Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Shock Doctrine: A context for my brain of late.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein is one of the most fascinating--and frightening--nonfiction books I have ever read. It provides the well documented narrative behind "disaster capitalism" in a way that cannot be summarized in a blog post. But. What follows is a brief attempt and provides a context for where my brain has been for the past month and a half. Then I will write about where my train of thought has been as a result. I can do nothing but recommend that you pick this one up and then call me afterward to discuss, whether you agree with Klein or not (seriously).

Klein opens her book documenting the Cold War-era electroshock therapy research (financed by the CIA), with its purpose to create "the blank slate, cleared of bad habits, on which new patterns could be written" (37). This is the stuff of science fiction: the desire to create robots in human skin; to remove people's stories and therefore rid the country of those with "wrong" or "dangerous" opinions.

Shock therapy is used as a metaphor in documenting "the rise of disaster capitalism" (or making a profit in the aftermath of a natural--or man made--disaster. It revolves around the philosophy of Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago economics department and his belief in absolutely free, privatized markets. They associated political freedom and democracy with free markets. The two major actions that Klein traces throughout history are (1) their work with governments in fiscal crisis, teaching that socialistic and communistic societies must be shocked with privatization (which rewarded the rich quickly and left the middle and lower classes in utter confusion, waiting for money to trickle down) and (2) using natural disasters and mass disorientation as an opportunity to make money.

She reminds us of the goal of electroshock therapy and uses it as a metaphor throughout the book: to remove that which allows us "to know where we are and who we are." She also documents the history of torture in Latin American countries when socialist or communist activists fought against the ways of Friedman: "the point of the exercise was getting prisoners to do irreparable damage to the part of themselves that believed in helping others above all else, that part of themselves that made them activists" (139).

Klein takes us through the history of this line of thinking, from Chile and Bolivia, to Russia and Poland, to New Orleans and Indonesia, to Iraq. Individual human lives and collective human story weren't counted as cost. The aftermath of violence inflicted on countries wasn't a consideration. She writes: "The National Libray [of Iraq], which contained copies of every book and doctoral thesis ever published in Iraq, was a blackened ruin. Thousand-year-old illuminated Korans disappeared...'It was the soul of Iraq...the deep memory of an entire culture has been a lobotomy'" (425).

Thoughts to follow, mostly about my ongoing frustration with life that people are never the bottom line.

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