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Anarchism and the Peak oil argument
An anarchist analysis of what peak oil means for the fight for a free society
Peak Oil is a subject that has not been addressed much in the Anarchist community and it's relevance to it. This is something I wish to discuss here and begin what is probably a very important debate and our response to it. Peak Oil is one of the major issues facing humanity and will result in great changes. It interlinks with many subject areas largely because of the ubiquitous role of energy in society. It is essential that Anarchists are aware of and understand this issue and it's far reaching consequences and are not caught off guard and are ready to take advantage of the changes that will occur to bring about a better world, rather than allow society to be led down the destructive path of capitalists and other dominating power structures.
2. Background to Peak OilSome of the references that I have seen of Peak Oil in anarchist writings appear to dismiss it as some sort of capitalist inspired shortage or something. The evidence does not indicate this at all. Also in the mainstream press, it tends to be dismissed by economists, who generally have no grounding in any scientific knowledge, readily ignore physical fact and typically claim there is plenty of oil left and the market can always provide anyhow -usually out of thin air. However it would seem that those in power are using the corporate media to confuse the public about it so as not to disturb the status quo or rather disturb the ability to extract as much profit for as long as possible and retain the reins of power. Nevertheless it is a bit disappointing to see pretty much a lack of serious consideration given to it in anarchist writings considering it's importance. Fortunately Peak Oil is getting more attention now due to the dedicated hard work of a number of geologists such as Colin Campbell, Jean Laharre and many others. Typically these people have had long careers in the oil industry and therefore know and understand the geology and engineering behind this subject area and have access to the relevant facts and figures on the ground or should I say, in it.
On the surface it would appear the establishment is not aware of the Peak Oil issue or at least are only recently. In order
to remedy that, over the last few years, Colin Campbell (and ASPO) has given many presentations to national governments
and parliaments. However as far back as the 1977 the CIA had projections (The Impending Soviet Oil Crisis) on when the
Soviet Union would peak and were aware of similar issues for the Middle East. Indeed the US signed a 60 year agreement with
Saudi Arabia actually 60 years ago to secure the oil for them. Thus they or the key players, have always been aware of the
central importance of this commodity.
Peak Oil for those who are not familiar with it, refers to the impending maximum daily production, globally in the amount of oil that will ever be produced as shown in the Figure 1. Up to now, production has been rising and soon if not this year, the peak will occur and inevitable decline will occur over the next 40 or so years. It is based on the principle first discovered by M. King Hubbert in the 1950s who was a geologist who noted that production of oil fields slowly rises up to a peak and then falls in a similar manner. The familiar bell-shaped curve. He then realized it collectively applies to a whole set of fields and quickly realized back then, using the data for the USA, that the it would peak in 1970. Nobody believed him. He was spot on and it peaked in 1971 -just before the first oil shock incidentally. The same analysis applied to all fields globally, predicts a peak anywhere from this year (2005) to 2010, but there are strong indications it was either last year or is this year. Thereafter it will decline anywhere from 2% to about 8% a year. Nobody really knows.
The prediction of most geologists working in this area, fall within this narrow time frame. Forget what economists say, since it's fantasy. Other countries that have peaked already are the UK & Norway (both down 20%+), China, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Russia, Syria, USA (1971), Libya, Nigeria, Qatar and many others. Only the Middle East has spare capacity, except their reserve figures are not very transparent and could be more like Enron stock values. Saudi Arabia provides approximately 8 million barrels of the total 82 million used globally per day or 29.9 Gb annually (82m x 365). About 60% or so of Saudi oil comes from just one giant field, indeed the biggest field in the world called Ghawar, which has been producing for almost 60 years now. As shown in Figure 2, the 14 biggest fields in the world supply 20% and the 55 biggest supply a full 35% of the world supply. Many of these fields are in decline or are about to go into decline. For instance Canterall 2nd biggest, in Mexico, went into decline this year and a giant field has not been found in years. Besides the peak of oil field discovery was in 1964 and the number and sizes of fields found has fallen steadily since then.
So for the sake of not writing too much more on this because many others have already written about it, I have provided
some URLs that contain more background information for those who wish to know more on the technical side since what we want
to do here is to present this topic in relation to what it means for anarchism.
