Culture — January 21, 2011
Naomi Klein: A Culture addicted to risk and its consequences
Days before this talk in December, 2010, journalist Naomi Klein was on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, looking at the catastrophic results of BP’s risky pursuit of oil. Our societies have become addicted to extreme risk in finding new energy, new financial instruments and more … and too often, we’re left to clean up a mess afterward. Klein’s question: What’s the backup plan?
In the January 31, 2011, edition of The Nation, Klein reports from one of the highest-profile failures of 2010: the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And what she finds is a cascade of unintended consequences arising from a massive corporate risk.
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein makes the case that corporations (and capitalism-friendly governments) not only profit from disaster and conflict, but actively work to exploit countries in crisis. The “shock doctrine,” as Klein defines it, falls into place after a terrorist attack, a killer hurricane, a regime change—when corporate interests swoop in on a disoriented people to rewrite the rules in favor of commerce and globalization. In her deeply historical, carefully sourced book, Klein shows the link between commerce and crisis. The Shock Doctrine was adapted into a feature-length documentary by Michael Winterbottom; it premiered at the Sundance in 2010.
Klein’s previous book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, took on the creeping influence of megabrands on culture and government—with arguments so persuasive that the book earned a point-by-point rebuttal from Nike. She is a regular columnist for Nation and the Guardian, and is now working on a book on the idea of ecological debt.
Klein writes that the idea of economic shock therapy arose out of the same logic as Electric Convulsive Therapy (ECT). This idea is to create or exploit a destructive event in order to create regression, passivity, and a 'blank slate' on which to build a new order. In supporting this thesis, Klein uses all of Part I of her book to write about psychological torture and the CIA's mind control experiments. Klein offers a more implicit thesis that she invokes more regularly and supports more thoroughly: free markets did not develop through freedom, but through authoritarian or technocratic interventions.