Preserving the Fabric of Our Society as They Roll Out the Shock Doctrine

The economist Milton Friedman, along with F. Hayek, is one of the villains of Naomi  Klein’s book. According to her, Friedman has stated that “only a crisis — actual or  perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.” Friedman believes that during a  crisis, we only have a brief window of opportunity before society slips back into the “tyranny of the status quo,” and that we need to use this opportunity or lose it.

This is actually sound advice and in my view the strategy Western survivalists should follow. When I first started writing as Fjordman I focused on how to “fix the system.” I’ve gradually come to the conclusion that the system cannot be fixed. Not only does it have too many enemies; it also contains too many internal contradictions. If we define the “system” as mass immigration from alien cultures, Globalism, multiculturalism and suppression of free speech in the name of “tolerance,” then this is going to collapse. It’s

The goal of European and Western survivalists — and that’s what we are, it is our very survival that is at stake — should not be to “fix the system,” but to be mentally and physically prepared for its collapse, and to develop coherent answers to what went wrong and prepare to implement the necessary remedies when the time comes. We need to seize the window of opportunity, and in order to do so, we need to define clearly what we want to achieve. What went wrong with our civilisation, and how can we survive and hopefully regenerate, despite being an increasingly vulnerable minority in an often hostile world?

— Anders Behring Breivik’s Manifesto, speaking of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine

I suggested the other day that there’s a more fundamental lesson we ought to take in the face of inexplicable violence, rather than just what ideology the perpetrator adhered to. That is, guns and explosives, mixed with a threat to a person’s dignity, can have catastrophic results, regardless of ideology.

But there is an area where ideology is critical: staving off the collapse of the fabric of our society.

Since I left FireDogLake, I’ve been reading more books than I have in years. Partly as a result, I’ve had a curious distance from the negotiations on the debt limit. It has been like watching a really ugly train wreck from 1,000 feet in the air, seeing in advance it’d be ugly, but sustaining a sick curiosity about whether it would be merely horrible, or really, really horrible.

Because (as Paul Krugman has suggested) what our elected representatives in DC are arguing over, really, is whether we’re going to willingly and deliberately launch further into a Depression gradually, or with real gusto.

Meanwhile, the other thing that has been coming slowly into view at my imagined 1,000 foot perch is the ideology of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist. For a summary, go here or here (added: or here or here). But as you can see, he–like some others–embraces the idea of using crises to change society, in his case, in radical, terrible ways.

As it happens, two of the books I’ve been reading use different approaches to show what a mess the US is already in. One–still in manuscript–continues the Kevin Phillips tradition, contextualizing shadow economic stats within a narrative of how, over the last 35 years, America has been gutted.

The other, Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, tells the stories–with narratives and images–of what the collapse of America looks like at the individual level (I highly, highly recommend it). The authors–reporter Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael Williamson–describe what it means for the $7 earned from giving blood to be a big deal. They describe a lot of hunger. And they describe more and more people who used to live “in the house on the hill” falling into such straits.

There’s one story that really hit home as I watched the debt crisis and Breivik’s ideology play out. It dates to a reporting trip Maharidge and Williamson made in the early Reagan years, their first effort to chronicle the collapse of America.They spent a day at a work camp in Texas run by a “foundation” that picks up down and out men and induces them to sign up for a month at the work camp as a way to get them off the street (and also as a way to make $1,000/day off of their unpaid labor). Maharidge describes the thinking of one of the guys who was about to willingly stay past his 30 day commitment.

“Okay weasels,” Foxface announced, “now fill it back up.”

We set to work regarding the reloading the truck by hand, forming teams that passed debris.

“I hate this shit,” Jay said.

It was a contradiction I couldn’t understand. Jay felt enmity, but he was terrified of what he called “the outside.”

“But don’t you fell they are ripping you off?” I asked.

Jay scratched at the hard ground with a foot, scraping at the dust. When he looked back up, he said, “No-o-o.” He paused.” “No.”

I shut up.

I realized what I was seeing: this was a man who had given up, utterly.


He had arrived here a destroyed man, beaten by life and the vagaries of the economy. Now he seemed brainwashed, like the cult members I’d written about for the newspaper. Like a cult, the foundation was exploiting his weakened state of mind in order to manipulate him. The work camp practiced classic sleep deprivation: it worked men hard and then roused them after just a few hours’ sleep to do it all over again, seven days a week. Jay said this was how it had been for the previous thirty days.

One must be defeated to be controlled.

