The Shock Doctrine and COVID-19

We are currently living in a void, an empty space, a space of potential, not a blank page, but a jumping point. We are adapting to our “new normal,” one where measuring screen time is rendered irrelevant because of our need for connection with friends, family, and co-workers. We are anxious, scared, sad, and lonely. We are looking for some semblance of what was. We miss physical touch, belly laughs, and hugs.

The even worse news is that this is exactly when those in power enact their schemes. In our states of distraction and self-involvement, conservative think tanks push through legislation that diminish our public services. This is well documented in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She writes,

“Believers in the shock doctrine are convinced that only a great rupture—a flood, a war, a terrorist attack, [a virus]—can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave. It is in these malleable moments, when we are psychologically unmoored and physically uprooted, that these artists of the real plunge in their hands and begin their work of remaking the world” (25).

Basically, while the rest of us are in shock by COVID-19, the right-wing/neo-fascists have prepared for this moment. This pandemic is a US fascist’s fantasy: closed borders, frightened population, and a void where privatization can rapidly happen. While other countries have been nationalizing industries, the US will bail out the airline industry, dump 1.5 trillion into the stock market, and we can assume more bailouts will be on their way for restaurants, hotels, and other service industries.

Since the CDC has told us to self-isolate and self-quarantine, technological organizing of mutual aid has been on the rise, thankfully. People caring for one another through their own funds and means is encouraging. Possibly more than 25 million people globally will become jobless because of this pandemic. This shows that the capitalist economy is, and has always been, fragile and weak.

The point that Klein brings across in The Shock Doctrine is that many of these think tanks believe that when catastrophe happens that they now have a “clean slate” or a “blank page.” For example, one of the massive overhauls of privatization that happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina was the diminishing of public schools for private and charter schools. Instead of rebuilding public schools, they were either abandoned or destroyed. And something like this could happen again nationwide.

I’ve been thinking about these questions:

  • How might we organize ourselves through social distancing?
  • During this time of turmoil, how can we better care for one another?
  • What new fascist policies will be put in place during this pandemic?
  • Cell phone companies have been in talks with the federal government as to whether these companies will share our location data with them (not that they don’t already do that) to track the spread of COVID-19. If this does happen, will the policy then be for the government to have access to our locations in perpetuity?
  • How might we disrupt new policies from being implemented?
  • New procedures are being put in place for “the sake of safety and well-being” at prisons, such as using Zoom to talk to friends and loved ones. Are these going to continue to be in place even after the pandemic?
  • How might we fight against any idea of “a clean slate” and do as it reads in Isaiah 61: “build up the ancient ruins, raise up the former devastations; repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations”?

At the moment, I don’t know these answers (nor would many care if I did), but I also don’t want to be passive while the elite do their bidding. What I do know is that, including myself, many of my friends do not have the brain space to think about big picture ideas during this crisis. And this is totally understandable. I hope by quarantine week 4 we might muster up some radical creative energy.

For the sake of community: Please continue to wash your hands, not touch your face, to stay home, keep social distancing, and pay attention.

Let’s fight for a better world, even if our marching has moved to our kitchens.

Published by brother timothie

I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. My interests include constructive theologies, liberation theologies, documentaries, far-left politics, homelessness ministries, creative liturgies, poetry, and pop culture.

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