December 6, 2010

The Bridge


The Western elites used the industrial revolution and the fossil fuel heritage to organize the amassment of a vast wealth and power surplus. Their goal was always to steal as much of this surplus as they could, using the wealth and power they amassed to organize themselves to use Peak Oil itself as the ultimate opportunity to steal the rest.
First they used the power to force the Global South to pay the costs of the West’s post-war affluence. Cheap oil and the fact that non-Westerners were providing most of the resources, doing most of the work, and bearing most of the costs, enabled the West to temporarily distribute the fruits of this crime fairly widely among the populace. Out of that we saw the temporary rise of the mass middle class. As the oil crunch began in the 1970s, this middle class was carried further by the exponential debt system.
Now that cheap oil and exponential debt are over, the elites intend to clutch at 100% of the deteriorating wealth and power, forcing all the austerity of the end of cheap oil onto the Western peoples, just as they stole all the surplus in the first place. (They’ll also continue to exploit the non-Western peoples as much as possible, although the end of cheap oil will render such imperialism increasingly untenable.) Permanent mass unemployment in itself is an intentional policy goal. It’s part of the winding down of the “growth” economy which will no longer be able to grow, post-Peak Oil.
The point of “austerity” is to steal while the stealing’s good the last public pensions and other social property afforded by the oil surplus. It won’t be possible to resume productive growth. There hasn’t been any real economy growth in over ten years now as it is. All the paper growth was just fraudulent FIRE sector “growth”, and whatever gains are being temporarily measured during the phony “recovery” are of the same character. That’s why corporations are merely hoarding cash and looting “bonuses”. This is the robbery end game, while most of the people are still foolish enough to believe we’re headed for growth recovery, or that such recovery is possible at all.
Since programs like Social Security will also not be sustainable in the long run, the only question is whether to restore them to the people as they’re liquidated by the end of growth, or for the elites to liquidate them and steal them for their own benefit. It’s always been true that whatever the limits of resources, scarcity has always been the result of artificial, system-imposed political choices. The very basis of capitalism is artificially-generated scarcity. That’ll remain true post-Peak, for as long as the system of false scarcity prevails. The pensions of the oil surplus are not sustainable in the long run, but they do exist in the shorter run. Their mode of winding down can be done in a way fully for the benefit of the people. This can alleviate the energy transition civilization must undergo post-Peak. That’s also why we should institute Single Payer. Not because it’s long-run sustainable, but because in the medium run it would be a constructive use of the diminishing oil surplus. (I used the term “sustainable” in this paragraph, but see below for why going forward we shouldn’t use it in this context.)
Post Peak Oil, for many years to come, it will still be a question of the scarcity of necessities, which the political system will always try to drive ahead of the energy scarcity itself, vs. the winding down of luxuries. Political choices will largely dictate this. The elites will try to maintain their luxuries and impose total scarcity upon the people. The people should focus on winding down luxuries in favor of preserving as much material necessity as possible. The very existence of the elites is, of course, the most bloated, wasteful, parasitic, obscene luxury.
Permanent mass unemployment is now a structural imperative under the framework of continued neoliberalism. The political normalization of it has been the main political task of the Obama administration. As difficult as it will be for the system, this is the only way to minimize their political risks. Our task is to maximize their political risks.
So we need our own strategy for political and policy advocacy for cheap oil’s end times. It’s not easy to formulate – one seems to have to constantly switch back and forth between those discussions and advocacies which are conscious of Peak Oil, and advocacies which don’t know about it or pretend it doesn’t exist. The same is true of exponential debt/growth itself, which was also unsustainable even uncoupled from Peak Oil, since capitalism’s very capacity for real growth has long since been exhausted. All sectors are mature or nearly mature, and the profit rate should fall to nearly nothing according to their own textbooks.
It seems that we face two hierarchies of ideas/facts:
1. Awareness of Peak Oil – awareness of the end of exponential debt – the business as usual (BAU) mindset.
2. Political and economic transformation – reformism – denial, passivity, defeatism, selling out.
We recognize:
A. Cheap fossil fuel, and therefore this level of energy consumption, is unsustainable. So the only fully valid political awareness is Peak Oil awareness.
B. Exponential debt is in itself unsustainable, on account of the structure of capitalism itself.
C. Reformism cannot work, because of corporatism’s war of attrition, and often because of A and B.
D. For all three of these reasons, transformation is the only political alternative to neo-feudalism and restored serfdom.
Nevertheless, some reformist ideas, although not forever sustainable in themselves, can be sustained for some length of time during the transformation. We can picture a transition period where a full employment program, Single Payer, and the still-intact (non-austeritized) Social Security are still operating, as a temporary bridge to the post-oil civilization.
So that’s the first reason we must fight for them: To construct that bridge.
The second reason is that neoliberalism, like all forms of fascism, and like growth itself, must keep moving forward, “winning”, destroying. As I mentioned above, its political existence depends upon normalizing mass unemployment. We must deny them the reality and just as important the political semblance of victory in this. That’s one example of a severe political blow we can strike.
Then there’s the fact that for the moment it seems the true post-oil positive democracy sounds so different juxtaposed with the corporate reality. To the casual observer it sounds like a Utopia. The most important work to be done here is democratic education. We must somehow revive and propagate the ideas of true democracy, since no one in the schools or media is going to do it. Quite the contrary. So the policy bridge is also a psychological bridge. So we make such policy demands also as part of the movement psychology within which the real transformative action takes place. (All political action exists within a psychological framework.)
It’s a tremendous leap from soil to soil, across a seemingly uncanny abyss. That’s true physically, where it comes to energy, transportation, social and economic infrastructure, and it’s true psychologically. So both of these needs must be served by one span across the abyss. Then we can feel fully liberated to embark upon the bridge as if every aspect of it were sustainable.
Consider this by Zizek:

In the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the age of maturity in which humanity has abandoned the old millenarian utopian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality—read: capitalist socio-economic reality—with all its impossibilities. The commandment you cannot is its mot d’ordre: you cannot engage in large collective acts, which necessarily end in totalitarian terror; you cannot cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis; you cannot isolate yourself from the global market, without falling prey to the spectre of North Korean juche. In its ideological version, ecology also adds its own list of impossibilities, so-called threshold values—no more than two degrees of global warming—based on ‘expert opinions’.
It is crucial to distinguish here between two impossibilities: the impossible-real of a social antagonism, and the ‘impossibility’ on which the predominant ideological field focuses. Impossibility is here redoubled, it serves as a mask of itself: that is, the ideological function of the second impossibility is to obfuscate the real of the first. Today, the ruling ideology endeavours to make us accept the ‘impossibility’ of radical change, of abolishing capitalism, of a democracy not reduced to a corrupt parliamentary game, in order to render invisible the impossible-real of the antagonism that cuts across capitalist societies. This real is ‘impossible’ in the sense that it is the impossible of the existing social order, its constitutive antagonism; which is not to imply that this impossible-real cannot be directly dealt with, or radically transformed.

It’s clear that we have no idea what’s possible until we try it, while all such assertions of impossibility are lies told by those who want to inter humanity forever. It is in fact the kleptocracy which is truly impossible: morally, rationally, in practice.
So all our advocacy and demands shall exist on a triple track: Peak Oil awareness; the Bridge; non-Peak populism. Since most people still dream of reform, we need to speak to that while the educational work is conducted toward looking fully at the future and the truth. So my proposal is to bridge these two, which are not mutually exclusive but may sometimes be in tension. For example, when I’ve advocated Single Payer I’ve said things like “we need it as we enter the post-oil age”, or just left energy issues out of it. For wherever we discuss policy I recommend verbiage like that, rather than ever conceding, “it’s not sustainable in the long run”. That’s too easily misunderstood or twisted. “We need it as we enter the post-oil age” is both true and open-ended in terms of what it really means. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive. It’s a way of talking about Peak Oil and other resource limits, and advocating policy in accordance, while maintaining a positive, affirmative tone.
So here’s the basic situation:
1. We don’t expect the government to do anything good, and don’t advocate sitting around waiting for good government. We should take direct relocalization action in every way possible as quickly as possible.
That’s why, for example, I advocate the bottom-up debt jubilee and organized land redemption, rather than festering obediently for a real HAMP, for the government and banks to graciously do principal writedowns and allow bankruptcy cramdowns (to give “reform” examples which are at the outer limits of acceptable media discourse).
2. But we can also agree in principle that such reforms would be good. We agree for the benefit of those who still believe in these reforms, even as we suggest to that audience that reform is in fact impossible, and anything the system claims it’s doing in that direction will always be a scam.
3. There’s also some defensive political fights we have to undertake. Where it comes to net neutrality and civil liberties there’s no substitute for directed political pressure on the system.
And while I think we’ll have to directly fight for our Food Sovereignty on the ground, and the fight won’t work short of mass defiance and resistance, here too there’s evidence that political pressure can have some effect. The system’s united front on this and some other issues isn’t as solid as where it comes to the banks.
I’ll conclude by giving a few examples of the likely long-term reality, vs. the medium-term bridge possibility, vs. normal political demands which are free to us regardless of resource realities, since they don’t contradict them.
I mentioned Single Payer as a possible bridge, as well as a policy which is manifestly true given existing politics. People claim to be worried about deficits? Single Payer would save vast sums over the status quo, while Obama-Republicare will cost even more than the status quo.