3. What does it all mean?So what does all this mean? Surely there are replacements and what has it to do with anarchists anyhow. We are interested in workers, rights and freedom, hardly oil? Well Peak Oil does not mean there will be no oil left. It means the End of Cheap Oil and this is central to the whole idea. And in cheap, I do not necessarily mean money as such. It's not a question of charging lower prices for it or whatever in anarchist heaven. Basically what has happened, most of the promising areas of the world have been explored, all the big fields were found long ago and pressed into production. The peak in discovery of oil fields occurred in the mid 1960s and the number and sizes of fields found has fallen steadily since then. All the easy or at least most of the easy oil is gone. We are well on the way to using the stuff that is dirtier, heavier, found deeper and lying around in smaller quantities. Whatever form of society one has, it still means as we move towards the bottom of the barrel as it were, more resources in terms of manpower, knowledge, equipment and energy itself must be expended to get the stuff. This is thus reflected in the value and whether it is cheap or not. For example the tar sands of Canada are vast and are often mentioned as a valuable resource and replacement. But they are not because to extract approximately 40 barrels of oil in a place like Saudi Arabia which includes pumping, cleaning, shipping and refining requires only of the order of one barrel of oil in terms of energy required while for the Canadian sands this figure is a lot worse and more like burning one barrel to get two (or 1:2). For the tar sands, there is also in excess of 10 barrels of water required as part of the processing which becomes polluted and the creation of a bloody great environmental mess from all the open cast mining.
Eventually so much more energy has to be expended, it's just not worth it. And as I said regardless of your form of society, it is physics not politics that says when you reach the point of having to burn a barrel of oil (equivalent) to get a barrel of oil, then it's of no value or use to you. For the Tar Sands, not all of it is even 'high' grade and at the moment they are using valuable high quality natural gas from Canada, to heat the tar sands to steam out the tar and then crack it chemically into oil. From an energy point of view, it's an incredibly wasteful thing to do with a high grade energy source like natural gas. Without the gas, extracting the tar and turning it into oil, would be way more difficult. It's just the absurdities of money and the markets that happen to completely undervalue the true benefit of natural gas to us. Likewise with oil. As the famous scientist Buckminister Fuller said: 'Oil should be valued at a million dollars a barrel for the benefits it gives us'. There's nothing that's both as energy dense and as versatile as oil.
To clarify the above it ought to be noted that the amount of oil currently extracted from the tar sands is only a tiny fraction of the current global daily production, but the point was to show they are not really the huge replacement reserve that they are made out to be regularly in the media.
So to continue; all the main oil producing regions have been found. There are no more North Sea oil equivalents, which is already in decline. The most optimistic projections for the ANWAR on the North Slope in Alaska only put reserves at half of the Prudhoe Bay field (in decline) -about two weeks of the global supply. Even the Caspian Sea basin area where only 7 or 8 years ago, excitment was running high and it was said to be another Middle East with reserves of 200 billion barrels (Gb), turned out -thankfully- to have only around 17 Gb or about 7 months global supply. And much of that has a high sulphur content.
In the meantime of course, demand for oil has risen dramatically and the physical structure of our society is organised around the assumption that there will always be plenty of it. It's hard to see how the demand can be met if the total available is decreasing. Somebody is going to have use a lot less and even do without it. Thus it is clear that the problems aren't quite when the oil is gone, but at the turning point or peak where it starts to get scare.
As things currently stand with our industrial agricultural system that is both inhuman and destructive to the environment, the production and distribution of food requires a lot of oil. It is reckoned that most items of food on sale in the shops have travelled up to 1000+ miles on average. We could and should switch back to sustainable organinc agriculture, but that will obviously require much more labour and a partial return to the land. See: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.
4. The Natural Gas cliff in North AmericaNatural Gas is in a similar situation, except being a gas it's a bit different. Production does not follow a bell curve, but rises to a plateau, remains at that level for some period of time that is obviously related to the field size and then almost without warning as the gas pressure drops when the field is exhausted, production falls off a cliff. While the global peak in natural gas will be a bit later than for oil, for the North American continent it already past peak. Even the corporate press has acknowledged that. The cliff is very near. Nearly all homes in the USA are heated with natural gas and a considerable amount of electricity especially peak power, is generated with gas. Shipping gas, which involves liquefying it (known as LNG), is costly, dangerous, hard to move in large quantities and requires 15% of the energy in the gas to do it. And I think there is only one gas terminal in the US that can handle LNG although there are plans to build more. But they need to build the ships too. This stuff could not be built overnight, so by the time enough infrastructure was built to fully satisfy US needs, it's likely we would be past global gas peak, thereby making any such costly investment less profitable since the infrastructure would become under used again fairly quickly. At best some of it will only be built meaning there are going to be pretty big shortfalls in supply. Thus massive dislocations are about to hit the US economy pretty soon. Indeed the recent hurricane Katrina has shut down a fair amount of domestic oil and gas production, but so far the US has actually tapped into the European strategic (oil) reserves to cover the gaps, nevertheless it could still end up being the trigger. It will mean in the USA at least, soaring prices for heating and probably for the cost of electricity too. The production of nitrogen fertilizers which are a cruical component for the high production of industrial agricultural, is heavily dependent on gas and so is sensitive to the price. Whether this production moves offshore to countries where there are no impending gas shortages remains to be seen, but if it does, it is bound to result in higher prices unless Uncle Sam can bully them into lower pricing. Overall there will be knock on effects to the US economy and the world economy too, since so many countries rely on exports to the US. The sheer quantities of energy provided by oil and gas cannot be readily replaced by other forms of energy, at least not immediately and more on that later.