That was 30 years ago. But if anything, our society has embraced such approaches to social control in more and more areas of life. It’s certainly the kind of thing we can expect to see more of, as this Depression gets worse. Particularly given the way Republicans and many Democrats have refused to offer an alternative.

And to some degree, this is where our focus needs to be. Progressives have been pretty impotent trying to combat the Depression-embracing policies of DC’s politicians. Saving Social Security and Medicare (maybe) may be our only win on this train wreck. And while in the medium term, I think Progressives can shift the way our society thinks about taxes–and specifically, taxing the really rich, and while I think if the corporatists don’t succeed in entirely shutting down elections, we might vote a lot of them out next year, there’s not much we can do politically at the moment.

Meanwhile, those aiming to take advantage of crisis have gotten their wish and they’ve been preparing–whether far right or “just” neoliberal–a range of policies to capitalize. Yet, if this front page article in the hometown of one of the guys most active in pushing this crisis is any indication, folks aren’t necessarily going to fall for it. Even in West Michigan, people know when they’re being looted.

But to get there–to make it through this crisis without the Breiviks of the world getting their way–we’re going to have to limit the number of people who end up like Jay, quite literally embracing his slavery. Americans are pissed off and are beginning to fight back–but we have to make sure they fight, and fight in constructive ways, rather than give up.

48 replies
  1. quake says:

    Maybe if FOX-TV and the Murdoch print empire is broken up there will be fewer cheerleaders for this race back to the late 1800s, but it’s picked up so much momentum it seems hard to stop it…. Or as Dr. McCoy might have said, “it’s America, Jim, but not as we know it.”

  2. DWBartoo says:

    EW, these measured and philosophic posts, reflecting a calmer pace of “production”, are of critical importance to a civil society, or its possibility.

    As always, many thanks for your most-effective efforts to encourage reason, tolerance, and understanding.


  3. Desider says:

    Uh, Naomi Klein really said that, Milton Friedman is the enemy because he said crisis produces opportunity?

    Buckminster Fuller said the same thing, that he had to have smart solutions readily available for when a crisis hit so that people would then be willing to adopt them. This can be done intentionally or by accident – I don’t think the Japanese planned the 1973 oil embargo, but those cute gas-efficient little Hondas made a lot of sense suddenly.

    But I imagine this nutcake has shaken everything up and misquoted most of his references to make it pretty useless to follow him exactly.

  4. merkwurdiglieber says:

    Reserving time to read book length text is essential for proper context in the digital environment. A passing reference in a book can open a perspective onto the present that is not on offer anywhere else. One I came across is the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School and the 1988 bestseller it produced Getting To Yes… process over any other consideration seems the salient aspect of the lack of leadership concerning real people and the real value of the stake real people have in the current takeover shock. There was an opportunity to lead by an earlier advocacy model but it was not taken by design, arbitrage is the vogue, at least from the neoliberal center.

  5. RAM says:

    And if there’s no handy crisis to exploit, you can always manufacture one. Giving credit where it’s due, Obama seems pretty adroit at this, and the right wing–formerly the Republican Party–also does an excellent job.

    But at least when the right manufactures a crisis–see Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan–it’s often a catalyst for activism. It’s just soul-destroying to see those who ought to be looking out for the people’s interests working so industriously to destroy them.

  6. Kathryn in MA says:

    Lack of leadership may be a plus for us, if your POV is localizing and reskilling. Hugely paraphrased as my computer is too balky to allow me to go search;

  7. Kathryn in MA says:


    If we wait for leaders to act, it will be too late,
    If we act as individuals, it will be too little,
    But if we act as a community, it may be just enough, just in time.”

  8. MadDog says:

    An interesting post EW!

    I don’t disagree with your observations. My own analogy is:

    “…We’re all riding a toboggan down an incredibly steep and dangerous mountainside, and it’s going faster and faster. We bounce off boulders, we slam into trees, we hurtle over cliffs. We can’t seem to stop it, and we’re too afraid to jump off…”

    That said, what I myself observe is that there are no progressive leaders at hand with the talent to save us, or even stop the “toboggan ride”.

    What I fear is that whatever “leadership” eventually appears, progressive or otherwise, will only be after, and as a result of, that “toboggan ride” ending in its inevitable crash.

  9. MadDog says:

    OMD! – Translation: Oh My doG! It seems one of our favorites is back.

    Blockquoting is alive and well and Rancho Emptywheel!

