Disaster Capitalism's Catastrophic Success In Ireland ... And America
George W. Bush, during the 2004 presidential election described the war in Iraq as a "catastrophic success," a phrase which had most Americans scratching their heads, at a time when the was in Iras looked like anything but a success. After all, growing chaos, increasing violence, a fraying coalition, an increased attacks on U.S. personnel had combined to postpone Iraq's elections for seven months.
None of which proved that the war was a failure far as the president and the war's supporters were concerned. As William Saletan put it, "Does this prove Bush is failing? No. It proves he's succeeding." Or, the worse it gets the more "we" must be winning. Likewise, the economic crisis — as it continues to grow, and economic pain continues to spread — can be seen as the success of policies that brought it about and the philosophy that suports them.
The question is, "Succeeding at what, and for what purpose?"
Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, describes a "disaster capitalism" that exploits disasters and catastrophic events of all kinds to advance "a vision of a ruthlessly divided" world.
After each new disaster, it’s tempting to imagine that the loss of life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking the political class to launch some kind of "new New Deal." In fact, the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it disaster capitalism. Every time a new crisis hits—even when the crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideology — the fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad.
What does "catastrophic success mean?" How can anything be both catastrophic and success? I think it's derived from catastrophic failure.
A catastrophic failure is a sudden and total failure of some system from which recovery is impossible. Catastrophic failures often lead to cascading systems failure.
The term is most commonly used for structural failures, but has often been extended to many other disciplines where total and irrecoverable loss occurs. Such failures are investigated using the methods of forensic engineering, which aims to isolate the cause or causes of failure.
Catastrophic success isn't necessarily concerned with executing a planned destruction of a system. It can refer to the successful exploitation of a crisis or catastrophic event — engineered or otherwise — to achieve a particular end. The destruction may be engineered, but it may just as easily be the result other actions or conditions, and even natural disasters.
Catastrophic success is, in a sense, what happens when the total failure of a system in which total and irrecoverable loss occurs, is the desired goal. That pretty clearly defines what's happening in Ireland right now — the total collapse of an economic system, in which many Irish citizens are experiencing total and irrecoverable loss. That pretty clearly defines where we're headed if our political leaders don't act to reverse current trends.
Total destruction of a system, including the people's level of trust in the system, is a success if the destruction is exploited to achieve desired end — in this case, a restructuring of the economy to the disadvantage of the working- and middle-classes, widening economic disparities and further concentrating wealth into the hands of a narrow few. The result is presicely the "ruthlessly divided world" Klein describes, with its "unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned."
Whether the crisis is set in motion intentionally, or rises from other conditions, it creates an opportunity that can be successfully exploited if recognized and acted upon — or not acted upon. In Ireland, it means acting to worsen the crisis with policies like "austerity measures" that increase economic pain. In the U.S., it takes the form of inaction, like the Senate's failure to extend unemployment benefits amid chronic, long-term joblessness, thus increasing economic pain and desperation for millions of Americans.
Either way can yield success out of crisis. Depending, of course, how you define success and what you want to achieve.