(Continued from Tuesday.) Klein adopts the age-old yet fashionable metaphor of the “body politic” to demonstrate parallels between electric shock treatment administered to individual “patients” (and, later, torture victims) and the “shock therapy” acolytes of Friedman diagnosed as a remedy for ailing societies. Commencing to build on this slightly over-extended analogy, Klein points to how CIA-funded experiments conducted by Donal Ewen Cameron at McGill University, Montreal, inspired interrogation techniques that would later be codified in the intelligence agency’s “KuBark” document.
Cameron appeared to treat patients under his care like rhesus monkeys, subjecting them to electroconvulsive treatments at frequencies far in excess of standard practice. Cameron’s aim was, apparently, to “depattern” his patients so that their minds would become tabulae rasae, wiped clean and ready to accept whatever the doctor (and society) wished to inscribe.
Applied in the only marginally less darker realm of the interrogation room, Cameron’s techniques were used to create pliable detainees who would submit to their captors’ requests for information with calvish obedience.
Klein moves from the micro- to the macro- level by claiming that events such as Pinochet’s coup on 11 September 1973 and the “Shock and Awe” campaign against Iraq mirror the techniques of the torture chamber. Electrodes are attached to the most sensitive parts of the body politic as tanks roll down the street, explosions illuminate through the city’s skyline, and neighbours vanish into thin air.
In such a way entire countries are “depatterned”, rendered docile enough to accept free market medicine.
Except when they aren’t. The Shock Doctrine eats its metaphorical cake and has it by quoting the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation manual to the effect that brutality can have the unintended consequence of breeding defiance. So “Shock and Awe” can produce a Chilean revolution, but it can also lead to Iraq.
(In addition, Klein’s contention that the Falklands War produced a Pinochet-style crisis that allowed the Thatcher government to win an election seems to place rather too much emphasis on that bloody spat in the South Atlantic. Sure, bashing the “Argies” helped secure Maggie’s crushing 1983 election victory but having Michael Foot as the leader of the Labour Party probably helped her a good deal more.)
And just as Klein unearths numerous examples that demonstrate the phony connection between democracy and laissez-faire capitalism, a similar debunking of cause-and-effect can be prompted by considering how even greater “shocks” than the ones chronicled in this book ushered in economic systems that were anathema to those educated at the “Chicago school.”
As Tony Judt described in Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, the Europe that emerged from World War II had been radically and brutally “simplified” with ethnic minorities purged, borders redrawn by armies, and politics shaped by the garrisons from the superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States. The peoples blinking in the cold light of peace–”troglodytes” as the anonymous author of A Woman in Berlin described the survivors emerging from the bomb shelters–would have placidly followed anyone who promised bread and soup.
A Real Shock: Berlin Skyline 1946
Following the trauma of war, the economic model that became the successful paradigm for most of Western Europe (Ireland, for example, remained mired in stagnation) was the social market economy. This is because it seemed to work: the combatants’ wartime economies were already essentially socialised and the Keynesian approach of pump-priming was perfectly suited to nations that needed massive investment to rebuild their capital stock. In addition, strong trade unions, who demanded (and were granted) high wages, were tolerated as their members help form the backbone of an emerging mass consumer society.
Up until the oil shocks of the 1970s, the “social market” model (which even the United States had in a more limited form) appeared to be the only game in town.
But when the instability and crises arose in the 1970s, policymakers in several countries turned to Friedman’s model simply because the old ways no longer seemed as effective as before. For example, increased expenditure now seemed to fuel inflation without lifting employment. In addition, Klein’s presentation of “developmentalism” as a success story in South America’s southern cone that was destroyed by crisis-lead free-market ukases ignores the fact that Argentina’s best days, for example, probably came to an end as early as the 1950s, when a self-sufficient Europe no longer required the county’s agricultural exports. Unsurprisingly, when crises of the 1970s and 1980s unfolded the juntas and political elites decided the new treatment must be better than the regimen that had apparently sparked the emergency in the first place.
It is testament to the stimulating, far-reaching nature of The Shock Doctrine that it compels the reader to argue with it, to shout back such counterexamples. Although the book draws very heavily on secondary sources, Klein is astute in the material she chooses to mine, plucking damning quotations from gung-ho reformers whose commitment to abstract notions of efficiency and performance leave no room for unquantifiable sentiment. For example, one vulture encountered at a trade show called “ReBuilding Iraq 2″ chillingly asserts “The best time to invest is when there is still blood on the ground.”
Finally, this important book will gain a readership because it adroitly taps into a growing uneasiness over the price being paid by the many for the comfort of the few: That ineffable sense of guilt that arises when watching some natural disaster besetting non-white people on your new Plasma screen.
In Benjamin Kunkel’s 2005 novel Indecision, a character speculates about a magical fruit: after you taste it, whenever you put your hand on a product or commodity, how that item was grown or manufactured becomes instantly transparent. The effect, the character muses, would be like the static shock from a door handle.
In a world lacking such an enlightening substance, reports from writers such as Klein are the next best thing. The shock delivered is invigorating.