Have you read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine? If you are in the USA, you may have seen the Public Service TV series called Commanding Heights, which was based on it. It’s a marvellous book, I’ve just finished it, one that shows you things that were in front of your eyes but you had not noticed, or had noticed but not paid due attention to. It is about the rise of market fundamentalism and the disasters which that has unleashed upon the world since 1973, the date of the violent overthrow of democracy in Chile, which, by coincidence, is also the year in which my novel-in-progress opens.
When I lived in Africa in the 1980s, the crimes of the international financial institutions on that continent were no secret: basically forcing countries in debt to sacrifice their children by denying them health and education so that bankers could sleep easily at night secure in the knowledge that the bad loans they had made would be repaid at any cost. That, it seemed to me, was in the nature of bankers; what seemed more scandalous was how little anyone outside Africa was bothered. People in Europe would care very deeply when famine hit Africa, and fork out enormous sums to alleviate the suffering it caused, but were oblivious to the suffering meted out by human institutions. Well, as you know, what went round came round, and since 2008, when many of the less rich countries in Western Europe got into trouble over their finances, international financial institutions have been forcing market fundamentalism on them in return for debt relief. And guess what? The people in those countries do not like it.
Now, I live in one of the affected countries, and boy, do people moan. About the loss of their jobs, their children’s future, decaying public services, you name it. Quite right, too. But they do not actually do very much, here in Italy. Klein’s book was published in 2007, before “disaster capitalism” turned its attention to Western Europe, but she would accurately have predicted people’s initial reaction here: they were shocked into inactivity. Klein details how, in Latin America, it took over 20 years before governments started to stop taking the medicine that was killing them. People in Europe, with more hindsight available to them, may swallow less before they say “We’re not going to take it!” I hope I live to see that day.
One useful way of seeing history is that it offers us two main theories for why things go awry (Murphy’s Law, no relation): the balls-up theory and the conspiracy theory. The latter says that things go wrong because tightly-knit groups of politically or economically motivated men cause them to do so for their own ends. The former says that people would like things to work to everyone’s benefit, but we are just too incompetent to make that happen. Klein is clearly in the conspiracy camp; I’ve always been in the balls-up camp, which is a hard place to be in Italy, where mafias and politicians traditionally feed off each other out of public sight. I had thought that Italy was exceptional, in this as in so many other ways. Maybe it is not.
It is irresistible for a science fiction writer to imagine where market fundamentalism will lead us, if it manages to continue its current dominance unchecked. Unfortunately, I think we have already seen the answer, in the cult classic film Zardoz, in which the rich live a genteel life inside a high-tech bubble which physically excludes the poor, whom the rich continually urge to renounce sex and kill each other. It is the ultimate gated community, although in the real thing the bubble will have to be opaque, because transparency helps people to see not just into fundamentalism, but through it.
Bryan Murphy is a British writer who lives in Turin, Italy. He is currently working on the second draft of a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. You can find his e-books here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts. His individual blog is at: http://bit.ly/1cq1yus . Bryan also welcomes visitors at http://www.bryanmurphy.eu .