Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

InThe Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein is attempting to re-write the history of globalization, with an alternate account of the last thirty years of American foreign policy (a la Howard Zinn's excellent A Peoples History of the United States). Quite a tall order, and accordingly the book balloons to over 600 pages in the process. The prime target; notorious University of Chicago Professor of Economics, Milton Friedman and his acolytes, known as The Chicago School.

She begins the book introducing Dr. Ewen Cameron, the former president of the World Psychiatric Association. This is done via a harrowing account of one of his former patients. Cameron pioneered a form of therapy called psychic driving, the stated goal of which was to completely break down the patient’s personality and rebuild it from the ground up. This was achieved by a two pronged attack that included destroying the patient’s connection to the world by long periods of sensory deprivation, followed by sensory overload; and erasing the patient’s sense of self, with heavy doses of electroshock therapy caused regression to a child like state. Then positive messages could be played form a tape recorder to rebuild a positive sense of self in the patient.

Not surprisingly, Cameron's work eventually caught the attention of the C.I.A., who began funding him in the 1950’s through Project MKULTRA. And as anyone who’s been paying attention knows, sensory deprivation and overload are standard fare interrogation techniques these days.

The book hinges on Klein's use of the concept of psychic driving as metaphor for the U.S.’s relentless push to spread laissez faire economics, even to those who didn't ask for it. She claims that a shock is needed, be it revolution or natural disaster, to stun the populace so economic reforms can be instituted; also pointing out that the act of torture is intimately related with this process (more as a means of intimidation/coercion than to ascertain information).
She coins the term disaster capitalism to describe this phenomenon.

After introducing the concept of disaster capitalism,she spends the rest of the book identifying its application and results across the world. Beginning in the Western Hemisphere, Klein takes us country by country through South and Central America, starting in Chile. Citing example after example after example to corroborate her premise, it almost becomes gratuitous after a time. And though Klein is definitely writing from an ideological standpoint, fact is; all of these countries had dictators that were receiving council from American economists.

We then move across Eastern Europe (post-USSR) to Asia -the 2004 tsunami and Iraq. And finally right back home with the Bush administration. We learn quite a bit about what many of the people under Bush had been doing in the 90’s. Conveniently enough, most were in the oil, defense, pharmaceutical and security industries. The picture that emerges here is that of a revolving door. Many of these people shaped policy under George H. W. Bush, and then left for cushy jobs at the companies they’d done federal business with. Then once junior was in office, they went back to shaping policy, (i.e. doling out no-bid contracts to companies that had made them rich) and presumably they will use their contacts to go back right back to cushy jobs in January. To be sure, this is nothing new; after leaving government, politicians often lobby for or sit on the boards of companies they used to regulate. The change here is how blatant things became under Bush. For example Rumsfeld refused to sell his stock in defense industries while in office. Again, you can argue with the conclusion that Klein arrives at, but the facts are all there, meticulously documented.

The book ends on a lighter note though. The shock will wear off, it is stated. You can claim that globalization benefits everyone, but if it doesn’t jive with the experiences of everyday life, well, reality can only be denied for so long.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

Knopf Canada 2007

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