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Friday, September 14, 2007

Culture vulture

Someone gave me a ticket to a lecture by Naomi Klein at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank. I felt that I was overdue for some cultural stimulation -- and I'd caught her being toasted by Diane Coyle on the Today programme earlier in the week (which will undoubtedly feature as a sinister incident in a Klein book) -- so I went along to hear her expound on her book ""The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism". The central idea of the book -- I deduce from the lecture since I haven't read the book, probably won't bother now -- is that the CIA did some experiments on shocking people into regressing so that they could be come "blank slates" to be written anew and that radical capitalism looks for countries shocked so that they can rewrite them into supporting the free market liberalism of Milton Friedman et al. It seems a superficial thesis, and if it shows anything, it shows how little contemporary "left" opinion is connected to real politics. The evening began with a short film made by the guy who made "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (which, as an aside, I have to say is one of the few genuinely erotic films I've ever seen) with some animations about the CIA torturing people intercut with stock footage of 9/11, the miner's strike and the Chilean coup of 1973 (which is the sort of Year Zero of the book). Then Naomi spoke about the topic, then there was a discussion with a moderator and some questions from the audience (including one guy who wondered if Henry VIII's excommunication from the Catholic church might be an example for her to consider).

She's a very good speaker, naturally, so she held my attention for quite some time before I realised that I wasn't really following any narrative thread and had lost the plot of her central thesis. It took someone much cleverer than me, the moderator Madeline Bunting, to put her finger on the problem. In the discussion that followed the talk, she said (I paraphrase) that crisis and opportunity are tightly bound and that politicians always see crisis as opportunity, and that sometimes they will be politicians that you (ie, Ms. Klein) agree with, and sometimes they won't be. That's pretty much it.

The most interesting remarks came, as they always do, in the question & answer session. Naomi was talking about the Asian tsunami and said that in one country -- I didn't pick up which one -- people worked together well immediately after the disaster but that things fell apart when the government arrived to take charge of the reconstruction and the aid agencies arrived to infantilise the population. I would have thought that this would have been entirely in accordance with the predictions of Hayek and the rest of the "Chicago boys" as she called them.

One of the questioners said something like "all the people here agree with you so how do we get the message out of the room to the public" or something like that. I thought to myself: "agree with what"? That Iraq is a mess? Sure. That Mrs. Thatcher was re-elected in 1983 because of the Falklands War? Couldn't say, but it's not obvious. That Allende would have been better for Chile than Pinochet? How should I know? (Although I have to say that the only actual Chilean that I've ever asked about this told me that Chile was a good country now because of Pinochet, so I don't know what to believe.) All I know about Allende is that he thought that homosexuality was a pathology and that gay men could be cured by operating on their stomachs.

I enjoyed the evening, though. I shall make more of an effort to go along in the future, although probably not in the near future.


In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

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