The Shocking Treatment of Three Naomis – Kirsten Hacker
[trigger warning: this is about traumatic medical treatments]
The first Naomi wrote Shock Doctrine, a book that showed how US shock and awe military strategy was influenced by CIA brainwashing studies from the 1960s. Even though the research showed that shock therapy brainwashing techniques merely destroyed people, the belief that the method could transform people and countries into a friendlier form persisted at all levels and was used to develop and justify torture programs worldwide.
The shock therapy brainwashing research involved CIA subsidized ‘depression treatments’ done in Canada on hundreds of unhappy US housewives who were dosed with insulin and LSD while held for weeks in sensory deprivation tanks installed in horse stalls, only to be taken out to have their brains zapped with intense jolts of electricity. Afterward, many of the ‘treated’ women needed to be diapered and hand-fed for months until their brains healed. Decades of memories were destroyed and bones were broken by this therapy.
Naomi’s book made some powerful people look bad and many wanted to discredit it. The most effective way to discredit someone is to ignore them but when it became clear that readers liked her book, several reviews were published in prominent newspapers, criticizing her for simplifying complex political issues.
For those who want to maintain control, those who simplify inflammatory issues are bad because when people understand what is going on in the world, they may change their behavior in unexpected ways. If there is one thing that control freaks hate, it is unpredictability.
This love of the illusion of control is what caused the shocking treatment of the first Naomi.
The second Naomi wrote The Beauty Myth about beauty standards, feminism, and women’s health. Most readers appreciated her personal yet meta approach to analyzing how our world works for and against women, but when she became too popular, reviewers nitpicked over details and called her work sloppy.
After seeing her attacked for sloppiness, many women didn’t want her as their feminist spokesperson and they joined in with the chorus of complaints coming from men who didn’t want feminists to speak at all.
Her research was sloppy in comparison to that of the first Naomi, but her simplifying look at the big picture was valuable to many readers.
As in the case of the first Naomi, the powers that be don’t like it when the big picture is simplified for a lay audience because that reduces their ability to control the messages people absorb.
These powers put their foot down after Naomi’s ninth book came out and she was fact-checked on a live, British radio show about an obscure detail of British Victorian law. The live, ‘gotcha’ moment had the quality of a hit job carried out by a professional assassin. Shortly thereafter, her writing career was over and her books were literally pulped.
Whoever launched the campaign to end her career was effective. Her Wikipedia page is brutal in its portrayal of her work. Still. Pulped? Modern-day book-burning of a feminist author? Those bastards. PR is a dark art.
Tarring and feathering someone’s entire body of work by discrediting individual details is a dirty trick and it only fails when an audience is aware of the technique. I don’t think that Naomi is a nitwit. Her books are too well written for that to be the case and many of the details taken out of context to make Naomi look ridiculous are not that bad and could be easily corrected without affecting her overall argument, but when these details are used against her in a Fox–news style hit-job, the condemnation is quite effective. It is sad that this technique of discrediting details works on so many people.
The detail that killed her was her use of statistics from Victorian times that listed a sentence of ‘death recorded’ for crimes of sodomy. She was delivered a big ‘gotcha’ live on a radio show by someone who claimed to know the obscure legal ‘fact?’ that ‘death recorded’ meant that the sentence was something not as bad as death. A Wikipedia page on the meaning of ‘death recorded’ was even made after the radio broadcast, and everybody knows that when something ends up on Wikipedia, it is true.
Who should we believe, a woman who spent years doing research for a book on the history of homosexuality and the courts or some guy who *out of nowhere* shows up on a radio show and claims to know obscure details of Victorian criminal law. I suspect that this radio show gotcha was a hit job planned in advance to take out someone who had pissed off someone powerful. I’m just shocked that anyone would bother with going about this by defending the Victorian justice system. Perhaps foundation myths are important to some people.
The other detail they hit her with was her reporting that most women have eating disorders in America and that a hundred thousand women die each year from an eating disorder. She took this number from a book that had misquoted it from a study and she was happy to correct the number in her book as it didn’t change her overall arguments, but the number her fact-checkers insisted on was fifty. They insisted that the data shows that only fifty women die each year from eating disorders. Really?
If you look at obesity rates and how women eat in the US, 100,000 sounds closer to reality than 50. The estimate of 50 may be true if you only count the rich girls who died in a last-ditch effort to save their lives with an expensive treatment program, but my experience in the US of the 1990s was that eating disorders were everywhere and that those disorders don’t kill you in a visible way, they are a death by a thousand cuts as kidneys and livers are slowly destroyed. If I count the number of women who started doing drugs to get skinny, the 100,000 figure sounds more accurate than the 50 figure. People die all of the time and the original cause is often indirect.
