When it comes to the "Great Reset," Naomi Klein is offended. Her intelligence is insulted. Her legacy is tarnished. And she is here to correct the record.
As the sun set on 2020, Professor Klein stood up as the only adult in the room among those who research the machinations of multi-national corporations. The celebrated author excoriated all those sounding an alarm about The Great Reset program advanced by the World Economic Forum, the hypercapitalist organization notorious for its annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland. There was no evidence, she wrote in December, that the Great Reset promised to "turn the world into a high-tech dictatorship that will take away your freedom" through "a Big Pharma/GMO/biometric implants/5G/robot dog/forced-vaccine" agenda, as some on the "far left" claimed. Anybody who entertained the idea was just a useful idiot of Steven Bannon, serving up "an information-sh*t sandwich." It all adds up to a yucky "conspiracy smoothie" because the Great Reset is merely a linear progression from inconsequential WEF programs of the past, and the Forum itself is relatively insignificant.
Why such brusque dismissal and puerile invective from the public intellectual? Klein insists that the Reset is a desperate "lunge for organizational relevance," because the World Economic Forum is lacking in that apparently. This assertion is odd because the WEF counts among its partners Microsoft, BP, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations. Repeat visitors to Davos over the past three years include the world's most celebrated activist, Greta Thunberg, and its most prominent state leaders, including Donald Trump and President Xi of China. If this indicates a lack of relevance, what would being impactful look like?
Beyond "exaggerating" the significance of WEF, Great Reset analysis vexes Klein because it's "a bastardization of a concept" that she'd discovered, the "shock doctrine." She describes the shock doctrine as encompassing "the many ways that elites try to harness deep disasters to push through policies that further enrich the already wealthy and restrict democratic liberties." But as many critics of the theory have pointed out, the shock doctrine doesn't just portray establishment actors as harnessing catastrophe ex post facto, it chronicles them causing it to advance monopoly disaster capitalism. Klein has repeatedly applied it this way herself.
Klein's 2009 book on the subject includes the following examples of conspiracy: Jeffrey Sachs and the IMF deliberately forcing poor governments around the world to collapse their countries' social institutions through austerity so that the infrastructure could then be "rescued" (that is, bought up or infiltrated) by private investors; Margaret Thatcher instigating the Falklands War as a way to undercut labor unrest in the UK; and George W. Bush contriving the Iraq War as a pretext for imposing a pliant neoliberal economy and winning profits in military spending and oil concessions for his cronies. The extended metaphor she chose for the shock doctrine involves MK-Ultra, a Central Intelligence Agency program that secretly hired distinguished doctors and nurses to conduct torturous brainwashing experiments on unsuspecting mental patients; the healthcare workers actively destroyed the victims' psyches so that they could be built back better in a more malleable form.
Critics of the book pointed out that the shock doctrine sounded like a conspiracy theory. Klein was livid, and wrote a blog post debunking some of their lesser examples as straw men. But despite the 5000-word length of her piece, the author never rebutted the observation that her IMF, Falklands War, and Iraq scenarios were conspiratorial. Instead, she simply ignored them. This was an understandable strategy, as Klein's status as a pillar of the progressive establishment would be over if she explicitly stated that the actions of the elite not only have vicious consequences, but often malicious premeditated intent. Even fellow progressive Joseph Stiglitz called her "overdramatic and unconvincing" and "not an academic" in her analysis, while ex-UN official Shashi Tharoor wrote that Klein "is too ready to see conspiracies where others might discern little more than the all-too-human pattern of chaos and confusion..." "Conspiracism" won't just get you sneered at, but potentially labeled an anti-intellectual, an anti-Semite, a psychotic, and a fascist.
In 2021, concern about conspiracy theories has grown into a full-fledged moral panic fed both by the neoliberal establishment and by the respectable left. Social media companies now have a policy of censoring any post regarding the Great Reset; YouTube banned a Zero Books video that merely mentioned Reset theories to criticize them in terms similar to Klein's. Then there are the jibes made by Adam Curtis in his new documentary Can't Get You Out of My Head. Alongside a sensible warning about crediting the elite with omnipotence, Curtis oversells his opposition to unofficial narratives to the point of telling us not to do our own reasoning. "Pattern recognition" he tells us, is faulty thinking that leads to paranoia. The proof? Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney who prosecuted a JFK assassination-conspiracy trial, wrote a memo entitled "Time and Propinquity: Investigation in Phase One," where he told his staff to look for patterns of relationships among suspects. D.A. Garrison's project had many problems, but this wasn't one of them--pattern recognition is a standard part of forming hypotheses, and generating a hypothesis is the first step of the scientific method. (Curtis also chides that pattern recognition is the basis of artificial intelligence, forgetting he once made a documentary that discussed how the Aladdin AI system conquered the stock market for Blackrock through its 95% predictive accuracy.)
The real question is if it's possible to be a deep critic of power and not be a conspiracy theorist of some kind. Indeed, Klein's opponents could go much further with their accusations of conspiracism if they look at her more recent writing. Miriam-Webster defines conspiracy theory as a that which "explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators." Stated positions of Naomi Klein that meet this criteria include:
- That the Democratic Party secretly influenced "the media and culture industries" to downplay the dangers of climate change during the Obama era (On Fire, pg. 76).
- That Barack Obama and the Filipino government conspired to remove anti-business climate negotiators from the Paris summit to deliver a plan so conservative it was basically "everything the Bush administration wanted."
- That "an elite minority has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets."
"An elite minority has a stranglehold" over most of our major media outlets? I won't claim that Klein, Jewish herself, is being antisemitic here. I prefer not to jump to conclusions. But it is one of the oldest dog whistles in the book. One that led to the Holocaust.
That last observation has a powerful emotional effect that makes us recoil from Klein's claim. The reflex, ironically, is based on pattern recognition: The Nazis said X to falsely implicate the Jews; therefore anyone who says X is also implicating the Jews. It's a decent first hypothesis--"phase one" as Jim Garrison would say--because a segment of conspiracy theorists really are antisemitic. There are good reasons to dismiss it as a paradigm though. One is that this would also disqualify discussion of Israeli war crimes and cover-ups in Palestine, as many Zionists insist.
So Klein isn't opposed in principle to theorizing elite conspiracy. What then is her problem with investigating the Great Reset? Supposedly it's a "distraction" from the real Covid shock doctrine embodied by Andrew Cuomo's alliance with Silicon Valley oligarchs to "Reimagine Education" in New York. But looking at Klein's May 2020 discussion of Reimagine Education, we find facts that are fully complementary to treating the Great Reset as an exceptional threat. The present Bill Gates-Eric Schmidt takeover, she writes, is "Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters," as it "treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent--and highly profitable--no-touch future." She quotes the CEO of a rising AI corporation: "There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology," under the New Normal. "Humans are biohazards, machines are not." Klein continued:
It's a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor's offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration "in the community" was already booming. But in the future under hasty construction, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration--a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.
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