Sunday, March 30, 2008

The two Naomis

It's easy to get Naomi Klein and Naomi Wolf confused. Their most recent books came out at roughly the same time; they have the same first name; and both write from a perspective one would deem progressively left. The Wolf book, "The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot," is more a polemic, full of passion, but not a great deal of scholarship. It outlines the ten warning signs of a nation slinking towards fascism, and delivers a loud call for mobilization before the slide becomes irrevocable. I read it quickly, then passed it on to my daughter. This is by no means a dismissal. The book is a wake-up call to anyone who naively believes that it cannot happen here.

"The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," by Naomi Klein, is, on the other hand, a work of of ... well, shockingly detailed scholarship, a book that cannot be read at one sitting, not because it isn't readable (Klein is a superb writer), but because it is necessary to periodically cogitate on what Ms. Klein has just told you before continuing. The central thesis is this: the "free market" principles devised by the late Milton Friedman and his Chicago School of Economics in the 50's and 60's, and which are the primary philosophic under-pinning of the neoconservative agenda, have always been conjoined with policies of "shock and awe" (a phrase, by the way, that originated with Friedman). In other words, traumatize the populace, either by taking advantage of a natural disaster or scaring the shit out of them with propaganda, and then shove neoliberal market reforms down their throats (including massive privatization of public works) that ultimately benefit multinational corporations and corrupt politicians and their cronies, but strangle democracy and destroy the local economy. With furious prose, copiously backed up with references, Klein reveals the connections between the rise and fall of the "Asian tigers," the breakup of the Soviet Union, Chile under Pinochet, Argentina under the fascist junta, Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, the SE Asian tsunami, and, of course, Iraq. This extraordinary book will lift the veil from your eyes. It is, as the SF Chronicle called it, "the central narrative of our time."

The talented Mexican filmmaker Alfonso CuarĂ³n and Naomi Klein made a short film graphically illustrating some of the central tenets of her book.

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