In the case of the second Naomi, the cause of the death of her writing career was quite direct. Just like the first Naomi, the second Naomi was trying to show laypeople the big picture by translating academic jargon into easily accessible, personal stories. But certain people do not want those sorts of stories told because they are afraid it will make too many people angry and rebellious.
When I investigate Naomi’s critics, I notice that something about the video below just doesn’t look right.
She was censored by a fake feminist/liberal for a book about censorship? How ironic.
The costume does not look authentic to me. The woman in it appears to be attempting to look like a young, feminist hipster (red hair, t-shirt, thick glasses) while reading a script written by an old, white man. It just doesn’t fit. Look at all of the conference badges hanging in the background. That doesn’t look terribly countercultural. To me, this lady looks like a shill paid by a tone-deaf, conservative PR firm to discredit Ms. Naomi Wolf.
The woman in the video has been on the internet for about a decade and she branded herself as Skepchick, attending atheism, feminist, and scientific events and claiming to be an atheist, feminist, scientist all while subtly undermining each of the three causes. For example, at the atheism conference, she would raise a stink about the sexism of atheists. She would trumpet an innocuous feminist theme but then spend most of her time making fun of how stupid TERFs are. I had to look up what a TERF was. It seems that the current feminist boogeyman is the Trans Excluding Radical Feminist. Do these people even exist in significant quantities? A good technique to discredit a group (feminists in this case) is to find some tiny, ridiculous minority and showcase their behavior. If you can pit marginalized groups against one another, so much the better. The fact that this supposedly feminist Skepchick is engaging in this tactic makes me suspicious of who is paying her. She seems like a shill to me.
In the style of someone educated in the shock and awe psychology of Naomi Klein’s CIA, this Skepchick once did a post on why electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy) is good for people. In that video, she presented a biased, pseudoscientific argument that if someone is about to commit suicide and shock therapy stops this from happening, then it works.
Let’s think about this attitude.
I could hit you on the head with a hammer and that would effectively stop you from killing yourself, but that doesn’t mean that we should start hitting depressed people on the head with hammers.
The science of shock therapy suggests that any immediate, mood-lifting effect is due to concussion. The temporary euphoria fades after 4–6 weeks and the patient goes back to how they were, but now they now have brain damage. People who have gotten this treatment often forget their education and many years of their life. They end up with cognitive deficits and may not be able to make new memories. This is barbarism and stupidity dressed up as science.
This treatment is only marginally better than the barbarism of a lobotomy, yet doctors today are still doing this to people who cannot consent. In Massachusetts, there is even a doctor using shock therapy on kids with disabilities. This is why I am terrified of the medical industry. Too many criminally stupid people manage to make it into positions of power.
This Naomi is a beautiful actress known for portraying Moneypenny in the recent James Bond films and when she was just a teenager, doctors cut her open and installed a rod in her spine to make it straight. She said it was an extremely traumatic experience and it took her a month to re-learn how to walk, all while surrounded by children who had such severe scoliosis that they would never walk.
What a wonderful medical success story! Most people would say that, but most people have never undergone a dangerous spinal operation which may not have been absolutely necessary.
For me, these spinal operations are an allegory about the illusion of control. A doctor sees something crooked and wants to straighten it without thinking too much about the pain caused by interfering with the natural course of things. Of course, I’m not unbiased about this issue since I fell out of a tree and broke my back when I was a teenager and had scoliosis surgery to stabilize the injury site. I am now 40 years old and a have some issues with the medical industry, so please forgive me while I rant a bit. Skip ahead if you just want the conclusion about the three Naomis, censorship, medical treatment, and the illusion of control.
……………………………beginning of rant……………………………
The statistics of scoliosis surgery are terrifying.
Half of the patients have their implants fail!!! To go through a year of the most intense pain imaginable for what amounted to a slight cosmetic improvement and a promise of preventing possible future pain only to have to take the hardware out and go back to the original curvature — I think this surgery is barbaric and should be forbidden in all but the most extreme cases.
To think that doctors are operating on teenaged girls (it is 90% girls) in order to prevent complications that may never develop is a scary prospect in a medical industry driven by profit. Of course, every teenaged girl wants to have a pretty, straight spine, but I do not think that informed consent is possible for this procedure.