For those in doubt of these figures, checkout:
The important consequence of this for Anarchists at least in North America, is that it will be hard for the corporate media to hide this jolt although they will do their best. It is something that will hit most people. It is precisely in these sort of situations when people awake out of corporate / state induced slumber that they will be receptive to an analysis of what is happening and may begin to question the status quo. However given the reaction to 9/11 and the way the Patriot Act was brought in, I having my doubts. For example when I read things like the following extract from "A General Strike Won?t Do It", I get worried although it's hard to know how much to trust the poll that the piece is based on:
"...It?s encouraging that a July 18th Harris Poll found that 64% of surveyed Americans strongly disapprove of Bush?s handling of the War in Iraq. It?s not so encouraging that a Gallup Poll of November 19, 2004 determined that ?45% of Americans also believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago.? If lions and tigers and bears can simply pop into existence, with no eons of natural history required to produce them, then surely oil and cheap Chinese goods can be conjured out of thin air, too? The same poll found: ?A third of Americans are biblical literalists who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.? If sacred texts can just fall out of the sky, with no social conditions or individual people required to compose them, then surely all our other institutions ? marriage, NASCAR racing, gross inequality of wealth ? are just as perfect and transhistorical as the Bible. People who are so afraid of independent thought that they will happily vote for a fascist are not likely to suddenly notice that they can overthrow their bosses if they all pull together....
Nevertheless we must be ready for this moment. There is a historical precedent for this situation, such as Germany of the 1930s, where there was a great economic upheaval; obviously not for the same reasons, and significant fractions of the masses there turned to fascism. It's important that we understand why, as the capitalists will or rather are trying this trick again.
5. Oil a wasted GiftOil is a one off gift from Nature to build a sustainable infrastructure. This has not happened. The replacements for oil are not looking good. To run the global car fleet on bio-fuels would require most of the farmland in existence and besides the amount of energy used to produce bio-fuels versus the return is low, ranging from 3:1 to 1:1 since the actual figure is disputed. At the moment this fact is hidden, because the subsidized cheap fuel for tractors, transport and processing are not properly energetically taken into account. The proposed 'hydrogen economy' is pure fantasy. Not because burning hydrogen doesn't work but because there are no free sources of hydrogen to tap and to split water to make hydrogen requires the same or more energy as is released when you 'burn' it again to form water again so your problem is really where are you going to get that energy from. On nuclear, there are about 450 or so power stations worldwide; this would need to rise rapidly to at least 1600+ or higher. Figures depend exactly on assumptions of efficiency and so forth. With this number of reactors the present lifetime of the uranium's reserves would last only of the order of only 15 or so years. See more detailed figures the section "Ore Resources" in: Minnesota Energy Future: Part II-B: Energy + Resources, at: www.mnforsustain.org/erickson_dell_minnesotas_energy_future_part_IIB.htm
Some will no doubt point out that the effective reserves of Uranium can be increased a 1000 fold by fast-breeder technology which is where normal Uranium is irradiated to produce Plutonium which is fissionable. However the USA, UK and France tried this for about 30 years and have abandoned it because it is so fiendishly difficult. Only the Japanese are still at it without too much success. And even now nobody is seriously proposing it.
