By Naomi R. Rodriguez & Cyrus Gutnick
Politics & Culture Reporter and Editor
Canadian-born journalist, activist and author extraordinaire, Naomi Klein spoke at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz about her international best-seller, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”
Klein’s seminar sold out. Bustling crowds of her supporters eagerly waited to be let inside. Stemming from her studies of CIA methods of breaking down prisoners, she came up with her thesis: that governments use shock as a tool for infantilizing society and then exploiting it.
“I look at a whole range of cataclysmic events that can prepare the ground for economic shock therapy, a rapid-fire transformation in the society along these so-called free-market lines,” Klein said. “It could be a terrorist attack, it could be a natural disaster, or a terrible economic crisis.”
Nancy Abbey, a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Santa Cruz, attended the event.
“Her thesis is very sound,” Abbey said. “When she says something she’s got her facts.”
The ideology begins with total societal reformation implemented by the CIA as a series of social experiments in Chile in the early ’70s. Klein’s thesis builds from this and involves the exploration of past disasters such as the tsunami of Sri Lanka and the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of Sept. 11.
“I started the book quoting Milton Friedman [with] something he wrote in 1982,” Klein said. “‘Only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change.’”
Klein regularly quoted Friedman, a Nobel Laureate economist and a well-known advocate of capitalism, throughout her seminar. It was his economic policies implemented after the bloody shock of a U.S.-backed coup in Chile in which socialist Allende was replaced with right-wing military leader Augosto Pinochet.
Juan Poblete, an associate professor of Latin American literature at UC Santa Cruz, was 11 when the coup occurred in Chile.
“It might be useful to understand that the Chilean case was important because Chile has been sort of a social laboratory where at least three different social experiments were attempted,” Poblete said. “The third was the implementation of Friedman’s and other Chicago Boys’ economic policy.”
“This is done in a series of stages, centrally implemented through the writing of a new labor code, through the implementation of neo-economic policy,” he said. “It is what we have come to know as neoliberalism. That kind of radical reform, for example, meant the elimination of all unions as well as criminal prosecution of activists and union leaders.”
The first three months of the coup resulted in several thousand deaths, 40,000 suspected leftists imprisoned in Chile’s national stadium, and the execution of political activists.
The shock of the violent coup, the continued suppression of organizers and popular leaders recognized by the people were essential parts of the process in Klein’s theory.
Klein explained that shock creates vulnerability and makes people more willing to follow leaders who may not have our best interests in mind.
Klein said that the United States has been sending a wave of these shocks, and have been actively pushing neoliberal policies, such as the privatization of Iraq’s top state industries after the Sept. 11 attacks or the implementation of the Patriot Act in the wake of disaster.
The most recent shock is the current economic crisis, but what’s different about this set of events is that through repetition and information, the population is becoming shock-resistant. å
“Something really amazing happened when CNN sold the bailout plan with as much enthusiasm as the Iraq war, and when Bush addressed the people and called for a run to the banks,” Klein said. “People didn’t buy it and there was a clear rejection of the plan because unlike the PATRIOT Act, the bailout plan was less than three pages long and people read it and said ‘This makes no sense.’”
The plan passed, but there were a few days when the U.S. government was really afraid of their people, and there were a few days when people resisted the shock treatment dosed by the government which Klein attributes to knowledge.
“The New York Times broke down [Congress’s] vote and found that the people who voted against the bill were overwhelmingly in very tight races — they were fighting for their jobs and they were hearing overwhelmingly … from their constituents that this was a bad deal and [the constituents] wanted them to vote no,” Klein said. “They felt vulnerable and they found themselves unaccountably interested in the view of their constituents, so there was a little moment there, it was odd, and it only lasted two days, but democracy broke out in America.”
Klein projected that after the nation’s current economic shock will be a budget shock in which the programs that people need and advocate for will be denied on the grounds that the economic crisis prevents them from being funded.
“We think about what was so shocking about September 11 — it was not the attacks themselves,” Klein said. “It was the ‘Who are these people and why do they hate us?’ It was the lack of explanation of analysis of narrative that could have given us some kind of bearing in that moment.”
“Shock by definitions is a temporary state,” she said. “The best way to stay oriented, to resist shock, is to know what’s happening to you and why.”