Klein spoke to a packed house about how governments can use shock to initiate change.
Katy Anderson/the Gauntlet

Naomi Klein shocks Calgary

Klein comes to town to talk about her new book The Shock Doctrine

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Sold out days before the event, Naomi Klein took to the stage Mon. night to an impressively jam-packed Knox United Church for a pre-WordFest appearance. From the large projector screen hanging in the background to the merch table beside the stage, the buzzing venue looked more like a rock concert than a presentation for her latest book: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Surprised and elated with the large turnout, Klein proceeded to warn the audience that she was not going to spout any conspiracy theories, and that, unlike the "young marketers" who told her all about the great tips they picked up in her last international best-seller No Logo, she hoped there were no executives in-house that were hoping to gain some insider advice on how to improve their business.

"I must make it clear that this is not a how-to guide," laughed Klein. "It's a book about a philosophy of power used by elite individuals and organizations."

 In The Shock Doctrine, Klein argued political leaders take advantage of the traumatic and disorienting effects war and natural disasters have on countries, cities, and their people. Immediately following such devastating events, these leaders impose radical free-market policies before the affected have time to regain their footing. What is worse is that most of the functions are normally left to public organizations to carry out these extreme policies and are being contracted out to private corporations.

"At this point, there are more people in Iraq working for private security firms like Blackwater than actual soldiers who are supposed to be performing the same duties," Klein pointed out.

She further explained these large multinational companies are using places like Iraq as their own private laboratories, experimenting with the notion of corporate rule. South America during the '70s, Eastern Europe in the '80s, Afghanistan in the '90s, and now places like New Orleans and Thailand were all examples Klein used to illustrate the reality of this corporate imperialism.

"When I was reporting in Afghanistan, the only thing I saw resembling any 'reconstruction' was a large billboard ad being hoisted up by a crane," said Klein. "While I was driving on the highways, you could see trucks with priceless art speeding out of the country while trucks loaded up with plasma TVs headed in."

According to Klein, The Shock Doctrine involves three notable stages, or "shocks," conducive to successful therapy. First, there is the "shock and awe" of military warfare. This involves targeting public institutions and innocent civilians in order to instill fear and chaos. Secondly, there is an "economic shock therapy" conducted to exploit the first shock. Klein used the transition from Iraq as a tightly guarded economy to one resembling the "wild, wild west". Third, there is the "physical shock" of torture to send a clear message to the public. The controversial Blackwater security issues in Baghdad were clear examples of this, explained Klein.

The ideas for these extreme new measures were brought to life and "kept warm" by massive think tanks, of which Klein made clear she is not huge fan.

"Think tanks are people who are paid to think by people who make tanks," Klein said.

There wasn't a dull moment during the two hour-long presentation, as Klein bounced back and forth from talking about her book, to her recent documentary The Take in Argentina, which she made with husband Avi Lewis, and to some interesting debates with the likes of Allen Greenspan. The evening concluded with a video presentation and book signing, and a quote from poet William Yeats intended to get Albertans moving.

"'The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,'" Klein finished. "We need to get so- me passionate intensity."