  10. MadDog says:

    In response to my own # 6, the favorite I surely need now is “Preview”. Aaaarrrggghhh! :-)

  11. merkwurdiglieber says:

    What I meant by leadership was the abandoned FDR model. Local leadership is essential, but if no backup is coming at the state or national level no real progress can be widespread, just survival.

  12. der says:

    The Rahm interview invites a look at his 5 key reforms: Health Care; Energy; Taxes; Education; Financial Regulation. The view from my Urban Hell Hole results in a grade of D+. And Rahm’s “more effective government?” The fight our politicians are now in is answer enough.

    I don’t see how anything good comes from any of their Shock Doctrine/Depression approaches. Financial Regulation did not address in any serious way Wall Streets derivative bets, a house built of straw rising out of the rubble of bricks Pecora used. We are the world’s consumer who’s tapped out on our HELOC, maxed on the credit cards, and bailed out for the last time by mom and dad. We’re broke. And with leaders like up by his bootstraps LePage loving that 50 private jets have landed in Maine (, a state with 8% unemployment or 55 thousand people looking for work, the hope that our leaders have a vision for the future and are not just impressing us with their reform talk is all but lost.

  13. klynn says:

    MD @ 10:

    You need to come and toboggan with me and my kids. The first safety rule I teach them is how to “roll off” when the ride is too fast and heading towards a tree.

    Roll off MD, roll off! And NEVER be afraid! It is pretty amazing to watch the toboggan continue on its’ own down the hill…Without the “people weight” it seems to slow and come to a stop.

  14. der says:

    Also. Too. Deflation. When nobody can afford the crap they’re selling then the price needs to go somewhere and up isn’t the way. Shock Doctrine turning on itself.

  15. Kathryn in MA says:

    Survival is good, especially if the overwhelming motifs are train wreck, out of control toboggans we’re too scared to get off.
    Stand up. turn around, and now sit down and look forward to a future that makes sense. Different concepts of growth and progress.
    Google permaculture.

  16. klynn says:

    I think my fave tweet on your linmk was the one that read:

    @TheNewDeal TheNewDeal
    I Dedicate This Tweet to Every Working-Poor Republican Who Fights so Millionaires Can Have a Better Life. #FuckYouWashington #p2

  17. emptywheel says:

    Kathryn in MA

    Thanks for those points. Local resilience is where I think we need to go, partly bc of cliamte change/peak oil, but partly bc it seems the best way to combat this stuff and start rebuilding after globalization has gutted us.

  18. orionATL says:

    “… Americans are pissed off and are beginning to fight back–but we have to make sure they fight, and fight in constructive ways, rather than give up…”

    i sense this too. it is why i hold a small affection for the tea party republicans – benighted, manipulated, mislead though they be. they sense something is wrong in this country; they are are angry about that; and, in the proud american way, they are fighting back.

    it would be wonderful to see some masses of effectively angry democrats organized and fighting back, but, alas, i see little of that except in places like emptywheel and firedoglake.

    it does seem though that the only way to both be pissed off and get traction/attention is to be mad and pissed off within the strict limits set by the national security state – that is the tea party republicans’ bhig advantage, that and billionaire funding. they accept the limits imposed on their angry conduct by the national security state, a state that prominently includes corporate-controlled media.

  19. Katie Jensen says:

    Didn’t the people of Greece, and Libya manufacture a crises. Can’t we the people create the crises after we get our ideas together about how it’s gonna be. It doesn’t have to be a revolution with guns, but there are no slaves if we ban together. Never before have the words “we the people become more important”. There are ways we can create a crises…of our own, in our time…when we are ready aren’t there? A peaceful crises of course.

  20. Kathryn in MA says:

    TTFN – off to volunteer at farmers market. If your community already has a farmers market and bike paths, you’re already halfway there.

  21. Kathryn in MA says:

    PS to Michelle Obama – the ‘food deserts’ in urban areas don’t necessarily need to be filled with Walmarts. Farmers markets do the job even better.

  22. Pachacutec says:

    That somewhat detached vantage point of watching calamities unfold is one I’ve held pretty consistently since 2009. In that time, I’ve also been reading more books and history, adding augmenting my perspective.

    Welcome to the Horror Dome, Marcy!

  23. JTMinIA says:

    Here in Iowa City, I do not sense people getting ready to (really) fight back. Around here, New York Times liberals out-number progressives by a 3:1 ratio. They are quit content to sit back and watch the Democrats lose almost every petty battles; they are gearing up for four more years. It’s gotten to the point where I change the subject to anything other than politics at parties.

