Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Shocking Doctrine

Precis on The Shock Doctrine
Aaron Benavidez, 13875347

Published in 2007, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism connects the dots between the Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973, the Asia market downfall in 1997, the tragedy and aftermath of September 11 in 2001, the devastating tsunami in 2004, and the flooding of New Orleans in 2005—along with many other examples of economic, political, and “natural” shock. With shrewd investigative and persuasive (journalistic) skill, Klein argues that these events since 1973 were manufactured or significantly harnessed by special economic interests for the sake of a full implementation of neoliberal policies: “privatization, government deregulation and deep cuts to social spending” (Klein 9). Beginning with a section titled “Blank is Beautiful,” Klein clearly posits that the ripe situation for the complete privatization of otherwise public interests are best exacted under circumstances of shock.

To summarize, Klien organized the book in seven parts with an introduction that clearly reveals the book’s thesis and a conclusion that insists that communities are currently coming out of their respective shocks and engaging in taking back political, social and economic life. The main sections are ordered chronologically: “Part 1: Two Doctor Shocks” reveals the CIA’s hand in developing torture techniques during the 1950s that were later used by Chile’s Former President Augusto Pinochet, whose egregious human rights violations (including the disappearance of political dissidents and large scale killings in murder stadiums) Klein later states in “Part 2: The First Test" proved that free markets and political freedom do not go hand in hand. “Part 3: Surviving Democracy” looks at Margaret Thatcher’s harnessing of the Falklands War to suppress local coal miners and institute new, harsher economic reforms. The section also exposes global poverty scholar Jeffrey Sach’s involvement in a neoliberal campaign in Bolivia in the 1985—which was rife with economic turmoil, political suppression, and a lockdown that can be viewed as a “decisive economic shock therapy period” Klein (153). “Part 4: Lost in Transition” argues that the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 resulted from “the government’s moves toward unregulated capitalism, a fact largely left out of the coverage of the movement in the Western press” (184). This section also examines how shocks were implemented in Poland, South Africa, Russia, and Asia by the IMF and the World Bank to initiate neoliberal policies that, ultimately, caused economic problems in those countries. “Part 5: Shocking Times” moves the analysis toward the United States and reveals how the Bush administration has created a hallowed out government (and military) that continues to provide private industry with profits while United States public infrastructure crumbles. In “Part 6: Iraq, Full Circle,” Klein uncovers how the war in Iraq and its use of (physical) shock techniques (torture, bombing and looting) collectively function to stun Iraqis as their natural resources (including oil) become privatized for Western corporate interests. The final section, “Part 7: The Moveable Green,” shows how even Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami victims have been used by private industries to claim lands in a process of gentrification—driving the poor into concentration camp-like “buffer zones.” In sum, Klein challenges the assumption that neoliberal policies work in concert with democratic freedoms, and, therefore, she rigorously undermines the so-called benefits of free-market globalization.

Since pegging an audience allows us to determine the ways in which The Shock Doctrine may or may not be compelling, my analysis sees the text as addressed toward a left (Camp B) and even more left-left (Camp B+) audience. Rather than simply shape the book toward a New York Times reader, Klein seems to more faithfully target a Democracy Now!-esque audience. Why this conclusion? Because Klein never questions the way(s) that she collapses her “shocks” as synonymous with each other. She rather unabashedly conflates economic shock(s) with even "natural" shock(s), and this conflation issues from an argumentative presumption that the audience would not be critical toward the tenuousness of the equivalence she unflinchingly constructs.

In a 466-page book, available arguments for analysis are numberless. However, The Shock Doctrine provides four basic argumentative stains (signposted here): neoliberalism via state intervention, the blank slate, shocks ad nauseum, and the connection between various shocks and neoliberalism. First, while neoliberalism is characterized by three functions (see the first paragraph), the strong arm for such economic policies issues from state policy. In essence, neoliberalism works to enmesh “corporations at the center of the complex to bring the model of for-profit government … into the ordinary, day-to-day functioning of the state—in effect, to privatize the government” (Klein 12). This is not so easily done, and when it has been done those not in power have not truly benefited from an often blunt transition. Klein argues, for example that China’s free market ideology has meant that the same people who controlled the state under Communism now control the state under a Chinese-style, free-market capitalism (185).

Second, the blank slate argument underscores the mode by which neoliberal policies are enacted and “nation creating” is deployed. In a Democracy Now! interview in September 2007, Klien stated that the intrinsically violent project of “nation creating” is advocated without much criticism: “[it] is an extremely violent idea, if you stop and think about what it means to create a nation in a nation that already exists, something has to happen to the nation that was already there. It really cannot be done without some sort of cleansing” (“The Shock Doctrine” 11). Klein’s critique relates to the war-time process of “erasing Iraq,” but the criticism also extends to the mainstream media’s agreement that creating countries such as Poland, Russia, Chile, Argentina, and Japan, essentially from scratch, is a good thing.

Third, Klein carefully scrutinizes shocks ad nauseum. The United States, for example, has cut spending for federal infrastructure, which allowed the flooding crisis in New Orleans to reach such magnified, critical levels. This crisis, then, is exactly what Friedman and the associated University of Chicago economists wanted since (to quote Friedman): “… only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around” (Klein 6). Therefore, Klein furthers that shock create the ideal platform for neoliberal policies as private industries profit from disaster capitalism: “What makes their acts of projection more perilous is the fact that, to an unprecedented degree, key Bush officials have maintained their interests in the disaster capitalism complex even as they have ushered in a new era of privatized war and disaster response, allowing them to simultaneously profit from the disasters they help unleash” (311). The connection between disaster capitalism and multiple world disasters (both natural and manufactured) take on a cynical hue given that Klein reveals, for example, that the 2004 tsunami victim relief funds are currently building big business rather than rebuilding the lives and homes of those who have been most clearly affected by the natural disaster.

Fourth, the final central argument of The Shock Doctrine is to make clear that the economic ideology of neoliberalism and the “features of the corporatist state”—including heightened surveillance, mass incarceration, political killings, profound limitation of civil liberties and, often, torture—cannot be disentangled. Klein clarifies: “… what I’m trying to do with this book is tell the same story, the key junctures where this ideology has leapt forward, but I’m reinserting the violence, I’m reinserting the shock, and I’m saying that there is a relationship between massacres, between crises, between major shocks and body blows to countries and the ability to impose policies that are actually rejected by the vast majority of the people on this planet” (“The Shock Doctrine” 5). Therefore, by looking at major crises of the last 40 years, Klein melds ideology and "reality," neoliberalism and its deleterious effects.

The Shock Doctrine’s virtuosity is its weakness. With a critical, investigative eye, Klein does a spectacular job of providing historical context to a rather controversial and enterprising thesis (a neo-Polanyian gesture). In addition, Klein ought to be commended for bringing to light policies, documents, and other forms of evidence that are often obscured by not only mainstream media, but mainstream academia. However, The Shock Doctrine’s attempt to make connections that span more than 50 years and five continents is both its blessing and curse. While commendable, the book would have benefited from a focus that looked specifically at the United States, Chile and Iraq; or the United States, England and Chile; or the United States, Sri Lanka and Iraq; or some combination that would have offered more regional depth while allowing the implication of the argument to be furthered in another text. In this way, the shock of realizing the impact of Klein’s project might have been, well, less shocking. Regardless of this criticism, in future decades Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine will provide critical arguments for combating neoliberalism in the same way that Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring continues to provide a critique of environmental degradation.

Works Cited
Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007.

“The Shock Doctrine: Naomi Klein on the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Democracy
Online. 2007 Sept. 17 2007.

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