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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

The Shock Doctrine

Posted by admin | October 1st, 2007 | Filed under Positive Change


When we first pulled up our chairs in The Thought Kitchen one of the people whose thinking we referenced was Naomi Klein, until recently probably best known for her book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. (We took her literally by deciding not to put any external logos on our product, but that’s another story). Klein has just published a controversial best seller entitled The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it she defines shock doctrine as “the use of public disorientation following massive collective shocks”wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters”to push through highly unpopular economic shock therapy.”

The metaphor of “shock” is important because her thesis stems from a contention that what works on a person also works on a nation. Think 9/11 and fear-induced politics that have eroded some of the fundamentals of what we knew as American democracy. To peer into her thinking, check out the short film by Alfonso Cuaron, who made Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men. Klein was hoping he’d send her a quote for the book jacket, but instead he assembled a team of artists and this short film. Sweet indeed.

21 Responses to “The Shock Doctrine”

  • October 2, 2007 at 2:35 pm | mattymatt says

    This video seems to be engaging in the very techniques that it indicts. The combination of footage and sound is shocking and persuasive — but I think it’s only persuasive BECAUSE it’s shocking.

  • October 2, 2007 at 2:37 pm | seamus says

    Great movie. “Only a crisis, actual or perceived produces real change” is incredibly true. Note our stagnation on global warming, pension reform, health care, etc. To most people, none of these are real crises yet, so no change happens.

    On the other hand, capitalist liberty is not a bad thing. To use an example in the film, isn’t the new, capitalist China better off today than it was pre-Tienanmen Square? For all China’s problems, hundreds of millions have better lives today than they did on back-breaking collective farms. The capitalist reforms are hardly unpopular; if anything, the Communist party’s great challenge is growing its economy fast enough to keep bringing the other 800M peasants into something resembling a middle class.

  • October 2, 2007 at 4:47 pm | antonio says

    I agree absolutely with mattymatt.

    What are they thinking? that we need to be shocked out of our shock? Why the fabricated imagery, the fake how-to-torture slides? Why can’t he only focus on the facts. I believe they’re more shocking than any anguishing heart soundtrack.

    They have drawn a thin line between critizicing and profiting with this video.

  • October 2, 2007 at 5:14 pm | Dave Lockwood says

    Well, I see all the deep thinkers have already spoken. Is it too much to ask you folks to at least try to think? MattyMatt and antonio – I don’t think Ms Klein was criticizing the use of emotionally charged imagery to make a point. I believe her point was to what purpose that imagery is engaged. Can you really say that using dramatic sound and images equates to killing hundreds or thousands of people to advance the fortunes of a particular group? Seamus – no one in their right mind is saying that capitalism is inherently evil. What is evil is unchecked capitalism. Nuanced thinking seems to be a disappearing art. I mourn its passing.

  • October 2, 2007 at 6:19 pm | Bina says

    Four comments; three of them missing the mark by a wide margin. I can see that Naomi Klein has her work cut out for her.

    Perhaps some people here need to be shocked in the right way, to be woken out of the trance that too many of the wrong kind of shocks have wrought. Why not take issue with the CONTENT, rather than the style–or is the content so shocking that you can only quibble about style in order to make any point at all? Think of 9-11 and what it shocked people into accepting–the erosion of their civil liberties. Has the loss of those liberties brought any 9-11 perpetrators to justice? NO? Only more profits for the war machine and its stakeholders? What a surprise.

    Plus, I fail to see who is “profiting with this video”. Is the video actually making money? No–it’s just there to be seen. It’s not a trailer. You are not obligated to pay to see a longer film. You may, however, be tempted to read the book, wherein there are no appalling bangs and booms to startle your delicate sensibilities. Maybe, if you read and take it to heart, YOU will be the one who profits for a change.

    Also: “Capitalist liberty” is an oxymoron. Or rather, it’s ironic: only the richest have liberties under capitalism; the rest have the leavings, or are directly enslaved, while capitalism is merely TOUTED as being a wonderful beacon of liberty. It is not. China may be capitalist now, but where is the liberty? Be honest, now. The Internet is severely censored in China; democracy does not exist, and is no nearer. Meanwhile, the Tiananmen massacre is down the memory hole; no one is allowed to talk about it. Most of China is poorer, not richer, as a result of “market reform”; sweatshop labor is the norm now, not the exception. Meanwhile, prisoners are being executed so that their organs can be harvested FOR PROFIT. This is an “improvement” over collective farms?

