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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Why Do I Hate Naomi Klein So Much?

In various odd corners of the Internet I have been accused recently of an unjustified dislike for professional leftist Naomi Klein (See, here and here.) 

Why do I dislike her so much? 

Because I believe that "What is the proper size and scope of government?" is an empirical question. Klein disagrees:

But what we know from the 1930s is that what it takes to do battle with fascism is a real left. A good chunk of Trump’s support could be peeled away if there were a genuine redistributive agenda on the table.

Did the 1930s teach us that? No, they did not. It helps if you know that her grandparents were Stalinists. When she says "real left" she is describing a category that conflates FDR with Joseph Stalin. The main point is that Naomi Klein starts with the thesis that "the real left" is the answer to our problems and then sets out to describe a world defined by ideological battles between the real left and the forces of "neoliberalism." Imposing your ideas upon the world is not the same as understanding how the world works by investigating it and developing ideas.

If the myths we tell ourselves about how we use our rational brains to figure things out, make good choices, and pursue our goals were true, then the empirical nature of all political choices would be so obvious as to render the thousands upon thousands of Klein's published words to be the almost coherent and strangely compelling ramblings of a madwoman. Reconciling to myself why they are not is, more or less, my personal quest to understand the human condition. 

At bottom, I think the confusion is down to the way the Enlightenment dominates our thinking, giving us Newtonian metaphors for Darwinian processes. This comes across most strongly in the area of causation. 

In Newton's world, we can ask: 

1. Why is this billiard ball rolling across this table? 

How do we answer? We look at the ball and notice it's black, adorned with the number 8, and moving at a quick pace toward a corner pocket. After a quick deduction we find the cue ball, rolling gently in a direction tangential to that of the 8 ball. Another deduction leads us to the wooden cue which guides our eyes straight to the face of our friend Joe. Our memory chimes in to remind us we heard the words "8 ball, corner pocket" moments ago and we arrive at an inescapable conclusion:

2. The billiard ball is moving like that because Joe moved the cue to strike the cue ball sending it to a collision with the 8 ball, and that ball, in turn, toward its destination in the corner pocket.  

But, a moments reflection upon our own thoughts reveals that's not quite right. The actual conclusion we reach is:

3. The billiard ball is moving that way because Joe wants it to move that way and we then judge that Joe successfully acted on his intention to move the ballot that way. 

In a Newtonian world, then, we can trace back from what we observe to their ultimate causes and those causes can be simple human intentions. Thus, for Klein, we observe the chaos in Iraq and know that we can trace it back to the human intention that caused it:

These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy. Sometimes, when the first two shocks don’t succeed in wiping out resistance, a third shock is employed: the electrode in the prison cell or the Taser gun on the streets.


The Shock Doctrine follows the application of these ideas through our contemporary history, showing in riveting detail how well-known events of the recent past have been deliberate, active theatres for the shock doctrine, among them: Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, the Falklands War in 1982, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Asian Financial crisis in 1997 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

But the world we live in is human and therefore described by the science of Charles Darwin, not Isaac Newton. Klein's way of thinking is literally identical to the anti-science evangelical nonsense known as Intelligent Design:

Biochemistry textbooks and journal articles describe the workings of some of the many living molecular machines within our cells, but they offer very little information about how these systems supposedly evolved by natural selection. Many scientists frankly admit their bewilderment about how they may have originated, but refuse to entertain the obvious hypothesis: that perhaps molecular machines appear to look designed because they really are designed.

The Shock Doctrine presents a series of crucial events and posits that they had to happen for a reason, specifically, that the people in power were intentionally applying "shock therapy" to achieve a desired result:

At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts.... New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened….

These events are exactly parallel to the various aspects of life on earth which Intelligent Design asserts could not possibly have just happened, but instead all happened for the same reason: an intelligent creator intended them to happen as part of his design. Instead of the regulation of oil extraction in post war Iraq, we have the flagella of bacteria:

The flagella of bacteria are a good example. They are outboard motors that bacterial cells can use for self-propulsion. They have a long, whiplike propeller that is rotated by a molecular motor. The propeller is attached to the motor by a universal joint. The motor is held in place by proteins that act as a stator. Other proteins act as bushing material to allow the driveshaft to penetrate the bacterial membrane. Dozens of different kinds of proteins are necessary for a working flagellum. In the absence of almost any of them, the flagellum does not work or cannot even be built by the cell.

The bottom line in both cases is exactly the same: no one planned the world we live in, no one intended it to work out this way. Evolution by natural selection results in a world populated by the things that did not die. The complex ecology of human culture and social reality results in a world characterized by the fundamentally unpredictable results of individual actions. The guiding principle of those actions is not dying.

The Unbearable Trumpness Of Trump

Not Moderate, Rather, Reality Based