Thursday, December 11, 2008

Naomi, Quite Contrary

So, I read the profile of Naomi Klein in last week’s New Yorker, and ultimately it didn’t change my mind.

Her grandparents were Communists (and eventually disillusioned former Communists), and her parents are lefties, too, though not as affiliated. Her mother, Bonnie, admits that she had “pretty simplistic political ideas about dialogue” when she was younger, but in the next breath utters the very simplistic, “You know, an enemy is somebody whose stories you haven’t heard.”

I learned to like Klein through the biographical stretches of the profile. She rebelled against her parents when she was younger, and even after adopting their politics after two traumatic events in her teenage years, she was capable of being “discouraged about the state of the left.” To this day, she “distrusts centralization, institutions, platforms, theories...” And she says, “Marches depress me. Going for a walk and chanting -- I get nothing out of it.” I can work with all of that.

But inevitably, the piece gets around to her actual beliefs and arguments, which I find illogical at best and paranoid at worst. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine, argues that capitalism and freedom are not compatible, and that people will only accept true free-market policies when they are in a state of shock following a disaster. Even granting (generously) that Klein is talking mostly about a particularly unrestrained form of capitalism -- the Devil in her theology is Milton Friedman, the strident opponent of government regulation who died in 2006 -- she still ties herself in knots to make her argument.

On the magazine’s web site, there’s an audio interview with the writer of the profile, Larissa MacFarquhar, and at one point she’s asked if Klein is something of a conspiracy theorist. “Yes and no,” MacFarquhar answers.

Well, how “no,” you might wonder. Ready?
"She would never describe herself as a conspiracy theorist."
And how "so"?
“On the other hand, she does believe that there is a cabal of economists, who originated in Chicago, and who were trained by either Friedman himself or Friedman’s acolytes, and who went forth into the world . . . and became friendly with many unsavory politicians . . . and she believes they worked with these politicians to either take advantage of crises or precipitate crises in order ot enact these free-market reforms.”
I see.

Klein’s husband, the son of prominent Canadian Socialists, says, “Naomi is a pattern recognizer. Some people feel that she’s bent examples to fit her thesis. But her great strength is helping people recognize patterns in the world, because that’s the fundamental first step toward changing things.”

It’s also the fundamental first step toward full-blown paranoia, when the pattern takes precedence over the facts. And to me, Klein's lazy thinking (presumably necessary to cram the world's data into a snappy book-and-tour idea) is dangerous to her own cause. Unlike a conspiracy theorist who believes that three men on the surface of Jupiter control Earth through messages encoded on magazine subscription cards -- and who is thus only believed by his cousin Cletus, once he defines "encoded" for him -- Klein has a real platform. And in not dealing with the need for regulation of capitalism, or arguing for a combination of social safeguards and free-market theory -- in pitching everything at such a hysterical level -- she's probably turning some people toward the unthinking embrace of markets that rightfully worries her.

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Blogger Manny said...

What does genealogy and parents' beliefs have to do with the final form their offspring's thoughts are taking? I can dig up many examples that show the contrary happens in the development of a free and rational mind (Obama; my father who was a child of a Christian fundamentalist who ended up as a Christian Scientist dabbling in theosophy; me; you).

Red herring?

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Shock Doctrine is the most thoroughly discredited public policy book of the last 10 years. It’s been destroyed by right-wing statists, left-wing statists (e.g., the New Republic), and even non-statists (e.g., Cato). It is truly astounding that anyone still takes this woman seriously. She’s Mao in makup — just the kind of smiley-faced statist that George Carlin warned us about. Much more dangerous than the socialists in the tanks.

10:25 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Manny, that's a good question. I meant it just as background in this one case, not as evidence. The subject of how parental belief systems impact children (and their belief systems when they become adults) is really interesting to me. It seems like a very complex (perhaps complex to the point of overwhelming the systematic analysis of it) issue.

10:40 AM  

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