Naomi Klein’s, The Shock Doctrine, attempts to locate the assumptions underlying modern neoliberal economic policy, which has, as the book argues, been at the epicenter of the world’s most atrocious political violences in the latter half of the 20th century. These policies have had a centrifugal effect on all populations who were subject to its sadistic economic prescriptions to the extent that violent government crackdowns on political leftists, forced disappearances, extraordinary renditions, and government overthrows were the modus operandi of a free market ideology manically devoted to deregulation, privatization, and cuts on social spending. Transforming the welfare state into a corporatist one depends on an economic strategy of “shock and awe”, owing thanks to psychiatric professionals who utilize this brutal strategy on their patients. Central to the claim concerning neoliberalism’s deleterious effects is the assumption held by psychiatry regarding the mind and its operations. Klein navigates through the last 60 years by creating a narrative focused on the relation between the triumphant theories in neoliberalism and psychotherapy—both of which share similar assumptions, discordances with reality, and a logic of brutality to actualize their results. “This fundamentalist form of capitalism,” Klein writes in outlining her thesis, “has consistently been midwifed by the most brutal forms of coercion, inflicted on the collective body politic as well as on countless individual bodies.” The near seamless analogy provides the reader with a powerful, easily digestible argument—one that even Immortal Technique can gain inspiration from in recording his Revolutionary albums. But what are the implications of using such rhetoric? And to what extent does Klein imbibe upon the analogy to further her own work?
Milton Freedom, whom Klein refers to as the “grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism”(5), observes that “only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change”(5). Through the course of time, this quotation would serve as the mantra for disaster capitalists everywhere, and as Klein points out, providing them with fertile ground for economic opportunity and exploitation. The drive for “real change” highlights one underlying assumption beneath the veneer of neoliberal free market reform: the blank slate. Borrowing from modern psychiatric theory, the blank slate would be the ground zero equivalent for economic development. The blank slate would thus be ideal for testing free market reforms, and the challenge for economists is to create the conditions that make a blank slate economy possible. Once again, psychiatry intersects with economic theory, looking at the use of shocks to induce blank slate states. For Friedman and his followers, crises serve as the sort of shock necessary to induce a population into a state that allows for the least resistance and defense to free market reforms. Whether a crisis is actual or perceived is irrelevant—the world will always have its share of natural disasters; the issue for Klein is the fervent manner by which disaster capitalists seek to induce these crises by the most violent, coercive means possible.
The sustaining logic behind economics aligns with psychiatry, sharing similar internal as well as external limitations molding the kind of work being produced. It is no surprise, then, that the two disciplines share a common vocabulary. Whether or not Klein thinks the analogy works is unclear—she indicates that the same failures in electroshock therapy became prevalent in the ‘shock and awe’ tactics used by economists. To a varying degree, her project depends on the analogy in order to narrativize a history fraught with greed, corruption, and violence. In fact she writes, “As soon as we have a new narrative that offers a perspective on the shocking events, we become reoriented and the world begins to make sense once again”(580). Yet it is precisely this rhetorical move that motivated Friedman to advise Pinochet to use economic shock therapy. If neoliberal economics failed because it held on to false assumptions in psychiatry, then would a more accurate theory of the mind yield a better economic modal?
The function of psychiatric language in the book plays a pivotal role in articulating the relationship between economics and psychiatry. But Klein appears to suggest that this role needs rearticulating. In the conclusion Klein looks to Latin America in recent years as it attempts to reconstruct its economy through local and regional efforts. “Democracy in daily life” is the mode by which a structured and free-market based economy can coexist with the maintenance of basic social safety nets. Community based economies provide the support and protection against the shock doctrine. Yet this alternative resists the language used to describe economic policy in psychiatry. The social body is uniquely distinct from the individual body, and yet, the tools used to investigate one are equally applied to the other, making psychiatry obsolete in characterizing our modern socio-economic reality. How can psychology, and if not psychoanalysis, provide us with the tools necessary to understand the dynamics of social change, localized sites of resistance, and the ways in which the political economy of the body has become reorganized? Tracing neoliberal policies back to its roots in psychiatry and to theories of the mind, as Klein has done, can suggest that a proper conceptualization of the relations between the individual and collective begins with understanding the way in which this distinction is made problematic in the first place. Mind/body and individual/collective are legacies of that old tradition that are present in the outcome of neoliberal policies today.