With alternative forms of energy while good, the amount of power is very diffuse. Besides from this side of the Peak, nobody seems to realize just how much cheap oil essentially subsidises the construction and cost of alternative energy plants and nuclear ones too. One of the key problems with alternative energies is that there are no real viable technologies for storing large amounts of energy. For solar and wind energy to come close to providing the same amount of energy as oil does, would require a truly massive scale up in production and deployment of such technologies and still they would come nowhere near to match the convenience of oil. Current world electrical capacity is about ~3.5 TW (3,500 GW) while global installed wind capacity which has grown dramatically is only 44 GW. So it has a long way to grow to reach 10% or 20%. It's feasible but it will take at least another 10 years and we will be well past peak and already in difficulty. Likewise the theorticals are quite good for photovoltaics; current annual production is equivalent to about 1.7 GW which is a long way behind wind, but it has the potential to grow and has been. Yet we would need to see the current rapid growth continued for many years into the future too. So as we can see, it's no so clear cut or straight forward. Anyhow, I am sure everyone has noticed that the capitalists seem to have absolutely no interest in these technologies. Presumably if they had been developed and deployed (using the cheap energy) years ago, it would have threatened demand of fossil fuels and thus profits. Regardless of all that, what is easier to do is to use less energy and use it more efficiently, such as promoting far more public transportation and there is a good case for making it free or almost free, thereby reducing dramatically the energy requirements of transport. For example Cuba which has essentially gone through it's own Peak Oil because of the cut off of cheap Soviet oil back in the 1990s has created special public transport buses that can hold 100+ people and are very cheap to travel on.
Certainly there will be some energy, but the days of endless motoring, of driving to the shop to just get some milk and bread, basically our entire car based culture, is as Howard Kunstler says entering the twilight years. And about time too. The problem is our built spread out suburban environment forces lots of driving upon us. Suburbia is now a millstone around our necks and the huge post-war (WW-II) investment in it will be seen as a big mistake. See for example Howard Kunstler's cynical but realistic take on things in his blog and now infamous essay: 'The Long Emergency' which can be found at www.kunstler.com. Kunster sees not a calamity but a long slow decline over many decades which is probably the most realistic scenario around rather than the extremes of optimism and pessimism.
It will be realized soon in the near future that the energy wasted on the production of every single additional car will mean there was or is less energy to build a solar panel or wind turbine or some such device that would enable us to construct a sustainable society. We are recklessly throwing away the very valuable energy sources that we will soon wish we still had. There will be clarity of what stupidity has taken place, but largely too late. What people don't realize is that say 20 or 30 years in the future, when a component in that wind turbine breaks down, and the part needs very special metals of a particular purity and some other alloys, will the infrasture for the mining and refining still exist? What about the ease of transporting the part and then getting it to the site? What about replacing the wind vane and the energy intensive to produce carbon composites in it? It could well be a case that a missing critical part means the rest of the machine is essentially scrap. This is an everyday ocurrence of semi-complicated machinery in the Third World, where for the want of parts; pumps, tractors and other machines lie idle and eventually rust. So you can see we may have some power, but just not enough to keep the whole system together and hence we should have started building all this stuff on a global scale back in the 1970s and 80s, but instead built millions of useless cars which by then will be long rusted in the toxic scrap-heaps.
What tends not to get discussed anywhere is that the combination of Peak Oil, the Greenhouse Effect and the general trashing of the global environment all together. Chances are in the panic down the back-side of the Peak Oil slope, there might be a rush to all sorts of different fuels, like lower grade oil, tars, coal, wood and so on and the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of energy will actually be even higher. Already there is a rush to bio-fuels. It will be a brave person who tries to stop the mad rush. Desperation will see environmental standards and safeguards consigned to the dustbin. Indeed the present 'administration' in the USA has already done this and there is similar talk in the UK. It will be likewise everywhere else. The reactions are therefore likely to exacerbate existing environmental problems and if society and politicians continue in their denial in the face of the facts, then the actions and solutions they take are likely to be reckless.
And speaking of reckless behaviour, the desperation of the White House's War of Terror reflects what it knows about the dire situation on the oil front. It's actions seem illogical to us and everyone else, but from it's perspective it knows how grave the energy situation is now and the consequences for the American Dream, and is preparing the ground for it's own survival afterwards in terms of the global elite of capitalists holding onto power. There will be much denial initially and great upheaval. Capitalism has been partially accepted by the masses because there has been endless growth so far and the bounties of the Earth got through hyper-extraction have been so great, that a portion of the masses -i.e. in the 'Developed Countries' have got a few half decent scraps up to now. Capitalism as everyone knows requires endless growth. The manifestation of the economy in the real physical world means growth requires more energy. Since there is going to be a lot less of it, growth will stall and we will have contraction of our present appalling wasteful setup. The oil gift has been wasted! Actually you could argue the gift of the Earth's environment has been wasted too in the thrashing sense.
