Sunday November 28, 2021

Resilience doctrine

February 02, 2021

Disasters are often used to centralize political and economic control, and thereby deepen human inequalities, as Naomi Klein described in her classic 2007 study The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She documented how after the “shock” of natural or human-made disasters, corporate interests move in to privatize the economy, institute the “shock” of austerity, and repress and “shock” (torture) citizens who resist. These neoliberal capitalist interests take advantage of a major disaster to push austerity policies that a distracted and desperate population would be less likely to accept under “normal” circumstances.

Klein used Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans to explain how disasters provide windows into a cruel “and ruthlessly divided future in which money and race buy survival.” She predicted that with “resource scarcity and climate change providing a steadily increasing flow of new disasters, responding to emergencies is simply too hot an emerging market to be left to the nonprofits.”

Less noticed in Klein’s study was her assertion that the Shock Doctrine had a flip side, which she termed the “People’s Renewal,” represented by the Common Ground Relief community-based response to Katrina. She observed that “the best way to recover from helplessness turns out to be helping – having the right to be part of a communal recovery…. Such people’s reconstruction efforts represent the antithesis of the disaster capitalism complex’s ethos…. These are movements that do not seek to start from scratch but rather from scrap, from the rubble that is all around.”

Klein concluded, “Rooted in the communities where they live, these men and women see themselves as mere repair people…fixing it…making it better and more equal. Most of all, they are building in resilience – for when the next shock hits” (589). She therefore tied the responses to climate change-induced disasters to how communities can increase awareness of sustainable methods to prevent future disasters, share resources among neighbors, and deepen lasting cooperation.

In her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Klein analyzed a typhoon that devastated the Philippines and floods that ravaged Europe, noting that “during good times, it’s easy to deride ‘big government’ and talk about the inevitability of cutbacks. But during disasters, most everyone loses their free market religion and wants to know that their government has their backs” (107).

Subsequent catastrophic storms, such as those that struck Texas, Puerto Rico, and Bangladesh in 2017, have reinforced how disasters can exacerbate economic and racial inequalities.

Excerpted: ‘The Resilience Doctrine: an Introduction to Disaster Resilience’