Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine.

Some people reading this may have reached their saturation point with Naomi Klein, “journalist, author, activist.” In a conversation with my brother yesterday, I feel as though while she has been getting lots of publicity in some circles with her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, the reach may be quite limited.

Naomi Klein made an international name for herself with the publication of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. The book came out in January 2000 after the WTO protest dubbed by Time Magazine as “The Battle in Seattle.” The coinciding of No Logo and the WTO protests made the book a part manifesto for the anti-globalization movement.

It seems as though anti/pro globalization discussions have stopped and instead we now discuss how to proceed with globalization. For Klein, this means exposing a phenomenon she describes as disaster capitalism: a predatory form of […] capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering.”

A crucial distinction: Klein does not think of disaster capitalism as a conspiracy of free-market economists, but rather a method of reprogramming cultural traditions. For example, Iraq was not a conspiracy for the United States to take oil from the region. Instead, the self-described shock and awe campaign was meant to disrupt the traditional Iraqi way of life and allow for private enterprise to begin a free market economy.

Klein’s main assumption lies on the belief that individual psychology can be projected to a collective body of persons. The title “Shock Doctrine” plays on the economic theory “shock therapy” preached by UChicago economist Milton Friedman (who famously claimed “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”) and even Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. But the title also refers to electro-shock therapy (now called Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT). ECT is used on patients suffering from extreme cases of mental illness or depression. Today it is used as a last-resort option, but in the past it was used frequently, including by the C.I.A. in the fifties and sixties, to “help agents withstand hypnotism and other brainwashing techniques.”

Klein extrapolates this technique to explain the effect of natural and man-made (read: war) disaster shock on the public. It’s a really fascinating argument, and Naomi Klein is a powerful writer and activist. I tried to go see Klein at a reading last week in San Francisco and the event was actually sold out. Like I said, some circles have really accepted the book and are heavily promoting it. I’ve listed some of the hype below:

Great short film: “The Shock Doctrine” by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Naomi Klein. Great summary of the book and incredible archival footage.

“Bleakonomics” Joseph Stiglitz (another Columbian economist and economic advisor to then-President Bill Clinton) reviewing Disaster Capitalism in New York Times Book Review

Harper’s Cover Article: “Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe” by Klein

Naomi Klein debates Alan Greenspan on Democracy Now! –This is super spicy. Bazam!

Klein was also on the Colbert Report, but I can’t track down the video.

UPDATE: Just when you thought the Mobius Strip was mind-bending, just check out John Cusack interviewing Naomi Klein.

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