fwd from l-i

Mark Jones mark.jones at tiscali.co.uk
Thu Sep 13 08:01:51 MDT 2001

At 13/09/2001 11:52, Stanwrote:

>> >>Many of us participated in the Crashlist, where we gained a keen
>> appreciation for the critical importance of oil as a strategic resource
>> as it peeks in worldwide production and begins its inevitable dive over
>> the unforgiving precipice of mathematics. Now there's talk of attacking
>> multiple nations as terrorist "harbors," and even letters to the editor
>> of my local paper calling for the "resiezure" of all petroleum assets in
>> the world. For all the logic we exercise in showing that the Star Wars
>> halucination is inappropriate, it was never meant to be appropriate, but
>> a cash cow for contracotrs and a method for blackmailing the entire
>> world. Star Wars doesn't count to stop terrorism, but the tallk is not
>> of stopping anything now. It's of revenge. People hereabouts are talking
>> about nukes. And Dr. fucking Strangelove is the Secretary of Defense.<<

It became increasingly clear to me during those crashlist discussions
centring on the collapse of the world energy system, that my darkest fears
were not dark enough, and that in any case it is almost impossible to
convey to people the gravity of the crisis. Perhaps it is true that as a
species we are simply maladapted by evolution to deal with crises beyond a
certain order of magnitude. Faced with threats of large enough dimension,
we are not capable of a rational collective response. We cannot succeed in
visualising and representing to ourselves the scale of impending breakdown
in psychologically-compelling ways, no matter how hard we try. Therefore we
are unable to take avoiding action, even though in a general sense we may
be very well aware of what is going wrong, and we even deluge ourselves
with cultural representations (books, films etc) of the catastrophe which
we are nonetheless incapable of responding to.

Crises, seemingly, have to be scaled to lie within some vary
starkly-demarcated existential boundary which maps straight onto to the
envelope of everyday life and mass consciousness. Otherwise we are
paralysed into inaction. This is an ominous indicator about the likely fate
of homo sapiens. And the empirical evidence for pessimism is there in the
historical record of previous, now disappeared, civilisations.

Civilisations which do not develop political and social institutions
capable of pushing out the envelope, capable that is of anticipating and
pre-empting or resolving major step-changes (catastrophic, systemic crisis)
are routinely destroyed. The growth of complexity (implying cultural
richness, higher technology, more collective power of symbolic reasoning
etc) does not necessarily help. In the absence of an equivalent
institutional development, complexity, with its attendant entropic burden,
seems only to accelerate crisis when it begins and then to deepen the
post-crisis collapse. Great civilisations do not morph into lesser ones,
but into totally devastated landscapes peopled by bands of roaming
scavengers. This cyclical pattern of civilisational growth followed by
abrupt collapse, of terminal crisis followed by periods of darkness lasting
sometimes for centuries, is very evident in the historical record.

Part of the problem of misrecognition of crisis is the familiar one of
ruling class hubris, and the arrogance and self-absorption of the
priesthood. But there is also the problem of lack of transparency. Crises
are never direct, they are always socially-mediated, and this inevitably
results in mass disorientation. Gaining clarity does require the absolute
destruction of the priesthood and the overthrow of its core-beliefs, and
that is certain to be a protracted and painful process.

The energy crisis which has had the world by the throat pretty much since
1973 has rarely been directly manifest in everyday life. Shocks caused by
dramatic changes in the world energy-system have not manifested directly
but only indirectly, thru the geopolitical processes and discourses of
power which define the institutional life of capitalist states and their
economies. Each oil-shock (sharp price rise or fall) since 1973 has been
followed or gone together with, a major war. The basic dynamic of modern
capitalism is simple and is based on total dependence on fossil fuel: the
rise of 20th century urban industrial civilisation, and the huge growth in
the world population which accompanied it, happened only because of the
discovery of enormous oil reserves, primarily in the Middle East. The
extremely finite nature of petroleum reserves was always the Achilles heel
of industrial capitalism, and even now it is the great blind spot, the
great point of denial at the heart of the priesthood's theology of growth
and accumulation.

The bell curve of petroleum discovery and production began to peak along
time ago. Discovery peaked in the 1960s. US Lower-48 oil production peaked
in 1970. World per capita energy consumption peaked not later than 1979.
Oil production has now peaked and gone into decline in 44 of the 49
principal oil producing states. North Sea oil peaked in 1998.

World capitalism remains dependent on hydrocarbon energy and especially
oil, and there are no substitutes. The Caspian has turned out to be, if not
exactly a busted flush, much less than was hoped. It is much less important
for example than North Sea oil was in its heyday. Caspian reserves are
probably a small fraction of remaining Persian Gulf reserves. In a word,
world oil is already in sharp and irreversible decline. We remain more than
ever dependent on Saudi and above all, Iraqi oil reserves. Everything else
is being or has already been, used up.

Yet it is precisely here in this volatile geopolitical tinderbox that
America and its allies are now planning to wage new, intensified war. It is
hard to imagine a more suicidal course of action. As often before in
history, the hubris of ruling classes conceals some real, dumb stupidity.

War in the Middle East and South Asia and Afghanistan is ultimately going
to be a war for control over oil. What seems to be in prospect is a
military occupation of the oilfields by the major capitalist states,
against the will of the masses there and in the teeth of furious
resistance. This does not look like a promising way to guarantee long-term
and vital energy supplies. Without Persian Gulf oil, world capitalism will
be snuffed out quicker than the Mayan empire was. Waging war against the
local population seems to be the one surefire way to lose Arab oil forever.

Perhaps cooler heads will prevail and European and other leaders will
dissuade the Bush regime from wild adventures. But I don't think it will
make any difference, because events are already out of the political
control of the capitalist ruling classes. If it doesn't happen now, it will
do soon enough. They are no longer able to carry on in the same way as before.

We still have not begun to register the extraordinary implications. We do
now face the final collapse of world capitalism in its modern incarnation.
Exact time frames may be hard to specify, but the outcome can not be in
doubt. What this means in practice can only be this: there will be immense
human suffering and social, physical and economic devastation, not least in
the capitalist heartlands. Nothing can prevent this from happening. However
our collective evolutionary maladaptation to such violent , dislocatory
change-processes means that we shall continue to sleepwalk into the abyss,
I think.

What has particularly become clear to me in the course of my own recent
investigations of world energy is that the underlying crisis is far, far
worse than we even began to understand. I have reached the conclusion that
even Saudi oil production is at or near the peak. This is quite unexpected
and it means that the capitalist world-system does not even have the leeway
of another two or three decades which some of us thought it might. We are
staring disaster in the face right now. The collapse of Saudi oil, if it is
in fact happening, is of momentous significance. To put it in context, it
means for example that the building lots newly made vacant in Manhattan may
*never* be restored: there may be neither the money nor the demand for a
new world trade centre.

Mark Jones

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message

More information about the Marxism mailing list