  24. radiofreewill says:

    Either the black-mailers of the Republican Party get exposed, or this bus is going off the cliff…

  25. Bob Schacht says:

    I think one thing we’re missing in dealing with the Shock Doctrine is with public education– I mean political education. As in media, newspapers, letters to the editor, local radio talk shows, and NPR/CPB. We’ve got to combat the Murdoch Media Conglomerate with substantive information tied to American values. Especially to combat the fear-mongering with community building.

    Bob in AZ

  26. MadDog says:

    Totally OT, but worth the read – Steve Aftergood over at Secrecy News has a piece up with some new stuff on the Sterling trial.

    I found the more interesting info was the transcript (45 page PDF) of the Risen motion to quash his subpoena.

  27. JThomason says:

    This is a really interesting post. The link between violence and econmics is really not so tenuous. The classic 19th Century notion of foreign policy equated national debt default with a causus bellus. By the logic we should maybe making application to the Chinese consulate for entry visas into California.

    And on some level the emergence of an international economic imbalance was a sound metric of a capacity to wage war, but of course this was in a pre-nuclear paradigm. Still the integration of common social values in populations that have been subdued by the abuses of violence against civilian populations remains as a problem. And the deployment of quantitative thinking to sociological dilemmas is not a newly recognized fallacy.

    Ironically, the historical earmark of the emergence of social decency has been economic abundance. And for me the framing of the dilemma suggests a mythic understanding of the differences in cultic behaviours not along a dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian manifestations but in a deeper understanding of the Hermetic. And this is perhaps only acheived in mytho-poetic education which higlights the extreme importance of the reasonable and rational in public discourse and exchange, and the extreme limits of this domain.

    And the bigger question for me is the question of where and how refuge will emerge in these times in distinction from the narcotizing and numbing solutions so readily offered in the fields of discourse rooted in fear, scarcity, shock and pathology.

  28. Sojourner says:

    If it was not so terrifying, I would love to just sit back on the sidelines with a bottle of wine and watch how all this plays out… Unfortunately, I am one of those who will likely wind up like Jay (and so many others) if this continues for too much longer.

    Just as an aside (and I cannot remember if I read this or heard this, or if it is my own theory), Clinton, Bush and now Obama have all expounded the concept of “privatizing” social security. In reality, I think this is seen as a method to really reinvigorate the economy… that is a hell of a lot of money that will go into play for investment and propping up the economy. I think that Bush, especially, was really keen on the idea because our economy was running out of juice and he did not want to be left holing the bag.

    Regardless, I sincerely hope that we all survive long enough to have elections next year and kick all of these bums out!

  29. JThomason says:

    Maybe California is safe for now:

    That’s because the debt to ourselves, over $9.747 trillion, is eight times the amount we owe China. The Chinese actually own about 8% of American debt, compared to the nearly 68% of the debt held domestically. Not to say that the $1.16 trillion we owe China isn’t real money. To be sure, the overall amount the U.S. is in debt to other countries is large: we owe $4.595 trillion of the overall $14.343 trillion to foreign states.

    China is actually the third biggest individual creditor to the U.S., behind the Social Security Trust Fund and the $2.67 trillion the government owes it, and the $1.63 trillion in Treasuries the Federal Reserve has purchased, many through a process called “quantitative easing,” used to increase the money supply in the financial system and subsequently stimulate the economy. Business Insider did a great rundown of the top holders of our debt, and right behind China is U.S. households with $959.4 billion in holdings. And so on.

  30. KPeterson says:

    Marcy, I’ve followed you for years. A transplanted Michigander now living overseas for nearly a decade. A graduate of Hope College you can imagine the perspective I was given, both theologically and politically.

    My first chuckle was on the New Transnational Crime Program. Sounds like Jack to me and we know whose wheels he spun for besides his own casino ambitions. Saipan sure was forgotten quickly.

    You finally posted some thoughts which got me out of the chair. After all, you brought me the Wilsons better than anyone else, gave insight through the hearings with Gonzao and your insightful crew, to name the more memorable moments. Yet I’d like to ask if you’ve ever read someone like reknowned historian Carroll Quigley, specifically Tragedy and Hope, who disregards the compartmentalization of events we so often see the world through and take a hard gander at why people like Naomi Klein, Anthony Sutton or John Perkins add validity to his works? Any thoughts are welcome as my view of the U.S., on the outside looking in, seems more holistic due to Quigley. I’m isolated from the intensity of mainstream media and society.

