Shock Doctrine
September 8, 2007 8:43 AM   Subscribe

"When I finished The Shock Doctrine, I sent it to Alfonso Cuarón because I adore his films and felt that the future he created for Children of Men was very close to the present I was seeing in disaster zones. I was hoping he would send me a quote for the book jacket and instead he pulled together this amazing team of artists -- including Jonás Cuarón who directed and edited -- to make The Shock Doctrine short film [embedded YouTube]. It was one of those blessed projects where everything felt fated." - Naomi Klein (previously)
posted by mkultra (43 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
The book is briefly excerpted here.
posted by mkultra at 8:47 AM on September 8, 2007


This is just silly. Friedman as fascist? Agree with him or not, he's all about less government intervention, not more. I don't exactly see him as the svengali-like director of some massive worldwide conspiracy. Klein is drawing connections that aren't really there. I mean come on, the FALKLANDS? Klein should read Hofstadter. This is classic paranoid style. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Especially when politicians are involved.
posted by mrstrotsky at 8:58 AM on September 8, 2007 [4 favorites]


I don't exactly see him as the svengali-like director of some massive worldwide conspiracy.

Neither does Naomi Klein.

Klein is drawing connections that aren't really there.

On the contrary, I think you're just ignoring what's been presented. That many high-level U.S. government officials are/were acolytes of his school of thought is a connection that is really there. As were his comments after Katrina (see linked article in first comment).

Klein should read Hofstadter.

She's Canadian.
posted by mkultra at 9:16 AM on September 8, 2007 [4 favorites]


Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.
posted by empath at 9:23 AM on September 8, 2007 [11 favorites]


I think this would more accurately be described as a long commercial rather than a short film.
posted by dobbs at 9:32 AM on September 8, 2007


I'd have to read the book, but the connection between Friedman's theories (which have been implemented in places like Estonia by Mart Laar to great success) and inevitable torture and human rights violations seems tenuous, but I'll withhold judgment until I actually can see the case Klein is making. But in the short film and her article in the Guardian, she presents Friedman as some sort of boogeyman, which is unfair and only made possible through a reductive and predetermined reading of his theories and oeuvre.

I also don't understand why she sees the Chinese using Tiananmen Square as a way to open up to the free market as an overall negative. Clearly that is not the best way to go about it, but does she really think the Chinese would have been better off in the long run under an economically communist system, rather then the hybrid system they have now?
posted by Falconetti at 9:33 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


My understanding of Tienanmen Square was that opening the markets was a reaction to the protests, not the cause of them. The gamble the chinese government made in the aftermath was that economic freedom would be allowed, but not political freedom.
posted by empath at 9:39 AM on September 8, 2007


I agree empath, I was vague in my wording. I also agree that political freedom is still wanting. But it seems a positive step, since economic freedom often results in political freedom eventually. I seemed incongruous to include that example with examples such as torture and disappearances in Chile.
posted by Falconetti at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2007


Not very insightful. Having ideas is not the same thing as being personally responsible for all of the consequences. Otherwise we could chalk Stalin up to Marx.

I've found that knee-jerk activist types like Klein love to personalize politics and construct bogeymen. The same thing happened with Leo Strauss. Strauss was one of the finest philosophers of the twentieth century; yet, somehow, saying that is nowadays interpreted as announcing one's neoconservatism. Nevermind that for Strauss, legitimate political ideas ended with the fall of Rome.

That said, parts of No Logo were quite good. It doesn't look like this is up to that standard.
posted by nasreddin at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2007


I wonder if that's a conscious strategy taken by people like Klein, Moore, and Adam Curtis? Do you think they know how dishonest they're being? It's an interesting mirror of the Neo-conservative strategy, if true.

And I say this as someone who supports their general aims.
posted by empath at 9:58 AM on September 8, 2007


I think it's an inherent property of political debate in our society, which Hofstadter did a good job of showing. Ask not what someone's ideas are, because that would mean, God forbid, engaging with them. Constructing a conspiracy is much more fun, and it gives you a really easy way out of any arguments: "What, you don't agree? You must be working for them!"

