Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Naomi Klein in Vancouver

Last Thursday, I accompanied group member Tara Parsons to see Naomi Klein speak in Vancouver on her tour for The Shock Doctrine. Klein, who in a 2005 Prospect Magazine poll was voted the 11th top living public intellectual in the world, didn't disappoint.

The shock doctrine is Klein's theory, backed up by about 70 pages of footnotes, that far-right wing disciples of Milton Friedman and complicit government wait for a crisis, or the opportunity to create a perceived one, to compel the citizenry into a state of fear. While the people are still reeling from shock and convinced that drastic measures need to be taken, the economists and politicians implement radical economic measures such as mass privatization and shrinking of the welfare state.

I liked Naomi's approach to the evening. It was clear it was a special evening for her, as her Vancouver family was there, in addition to husband Avi Lewis. It was the end of the tour, and she took the approach of telling road stories from the tour, from Calgary, where she figured her book would be perceived as a how-to manual, to Montreal, where she met elderly women, victims of radical psychotherapy in the 50s, whose shock treatment was mentioned in the book as an analogy to the approach the Friedmanites took to economic prescription, starting in Chile in the early 70s.

There certainly is a business and human rights angle to this material, particularly when one thinks of companies like Blackwater, private bands of paramilitary mercenaries, who have been allowed to literally run roughshod over scores of Iraqi civilians. In a more general sense, increases in privatization and the free flow of investment means that BHR advocacy groups have to really be on their toes. My opinion is that if Stephen Harper attains a majority after the next federal election, it inevitably means that we will have to press harder to achieve the same in terms of corporate accountability.

One thing that Naomi said that struck a chord with me was that our enemy here is fear. The right-wing economists and politicians use fear to paralyze people and institute their rabid austerity programs. She used as a classic example 9/11. She said that in contrast, when the Spanish had their 9/11 with the train bombings, and the Spanish PM tried to link it to Iraq, he was kicked out of office by the Spanish citizens. They called for a march against fear.

Of course, the use of fear to control and manipulate people is nothing new. It has been around at least since the the dawn of organized religion. What I see now, though, is that this is merely a relatively recent manifestation of the same. It is based on the assumption that people will accept blind obedience and irrationality.

A march against fear sounds good to me.

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