See: Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and bio-diesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy
6. Energy and CapitalismOil or rather first coal and then oil and electricity has allowed human society to go from basically an existence limited by animal muscle power to almost unlimited power. This in the context of capitalism or rather society with hierarchical dominating power structures has allowed a cancer to occur on Earth and threaten the very existence of the abundant diversity on Earth. Most leading biologists in the ecology field are in widespread agreement, that the Earth's sixth extinction is well under way. Extinction rates are currently running at a 1,000 times the background rate. The availability of all this energy means that it is the lever that has allowed humans to extract huge quantities of resources such as minerals, opening lands, destruction of vast amount of forests, almost near exhaustion of all fisheries worldwide and production of fertilizers which lead to widespread pollution in rivers and estuaries because of super abundance of nutrients leading to algae blooms. Indeed it is widely accepted in the scientific community that over 40% of all bio-mass (and that includes the oceans) is now being appropriated by humans. The capitalists have been not just appropriating human labour! So in terms of the oceans, the zooplankton eat the algae, in turn eaten by the fish, of which we take most. Then on land, grass is being converted to meat, timber to products. Like a cancer, which grows at the expense of all the other specialised cells, it sucks resources and nutrients to sustain itself. Society is at the advanced stage of this. The sooner cheap oil runs out the better as maybe there will be a chance the leverage it provides to exploit resources will be diminished. With the psychopaths in power in most places, I reckon it isn't going to be pretty. Others, and I would agree, reckon we are actually in an overshoot situation, where we are currently beyond the capacity of the Earth to support current burden (especially the 20% using 80% of the resources) since so much damage has been done to our capital stock of biodiversity and other things. This is not good news for anyone, let alone anarchists. See for example: Industrialization: Prelude to Collapse. Excerpt from Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by William Catton, 1982 www.mnforsustain.org/catton_excerpt_overshoot_1982.htm
So for all of us reading this we have lived through the upside of the Peak. The physical consequences of the downside will give rise to a new set of forces acting on politics and society. This is the sort of thing science fiction writers write about which is largely trying to imagine politics and society under the effects of new and often novel forces and or technologies. Many have made the analogy of the well known biological effect, when nutrients are supplied to a bacteria culture on a petri dish, the population grows exponentially and then crashes when it suddenly runs out. The same thing actually is the cause of plankton blooms from rivers polluted with too much nutrients such as agricultural runoff and fertiliser. The comparison is also made with humans that so far on the grand scheme of things, we have behaved no differently. Unfortunately the actual evidence supports this. Anarchism is the only political philosophy that seems remotely capable of rising or attempting to rise above running society based on our most primitive biological instincts. Authoritarian socialism unfortunately retains the trappings of power within it's structure and so does not really break from the past. Capitalism and all the other tyrannies were just derivations of the basic instincts of greed, fear and desire to maximise the number of kin, through the acquisition of resources. [In the book: The Red Queen and the evolution of Sex by Matt Ridley, it is noted that up to relatively recently -a few hundred years ago- nearly all rulers used their wealth and resources to maintain large harems of women -i.e. for maximisation of kin. Allegedly more recently, Chairman Mao had a harem of sorts.] Anarchism aims to raise humanity above that basic level, indeed advance 'intelligent life' so as to develop and bring to fruition the very unique human qualities, intelligence and abilities of our being. Thus it has to succeed if there is to be any chance of us breaking out of the deterministic boom and then bust of population growth as described above.
7. Cheap Oil and the End of the Show - ReactionsThe endless growth of suburbia is based on cheap oil. Supermarkets are based on cheap oil. Where once we all walked to the local shop, instead we drive, -millions of us. Industrial agriculture with it's high fossil fuel inputs in the form of energetically expensive to produce nitrogen fertilisers and insecticides are a product of cheap oil. Those apples in the supermarket in February from New Zealand are a result of cheap oil. The current stage of capitalism is based on cheap oil. When the price starts to go up as everyone realizes oil production really has peaked and production is now headed downward; everything dependent on oil will go up in price. Oil is now around $60 a barrel, but Matt Simmons thinks $200 or even $300 a barrel is a more fair price for it. The whole market based system, with just-in-time manufacturing, just-in-time supply especially for the large retail enterprises such as Tesco, WalMart and all the rest, who rely on fairly thin profit margins, are on very shaky ground. The End of Cheap Oil will probably wipe these out along with a lot of other ways of doing things. Currencies may sink, the housing bubble will probably burst, financial derivatives will explode along with the economy and jobs. People won't be happy. What people don't realize is that the growth of money is ultimately dependent on the assumption there will be growth and that depends on energy.