Social Security is the ultimate bridge, and given existing politics it’s perfectly solvent. That there’s any SS “crisis” is a pure Big Lie. Speaking generally, it’s always morally and practically correct to reject any and all “austerity”. Total Austerity for the Criminals, Not One Cent More From the People.
As for the money itself, I just wrote a post which describes a money creation bridge, while my earlier money posts (parts one and two) describe the right policy from any point of view.
The right food policy is clear. You want better food safety? Decentralized production and more sustainable, non-industrial agricultural practices are the answer. Ban CAFOs and GMOs, which are proven threats to public health. You’re worried about how to feed the world? Organic methods consistently produce higher yield per acre than any industrial practice, including GMOs. How can we reinvigorate the economy? Food relocalization. Those are all mainstream reform questions, and all receive their true answer.
And when people who understand energy issues ask, “How will we feed ourselves once fossil fueled agriculture is no longer sustainable?”, what’s the answer? Decentralized production. Organic production, which we’ll now realize is really just normal production as history always knew it.
So whether it’s normal politics, the bridge, or full Peak awareness, the food answer is the same: Food Sovereignty and relocalization of production and distribution. That’s the most scalable policy truth of all.
We can see how for all these things the reformist position merges nicely with the bridge position. There’s no inconsistencies.
I hope these notes help toward the goal of developing a policy strategy for the movement going forward. I think the basic concepts and method are broadly useful, and are based on both physical and political truth. This can help toward our moral imperative to liberate ourselves and embrace our human destiny as a positive democracy. 


  1. You articulate many of the unformed thoughts that percolate in my mind. Questions:

    What are ‘their’ plans to preserve wealth when the dollar collapses? Do you believe the theory that Fort Knox is empty? Is it possible they plan to kill us with GMOs, then trigger the terminator gene, and open up the seed vault to feed the survivors?
    You write of an energy transition post-peak. Do you really believe there will be any more than solar power, harnessed by plants, wild animals and grass-eating beasts of burden? When do you predict WalMart will shut down in the US? How do you see the housing debacle as an impediment to transformation by relocalization, when property rights are uncertain? Wouldn’t the destruction of property rights seem to indicate a plan for a return to serfdom for the masses?

    You write:
    “1. We don’t expect the government to do anything good, and don’t advocate sitting around waiting for good government. We should take direct relocalization action in every way possible as quickly as possible.”

    And: “Ban CAFOs and GMOs”

    Comment by AR — December 8, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

    • The housing debacle and revelation of the existing property dispensation as an emperor with no clothes ought to be a great opportunity, if only the people were willing to seize it.

      Here’s a model example: All the mortgage holders of a community stop paying. The local government refuses to cooperate with higher level officials who are bank flunkeys. Both local police and newly organized local militias could handily deal with any private goons.

      If enough communities got it together to do that, there’s nothing the federal government could do about it. We’d have rescinded the Bailout and broken the banks from the bottom up.

      GMOs: I wrote in an earlier comment that the plan here is probably for the GMO seed rackets to hang on as long as possible, extorting as much rent as possible.

      They probably think fossil fuels will eventually be rationed to preserve sufficient GMO monoculture to feed the elites (the fields of course worked by hungry serfs, which will also help save fuel). As for the fact that this unresilient anti-ecosystem will catastrophically collapse (from a superbug or superweed or something) sooner or later, they’ve probably brainwashed themselves into ignoring it.

      Energy transition: No, I think in the end it’ll be the historical norm for energy, perhaps supplemented by some of what we’ve learned about passive solar, solar water heating, and some other technologies which don’t require large inputs.

      Preserving wealth: They’re already well on their way to using the deflated currency to buy up all the land and other resources. For example, we can expect to see more and more “privatization” of public water and land if we don’t fight it.

