Last night I went to see Naomi Klein speak and be questioned about her new book, No is Not Enough. There were 2,500 of us in the Royal Festival Hall, a number which Klein said she was glad not to have known at the start. I had wondered how it would feel to communicate directly with such a large crowd, using only your words. However it feels, it is an enormous privilege and one that she has earned by her books which have been both ground-breaking and accessible, and motivated many to seek a path towards eco-social justice.
Jude Kelly, and then a short film, introduced her. She spoke first about the writing of the book, how it was encouraged by the journalist Johann Hari, and that it was written faster than any other book she’d done. Her motivation was that ‘we’ve not yet seen the worst of the Trump regime’, and saw the work as ‘intellectual disaster-preparedness’. She wants to highlight how the pro-corporate project is global in scale, but finds it a struggle because words can obscure the reality of how policies can ravage actual places and bodies.
She introduced a great quote (I didn’t catch who had said it) that ‘Justice is what love looks like when it’s public’, saying that Trump is the opposite of that, that he is ‘greed and carelessness incarnate’. Her talk didn’t just focus on Trump and the US, although at times her perspective did feel a little under-informed about Europe (e.g. about Brexit). She had been in London a few days and visited Grenfell Tower, and interviewed Jeremy Corbyn, so she was using local references to exemplify her points. So, “Lovelessness in public also looks like the charred remains of Grenfell Tower”.
This for her made the link to Trump, because property speculation is Trump’s line of business, and Grenfell epitomises the rapid dressing up of places in order to inflate property markets and socially engineer their populations. Property is a primary harbour for avoiding tax on wealth (around $26 trillion currently squirrelled in condos etc). The cheap inflammable cladding on Grenfell (and many others like it) is ‘a party dress as a deathtrap’.
Referring to her Shock Doctrine book, she questioned whether people really are shocked at Trump, or should be, rather. ‘In many ways, Trump is the logical endpoint of longstanding cultural narratives, that greed is good…that the vulnerable deserve their fate…that the planet is there for plundering…that there is no alternative.’ He represents an escalation of a system that is grounded in dominance-based logic at every level. ‘We should have been expecting him, and some of us have been for a long time.’ It’s not shock we are feeling, but horror, because he is ‘dystopian fiction come to life’.
A key theme of her talk is that we are uncritically caught up in a fictional world, trapped by frames of dystopian thinking and nostalgia for the past. The book is essentially a call to challenge the systems, values and stories that produced Trump, and to resurrect the counter-narratives that have been suppressed, and to give space for other voices and conversations to dream a better world. To challenge the status quo, we have to look into ourselves and ‘kill your inner Trump’, and also not hold out hope for some anti-Trump benign billionaire saviour. We – the billions – will have to stand in for the billionaire, so to step up to that role together we have to eliminate any Trumpism inside ourselves. Trumpism is basically holding to a ‘dominance-based logic’ and it’s this culture as a whole that has to be challenged. This can’t be done policy by policy, but can possibly be done by grand visions and a bold progressive internationalism. She sees this cultural movement growing out of rapid mobilisation of support for figures such as Bernie Sanders and Corbyn.
She made a direct call to us – a London audience. “You British invented modern capitalism, which would make it fitting if you decided to lead the world in dismantling it.” Key to making this leap to leading a new world is the imagination, for example, more utopian literature and film. Another way is to make active changes to model utopia, and she cited the Sioux Nation who were not only resisting the Keystone pipeline through their sacred land, but rolling out renewable on a massive scale on their reservation. She also talked about the LEAP manifesto as a people’s platform for change, offering a set of solutions that are intersectionally informed and reconciled different agendas. She feels that the Left looks back to the past too much, which tends to exclude People of Colour and indigenous people because it was a time that colonialism was not challenged and public goods went first to ‘local people’. It’s important to acknowledge that indigenous people have been at the frontline, defending land and wildlife against ecocide, and increasingly being murdered for it. So justice (love in public) requires that those people should be served first as a priority by any solution, aid or technology that arises.
Overall, I was a little surprised at her failure to mention two key issues: One is the impact of global industrial ecocide and climate change on other species. The other is that she didn’t touch on the interference by Russia and its ‘fossil fuel friends’ to destabilise the EU, elect Trump, bring about confusion, and end sanctions against them. However, many things she said were empowering and strong. For example, she pointed at a vacuum in global leadership: “Even Obama was not a voice for the basic principles espoused by the UN for things like universal human rights.” She is hopeful about Corbyn because she was struck that he told her his foreign policy would be rooted in human rights, which for her is better than Justin Trudeau who “puts out good memes”. This aspect of Corbyn also makes me feel positive, but I also struggle to understand his Euroscepticism and his disregard for human rights when it comes to his policies on immigration (see e.g. “the most right wing Labour policy on immigration in 30 years”). I can’t easily picture beyond the current moment because I don’t want to see the hardship and xenophopia that will unfold through a hard Brexit process. I find it hard to imagine positives through it.
However, Klein calls for more writers who can imagine what lies beyond capitalism. It made me resolve to try to get my nose more often out of the politics of the present moment, to look forward more and to dream. And, to write!