It's a lot easier to get people worked up when you say "Leo Strauss trained neoconservatives to seize power and manipulate the public!" rather than "Leo Strauss pointed out some contradictions in the liberal theory of politics, which he saw as emerging from historicist traditions which questioned natural law." Of course, the Right does the same thing all the time--see Horowitz, for instance. That doesn't mean it's okay for the Left to do it.
posted by nasreddin at 10:08 AM on September 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


Best understood as a "disaster capitalism complex", it is a global war fought on every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money, with the unending mandate of protecting the US homeland in perpetuity while eliminating all "evil" abroad.
posted by adamvasco at 10:38 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


As someone who liked Children of Men and parts of No Logo, I'm dissapointed by everyone involved with the making of this film.

If you feel the need to illustrate your geopolitical theories with emotionally manipulative shock footage, I am generally going to be much less inclined to agree with you, not more.
posted by bookish at 10:59 AM on September 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's probably assigning most governments too much credit to assume that their response to disaster and strife is a philosophically premeditated wave of economic policy changes. I think she's confusing incompetence with subterfuge. (at least I hope so).
posted by gallois at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2007


i'll have to watch it again, but i didn't really think friedman was being made into the bad guy while watching it. until i read that here. i took it as his ideas being used, not that he himself was the driving force or pulling the strings.
posted by andywolf at 12:18 PM on September 8, 2007


oh and according to the film/commercial thatcher privatized "alirlines". how the hell does that slip thru the cracks? the graffitti style animation was cool.
posted by andywolf at 12:21 PM on September 8, 2007


I think the point this lost credibility for me was when they said that with free trade, prices rise. And I've seen a host of economists, conservative and liberal, that have disproven that, or at least shown that it's not that easy.

You want to make an argument that the true cost of economic development has risen considerably when you factor in the environmental damage and the burden of the cost being foisted on the poor? That's reasonable, and true. But "prices rise" is so simplistic it detracts from the rest of the message, whatever mess there is mixed in there.

As for the Milton Friedman part, it's like blaming Ayn Rand for the problems of modern libertarianism.
posted by dw at 12:26 PM on September 8, 2007



As for the Milton Friedman part, it's like blaming Ayn Rand for the problems of modern libertarianism.


Or like blaming Edmund Burke for George W. Bush.
posted by nasreddin at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2007


If you feel the need to illustrate your geopolitical theories with emotionally manipulative shock footage, I am generally going to be much less inclined to agree with you, not more.

Agreed, and I say that as somebody who in general looks up to Naomi Klein. It's disappointing-- if I'm skeptical of this film, then it's going to be dismissed without a second's thought by the people who are (or should be) her target audience. The film undermines her message rather than supporting it.
posted by jokeefe at 12:36 PM on September 8, 2007


From the Guardian article:

I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, "disaster capitalism".

See also this very timely (after reports of the staggering loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer) cover article in Harpers this month: Cold rush: The coming fight for the melting north.
posted by jokeefe at 12:47 PM on September 8, 2007


Note: sorry, the article is only available for subscribers. D'oh! But it's well worth the read.
posted by jokeefe at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2007


Strauss was one of the finest philosophers of the twentieth century; yet, somehow, saying that is nowadays interpreted as announcing one's neoconservatism.