There is a very real chance of breakdown and the deaths of millions, although many will scoff at such notions from their current relatively blissful positions. But in a study, possibly the only one of its kind, titled: 'Food and Energy in Japan: How will Japan Feed Itself in the 21st Century?' at http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/21fee.pdf, (table of contents at: http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/fande21e.htm ) the author through a very detailed and quite scientific analysis taking into account past levels of population, energy usage, soil fertility, food intake and calorific value, crop yields, work force and so on and using realistic projections shows that in the case of Japan alone even under optimistic scenarios, tens of millions will die. He also documents (in The Limits of Energy-Based Agricultural Systems and the "North Korean Food Crisis", in http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/dprkeng0409.pdf) how events unfolded during the 1990s in North Korea when there was an oil shortage -due to loss of subsidized oil supplies from the USSR- and how the shortage of energy led to a 50% reduction in fertilisers and consequent plummeting of agricultural output and this lead directly to the famine there at the time. It was noted that land that has been intensively cultivated via industrial methods, rapidly loses it's fertility when those inputs are reduced and it can take many years for the natural fertility to return. Therefore even if we turned organic overnight, it just doesn't work out that way, although Cuba survived having suffered a similar fate, as after the collapse of the USSR, it also lost it supplies of oil. However Castro et al managed to turn the economy around, by allowing farming of your own plots. There were a few years in the early mid 90s where people in Cuba were fairly hungry but they more or less pulled through. But then it was already a pretty rural society anyhow. What happens for urbanised ones?
As I said already, the capitalists are aware of all of this. The unbelievable luck of 9/11 provided the pretext to advance the obvious preparations that were already there, to put in place the police state and civil control structures (i.e. Patriot Act, pre-emptive wars) to help manage the situation when the bad news dawns on the motoring public. It was also a very thinly veiled pretext to grab Middle East oil resources or at least sit on them since control of access is just as important. Much of this though was more or less laid out in the now famous document authored by the NeoCons called Project for a New American Century (PNAC) written in the late 1990s which also stated what America needed was a new wakeup call akin to Pearl Harbour. In light of this, the recent military take over and lock down of New Orleans can be seen as a good opportunity to run a live test of what will (possibly) be soon carried out in cities all over the US. (Read Operation Garden Plot which is an account of something similar that was planned in the Reagan days in the event that the USA invaded Nicaragua and was a plan to arrest and round up thousands of dissidents, radicals and journalists and put in camps similar to the way hundreds of thousands of American Japanese were interned during WWII). Actually it seems those camps have not gone away you know and are been upgraded as reported here: Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps. An interesting development and actually quite widely reported in the corporate press, was the deployment of Mexican troops after Hurricane Katrina to help give out aid. It was a bit odd to say the least. Perhaps someone was flying a kite to see if there were any objections. But for years the Right Wing conspiracy nuts have always been on about UN troops invading the country some day and everyone ignored them. While much of their theories suffer badly from any logical consistency, I think the point they make is that troops from out of town or country will more willingly suppress people. Thus Americans in Iraqi, and Mexicans in America. Likewise the Chinese had to use troops from outside Beijing to carry out the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The reason this is brought up is in light of this quote from Henry Kissenger:
"Today Americans would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow they will be grateful. This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead with world leaders to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well being granted to them by their world government." - Henry Kissinger speaking at Evian, France, May 21, 1992 Bilderburgers meeting. Unbeknownst to Kissinger, his speech was taped by a Swiss delegate to the meeting.
While much of the focus these days is on the US, much less recognised and appreciated is that in most European countries equally repressive and sinister laws have been passed. In Germany for example the separation of police and military intelligence has been removed and the EU has effectively begun to put in place equivalent of it's own CIA and FBI. Much of this has been unnoticed by the public at large although very well documented by www.StateWatch.org/ Indeed much of this activity has a fair amount in common with the Strategy of Tension that was created in the 1970s in Italy where the state engaged in state terrorism (Bologna bombing 85 dead, kidnap and murder of Prime Minister Moro) to pin on the Far Left, to keep the Far Right in power. And it worked.
