January 5, 2008

"Shock" comparisons

If we could all take the time to read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (New York: Henry Holt, 2007), we’d be in a much better position to assess what’s happened to our profession this past decade and begin the task of reclaiming our once viable position in this society – alongside many other professionals, of course, whose jobs have also been diminished by the far right.

I don’t know if Ms Klein coined the term “disaster capitalism” herself, but she certainly presents a comprehensive world-view picture of it in the introduction to this book.

As so many know by now, what she suggests is that a country traumatized by a shocking event, like a natural disaster or a man-made one such as 911, will be “softened-up” and ripe for the picking by capitalist profiteers.

That is how the shock doctrine works: the original disaster ... puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. ... Shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect. (p.17)
Klein attributes the “shock” strategy of what she calls "fundamentalist" capitalism to the economist Milton Friedman, who died a little over a year ago. She reminds us that it was this lauded intellectual, a Nobel prizewinner no less, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "[Hurricane Katrina] is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”

According to Ms Klein,

By the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans ... it was clear that this was now the preferred method of advancing corporate goals: using moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering. (p.8)

[Ex-CIA operative] Mike Battles puts it best: “For us, the fear and disorder offered real promise.” (p.9)

For the word "country" in her analysis, we can easily substitute the entire system of public education in the city of New York — not only the many thousands of its employees, but the millions of parents and children who need to use it. (And we all know that doesn't mean every parent and child in this newly polarized society.)

Joel Klein’s multiple and devastating reorganizations of the school system have softened all of us up: administrators, educators, parents and students alike. Without any familiar systems, rules, administrative personnel, or contracts to get us through the chaos of these successive remodelings, we flounder, fall, slink off, and fail.

And this is exactly what BloomKlein and their conspirators have planned for the city all along: less presence and political clout from the rank-and-file and the users of the system, and a virtual partnership with the corporations, private contractors, and hired technocrats with whom they will be doing business from now til kingdom come.

In the wake of this destablizing transition, even the new hires are counted upon to be “temps” — not to be nurtured all that much now and not to be thanked later on down the road, but to remain forever expendable in a system that doesn’t deliver what it’s supposed to and supports nothing that any of us can value.


  1. The UFT doesn't choose the presidential candidate to support. Our national affiliate does, the AFT.

  2. Thanks for the correction. People always talk about RW backing the wrong political candidates, so I assumed she had the final say. I've corrected the Edwards endorsement in the sidebar to remove that mistake.