    Perkins is a fascinating read on the Economic Hitmen in third world countries. But nothing made this more clear than the award winning film in 2010, ‘Weight of Chains’. Two viewings of this documentary, struggling to grasp the magnitude of hard dosed reality. Then I unfortunately followed it up with ‘The Road To Guantanamo’, 2006. To realize the realities of being skewered. What will be the pinnacle to the existing Ponzi Scheme described by some economists? And more to the point, will the masses act or react?

  31. ed says:

    Here’s a sort of uplifting story to come out of the Norwegian massacre:,1518,776287,00.html

    And a connection to the Texas work camp:

    “Some of the teenagers seemed not to want to be saved by the campers from the other shore. They screamed “don’t come too close” or “do you want to kill us?” The reason only came to light the next day. “The attacker was so cynical that he called out to the young people and promised that he would save them,” a Norwegian man, who had likewise pulled people out of the water, says.”

  32. mgloraine says:

    Our house is on fire. There are two gangs of hired thugs pouring gasoline on it. Some of the thugs are wearing blue shirts, some are wearing red, but both gangs are deliberately destroying the house because their bosses want to take the land from us. What part of our house can be preserved? It’s not helpful to suggest that maybe a year or two from now we can do something about the fire, because, of course, the house will have burned down leaving nothing but ashes. Is it possible to drive both of the gangs away from the house VERY QUICKLY so that we can try to put out the flames? No, because the red gang has guns pointed at us, and the blue gang allowed the fire hydrant to be dismantled and fire department to be laid off.

    Looks to me like we’re totally screwed. Nothing can be preserved. It’s already gone.

  33. MickSteers says:

    Our political classes are so thoroughly owned by moneyed interests, it seems only a massive populist uprising can re-balance it. The problem is that the two parties are never going to become the venue for change as their interests are currently well served.

    I see no possibility of igniting the populace without further pain. Tinkering around the government/corporate edifice with tiny victories among huge capitulations seems a recipe for a slow, inexorable decline.

    I harbor this fantasy, that liberals, progressives and moderates could simply force the Tea-GOP to get everything they say they want. Force them to live up to their stated desire to strangle government in a bathtub. Once the corporate welfare stopped, the farm subsidies disappeared and the regulations vanished – how long would their iron-clad ideology, and their hold on the reins of power last?

    How many of their sons and daughters shut out of higher education, or grannies moving in with the folks would it take until funding education and social security started to look like a pretty good bargain?

    Sure this seems a bit nihilistic, and the poor would suffer most, but how much different (and likely intractable) is our current devolution?

  34. tejanarusa says:

    Great piece, Marcy; so thoughtful. I can actually tell the difference from your more frenetic pace at FDL.
    I’ve been trying to back off and read on paper and between covers, too…tho’ some of it quite escapist-fiction.

    to 6.- murkweigleider- You may have just answered a question I’ve been asking for awhile; how did Obama graduate from Harvard LS w/ such terrible negotiation skills? If “process over any other consideration” is what they teach there, then that might just explain a LOT. He seems to care only about making some kind of a deal, and the heck with the substance of the deal, or who it hurts, just be successful at the process.

    Across the river, a few years earlier, that was not how I was being taught to negotiate. The client’s most valued goal was what came first. Of course, that was in the clinical program, where our clients were poor people.
    but if

  35. tejanarusa says:

    Oops. Obviously, I messed up the html tags. Only “not” in that sentence was meant to be emphasized!!

  36. Ian Welsh says:

    Yes, the thousand foot stare is one I understand. I don’t follow the details on most of this stuff anymore, because in the not very long run it doesn’t matter. All that’s being “negotiated” is the speed of the collapse.

  37. merkwurdiglieber says:

    Google the Harvard Negotiation Project and you get a dedicated website at Harvard Law School. This was their accommodation to the mid-80’s Reagan Washington Consensus that Naomi Klein explains as the false center of current American politics. Obama is trained as an arbitrage attorney, not an advocate, that was no longer tolerated by the establishment that had made it’s peace with the Reaganite “center”. He expects rationality from them in the process and really has no inclination or training in advocacy, postmodern Democrat is the only conclusion… advocacy is left to the voter, if you get to vote.

  38. DeepHarm says:


    I strongly recommend that everyone read Bruce Levine’s latest book, “Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.”

    It is the best I have read in terms of offering strategies for change.

Comments are closed.