    Oh yeah, and did I mention that CHINA HAS NO DEMOCRACY? And capitalism has not lifted a finger to change that! So much for capitalism as a progressive changemaker.

    BTW, I’m not a Marxist. I’m just someone who is sick to death of The Way Things Are, and who is skeptical of the supposed wonderful liberties that capitalism just can’t seem to bring except by sticking up small countries at gunpoint and brainwashing the masses into accepting less and less value for ever higher prices.

  • October 2, 2007 at 6:20 pm | D. Clearwater says

    Seamus: I am not sure if “hundreds of millions” of Chinese are better off. Certainly, a small percentage of the population is profiting… but there are many reports that the rest of the population continues to suffer and while there are a large number of people working… some are being treated horribly. As usual, the move to capitalism is benefiting a small few… but keeping that ‘small few’ happy by letting them benefit is important because they will not mind the corresponding lack of political reform. Heck, children in China cannot even recognize a photo of Tiananmen square (see another excellent film made by PBS Frontline called “The Tank Man” at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tankman/ ). Unfortunately, the back-breaking farms are still there. But, Klein’s critique is not a critique of capitalism or the market economy but a system where political and economic power is so concentrated that when disasters take place, the system tries to concentrate even more political and economic power. Also, China’s change did not happen in a vacuum, it has been seriously helped by an expanding sphere of influence of transnational corporations in other countries (i.e. Wal Mart) and even by U.S. foreign policy decisions… which is all just more economic and political concentration of power.

  • October 2, 2007 at 6:25 pm | Stanley Lieber says

    Say, I have an idea. Let’s all insult each other. Naturally, this will clarify each of our points and lead to a new, rational consensus, shortly to be followed by meaningful a solution to today’s problems.

  • October 2, 2007 at 8:39 pm | David Goldschmidt says

    @ Stanley Lieber. Sarcasm is a form of violence.

  • October 2, 2007 at 8:57 pm | big says

    First, I need to define the word “propaganda”, since many people don’t really understand what it means. It’s not necessarily a pejoritive term. It means simply, “to motivate a group of people to action by means of a direct appeal to the emotions instead of taking the time to explain it rationally”. Propaganda is necessary, because in times of imminent danger, groups may need to be rallied quickly. “Uncle Sam Needs You” and “Rosey the Riveter” were propaganda images that were used during WW2 to defeat Japanese incursion into China and Nazi invasions in Europe. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Propaganda is effective if everyone can see the benefit of following the lead. If people aren’t sure about whether they agree or not with the ultimate goal, it won’t work. One of the big problems with recent liberal campaigns is their reliance on propaganda to put across concepts that are better dealt with rationally. It isn’t good enough to just show Bush with a bullhorn and intercut that with explosions in the Middle East. The country isn’t all on the same page when it comes to the best way to deal with international terrorism. Perhaps we know what *doesn’t* work, but that’s the easy part of the equasion.

    This particular video spends almost all its running time using emotional imagery to try to convince us to read this book, then it puts the actual facts- the connections between events that are supposed to show a pattern- in quickly flashing text in the last few seconds. I personally think it’s a great way to motivate those who already oppose free trade to buy the book. But propaganda isn’t going to motivate anyone else. That would require arguing the case in a rational way.

    The last few seconds were the most universally understandable and convincing of the entire video. It would have been better to focus on the links between events to prove the point, and show the solution to the problem. Spending most of the time on things blowing up and then shoehorning all the ideas into the last thirty seconds isn’t effective at convincing those not already convinced.

    But of course, it’s more entertaining to show stuff blow up… That kind of stuff wins awards!

  • October 2, 2007 at 9:22 pm | o'serious child says

    mattymatt that is an very keen observation. But is that reason to write off this video? Clearly not. If anything, we should applaud the makers of this film all the more. They, like pretty much everyone else these days, want real change. Hopefully this little ‘crisis’ of a movie will nudge us in that direction.