The relative ease in the way these laws were changed represents the fruits of the relatively long investment period in the careful nurturing of ignorance by the elites, as in the creation of our largely clueless society (US and Europe to a slightly lesser extent) and the promotion of the Cult of the Celebrity*. Japan and Australia have followed a similar trajectory too. The award winning ex-teacher John Gatto (US) brilliantly documented the real purpose of compulsory state schooling in works such as The Underground History of American Education and how in the early 1900s many of the big industrialists like Carnegie and Rockefeller put their money behind it so as to control the agenda. Gatto went back to the original works and papers which showed clearly state schooling was designed to dumb down the masses and create obedient, subservient and a passive populace so that they would be less inclined to rebel and less able to question. It intentionally was designed to make people anti-intellectual and it certainly is very noticeable that trait exists widely. This seems to result in those at the bottom who are disenfranchised plus the many who are not quite there but simply disillusioned, that they do not have the capacity or ability to see or understand their plight and so do anything about it. This for those in power, results in a form of nihilism that doesn't go anywhere and is relatively easy to manipulate.
*See for example The Culture of Narcissism (1979) by Christopher Lasch who documented the growth in this phenomena in US society but which now afflicts much of Europe too. He describes how the cult of celebrity has come to dominate our lives. www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393307387/103-0343557-6039845?v=glance&n=283155
For more about this, see: "Against School: How Compulsory Education cripples our Kids and Why" at www.spinninglobe.net/againstschool.htm. Another interesting essay on the schooling topic is: Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich, 1970 which might be familiar to some readers at http://reactor-core.org/deschooling.html.
This agenda of the state so-called education system clearly operates in Europe too. Indeed in Ireland (pop ~4m), a large number (50+) of public libraries were built from 1906 onwards and nearly all of them have the name Carnegie over the doorway which is an interesting observation. The Catholic Church, a rather right wing organisation, pretty much operated the Irish educational system at that time and for years afterwards. Their interests probably would have nicely dove-tailed with Carnegie et al. Clearly he must have had some links to Ireland, perhaps through Eamon de Valera who later became the first Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. Carnegie and others may have given support to de Valera who was fighting to get the British out of Ireland in return for helping put the lid on education that laid down the basis for control of development of people as suggested by Gatto. In Ireland at this time, there was a strong labour movement (aka. James Connolly who inspired many and lived in New York for awhile) and revolution had just happened in Russia (1917). The capitalists and church would have been quite alarmed and been keen to swing public opinion away from radical ideas like real democracy.
So to get back to Peak Oil, when the news breaks, because people have largely been kept ignorant about all things political since birth, their core faith will be shaken and the normal reaction will be denial of the reality. Therefore they will be trying to hang onto the endless growth myth as promised for most of their life by capitalism and regrettably are likely to turn to their 'leaders'.
Going back historically to the Nazi example, in the 1930s, many middle and working class Nazi followers, if they had followed the logic of the situation, would have gone Left wing and revolutionary. They didn't. Marxism never had an explanation for that. However the writings of William Reich in the 1934 book 'The Mass Psychology of Fascism' (available online) shows how fear, mysticism and sexual repression essentially gives rise to people afraid to question themselves, their plight and generates a craving for authority. The Neo-Cons and the rather large Christian Right in the USA are in the same situation more or less. It is noteworthy how the Right always gravitate towards religion, family values, sexual morals and tend towards historical myths (i.e. the true German, the true American etc) and are always anti-science. Reich isn't an easy read and is not well known probably because his later work is quite whacky and would tend to discredit his earlier work. But here's two extracts if a bit long winded:
"...Contrary to this concept, my medical experience with individuals from all kinds of social strata, races, nationalities and religions showed me that "fascism" is only the politically organized expression of the average human character structure, a character structure which has nothing to do with this or that race, nation or party but which is general and international. In this characterological sense, "fascism" is the basic emotional attitude of man in authoritarian society, with its machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical view of life. It is the mechanistic-mystical character of man in our times which creates fascist parties, and not vice versa. Even today, as a result of fallacious political thinking, fascism is still being considered a specific national characteristic of the Germans or the Japanese...."
Does this remind anyone of the Christian Right, militarists, allegiance to the flag crowd, faith in authority, the compulsory schooling system? We must somehow take onboard all these ideas because it has not been paid attention to, before and yet it is a crucial part of the social dynamic at any given moment and has direct consequences for dealing with Peak Oil and Climate Change too.