      They really don’t care about the long-term integrity of the dollar. Once they’ve monopolized all real assets, set up corporate toll booths everywhere, perhaps even to breathe the very air (that’s inherent in the corporatist logic) and all individuals are hopelessly indentured, with the debt adjusted to the state of the currency, what difference will it make?

      What you quoted at the end: If you’re saying that’s an inconsistency, then you missed the point of the post (or I expressed it poorly). I mentioned banning CAFOs as an example of how the right policy prescriptions are the same no matter what one thinks the possibilities are. Whether one is a reformist who thinks the system can be fixed, or a revolutionary who thinks it has to be completely transformed; whether one believes technology will replace cheap oil, or thinks this is the end of this level of energy use.

      No matter what one believes, the right prescription for food policy is always the same. So that’s an example of a basis for how people with lots of different mindsets can work together. “The bridge” was intended to be my explanation for how revolutionaries and/or Peak Oilers can still coherently support various reform projects.

      But as the first quote there indicated, I don’t in fact think the best use of our energy is to actively fight those kinds of fights. I just meant that we should support reform fights which head in the right direction, and become more active about them where there’s a real chance of success. That could be the case with things like food or the Internet; I doubt it can be the case with bank reform or money reform at the federal level. (Money reform at the state or especially local level is a different story.)

      Comment by Russ — December 9, 2010 @ 6:39 am

      • Russ: You state:”Whether one is a reformist who thinks the system can be fixed, or a revolutionary who thinks IT (my emphasis) has to be completely transformed…” By ‘it’ do you refer to the system (empire) in its totality? One of your basic concepts is ‘relocalization’ which doesn’t seem to be either reformist or revolutionary. Did I misinterpret?
        I submit that a number of geographic areas of the U.S. empire would jump at the chance to ‘relocalize’ and not be beholding or under the thumb of the DC/wall street criminal gang.

        Comment by jm51 — December 9, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

      • No, you don’t misinterpret.

        I do in fact consider relocalization a revolutionary concept and process, in that if taken far enough it would accomplish the disintegration of the empire.

        But I know lots of people don’t take it that way, and I don’t insist on that classification.

        But I think the ideas here can be applied by relocalizers however they see themselves, and I also think they could be applied by other kinds of revolutionaries, if they exist. (But I think relocalization and the building of real council democracy is the right path.)

        You’re right that decentralization can occur any number of ways, including particular areas taking the initiative and therefore breaking free in ways which aren’t accomplished by more passive areas, who thus remain tyrannized. For example, in my Take Back the Money post the other day


        I discussed how an intrepid state could seize control of its destiny. And you and I also discussed that further in this comment thread.


        So yes, I agree that if a decentralizing, truly federalizing movement could take power in a state or group of states (or operate with the benevolent neutrality of a state), that could be a potent position.

        Comment by Russ — December 9, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  2. My cynicism seems to be morphing into despair, which may explain why I pointed out the seeming contradiction. I see the effort to prevent government from doing bad things, such as advocating for leaving social security alone, as worth the effort, in order to try to preserve what little is left that benefits the people. But trying to get government to do anything good seems hopeless now, and a waste of effort. And it could backfire, such as resulting in a federal law prohibiting locales from passing our own laws banning CAFOs.
    I don’t doubt that the military would be sicced upon any movement to reclaim property from the banks’ predations. I’d hate to see my neighbors gunned down in a battle between the US military and the citizen militia.
    It hadn’t occurred to me that the elite eat GMOs without concern for their health. Why create the seed vault, if this is so?

    Comment by AR — December 10, 2010 @ 8:24 am

    • I know how you feel, AR. Sometimes it’s tough for me to refrain from despair as well. In moments like that I just remind myself, “this too shall pass”, both the bad feeling for myself, and the crimes in the big scheme of things. In the end they’ll fail, just as previous criminal cabals failed.

      I’d never worry about political efforts backfiring in the way you say. We can take it as axiomatic that the enemy will always do whatever he can regardless of what we do. That’s how Might Makes Right works. So we should always go ahead and fight, as hard as we can.

      Would this government ever go so far as to massacre people growing food? It’s possible. They’ve done so before, like with the Ludlow massacre. But there again, if they have such terrorism in them, they’re going to do that anyway. Whatever their worst is, the only possible way to thwart it is to fight back.

      I’d guess most of the people involved in the seed vault believe in it, and some elites probably care about hedging bets. I imagine the seeds are slated to be used in an emergency only under elite supervision, and needless to say for their primary benefit.

      Comment by Russ — December 10, 2010 @ 9:56 am

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