  • October 2, 2007 at 11:47 pm | Lev says

    This film is utterly odious. While there is an excellent case to be made against unbridled capitalism, it is pure demagoguery to juxtapose images of torture with Milton Friedman’s economic theories. This makes Ms. Klein’s potentially persuasive argument look like a knee leftist propaganda rant. A film like this may play well with the kefiyah-wearing street-protesting radicals of the anti-free trade movement but it cannot be taken seriously as an indictment of globalization. I couldn’t finish watching it, it’s that stupid.

  • October 2, 2007 at 11:50 pm | Lev says

    edit: kneejerk

  • October 3, 2007 at 6:00 am | Steve says

    The drive-by on Milton Friedman in this movie is complete bullshit. IF his ideas were reality, without being twisted by so-called capitalists (crooks, lawyers and politicians), the entire world would be better off.

    Milton is about free men & women creating and acting without coercion.

    His “free market” is not the baloney ‘free market’ that is bandied about masking companies which leverage whore politicians & law makers into stealing from others.

    These are equally evil to Friedman.

    Actually go read a book my Friedman. His untainted ideas are friendly to anyone wanting to be free from the crooked of all stripes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A

  • October 3, 2007 at 9:19 am | jeff harrington says

    IdEAL ORDER Psychic TV has been attempting to ‘shock’ the media for years.

    http://proxy.arts.uci.edu/~nideffer/_SPEED_/1.3/product/harrington/harrington.html

  • October 3, 2007 at 1:19 pm | Mark Gamba says

    It seems I have another must read book to add to my list. For all of you who are having knee jerk reactions about this film, particularly those whose ire is a result of the discussion of economics – there is a necessary new thought out there in the world and it is summed up nicely in a book by Bill McKibben called DEEP ECONOMY. It calls into question many of our assumptions about life and the economy. You might also wish to read an older book called CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN. You may be surprised to learn that you don’t know as much about the world, the US and the economy as you thought you did.

  • October 4, 2007 at 4:00 am | RicHARD Makepeace says

    WOW!! MY first time here. I grew up by the projects in New York City though, so name-calling hardly phases me, except when it’s my teenager, who IF I recall correctly never has called me a name. He rarely talks to me at all. After you all get to know me, you’ll know why. In reality, I am not too traumatized by sticks and stones either: Been there, done that, although my t-shirt was torn.

    Don’t know much about economics either. Come from union people who say, and believe, that the rich get richer and the working poor pay for it. All I’ve seen of the world has proven them old geezers correct. Could easily see Milton Friedman working for the Nazis, or the other forces of darkness. Don’t understand how millions of middle-class Chinese serfs are any different from other kinds of forced labor. Being one pay-check away from doom, and terrified to lose your spot in the fast-lane of the good life, is just slavery in better Nikes, whether you live in Beijing, Baltimore, Boston, or the Transvaal.

    Do know about propaganda, manipulation and persuasion though. Paid a whole lot of money to get a poor education in them things. Klein is right when she points out that only by understanding the problem can we stop being shocked and terrified. Shock and awe, Klein’s, or Friedman’s, or any other, does keep us name-calling and separated which is the reason that crisis is such a good tool for manipulation, as most of the responses above reflect. The goal is to keep us from thinking, speaking, and cooperating together.

    Hence the hoods and cuffs: How many of us reading this, or watching the video, actually see and acknowledge our hoods and cuffs?

    I also understand that progressives and leftists everywhere have had a hand in giving us the traumatic sick society that we now own. The question is not how to change the sick society that we have, but how to change ourselves enough that we stop using the tools of our sick society against one another. Krishnamurti said, “It is no sign of good health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”

    Do we really want to replicate the society we have all over the globe for another generation, left, or right? Or do we want to change?

  • October 4, 2007 at 8:14 pm | Daniel R. says

    “””BTW, I’m not a Marxist. I’m just someone who is sick to death of The Way Things Are, and who is skeptical of the supposed wonderful liberties that capitalism just can’t seem to bring except by sticking up small countries at gunpoint and brainwashing the masses into accepting less and less value for ever higher prices.”””

    You’re right, you’re not a Marxist. You’re a pseudoeconomist. Less value for even higher prices? Couldn’t you have at least TRIED to disguise yourself as an economist by saying, “small countries are coerced into buying lower quality goods for inflated prices”? Not to mention that’s absolute bullshit because of comparative advantage, a rather complex yet effective game of chess which, when played right, assures an entity’s position in the economy even amongst some of the worst cases of absolute advantage. This is of course without restriction… government composed, strictly speaking. Concerning international trade, the easiest example (but certainly not even close to the only) of when comparative advantage falls victim to the government, that would be tariffs.

