Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Doug Henwood on the crisis and The Shock Doctrine

Last week, the New Utrecht branch of the Brooklyn Public Library hosted a talk on the economic crisis and possible ways out of it by the economist and writer Doug Henwood. Here's part one of his remarks:


And here's part two:


Henwood has also written a penetrating critique of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine which points out its flaws from a left-wing point of view. I highly recommend that you check it out and let us know what you think in the comments.

Henwood edits Left Business Observer and is a contributing editor of The Nation. His books Wall Street and After the New Economy are both available through the BPL catalog.


Anonymous said...

Looking at Klien's Shock Doctrine one wonders if human beings are reasonable organisms-- statistically speaking. Philosophers such as Schopenhauer have offered important insights to intrpret this constant cycle of violence and exploitation in human history and current affairs. Instincts rule the human mind and become more subtle with increase in complexity, competition, technology and general advance of civilization. But it’s the same old business of mean selfish genes and primitive motives therein which determine parenting practices to curriculum planning to political rhetoric to media sound bites to foriegn policies. Personal/Tribal security and power are the real sources of human motivation, be it history or post-modernity. Reason is mere window-dressing for primitive human motives. It is the clothes our naked hungers put on when they go out in public. Schopenhauer sees reason as weak and insignificant compared to blind instincts. He compares the human intellect to a lame man who can see, but who rides on the shoulder of the instincts. Likening human life to the life of other animals, he saw the reproductive cycle as a cyclical process that continues pointlessly and indefinitely, unless the chain is broken by too limited resources to make continued life possible. The famines in modern Africa offer proof. Schopenhauer moreover considers the desires of the will to entail suffering: because these selfish desires create constant conflict in the world. The business of biological life is a war of all against all. Reason makes us suffer all the more, in that reason makes us realize that biology's agenda is something we would not have chosen if we had a choice or wisdom, but is helpless to prevent us from serving it, or allow us to escape the sting of its goad.

Anonymous said...

Doug Henwood doesn’t understand that society is a power regime. It needs to survive, defend, maintain, and reproduce—and brainwash the next generation into more or less the same agenda. The culture cultivates attitudes and behaviors that PRE-DISPOSE people to consent to PRE-ESTABLISHED ways of thought and conduct thus integrating individuals into a SPECIFIC socio-economic-political system. Media of all sorts in all cultures provide pivotal patterns and repeated narratives of proper and improper behavior, ideological conditioning and sugar-coating. Most free will believing individuals succumb—East or West. Naomi Klein, the Arundhati Roy of the West, seems to have read some non-bestselling books with discernment, has challenged hidden assumptions and cultivated objectivity as far as humanly possible. But such a well-educated mind is rare in any culture. Cultures mostly create Fox News kind of characters. Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch can be translated into all languages and it will ring true.

Chris Maisano said...

Anonymous 12:42:

If reason is weak and humans are largely the slaves of their base and beastly instincts, then how does one explain the development of social democratic welfare states and other political/economic arrangements that seek to protect all members of society from the worst aspects of the market and the base human instincts it is founded upon? How do you explain the effective socialization of something like water in many countries, which for centuries had been a precious resource and an object of unceasing warfare and intrigue? How do you explain movements to abolish slavery or the subjugation of women, which often drew the suppport of people not actually under the yoke of such oppression? I think that your perspective completely shuts out the other, better side of human nature and can lead us to a form of quietism that allows us to accept the way things are as natural and inevitable, when it doesn't have to be that way.

Anonymous 1:03:

I think that Doug Henwood very much understands that we live under what you call a "power regime." I couldn't post the entirety of his talk for technical reasons (my apologies, I wish I had been able to), but if I had been able to, you would have heard his explicit condemnation of the American ruling class (he's actually in the process of writing a book on the subject) as well as his proposals for reshaping the economy so that it is more fair and democratic. Also, I think that you underestimate people when you argue that the media brainwashes people to accept the status quo, and that's the end of it. Yeah, the media has tons of power to shape the way people think, and it's very effective in many ways, but then how do you explain those times in history when large numbers of people come to consciously reject the status quo and actively work to transform political, social and economic systems? I think that humans have much more agency and have a greater capacity to think and act for ourselves than you give us credit for. Perhaps I'm wrong, and we're doomed to march inexorably toward Idiocracy, but I've got more faith than that.

Anonymous said...

That is why I said statistically speaking. I agree with you but only partially. Tax payers of different nations forget how much they unwittingly unknowingly participate in the great game of violence, inequality, falsehood and injustice going on since the beginnings of time on this planet. When we think of progress, we have to look at "how much," and not just what. But humans naturally prefer feel-good stories to statistics. We usually seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas, and therefore often misperceive the world around us. The “mushroom cloud” kind of comments, or “kill the infidels” type of fatwas are so readily accepted by “free will” believing individuals across the globe. The conditioning and preparation that such xenophobic slogans will be readily accepted, begins rather early. We tend to oversimplify our thinking and know not how much our long-term memories, socially constructed in a given culture, influence our emotional and behavioral responses. We keep on believing in "free will" without noticing the complex unconsciousness at work within. The brain distorts reality in order to save us from the ego-destroying effects of failure and pessimism. The brain also routinely disapproves of other people’s behavior, while at the same time interpreting one’s own actions or of one's tribe’s in the best possible light. The brain also projects stereotypes onto others that reflect prejudicial beliefs rather than objective reality.
This “distorting prism” of our “vain brain,” is subject of many new books which should be part of anyone who hopes to think clearly. Cordelia Fine’s “Mind of its Own” is one among many similar books, which are making the revolutionary findings of neuroscience available to curious minds. Fine suggests that human brain will go to amazing lengths to bias perceptions in the perceiver’s favor. It biases memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflict less pain on our fragile egos and narcissistic self-image. It warps perceptions to match emotions. So “pigheaded” is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of evidence. The “secretive” brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. Never forget that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets.

