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The confusion doctrine

BY CHRISTOPHER PATTON | FEBRUARY 20, 2009 7:34 AM

Naomi Klein revealed through her demeanor a solid sense of self-confidence as she took the stage to speak at the IMU on Wednesday. Proving her rhetorical prowess, she skillfully directed her audience’s palpable populist indignation against her carefully chosen target: free-market economics.

But beneath their pseudo-intellectual facade, Klein’s central theses are cynically hollow and propped up primarily by blatant equivocation. However, that makes no difference to her. Her aim in her presentation is not to persuade through logical argument but to mobilize ideological foot soldiers to join her faction in the class struggle she advocates. And at that, she is a master.

Roughly halfway into her talk, I realized it was wrong of me to approach the experience as I would a lecture by a serious scholar who engages in rigorous empirical analysis. It’s far more useful to think of her as a performer in a spectacle, like the matador in a bullfight. However, in this case, the audience also plays the role of the bull.

Just as a matador excites a bull by flapping his red cape, Klein brings her crowds to a slow boil with torrid tales of corruption and malevolence in right-wing governments. In both cases, the feelings are well-deserved. Bulls instinctively attack the matador’s flapping cloth as he uses it to harass them.

And people would have to be devoid of common decency not to be enraged by the wantonly cruel policies of fascist and quasi-fascist regimes whether they be seated in Santiago, Chile, or in Washington, D.C. But the matador tricks the bull, getting it to charge through his cape and into thin air. Likewise, Klein’s fans end up channeling their righteous anger in the wrong direction. In both cases, it’s a bait and switch.

During her presentation at the UI, she focused on three uniquely horrific examples of the Bush administration’s many misdeeds.

In the international realm, she laid out a damning argument regarding the neoconservatives’ bad faith in pushing for the invasion of Iraq and the abysmal job they did in supposedly attempting to reconstruct the Middle Eastern country after deposing its previous leadership. Also, she used New Orleans as case study in the inability of the Bush administration to even provide effective disaster relief domestically. Finally, she focused in on the ongoing federal government’s bank-bailout programs, which she accurately identified as a massive plutocratic raid on America’s treasury.

There’s really is no question that her arguments against neoconservatism are dead-on. But after she’s laid all the groundwork necessary to thoroughly skewer quasi-fascist, corporatist thugs such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, she engages in a quick sleight of hand. Rather than delivering the much-deserved coup de grâce against the craven war criminals whose actions she has spent so much time exposing, Klein suddenly shifts the blame to the ideas of free-market economists. And, just as she intended all along, her audience lunges forward like an angry bull and blames them as well, not seeming to notice that the corporatist crimes she has been using to rile them up are in fact diametrically opposed to actual free-market principles.

But why the act?

Though I can’t read her mind, her goals aren’t too hard to guess. As a left-wing statist ideologue, she isn’t interested in limiting government power. Instead, she just wants to co-opt it for her own purposes. She doesn’t believe that the neoconservatives made such a mess of the world because they attempted unrealistic top-down social engineering. Rather, she just seems to think that they pursued the wrong ends. Thus, she has no interest in taking seriously the idea that state power is inherently dangerous and problematic.

By directly discrediting right-wing statists such as the kleptocrats who ran the Bush administration into the ground and then proceeding to assert that free-market advocates such as libertarians are equally to blame for the current disaster simply because Bush’s cronies made tortured use of some of their ideological jargon, Klein seeks to kill two birds with one stone. And, she seems to presume, succeeding in sufficiently conflating libertarianism with neo-conservatism will leave the masses thinking their only remaining option is her brand of left-wing statism.

But those who truly pay attention can see what she’s up to. So don’t be fooled. She is absolutely correct that corporatism is destroying America, but socialism wouldn’t serve us any better. The real solution is to empower people to determine their own destinies. And the best way to do this is to expand liberty in all aspects of our lives — both social and economic.


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