    Klein’s biggest problems in her book beyond the absolutely fundamental flaw that we are not in a free market economy are a) she cites corporatism as capitalism while arguing that more government–what spawns corporatism–is the answer?! And b) the fact that the free market is supposed to solve this, whereas we are not in a free market! In other words, when she’s not contradicting herself in concern to government power allocations in the economy, her argument is flawed because she attacks the current system, not the free market. It’s post hoc ergo propter hoc to assume any of this is the fault of our less restrictive elements in our economy–perhaps it’s those restrictions that exist, esp. the ones often accepted or overlooked that artificially reduce labor demand, creating a labor oligopsony for corporations (that means the corporations control YOU!), whilst their competition also ends up becoming oligopolistic due to the lack of competition, thus giving more power to them in the long run? The economics are staggering!

    Advice: if you don’t know economics, SHUT UP because you don’t know anything. Keep your opinions to yourself. And don’t take Klein’s word on Friedman, it’s so skewed it’s insane. Read one of Friedman’s books. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement is a good book for non-economists and shows a different Milton Friedman than presented by Klein more clearly than anything else could. Capitalism and Freedom is good for people who have a decent bit of economic background or are ambitious (it’s not like you need to fucking know abstract algebra or real analysis to get it, but if you’re an over analytical kind of person, it could help cure some boredom on plane rides!).

  • October 29, 2007 at 6:10 pm | Myriam says

    Daniel R, i agree with you completely. I’m studying economics at university now, and so i know a bit about friedman, and he was totally misrepresented by Klein. Friedman, like most academic economists, was concerned with how best to manage the economy so as to bring freedom to the masses. And those who see Friedman as being entirely a man of the right would do well to remember how instrumental he was in abolishing the military draft. In all his policies Friedman was concerned with increasing individual freedom.
    The problem with Friedman, as his critics would have it, is that he was willing to cooperate with undemocratic and oppressive regimes (this is in fact not true- he was only in Chile for a week and besides giving some general advice was never employed by the regime there). The reason for this is not suprising given those who understand Milton’s philosphy- namely that free markets are impossible to maintain in an undemocratic regime, and thus that liberalization of the economy inevitably leads to democratic change. Friedman would thus see China’s economic growth as hopeful, as it would according to his theories in the long term lead to an workforce who would demand political change.
    The point i’m making is that Friedman gets a undeserved beating in this video. I’m sure if he was alive he would have responded to Klein’s accussations, but since he died last year it is now up to economists to explain the theory and the man to propoganda-using populists like Ms Klein.

  • February 13, 2008 at 4:08 pm | Rachelle says

    Myriam,
    I agree with you that Friedman’s philosphies and theories related to liberating people. These same statements can be made about communism. The fact is that although on paper his theories were correct, when implemented populations reacted badly, this could be because although on paper a slight recession (a fact that Friedman himself admitted would follow the implementation of his policies) may not be a big deal, to the person experiencing the recession this could become a disaster. Friedman should rightly be judged by the social effects of his theories since humans are far more important than numbers – and the fact is that his track record in terms of the human cost of his theories is not good.
    The video that Klein and Cuaron made together is arstitic and powerful,this I’m sure is thanks mostly to Cuaron who is renowned for his abilities in this field. The video is also meant to sum up a 600 page book in 5 minutes – it nails the thesis but does not have time to explain and defend it. This is why I urge everyone who has taken the time to see the video, like it or not, to read the book. It is truly “shocking” how much of the book is undeniably truth.

  • November 5, 2008 at 3:31 pm | dylan says

    Rachelle, if you want to look at the results of advocating Friedman’s policies, the data bears out that the countries with the most economic freedoms (the very freedoms that Friedman spent his life championing for) also have the lowest unemployment and poverty rates. It isn’t enough to reference anecdotes in your argument. If Klein were correct, that liberalization of economies limits democratice freedoms, then why has the number of democratic and ‘free’ countries actually increased during that same time period?

    It is this kind of hatchet job on a now deceased man who has been lauded for a lifetime dedicated to public servie that I absolutely cannot stand.

  • December 27, 2008 at 7:13 pm | marty zeldman says

    Hello: where is the video? Has it been removed? Why?

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