Anonymous said...

Lessons of History by Will Durant offers some succint timeless insights in the Google Age, which Klien and Henwood should surely appreciate.

* The first rule of biology is that life is competition.

* War is a nations way of eating.

* That only real emancipation of man is individual.

* You can't fool all the people all of the time, but you can fool enough to run a large country (Abe Lincoln)

* If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all.

* Freedom and equality are everlasting enemies and when one prevails, the other dies.

* If the human brood is too numerous for the food supply, nature has three agents for restoring balance: famine, pestilence and war.

* The civilized soul will reveal itself in the treatment of every man and woman as a representative creation of the body of mankind.

Chris Maisano said...

Anonymous 3:56:

Again, if what you say is indeed true, then really what is the point of ever trying to make life on earth better for anybody? We might as well fold up our tents and call it a day, and retreat into a bunker of private life. I for one do not find that to be a particularly appealing vision of existence, and fortunately I don't think that it completely defines the human experience. Just to make some arguments some of your bullet points:

- Yes, competition is obviously a major component of human nature and of social life in most respects, but there are also aspects of life that show that cooperation is just as importance to the maintenance of human life. The old Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin wrote a book called Mutual Aid on this subject, and modern evolutionary biologists such as Stephen Jay Gould have recognized the validity of many of his claims.

- "Our economy of freedom" i.e. capitalism, has indeed failed on a number of occasions, and yes, the nightmare scenario that you mention has indeed come to pass before (i.e. Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy). But history offers other examples of when democratic forces also "persuasively promised security to all," the best example being the Swedish Social Democratic Party, who turned their active and democratic response to the Great Depression into almost 80years of uninterrupted power.

- Freedom and equality certainly exist in tension, but I reject the logic that casts it as a zero-sum game. Freedom and equality can indeed be balanced, and must be balanced if we want to live civilized lives. Again, the northern European welfare states have shown that this is indeed possible, and while I don't think that their systems can just be applied wholesale to other countries, we all have a lot to learn from their accomplishments.

- Individuals cannot be truly free unless the society in which they live is also free. To say that the only possible emancipation for humans is in their individual, private lives or in their consciousness strikes me as false. An individual can only be free unless he or she not only possesses political and personal freedom, but also social and economic rights that will allow him or her to enjoy those freedoms to the fullest. Individuals do not and cannot exist in isolation from the society around them. Presumably knowledge would be a key factor in attaining individual emancipation, but knowledge can only be created through society.

Anonymous said...

Chris Wrote: "Again, if what you say is indeed true, then really what is the point of ever trying to make life on earth better for anybody? We might as well fold up our tents and call it a day, and retreat into a bunker of private life."

I am not in fundamental disagreement which your thoughtful response, but instead of folding our tents, I am suggesting that we should re-search why human political behavior has not changed in any fundamental way despite the availability of immense technological and educational resources on the planet. The great books of the Western world, the great religions of the Eastern world, the great Wars of East and West, should have been enough to open our eyes to politics and pathologies of identity, greed and fear. But did they? I suggest that some fundamental changes in parenting, politics, education, economic, cultural and media practices are urgently called for--if humans have to evolve their positive potentials and stop playing the narcissistic games that their reptilian brains are pre-disposed to play.

The current monstrous military spending of world nations is but one evidence that this species doesn’t learn from the lessons of history. Modernity is neurosis (sometimes psychosis) in disguise. The unreasonable effectiveness of propaganda among belivers in free will, the unfortunate class and color consciousness (Obama is half-white), the subtle ideological and hegemonic basis of power politics, the mindless consumption of the toys of the tribe, do not make humanity’s 21st century resume look any better. Instead of improving education, we are resorting to refining lethal weapons and sound bites. Where is the outrage in free nations, O believers in free will. The problem is that if people keep on believing in myths such as "free will," they never know how human children are classically and operantly conditioned by political and narcissistic nature of curriculum and media. The ethnocentric and egocentric paradigm is still at work in households, schools, colleges, universities of all nations. You give the example of Western Europe but you might not want to know how the elite in those nations treat their “other.”

Anonymous said...

If Naomi Klein were the President of United States, she would have sent more teachers not troops to Afghanistan. Instead of having establishing army bases she would have opened good new schools and colleges. Afgahnis are suffering from illiteracy and ignorance, they will be reformed with books not bombs.

Anonymous said...

When the endorse in the U.S.?