With regard to the fallout of post Peak Oil, it is clear the rest of the capitalist powers are helplessly hitched to the Anglo American agenda. From an anarchist perspective and that of any reasonable sane societal aware person, it is obvious we need to run society more energetically efficiently, sustainably and equitably but as we see from the German example and Reich's interesting and unusual insight into humans, it doesn't follow that this is what people will actually do. The sane route though is the one that Anarchists wish to follow and anyone else who cares to pay attention to their own rationality. The challenge then is to salvage the situation and turn society around in time to avoid what the mainstream press would call anarchy, but we would call chaos. We must not be thwarted and that is why it is crucial we are aware of what people like Reich, Gatto and others have to say because we must take into account the irrationalities of human behaviour and the human state of mind. Class analysis is not enough.
8. Roasting the Frog - Making ChangesLike the story about the frog that doesn't jump out of the pot, if boiled slowly, that is what the last 60 or 70 years have been. But Peak Oil is about to give a major jolt and everyone is going to notice. It's a rare wakeup call and we should be ready and waiting when people receive it. We must not let this opportunity go to waste. However we must not kid ourselves with rhetoric that people will know what to do. The very powerful State institutions of compulsory schooling which churns out passive, submissive, obedient people as already described and the powerful corporate media that has filled everyone's lives since birth have given rise to a society where many have expert knowledge of celebrities, films and sport -safe stuff; but know very little of the real physical world, it's ecosystems, the reality of the current political establishment, it's relationship to their own social environment and lives, foreign policies, the mechanisms of corporate corruption and exploitation and so on -i.e. the dangerous stuff. And whilst people seem perfectly rational most of the time, when it comes to the political realm they seem to uniformally forgo all their critical facilities, lacking any ability to critique or challenge their own political beliefs or the very deep assumption that somehow we need leaders. There is a widespread foolish faith in the parliamentary facade and the structures of the state. Frequently people say: '... but we must have someone in power and it's just the present lot are not any good...' Basically they are largely unaware of other possible ways of organising society (cleverly crushed and kept out of the media) and they seem to think there is only the present one or authoritarian communism, unaware of non-authoritarian communism. This is one of the fruits of compulsory schooling masquerading as education. One of it's mechanisms is that it teaches the idea that experts know things and we do not question. Notice the way everything these days has become a service run by 'professionals'. After we finally leave school the authority of teachers and of the school gets mentally transferred to ministries, institutes and 'papers of record'. I would admit I was there myself too. A case of we don't know what's best, the teacher, the manager, the civil servant, the engineer, the journalist, the businessman, they do.
People do not change their ways about anything by accepting logical arguments and then saying: 'That makes sense! - I will now think different'. It rarely happens and we should not rely on it. It takes years for people to change their views, opinions and behaviour to issues like racism, gender inequality, wars, environment, human rights, animal rights and so on. As already said earlier, if this was not true, then nobody would have followed the Nazis. But they did. A class analysis is important and vital to understand many political issues, but class analysis alone won't lead people to change. We must examine the human psychology of people's responses and as to why people change or don't change. Denial not only on a personnel level, like as in an alcoholic's denial, but denial on a wider scale at the scale of society exists and we must tackle that and recognise it exists, if we are going to succeed in making any changes. And denial exists because it was clearly of evolutionary advantage for a long time. It's just that now it is hampering us quite a bit.
For an opposing view to the usual of experts know it all, check out the book: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Sureksi.
Excerpts and reviews can be found at:
Capitalism long ago took human psychology onboard in the form of the marketing and advertising industry. It lies to people, by using the basic human instincts of sex and fear, -i.e. it uses emotion rather than logic. And it works. However I am not proposing we do that here. What I am proposing is that we don't concentrate in our efforts to bring about a better world by only dealing with logic which is what we and other Left groups tend to do. We must deal with and understand human emotion -sometimes referred to as irrationality which it isn't but is probably an evolutionary older method of thinking that integrates much better with our immediate senses; hence use of imagery by advertising. Try go into a bar somewhere today and present your arguments logically to anyone and tell them how we need to build a sustainable environmental and an equitable society without dominant power structures and see how far you get. So in a certain sense our job is much harder because we are trying to build up something whereas it is easier for capitalism as it just has to appeal to our primeval instincts and goes around plundering the environment and killing those who oppose them.
More generally, you could also say that technology advance has grown greatly and for the system as a whole to advance any further it must advance socially to catch up as it were.
[For non-anarchists reading this; for an explanation of what anarchism is, see for example http://question-everything.mahost.org/Socio-Politics/aarch.html ]