Naomi Klein Prefers Complaining To Changing

This week's issue of The New Yorker contains a long profile of activist and author Naomi Klein by Larissa MacFarquhar that goes all the way back to her grandparents' Communist organizing roots in order to prove... something. But between anecdotes of her parents running away to Canada and trips to their summer home, what comes across is that Klein — like many liberal activists — comes from a background of privilege that allows her to advocate a kind of anarchy from the comforts of a home she's unlikely to even lose in foreclosure.

Klein is introduced to the reader through an introduction to another audience, one which is told

“To a different audience—to those that hold capital and power in this society—Naomi Klein’s words and her ideas are seen as a serious threat,” she said. “Her words are a source of inspiration . . . for those of us who were and are being radicalized by the anti-globalization, anti-colonial, and anti-poverty movements and the demands to change the system totally and completely.”

Although I doubt that "those that hold capital and power in this society" are actually threatened by Klein, she bounds on stage — dressed, it is noted, "for a fox hunt" — and crowing at the failure of the first bailout package.

Klein's happy that the government isn't going to bail out anyone (though it's not said how she feels about the passage of the later package) because it fits into her thesis that the owners of capital use (or manufacture) crises in order to exert more control over that capital by eliminating government interference.

Klein argues that the only circumstance in which a population would accept Friedman-style reforms [like the elimination of public goods and regulation] is when it is in a state of shock, following a crisis of some sort—a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a war. A person in shock regresses to a childlike state in which he longs for a parental figure to take control; similarly, a population in a state of shock will hand exceptional powers to its leaders, permitting them to destroy the regulatory functions of government.

As far as Klein was concerned, the grassroots outrage at the initial 3-page bailout legislation followed by the (she conveniently doesn't mention Republican) Congressional refusal to go along with it is how she would like to see the progressive movement take the reins of power.

It was passages like these that frankly pushed me over the edge from being annoyed by Klein to actively disliking her. Between a convenient habit of stretching the truth of a case to fit her thesis to advocating, in effect, distant anarchical protests, to then hating on the earnestness of her own audience (and family) and, finally, to claiming a love for M.I.A. on MTV to impress their demographic, I just started to truly wonder if she's in it to change anyone's world but her own. She's into protests for protests sake — as long as they aren't to earnest or too organized — because she wants them to disrupt society long enough to force change, no matter what the cost of that disruption. Worse yet, she doesn't see the irony in writing a book castigating the right for manufacturing or using crises to force their changes on an unwilling society while advocating that protesters and activists create crises to force people to accept the changes to society she's pushing. Her sole purpose appears to be to oppose things — from her mother's manner of dress to the bailout plan to other activists — without any introspection about what she does want, or how she plans to get it.

“I’m not a utopian thinker,” Klein says. “I don’t imagine my ideal society. I don’t really like to read those books, either. I’m just much more comfortable talking about things that are.”

What is the point of advocating for change if you don't know what change you want?

Outside Agitator [The New Yorker]

Image by Platon for the New Yorker