This is interesting, considering that in Persecution and the Art of Writing Strauss considers simple expository political philosophy dangerous because it can lead to students uncritically accepting dangerous ideas and becoming zealous disciples. This point is perhaps something that self-described "Straussians" might do well to heed.
Strauss wrote to Löwith in May 1933, five months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor and a month after implementation of the first anti-Jewish legislation, that “Just because Germany has turned to the right and has expelled us,” meaning Jews, “it simply does not follow that the principles of the right are therefore to be rejected. To the contrary, only on the basis of principles of the right—fascist, authoritarian, imperial [emphasis in original]—is it possible in a dignified manner, without the ridiculous and pitiful appeal to ‘the inalienable rights of man’ to protest against the mean nonentity,” the mean nonentity being the Nazi party. In other words, he is attacking the Nazis from the right in this letter. He wrote that he had been reading Caesar’s Commentaries, and valued Virgil’s judgment that, “under imperial rule the subjected are spared and the proud are subdued.” And he concluded, “there is no reason to crawl to the cross, even to the cross of liberalism, as long as anywhere in the world the spark glimmers of Roman thinking. And moreover, better than any cross is the ghetto.” [source]
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


Sorry, missed some formating there. In the original, imperial is emphasized.

My point is, Strauss was in many ways deeply undemocratic and authoritarian thinker, mostly because of his rejection of modern political theory in favor of his romanticized neo-classicism.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:03 PM on September 8, 2007



My point is, Strauss was in many ways deeply undemocratic and authoritarian thinker, mostly because of his rejection of modern political theory in favor of his romanticized neo-classicism.


I absolutely agree, don't get me wrong. But asserting a direct causal link between his ideas and the policies of the Republican party is misguided. Whatever the Bushies are, they're certainly not the kind of natural aristocracy Strauss envisioned as the optimal government.

I consider myself a Straussian; I do not accept everything he writes. But certain texts, like the "Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero" in On Tyranny, are to me absolutely fundamental. I think the substance of his political philosophy, while crucial for him and his body of work, is not by any means the most interesting or fruitful thing about it.
posted by nasreddin at 1:14 PM on September 8, 2007


I just read the article you linked to, expletive. It does a good job of describing Strauss and his work, but when it comes to actually demonstrating the connection between current policy and Straussian ideas it's ludicrously weak. "Moral clarity" is a Straussian idea? What?
And anyway, the evangelical thing goes strongly against Straussian thought, mostly because it's so fundamentally religious and populist, two things which Straussians avoid like vampires avoid the cross.
posted by nasreddin at 1:31 PM on September 8, 2007


Nasreddin, I think you and I are more or less in agreement about this. I have to admit, however, that most of my knowledge of Strauss came about by wanting to read criticism of Popper. I tend to think Popper has made a more positive contribution to philosophy as a whole than Strauss, but their strengths came in completely different areas. Popper I find indispensable for understanding modern liberal democracy and modern science, which I suspect are much more tightly linked than is commonly supposed. Strauss on the other hand, was more interested in rediscovering the classics, which I had much less interest in.

I guess at heart, my philosophical predilections lean more towards the Enlightenment than classical antiquity. From this perspective, I would tend to be more sympathetic to Hume's moral philosophy and his proto-utilitarianism, whereas Strauss embraced Hobbes's authoritarian conception of the social contract.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:33 PM on September 8, 2007


It does a good job of describing Strauss and his work, but when it comes to actually demonstrating the connection between current policy and Straussian ideas it's ludicrously weak.

Agreed. I remembered that correspondence quoted elsewhere. This article just came up in a google scholar search.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:42 PM on September 8, 2007



I guess at heart, my philosophical predilections lean more towards the Enlightenment than classical antiquity. From this perspective, I would tend to be more sympathetic to Hume's moral philosophy and his proto-utilitarianism, whereas Strauss embraced Hobbes's authoritarian conception of the social contract.


As an (eventual) historian of the 18th century, I'm pretty sympathetic to the Enlightenment myself. But I also think there's a very strongly aristocratic thread that runs through Enlightenment thought, in constant tension with its emancipatory and democratic ideas. Voltaire, for instance, thought religion was necessary as a myth to keep the hoi polloi in line, while atheism was strictly for the intellectual elite--which is really something Strauss himself would have agreed with.
posted by nasreddin at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2007


While Voltaire was most certainly a central figure of the Enlightenment, he wasn't exactly a democrat. I don't think other figures from the era would have been as sympathetic towards aristocratic ideals as he was, especially in Britain.

