That whole “being a writer” thing is yielding mixed results these days, so tonight I’m taking some time to go listen to an actual writer: someone whose job it is to write, or who’s managed to make writing her job. Maybe something will run off. If nothing else, I’ll come away with an autograph.
It was a chance encounter that led to my even knowing about the opportunity; one that reminded me a that being a reader — if not a writer — does yield benefits.
It’s funny actually, how people react to what they see you reading. Back when I was reading Talking Cock, I found that I could always get a seat on the metro. Even if I sat down beside someone, half the time they’d glance at what I was reading and move to another seat. A bit later, when I was working on a fictional project last year, my research led me to read stuff like The Stranger Beside Me, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, and The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers the reactions ranged from shock, to intrigue, and even someone asking me, “Sir, are you a serial killer?” (To which I responded, “If I were, do you think I’d tell you?”)
So, for the past few weeks I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. For the most part, the response from my fellow commuters has been pretty mild. I occasionally get the odd dirty look from guys in suits, who look to be a decade or so older than me, but I think that’s because my office is near the World Bank and the IMF, and Klein has few nice things to say about either.
Oh, about the book. I’m only halfway through it, but it’s what I call a real “head-shaker”; that is, the kind of book you’ll close and shake your head after reading some passages. In that sense, it’s in the same category as Randy Shilts And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. She write about some things that I’ve long suspected, but never put together in the way she has. Of course, it helps if you have access to some of the players involved, and she’s got the name and credentials to get interviews. (Actually, one of Klein’s colums in The Nation, was the inspiration for my ongoing series, “The Society of the Owned.” (Already an seven-parter with at least three more to come, maybe I ought to try to make a book out of it, if Klein isn’t already working on one about the same subject.) In fact, I picked up Klein’s book after so many people who read my series recommended it to me.
One thing she spelled out is something that I’ve always thought regarding conservative or “neo-liberal” or “neo-conservative” economic policy. Namely that privatization and deregulation are a kind of “perfect storm” recipe for corruption, because the combination creates an atmosphere in which there’s no wrong way to make a buck.
If I can make more money, even though others will be harmed in the process, and I know there’s nothing prohibiting it and there will be no penalty for the harm done, the only thing stopping me is m conscience. And in that setting I’m better off if I don’t have one, because it can be a disadvantage. When the the rulebook is thrown own, and no holds are barred, at least some of my competitors in whatever business I’m in will certainly dive in and make money hand over fist. If I want to be competitive, then I’d better join the feeding frenzy, or I can be next on the menu. Right? After all, isn’t that what my shareholders expect? Maximum profits?
Anyway, I was on my way to work one morning this week, and as I was waiting to cross the street I noticed a young man standing next to me. (How could I not? He was tall, tanned, and very good-looking. I’m married, but I’m not blind. OK?) He noticed what I was reading, and started talking to me. He kept talking, so I turned off the iPod so I could hear him. He saw the book and wanted to tell me that Klein is going to be at Busboys & Poets in D.C. this evening, discussing and signing copies of the book.
6:30 – 8:00 pm Author Event: Naomi Klein will sign and discuss her latest book: THE SHOCK DOCTRINE. Around the world in Britain, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, there are people with power who are cashing in on chaos; exploiting bloodshed and catastrophe to brutally remake our world in their image. They are the shock doctors. Thrilling and revelatory, The Shock Doctrine cracks open the secret history of our era. Exposing these global profiteers, Naomi Klein discovered information and connections that shocked even her about how comprehensively the shock doctors’ beliefs now dominate our world – and how this domination has been achieved. Raking in billions out of the tsunami, plundering Russia, exploiting Iraq – this is the chilling tale of how a few are making a killing while more are getting killed. This event is being co-sponsored by ActionAid. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
What surprised me more than this guy starting a conversation with me about my book was that it continued as we walked down the block (and it continued in that awkward way that conversations about politics tend to do, while the participants each try to figure out where the other stands, while at the same time trying to avoid offending each other). He lost a little of his shine as we continued down the block, as he suggested that Klein was “a bit too hard” on the Chicago School and it’s “free market” fundamentalists. When I mentioned that some of the stories Klein tells were rather “scary” (and I didn’t mean the tales of South American dictators and the U.S.-backed, corporate sponsored torture chambers), he assured me with a laugh that I was fine as long as I “stay out of the developing world.” (He also thought I’d take some comfort in the fact that Milton Friedman — apparently the grand poobah of Chicago School economics — died a couple of years ago.)
I don’t know that I’ll see my young friend there tonight (though I’d be interested in hearing what else he has to say) but if you’re in D.C., at Bus Boys & Poets tonight, come over and say “hi.”