel came out that, “Oh, isn’t it great that Iran is hot right now?” Iran wasn’t particularly hot when I wrote the novel. There wasn’t much talk about Iran immediately after 9/11 when I started the book. But Iran has never stopped being in the news I think, particularly since 1979 or the advent of the Islamic revolution. So I think for a lot of Iranian exiles in this country, there’s always been a sense of unease with who we are. And we’ve often felt that we have to somehow explain to people who we are and what it means. I mean you know there’s tons of misunderstandings. You know I get questions all the time, you know, “What’s Persia versus what’s Iran?” or something like that. So there’s always a lot of explaining to do. So that’s one part of it.
The other part of it is you’re from this ancient, ancient culture – so much history, so much turmoil, and so much grandeur. It seems hard, I think, for young people – particularly in this age – to know what to do with all that, at least for me for sure. And then when religion comes into play it’s also very tricky. I was raised without religion being a big part of my background. Historically we were Muslim, but my father made the decision to informally covert to Zoroastrianism. And my name is foreign to Iranians as well. Porochista is the daughter of Zarathustra, so I didn’t quite fit in with other Iranian, and certainly not Iranians in Los Angeles. The whole Tehrangeles phenomenon was very foreign to me because we grew up in a very modest suburb in Southern California where we were the only Iranian family – maybe the only for a while. So it’s been very mixed I think, and continues to be. And you know how much I speak about it and what I feel about it often determines . . . is dictated by my own reaction with things I read. I’m sort of separated from Iran, too. I don’t have a lot of relatives there. My father just went there for the first time in 30 years last week. But there definitely is a sense of unease and eggshells . . . walking on eggshells always with a country that you’re from, which I think few people feel.
Question: Have you ever been back to Iran?
Khakpour: No. Since you know 1981, ’80 I have not been back, and I don’t have any immediate plans to. In the ‘90s I definitely planned on going to Iran at some point, and for whatever reason it didn’t happen. But it seemed like the climate was perfectly fine for an Iran visit. In recent years obviously since Ahmadinejad has come to power, it seems like less and less of a good idea. So . . . But like I said my father went there last week and he had a wonderful time. And he did have trouble at customs and he, you know . . . all that. But when he was actually there he had a wonderful, wonderful time. But I think it might be a little bit different for women – and particularly women who have gotten any sort of western press, or have any sort of prominent western identity. So I’m gonna hold off on that for a second.
Khakpour feels she has become more Iranian with age.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
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The newly discovered galaxies are 62x bigger than the Milky Way.
- Two recently discovered radio galaxies are among the largest objects in the cosmos.
- The discovery implies that radio galaxies are more common than previously thought.
- The discovery was made while creating a radio map of the sky with a small part of a new radio array.