While the political philosophy of the Enlightenment was in many ways much less egalitarian than it is today, I'd say it's influence was vital for modern egalitarian societies to flourish.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:18 PM on September 8, 2007


Wow, I just realized what a huge derail this was. Sorry guys.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:19 PM on September 8, 2007


What bush and the republican party are doing is exactly to establish an aristocracy, with a veneer of 'religion' to placate the masses (or at least their base). It seems fairly obvious that people seeking to establish themselves as an aristocracy would not announce it publicly in a democracy. I mean duh.
posted by delmoi at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2007


It's a pretty impressive derail that manages to namecheck Strauss, Hobbes, Hume, Voltaire and Popper in just a few posts!
posted by pharm at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's exactly what ending the estate tax was all about. If you weren't interested in establishing a hereditary aristocracy, there's no other reason to do it.
posted by empath at 3:34 PM on September 8, 2007


I liked No Logo, and Children of Men - but this is just embarrassing. The Falklands War - "910 people die",
"Thatcher's popularity doubles", "Unemployment triples", "She declares wars on unions", "She privatizes gas, steel, airline, telephones", "Thousands are injured".

I mean, come on. Any historian trying to assert this sort of simplification/causation/value judgement would be laughed out of court.
posted by runkelfinker at 3:43 PM on September 8, 2007


Simplicity and value judgements are, however, what passes for incisive commentary all too often. I think it helps, incidentally, that Friedman (and for that matter, Strauss) are not all that widely read among the population at large - thus, it's easier to see such folk as shadowy figures, influencing things from the sidelines.
posted by Anduruna at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cory Doctorow just wrote approvingly of this short film/propaganda piece, which is the final nail in the coffin for me.
posted by Falconetti at 5:07 PM on September 8, 2007


it's easier to see such folk as shadowy figures, influencing things from the sidelines.

I think this "Strauss is mistaken for a bogeyman" is a bogeyman. The meme that I got wasn't Strauss as evil puppetmaster, it's closer to the previously mentioned relationship between Marx and Stalin.

If Strauss is seen as a puppetmaster or bogeyman, it's for the same reason that supporting Bush is seen as patriotic - the defining property of soundbites is that level of bumper-sticker-slogan oversimplification, and there are always a lot of people who just want a soundbite and don't care about the detailed transcript.

I don't think Strauss's modern rep is of concern.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2007


While I'm commenting on commentary, I also think that some of the expectations posted here for non-simplistic statements and a lack of vast and painful oversimplifications, in a short film (about a book) are a bit... odd.
It could be a three hour feature-length film and would still need shocking oversimplifications. This is where a book would come in handy, and... whaddiya know... there's a book. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:03 PM on September 8, 2007


mrstrotsky writes "he's all about less government intervention, not more"

Who isn't these days ? It's all about saying they are against a more invasive government, just long enough to obtain the vote and then you can show them how utterly ineffective any organization can become when there is -zero will- to make it work ( see Katrina et al). Pretty proves the point, but the alternative to no government isn't anarchy..at some point some form of goverment, self government when it works , is needed and some call it organization of common and conflicting needs and wills.

Unsuprisingly people aren't used to manage multivariate complex problems, even verytrained people have problems with it ; nonetheless they can be aggressed, but not without some degree of cooperation : take for instance the problem of managing and maintaining the highway system, just to name some big very system influencing our lifes on almost a daily basis.

Some call for privatization of almost everything, pushing away the government and letting the privates do the work ; usually the push a limited, palatable version of perfect competition MODEL and then conveniently forget to tell that the MODEL is just a reference point, a generally good idea , but one that needs government intervention to work , or that of a power strong enough to readjust market toward an healthy competition

But The Shock Doctrine claims the free market was created to increase uncertainity, shock ; they back their claim by using the very same shock and terror doctrine they decry, as opposed to show the model and its LIMITS. But hey it takes a lot more then 7 minutes !

