AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shocking (and Awe-ing)

In her remarkable new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, journalist Naomi Klein blows out of the water the fanciful notion that people around the world in the 70's and 80's spontaneously started waking up with the realization that free markets and free trade were the only way for their countries to go. In fact, Klein argues, free markets - with their associated privatizations and rollback of the social safety net - have always been imposed upon the prior basis of a shock, real or fomented, a shock sufficient in magnitude to disorient the public to the point that a radical, "Chicago Boy" program can then be rammed down their throats under the guise of a bitter but necessary pill. The US-provoked coup d'etat in Chile in 1973, followed by a radical economic revision designed by Milton Friedman himself (who apparently had no qualms about working for dictators), was the Ur-shock, though Klein subsequently guides us through a series of other examples, from the collapse of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe to the Asian currency crisis of 1997, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and yes, to the Mexican "tequila crisis" in 1995 that unleashed a second, massive wave of privatizations here.

So far, that's two shocks: the original one (coup d'etat, natural or economic disaster, massive societal upheaval) followed opportunely by economic shock therapy. But no public can be fooled forever; people everywhere inevitably start to protest when they catch wind of the implications of what has been done to them. This is when the third shock becomes necessary: repression and torture to break the back of the resistance. Drawing on a careful reading of psychiatric "shock therapy" practices as well as declassified CIA manuals dating back to the 60's, Klein notes that the fundamental goals of such torture (under whatever name it has been given over the years: de-conditioning, counter-insurgency, counter-intelligence) is to induce a regression of the subject to a state of child-like defenselessness: in short, to destroy their personhood. How ironic it is that the twentieth century, supposedly the century of psychoanalysis and the knowing of one's self, witnessed at the same time the widespread use of psychiatric techniques to achieve the exact opposite: the reversing, the canceling-out of psychological development on a mass scale in order to revert persons or peoples to a timorous, uncritical state of passive acceptance...or else.

The parallel with present-day Mexico is exact. After several previous, shock-induced waves of privatization (the first, by Presidents de la Madrid/de Gortari following the peso crisis of 1982 and the second, mentioned above, by Zedillo following the second peso crisis in 1995 which all the previous privatizations obviously did not forestall), the only public institution left that is worth anything to international investors is the big enchildada: petroleum. Whenever the public is objectively asked, however, if they believe oil privatization is a good idea, they overwhelmingly reject it. Calderón, knowing this, has done what any administrator of "disaster capitalism" has by now learned how to do: provoke a crisis - and allow for the torture of those who do not toe the line. His lack of originality, however, has led him to import a hand-me-down shock the neighbor to the north already wore out a generation ago: the "war on drugs". If the ostensible objective of such a program is to eliminate the drug trade, it is failing in Mexico just as it failed in the US and just as every such program that depends on militarism and killing alone will fail. Four thousand Mexicans have died in this futile war in the year-and-a-half since Calderón took office, the same as the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq in five whole years of equally-useless conflict. Viewed from the perspective of "shock therapy", however - the shock needed to disorient the public and ram through oil privatization - it remains to be seen if the "war on drugs" will prove to be, like its antecedent shocks across the world, a perverse success. It is true that the Mexican public has proven itself to be enormously resistant, but is also true that the government's willingness to apply the third shock (torture) is as strong as ever, the disappearance of two members of the EPR, the "white brigades" in Oaxaca that so terrorized the population here and which have gone unpunished at the federal level, the hammering of the population of Atenco into the ground for protesting the location of a planned new airport, and the slew of abuses committed by soldiers all over the country under the current administration are just a few of the most prominent examples. One shudders to think what else is going on unobserved, under the radar, nation-wide, as the militarization of the country (see the latest in the state of Sinaloa) proceeds apace.

Despite such bleakness, Klein points out in an interview available on YouTube ( that there is cause for optimism due to one, simple reason: publics worldwide have not chosen such economic shock programs of their own free will - have needed, precisely, to be shocked into them. If people can learn to psychologically resist the onslaught of shocks exploited or created by those who would use them for their own ends, they still have a chance to reverse the noxious effects these policies have had on society, culture, the economy and the environment. Mexico, that means you.


Alan Goodin said...

Since the late 90s, I suspect many of us who saw GE's crops as "Frankenfoods" were hoodwinked. While they are indeed, Frankenfoods, another mindset comes into play. Maybe Archer- Daniels and Monsanto never really meant for Americans to 'eat' GE'd crops knowing someone would say, 'Well, since this stuff isn't so good for human consumption, then what shall we do with it?" Being the bright guys they are, they said, let's make it into gas and call it Bio Fuels. No one will mind that, ESPECIALLY THE FARM LOBBY and maybe not GreenPeace.
Please note this is the original variation on the 'shock and awe' theme. It older days it was referred to 'Bait and Switch."
Great Blog Kurt, Alan

Pat said...

Not only Mexico. The infantile
position of the Norte Americano public has been stuck with,
relying on slogans and idiotic
symbols. Meanwhile at the ranch...,
George and Company conspire to steal every last penny from the
American people and divey it up
with their corporate cronies. And then, serve up some Soylent Green Gruel, Cold of course.
It's Over!
Kurt, Enjoy your Blog.