Friday, September 07, 2007

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Tonight, attendees of the Toronto International Film Festival will be treated to a very special short film by Naomi Klein. The premiere of the ~6 min film has been timed to coincide with the release of Klein's much anticipated book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."


If you found this short-film upsetting to watch, you are in excellent company: Klein herself found it "disturbing." Yes, despite years of dogged research for The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has not inured herself to the subject matter. And who can blame her? Let's take a quick look at some of the ground covered by the book (from Random House of Canada; emphasis added):
From Chile to China to Iraq, torture has been a silent partner in the global free market crusade. But torture is more than a tool used to enforce unwanted policies on rebellious peoples; it is also a metaphor of the shock doctrine’s underlying logic. Torture, or in CIA language "coercive interrogation," is a set of techniques designed to put prisoners into a state of deep disorientation and shock in order to force them to make concessions against their will. ...The shock doctrine mimics this process precisely, attempting to achieve on a mass scale what torture does one on one in the interrogation cell. ...The original disaster – the coup, the terrorist attack, the market meltdown, the war, the tsunami, the hurricane – puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the torture cells soften up prisoners. Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect.
—from Shock Doctrine
Torture. Bombs. Coups. Disasters. As a journalist, Naomi Klein has written about all of these things, in her work as a reporter. What is almost unique about Klein is that, while many other journalists have enriched our understanding of such events in our recent history, Klein provides us with the back story. The context. The history. The motives.

When post-invasion Iraq erupted in "looting" and chaos, Klein saw another, more insidious type of robbery at play. In "Baghdad Year Zero," Klein reached into the black, ugly heart of the matter, visiting Iraq to document the so-called reconstruction. And she found that nothing of the kind was happening. The Wolfowitz/American Enterprise Institute's free-market utopia was turning into a nightmare. The bombed-out Tabula Rosa (blank slate) that was post-Saddam Iraq was supposed to be the perfect venue in which to test their neocon/neolib fantasies. A kind of "economic shock-therapy" where the citizens would be too dazed, too confused and too desperate to object to their experiments.

When the first images of tortured Abu Ghraib prisoners appeared in the New Yorker and on 60 minutes, the American media exploded in an indignant chorus of "Never Before." Naomi Klein was there to remind us of The School of the Americas and The Phoenix Program. In Shock Doctrine, Klein promises to build on the important research unearthed by Dr. Alfred McCoy, including a treatment of the sinister McGill/CIA research performed in the 1950s.

When the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina resulted in devastating losses of life and livelihoods, Klein was there to document the unseen secondary disasters. After the December 2004 tsunami, Klein observed that the world's loan sharks (the World Bank and the IMF) were using the 'opportunity' presented by the disaster to "push through its cookie-cutter policies" and essentially impose privatization of State services on the disoriented survivors. After Katrina? Klein spoke with Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labour organizer, who told her, "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification--poor people." In Shock Doctrine, Klein further connects the exploitation of natural disasters by the Blackwaters and Bechtels and Halliburtons.

Naomi Klein has proved that she has the scholarly patience and rigour to make these important connections. Where others see only 'news,' Klein sees a multi-act play--often with many hidden actors.

And she sees hope. In her speech to the American Sociological Association, Klein concluded that--despite everything--another world is possible:
We who say we believe in this other world need to know that we are not losers. We did not lose the battle of ideas. We were not outsmarted, and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks. Now, most effective we have seen is when the army tanks and the think tanks team up. The quest to impose a single world market has casualties now in the millions, from Chile then to Iraq today. These blueprints for another world were crushed and disappeared because they are popular and because, when tried, they work. They're popular because they have the power to give millions of people lives with dignity, with the basics guaranteed. They are dangerous because they put real limits on the rich, who respond accordingly. Understanding this history, understanding that we never lost the battle of ideas, that we only lost a series of dirty wars, is key to building the confidence that we lack, to igniting the passionate intensity that we need.
I am very much looking forward to reading The Shock Doctrine. I could really use some more hope with my onions, lately!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
About the video: Film Description and Director Biography
In the short The Shock Doctrine, author Naomi Klein and filmmakers Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón team up for an elegant illustration of a powerful idea: massive political change follows massive crisis, and it is never by accident. (Cameron Bailey)

Jonás Cuarón has directed the feature Año Uña (07) and the shorts Un Disparejo (Ro-Sham-Bo) (03) and The Shock Doctrine (co-director, 07).

Alfonso Cuarón was born in Mexico City and has directed several internationally acclaimed films, including Y Tu Mamá También (01), Children of Men (06) and The Shock Doctrine (co-director, 07).

Naomi Klein was born in Montreal. She wrote the documentary feature The Take (04). The Shock Doctrine (07) is a film by Klein and Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón.
DISCLOSURE: I have promised to review The Shock Doctrine, which I will do in the coming days. In return for this, and for posting the video, Random House has offered to send me a free copy of the book.

15 Comments:

Anonymous skdadl said...

Hope and onions -- both spring eternal, Kitty.

Wonderful post. As you say, Klein isn't distracted by the surfaces; she does the backstory allatime. And beyond that, she can talk to any audience, academic, popular, you name it. You'd think that her example would inspire a little modesty in some of those who've been running on autopilot and enjoying their access, wouldn't you?

Och, the day will come.

9/07/2007 8:13 PM  
Blogger Godammitkitty said...

Yes! More modesty, less breathlessness :)

9/07/2007 9:23 PM  
Blogger FurGaia said...

Extremely interesting! Thanks!

9/07/2007 9:27 PM  
Blogger Neo Conservative said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/09/2007 1:33 AM  
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9/09/2007 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9/13/2007 4:49 AM  
Blogger jj said...

Look GDK -- you're in the Guardian! (About halfway down) Me too!

9/15/2007 2:21 AM  
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