Ross Carter offers a critical review of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. He arguably enriches Naomi’s own assessment of the situation by adding a DGR analysis.
By Ross Carter
Using crisis as an opportunity to get rich
In her book, the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein details a particular trope of modern capitalism. That of using and/or creating shock and disaster to advance its agenda. Like the majority of liberal literature this book left me with more questions than answers. For example, is it just capitalism that uses crises to advance? Was life amazing before neo-liberal capitalism came along? Are discussions about different shades of civilization a waste of time? Is this whole book a distraction? Although frustrating at times and limited in its perspective, the history mapped out in this book did still have a lot to offer and to ponder.
The Traumatised Traumatise
One thing I take home from this book is how modern Capitalism is civilization attempting to continue to function and sustain itself, while everything (eco-systems and social structures) collapse around it. Due to Naomi’s blind commitment to Democracy and liberalism this would not be a take home though without a mild awareness of the history of civilization, particularly how it has always depended upon war, colonisation, control of populaces (social structure, slavery, police, media, religion and law etc.), and environmental and technological expansion, to sustain a hold over humanity and the planet. Civilization has also always fed off of disaster. This can be clearly seen in the fact that although individual civilizations collapse, disasters in themselves, civilization itself has continued to spread across the planet eating up wildlife, including wild humans, in its path.
The story that Naomi tells is not an isolated story, it is one that has been going on in one form or another for as long as civilization has existed. The logic of Civilization is to protect itself at any cost, and that logic continues unabated. Without a deeper analysis you are stuck in the limited perspective that if only we could get rid of those horrible capitalists then everything would be ok. This is a naive over-simplification of the issues we face. It ignores the current and rapid murder of the planet by Industrial civilization.
It ignores the reality of the lives of passive desperation, the mental trauma, anguish and grief that humanity, as a whole, currently lives with.
Another lesson or reminder I took away from reading the book was how war and conflict is integral to civilization and its expansion and survival. All expansion (aka colonisation) has depended on violence and conflict and left destruction in its wake. Civilization in turn traumatises individuals, communities and cultures, then takes advantage of that trauma to grow and expand. This was true in Iraq in 2004 and it was true in Iraq (AKA the Fertile Crescent) in 6-8,000bc when one of the first civilizations is said to have formed/spread their leaving decimation and desert in its wake.
This needs repeating. The land that Iraq now sits on was being pillaged and destroyed by civilization 10,000 or so years ago. The language I am writing in, it is said, evolved out of the Middle Eastern languages of the time. The Shock Doctrine is part of a continuum. We, the civilized, are doing the same things now that civilized peoples were doing 10,000 years ago. Changing from neo-liberal capitalism to a more social capitalism, replacing oil wells with lithium and rare metal mines (for ‘green’ technologies), isn’t going to change anything. The Shock will continue until we do something about the problem at the core, civilization itself. Or until civilization reaches, what seems like an inevitable suicidal endgame. The almost complete end of life on this planet.
“I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent” p20.
The Shock process that Naomi defines and recognises is at the core a continuation of colonialism. It is hyper-colonialism. It is a confirmation by those in power that they are in power and that they are willing to do anything to stay in power. It is an extra layer of colonialism. And therefore an extra layer of trauma and destruction. Competition is at the core of all civilized relationships and the civilized psyche itself. It is at the core of agricultural societies who fight each other and wild nature for the space to deforest and grow. It is at the core of modern civilization in all its teachings and all it upholds. Competition we are told is natural and good. We appear to have forgotten what is natural and good. We have seen no other path. We are conquerors and dominators. Takers. We do not know what it is to be human be-ings, only human war-ings. This is apparent in Naomi’s book.
From Chile to Iraq via New Orleans. The only direction we can go is towards increasing levels of control and dominance. Unless we change this mindset we will continue on this path indefinitely. Civilization can wear a facade of democracy or liberalism but it is merely that. A facade. Equality and co-operation are not possible in civilization. They are in direct contradiction to its inbuilt needs to expand and control.
Changing this mindset is an intense and thorough task, but it is the only one that will make a difference long term.
Joe Biden and solar panels are not going to cut it. Just as different leaders and more technology have never made a difference before. Only increased and sped up the expansion and control of civilization. There will be no simple solution or saviour. Our desperation to control and dominate from the White House and board room, to our patriarchal nuclear family, stems from the same place. Mass cultural trauma. As Naomi points out, a broken individual is easy to manipulate and control. And we are all broken by civilization. We are traumatised in the womb. We are traumatised in birth. We are born into generational trauma. We are traumatised within our dysfunctional families and social structures. We are traumatised by our ‘education’. We are traumatised by the boxes we are put in and the masks we have to wear. We are traumatised by pollution, by food, by technologies. Etc. Etc.
The traumatised mind is a warring and competing mind. It is one that cannot be satiated. Civilization commodifies and others us. It turns us into objects and roles. Slave, farmer, chief, wife, husband, etc. THAT is shock and awe. The shock that Naomi defines is an interesting story and one worth hearing, but it is also an addendum, and like all leftist analysis it ignores or denies the rest of the book. It ignores what led to that addendum. If we continue not to see how violence and (our own) trauma and shock are integral to the establishment and sustenance of civilization, not just neo-liberal capitalism, then our solutions and actions, like all leftist/liberal solutions, are going to achieve absolutely zero when facing the bigger picture of the murder and enslavement of the planet and of ALL life on it by civilization.
Our blindness to reality is related to our mass trauma, perpetuated by our education system and media.
The media are masters of shock. Naomi points out how the military targeted certain industries in Iraq to increase the shock to the populace. Just as important was the taking over of the media. Of the stories being told to the Iraqi people. The media pacifies through dumbing populations down, through fear mongering, and simply through lying or covering up the truth, It is quite amusing but also sad to note that Naomi, and all of her other liberal pals, are suffering from the very symptoms she herself defines. That of a forgetting. A cultural amnesia. A reconditioning, brainwashing (let’s call it what it is). Let’s not forget that liberals are traumatised too.
One only needs some basic understanding of the history of civilization to know that at its core since its inception it has depended on slavery (by the whip or by economic/cultural control), genocide, ecocide and colonisation. This is completely ignored though. Why? Why would liberals continue to preach for, and believe in, those very things which are used to oppress them? The Green New Deal and Democracy aren’t going to remove the shock to the system that living hollowed out lives on a hollowed out planet perpetually puts us through. Yet they are worshipped. How could you read this 533 page book, in your break at the office, or sitting in your city apartment, the sound of sirens and cars droning around you, smell of pollution in the air, zero wildlife, about how capitalism uses shock to further its agenda, and not recognise the shock, all around you and within you? The obvious answer is that liberals have been shocked themselves.
We have all been shocked.
Then in this lost, disconnected state we are all susceptible to the easy solutions of religion, gurus, demagogues and techno-fixes. We are all malleable. People do not willingly hand over their personal power and autonomy and that of their community, to civilization, unless they have first been broken as a human and built up again as a citizen. We will only really be able to think clearly and connect to one another and the earth again once we throw off the myths that civilization holds us down with. Once we, as individuals and communities, destroy civilization as a concept and a physical system. For it is only beyond civilization that we can really be free from continued shock and perpetual disaster.
Ross Carter is a sytems thinker, critic and DGR guardian based in the UK.