Among one of the requisites is perfect timely information and the implicit requirement of people being able to rationally take the best choice. Except that if the selfishness assumption holds true, people may as well make choices that are very inefficient (Nash anybody?) or less efficient, or even think they are behaving rationally when making a choice then benefits them immediately and in a measurable fashion.

Another prerequisite is the sellers/producers required behavior price-taker, no one being able to decide the price. Price taker behavior is that of the masses, most often able to choose between prices that rarely differ ; they are also flooded with a lot of information that isn't elaborated and aren't able to take rational decision in a timely, cost efficient manners. Not mentioning the presence of players as big as Walmart, Costco and few others that literally decide the behaviors of their producers, even if not at gunpoint (yet).

The way competition is going, one doesn't need MORE government, one needs EFFECTIVE government.
posted by elpapacito at 6:34 PM on September 8, 2007


Does no one see the irony that this film uses shock to BAM! BZZZZT! get it's point across? How many times did they cut from some current event clip back to the black & white footage of the electroshock patient with the fake BZZZT sound added in.

This film is propaganda. Even if everything this film says is true, it can all be explained with opportunistic behavior. 9-11 happens, Bush's approval numbers hit 90%, why wouldn't he try to rush through as many of his previously controversial policies? They aren't controversial to him.

just read the article you linked to, expletive. It does a good job of describing Strauss and his work, but when it comes to actually demonstrating the connection between current policy and Straussian ideas it's ludicrously weak. "Moral clarity" is a Straussian idea? What?
And anyway, the evangelical thing goes strongly against Straussian thought, mostly because it's so fundamentally religious and populist, two things which Straussians avoid like vampires avoid the cross.
posted by nasreddin at 4:31 PM on September 8


I'll defer to you on Strauss, but I believe the conservative/neoconservative movement that claims Strauss as its own is relying primarily on The City and Man and his defense of the noble lie.

Based on my observations of the movement, the agenda proceeds in this fashion

1. Wealthy/powerful/established interest wants something done.

2. They fund (a) politicians to vote for it, and (b) academics/think tanks/pundits/columnists to provide intellectual cover.

3. The academics construct the necessary noble lie, or subvert an existing myth or prejudice into service as their noble lie

4. The politicians repeat the lie, vote the policy, the wealthy interest is enriched, and the people believe justice and right was served.

So in my goofy little model here, Strauss is distorted, because while he thought the noble lie had role in maintaining the political order, the objective of the lie here is further an agenda on behalf of a very small but wealthy constituency.

Your comment about the evangelicals rejecting Strauss is also correct except for the fact that most rank and file evangelicals have never heard of Strauss let alone have read him, and the political leaders that self-identify as evangelical are probably only slightly religious at most.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:54 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is the biggest pile of bullshit I've seen in a while.
posted by phaedon at 11:40 PM on September 8, 2007


I like most of Naomi Klein's work. Any early example of the "disaster capitalism" analysis appears in her Harper's article, "Baghdad Year Zero."

While this video is very slickly made, it ultimately comes across as alarmist propaganda. She has some very interesting things to say about shock to systems (I've not yet read her book, but do follow her articles). However, the over-simplifications are very unfortunate. While it's tempting to view this as an ad for her book, I think that's overly generous. Something this well-produced and clearly intended to be viewed as a work unto itself shouldn't be so careless with it's summaries.
posted by McLir at 4:45 PM on September 9, 2007


I think Naomi Klein's basic thesis that elites use disasters and crises to win consent for policies that they couldn't win consent for otherwise is a generally sound one. Conservatives have been saying the same thing about FDR in relation to the Great Depression and World War II since the 1940s.
posted by jonp72 at 8:34 PM on September 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


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