This is a truly dangerous and terrifying operation and just because the bodies of young women are able to absorb a massive amount of trauma does not mean that it should be done as often as it is. When I see this video of this young woman going through what I went through when I was a teen, it makes me want to cry. Before her surgery, she was doing handstands, playing soccer, running and jumping in the ocean. The curve of her spine was hard to notice unless you were told about it, but her doctor told her that she needed the 8-hour surgery. The amount of pain she went through for what may have ended up being a cosmetic correction which has a high chance of needing to be reversed makes my blood boil. The world telling women that they need to have perfectly straight spines to be acceptable makes my blood boil.
You have surgeons who have undergone a massive amount of training and they want to use that training. There is a powerful incentive to operate on people who should not be operated on, especially when there is a lot of money involved. These operations cost between 0.5 and 1 million dollars and that does not include any subsequent therapy or revisions.
Even in my case, with a damaged vertebra, I probably would have been better off left to heal naturally. There was no danger of my vertebrae fusing because I just had some slight crushing, but the medical industry took over and I signed consent forms that I had no way of understanding. They drilled into my bones and put me under anesthesia twice — for hours at a time. After the surgery, I had excruciating, shooting pains in my legs and numbness that had not been there before. It went away, but it was terrifying.
Afterward, the doctor told me that he had picked me up by my spine to make sure that the hardware was stable.
Before my operations, I had taken the (p)SAT and gotten a good score. I had not studied for it, it was the first time I had taken it, and it made me a National Merit Finalist. Most people who take the test again after studying improve their score by a hundred points or more. It is very rare for the score to go down. I wanted to try to match the 1500 score my dad had gotten when he was my age, but when I took the test again after my surgeries, my score went down by 150 points out of a possible 1600. I am pretty sure that the amount of anesthesia I was given damaged my brain.
I have still lived a full life, going backpacking in the wilderness and having children, but my spine is becoming increasingly stiff and I will always wonder if it had been better off left alone. Since my injury in my teens, I have grown accustomed to constant pain. Heck, pain is a big part of what it means to be a woman, but I will always wonder what the fragments of metal in my blood have done to me and I will always wonder if the difficulty my liver had with supporting a pregnancy had anything to do with the stress my body absorbed in the operating room.
Scoliosis affects 2–3 percent of the population, or an estimated 6–9 million people in the United States, 90 percent of whom are women. Around 10 percent of them end up getting major surgery.
Scoliosis was more common back in the days when nutrition was worse and I think it is one of the reasons corsetry was so popular in modern history. Today, it is common to demonize the corset as a barbaric method of oppressing women, but the corset has a practical, supportive purpose and need not be laced to Victorian dimensions. I do not think we should assume we are smarter than the people of the past and I do not think that drilling screws into the spines of young women is particularly smart.
To conclude on a rather hyperbolic note, consider the ancient cultures that sacrificed young women to their gods by killing them on an altar. The darkness demands human sacrifice and our technological culture is delivering it.
The triumph of civilization is the sublimation of our basest desires. The person who wants to steal becomes a banker, the person who wants to rape becomes a Casanova, the person who wants to maim becomes a surgeon. In most cases, we benefit from this sublimation, but not all.
……………………………… end of rant……………………………
Women like the third Naomi may sublimate the truth about what happened to her because it is too painful to look at the idea that anyone would put you through such unnecessary pain for the sake of keeping their surgical skills sharp and making money. The fact that she spoke about her trauma at all was brave. Most never say a word because they know that when we see an injustice we cannot alleviate, people tend to blame the victim of the injustice.
In the case of the three Naomis, we see three women who were victimized by those who exploited the public’s worst tendencies to carry out the crime. They exploited our biases to make us distrust the people who were trying to help us understand something about the greater world and they exploited our blind spots to make us trust people who would (often unknowingly) do us harm in their quest for the illusion of control over our minds and bodies.
I identify with these three Naomis because like Philomela, my education filled my head with academic jargon which made my words incomprehensible to the vast majority of people. It made me trust an organization that was hurting me by taking all of my energy. It made me distrust those who wanted to help me by showing me a larger picture.
When I try to explain my experience, people tell me that my opinions are too controversial and that controversy is poison to their community.
When I try to understand their reactions and catch a glimpse of a slice of the big picture, I see that if you take all of the smart people and teach them to speak complex, academic languages that no one else speaks, when they try to explain how the world works to someone outside of their specialty, it will be impossible for them to be understood. What a perfect system to maintain centralized control! Such an educational system prevents smart people from ever being able to rally anyone behind a cause.
Of course, there are always outliers in such a system and when people like the three Naomis understand some key part of the big picture while maintaining their ability to communicate in a way which anyone can understand, they are a threat to those who want to maintain the illusion of centralized control. Those who threaten centralized control are invariably treated in shockingly awful ways when their voices rise above the deafening noise of popular culture.