Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism

23:55 Fri 28 Sep 2007. Updated: 01:57 29 Sep 2007
[, , , , , ]

I went to a Naomi Klein lecture this evening. She was promoting her new book, The Shock Doctrine. I haven’t read it yet, but certainly intend to now that I’ve been to this lecture. The overarching idea she put forth is that corporatist ideas are pushed through after disasters in order to take advantage of public confusion, and that the psychology of shock is applied deliberately by elites in order to push their agendas.

Those statements in themselves aren’t revelatory, but she put together a compelling analysis of what’s been going on. She also brought together some disparate elements I found interesting, and the broad focus she took appealed to me.

After 9/11, I mere hours after the attacks, I was already very worried about how the elites in the US would exploit the situation. I absolutely thought they would expand their surveillance and policing powers, which struck me as an obvious thing for them to do. I thought they would increase their belligerence regarding foreign policy, but had no idea that they would take it as far as they did.

However, what I did not see, and what Klein makes a convincing case for, is that the “War on Terror” is not merely an excuse to expand the security apparatus, not merely an excuse to get away with all kinds of war crimes, but also an entire economic model. The “Homeland Security” section of the economy is absolutely colossal, and all the policies enacted in the US and especially in Iraq reflect attempst to push an extreme corporatist economic structure.

Furthermore, privatization has been intensified during this period, with the occupation of Iraq now employing more private contractors than soldiers, and with almost the entire “Homeland Security” apparatus farmed out to private firms. Klein points out that this is a new, innovative form of privatization: normally privatization consists of cutting off already-existing arms of the government and feeding them to private industry. In this case, the government did the creation and the cutting and the feeding all at once.

Klein points out that these tactics are being attempted domestically, also, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina clearly shows. A scary fact I didn’t know about: Blackwater mercenaries showed up in New Orleans days after the hurricane hit to provide “security”.

A line of hers I really liked (slight paraphrasing):

Sometimes we are suppressed by tanks, sometimes by think tanks. And by think tanks I mean people who are paid to think… by the people who make tanks.
—Naomi Klein

There was a lot more, all of it excellent, but Klein’s core message is that we need to know how they do this, and why, so that we are not shocked the next time a disaster rolls around, so we know that certain interests will try to take advantage of the situation to further their own ends (and to our detriment).

So if you’re unlucky enough to be in a place where disaster hits, try not to be frightened. Do not look to external authority for salvation, and do not be cowed into believing that without it everything will collapse. Try to help your neighbors, and cooperate with them, and communicate with them. It’s rare that you’ll need protection from them—in most cases they’re people just like you. Otherwise, your home, your neighborhood, might disappear, the elites having decided that the disaster was a massive opportunity to “wipe the slate clean” and redevelop your area into something you’d only get in the way of—which is what’s happened to a lot of New Orleans. If you’re still feeling uneasy about the whole cooperation thing, go read The Uses of Disaster and The Shock Doctrine.

« (previous)
(next) »

Leave a Reply