Thursday, September 01, 2011

Book of the Month: The Shock Doctrine

You know the old bumper sticker wisdom, If You Aren't Outraged You Aren't Paying Attention.

My new Book of the Month, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, will fuel that outrage. It's been out since 2007 but I just got around to reading it last week. I'll admit up front that I kind of thought it was another routine exposé of how American business interests exploit natural disasters for obscene profit, like what happened after Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans.

I could not have been more wrong. Klein goes back to the early days of "Shock Therapy" and the CIA's infamous MK/ULTRA experiments on innocent victims at Canada's McGill University in the 1950s, in which people were subjected to a bunch of psychological brainwashing experiments that included massive overdoses of LSD and actual high-voltage electrical shocks, all of which were designed to "erase" their existing personality so that "professionals" could rebuild them into a new person.

Of course it didn't work, and Canada is still today littered with the walking corpses of those who were unlucky enough to get into the program so they could have their brains fried by professionals.

The procedures and their results were decried by pretty much every reputable scientist, sociologist, psychologist and psychiatrist who studied them. But that didn't stop anti-government free-market guru Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago School of Economics, the chief purveyors of laissez faire capitalism, who saw in the experiments a way to destroy and rebuild whole nations. The basic driver in all this was the intent to eliminate the state and contribute to the rise of corporations. Remember amoral Friedmaniac Grover Norquist, whose stated intent is to "starve the beast" by shrinking government to a small enough size that he could "drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub"?

This so-called free-market capitalism led eventually to the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Salvadore Allende in Chile, and ushered in several decades of economic "freedom" coupled with authoritarian dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. Friedman and his gang of economic thugs knew it was happening, but still kept at it. Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil -- all eventually fell under the murderous sway of the Chicago Thug School, all in the name of "freedom" (which means the freedom to live in poverty, the freedom to starve to death, the freedom to die from lack of health care, the freedom to be homeless when your job has been eliminated, the freedom to sell one daughter into brothel sex-slavery so that two others might eat, and the freedom to be tortured or disappeared if you speak out against the repression).

As did, in large part, the UK under Thatcher, with her unnecessary Falklands War (once described as two bald men fighting over a comb), and let's not forget China, Korea, most of SE Asia, Poland, South Africa, Russia, and even far-off Sri Lanka. All of those societies suffered greatly under the imposition of Friedman's doctrines, which led inevitably to repression, union-busting, economic inequality, loss of real democratic freedoms, mysterious "disappearances", and, in numerous cases, actual torture.

And when professional liar Baby Doc Bush, at the urging of torture queen Darth Cheney and the rest of the Chicago Mob (who by that time had infiltrated -- infested -- most of the high-level government positions and agencies) unilaterally and brazenly and illegally invaded Iraq, it was a wet dream for the Chicago bullies. Here was the perfect blank slate, wiped clean of all government "interference", onto which they could impose their ideal economic model. Never mind that it came at the cost of blatant corruption, starvation, unemployment, theft, murder, and torture.

Well, we all know how well that worked out.

There weren't any Al Qaeda in Iraq prior to 2003. Now there are a lot of them. Hmmm, I wonder why that is...

By the time I was almost done with the book, I was depressed enough to take to my bed with the vapors. But it turns out all is not lost. As with many of the 1950s CIA torture-test victims in Canada, nations upon which this "shock doctrine" had been imposed can eventually come out the other side, and now forty years later South America is rebounding, rebuilding societies, re-imagining and re-engineering economic systems and making long-overdue fundamental changes. For all the demonizing in the Capitalist Pig US Media, there can be no doubt that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales have done wonders for their countries and their peoples, moving them out of the nightmare of "free" markets and into economies designed for the benefit of the nation and not the multinationals.

We can actually take heart. As Martin Luther King said so eloquently, "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!" We can start by actively putting our consumer dollars where the disaster capitalists won't get them. I'd rather pay a little more to support the kind of business I want to support than give WalMart or a Koch Enterprises business one stinking dollar.

For example, I buy most of my bottled beer made by worker-owned Full Sail Brewing, my groceries from the local food co-op, my dining-out meals from locally-owned bars and restaurants, even my fast food from a locally-owned drive-thru hamburger stand. I'm sure there are many such businesses in your area that you can support as well with your consumer dollars.

As Thom Hartmann often says, we are in the cancer stage of capitalism. It's up to us to provide the cure, whether it's some "chemotherapy", or, if necessary (and let's hope it doesn't come to this), "radiation" therapy. Draw your own conclusions from those metaphors.

The Shock Doctrine is an eye-opening work of massive psycho-socio-historical significance. It's probably the most fundamentally influential book I've read in years. Get it, read it, think about it, and start making your own economic decisions supporting the ideals that you possess.

BTW, this Shock Doctrine is still at work, in insidious ways. This explains why I was in the mental state that I was this summer. I was actually in the throes of The Shock Doctrine myself. It wasn't coincidental that I fell back on the example of the shocked dog. That's what THEY want, and that's how they want us to react. Well fuck them. I won't do it. The only resort is to fight back.

Bonus: See the actual results of the Shock Doctrine in action in the terrific 2002 movie, City of God, based on true events taking place in the 1990s in Rio de Janiero's slums (favelas), wherein the fruits of laissez-faire capitalism ripen, drop off the tree and turn rotten. It's available from Netflix, and you can read all about it here on the IMDB and here on Wikipedia. This is Friedmanism in action in South America, and perfectly describes the things that Klein talks about in the book.

A warning, however: The film is extremely violent, graphically so, but it pretty much has to be to make its point. Imagine Lord of the Flies meets The Godfather by way of Menace 2 Society and you'll get the idea. The handheld documentary-like cinematography is gripping, as is the character development and the seemingly-right-on depiction of gritty life in the Rio favelas where most of the film was shot, using as actors actual denizens of the slums. It is easily the best film I've seen in the last two years; I gave it ten stars (out of ten) on the IMDB ratings system.
Full disclosure: If you buy these items, or anything else, from Amazon using the search link provided in the left column, I get a few pennies per purchase, which will go towards buying a sufficient amount of beer for a creaky disabled veteran who is, in the words of Stephanie Miller, "an elderly shut-in on a fixed income".
Okay, so I'm a Capitalist Pig who wants to swill at a trough of beer. So sue me...


Anonymous said...

The Friedmanites were the basis of "The Coven" in Marvel's "The End" series. My favorite book in the series was of course, "The Punisher: The End", wherein Frank Castle/The Punisher takes all these sociopathic SOBs out in their little Halliburton bunker despite suffering radiation poisoning from the nuclear war The Coven had started while Castle was in Sing Sing prison, from which he made his escape after the bomb. We should really fear the powers that be when nuclear war is not only deemed winable again, but profitable, and survivable for a select few.


Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks, WS. I did not know that. I'll be sure to check it out.
The concept of nuclear war was once thought impossible because it was unwinnable, for everyone. Now not so much, and we have the added voices of the Armageddonists who believe that nuclear war will be the "fire next time" prophesied in the bible.
May you live in interesting times...
--The F Man