Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Sunny morning in the garden, with Marx in my head and peak oil on the horizon.

The five blood lilies are looking pretty lovely this morning....
Before I went out there this morning,  I was reading some more of Capital (Marx) after being led there by Epicurus and John Bellamy Foster's  "Marx and Ecology" and it's true that Marx did consider the contribution of  "Nature" to capitalism.  Anyway,  I am reading about how labour-power is bought by the person with capital and used to make more money... so far so good.   The labourer has to have enough money to survive for 24 hours per day (not merely for the 8 hours or so of work time) and to raise children in order to provide labour for the future.  And so the value of his labour is determined.

As I have been out watering and raking and moving wood into shelter,  I have been thinking about this a lot.  I am trying to become a little more self sufficient... with a simpler, more resilient system in my own way.    Labour is valued differently when used to produce subsistance products for oneself rather than products that can be sold, adding value to capital.  However, the other thing that the labourer must be able to do (in a capitalist system) is to buy the products of industry, even after all of the subsistence needs are met.  The labourer must become a consumer as well when there is capital that needs to be "working" and making money.  (I have heard people talk about "putting their money to work.")

It used to be that the manufactured goods were inherited from one generation to another.  Nowadays,  most of what is produced and what we buy is added to landfills within a few years.  There used to be little need for landfills (and in some places there is still very little need) but these days there is even concern that we are running out of space in landfill sites!  The classic example of useless stuff must be the moulded plastic piece that is added to a food parcel at McDonald's in order to increase the profit for the food manufacturer.  It's hard to imagine how and why people can be convinced to work more to be able to acquire goods (such as that piece of plastic) that can later be dumped... but then there is a huge amount of money spent on persuading people to buy the moulded plastic and superfluous gadgets and therein is a whole other story...  the labourer must pay the costs of these promotional activities and advertising as well.

The technology that is actually needed is for food, clean water and shelter, and if people had to produce these things,  perhaps they would not need the gadgets, distractions, the landfills and the financial system and oil supply to support the overproduction of other stuff.
The necessary technology is pretty simple...
especially the beetroot...

And so we get to the next problem,  peak oil.

Oil is one of those additions to capital that comes from Nature (as Marx would express it) for no cost.  While there is a cost to extracting and refining it,  there is no cost of oil production... it all happened more than a million years ago.   Oil is provided free and gratis by Nature and its value is increased by labour, making the oil that is harder to get more valuable, owing to the extra labour required to collect and refine it.  This huge free contribution to our lifestyle that has enabled capitalism to thrive, has made us dependent upon this easy energy supply and eroded our collective abilities to meet our needs without it.  It has been suggested that our standard of living would require 200 slaves working for each of us to maintain us in the manner to which we have become accustomed,  should oil not be available.  The basic technology that is needed for the supply of food,  clean water and shelter has largely been forgotten, mainly because this gift of oil has lasted for so long...  or at least for enough generations so that the culture of planned obsolesence that suits the huge productive capacity of capital,  rather than the culture of scarcity and inheritance that existed before we had those moulded plastic artifacts that are destined for our landfills.

So what will happen next?

We  may have already passed peak oil.  It's hard to tell.
One can only see these things in retrospect.

There are many calculations and estimates of just how peak oil will change our lives.  The obvious changes will be to transport, food and fertiliser production and the prevalence of those moulded plastic bits and pieces in our food packages.  Producing food without the advantage of fuel will be a challenge.  People's labour will be more valuable and those with the skills to produce food,  clean water and shelter will be valued.  Dmitry Orlov, who is well aware of how the lack of fuel in the Soviet Union changed society there has spoken about how, despite bumper harvests after the political and economic collapse there, food was unavailable because of the lack of fuel to harvest it.  Who knows what might happen here.

Production for profit rather than for use value reduces the value of labour power, and at the same time reduces the ability of the consumer to consume because each has less money to spend.  The oil and capital based system upon which we rely is collapsing.   Political decisions can slow the outcome,  but in fact,  "People are a problem."

In the words of Douglas Adams,  in "Restaurant at the end of the Universe"....
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
... and I am beginning to believe him.  

The very people who are making decisions about these issues are those who are willing to take the biggest risks, as they are the ones who have benefitted from risk-taking in the past.  " politicians are mostly wealthy, benefitting from the profligate lifestyle, and anxious not to be the first to "change course."  The logic of this situation implies that the first to "blink" will be the loser. "  This all makes sense in the light of game theory.

There are many people who are trying to change these systems and behaviours.  Organic farming is booming,  farmers markets are popular,  and there are conferences and get-togethers...  earth hours and demonstrations...  though the mainstream is not taking much notice.  In the words of Dmitry Orlov,  stupidity is rampant.  

There is plenty of informaton out there and plenty of indications that the current risky options might not be the cleverest way to go.  The fact that this has been understood for so many years... since Marx wrote Capital in 1867,  and since the soil association began in 1946 and  the  one straw revolution of Fukuoka...  makes me think that the decision makers are not going to change direction until there is a serious emergency.  (There are emergency situations in many parts of the world already,  but this will need to impinge on the lives of the wealthy before significant changes are made.)    The only sensible decision for individuals is to move towards independence from the mainstream,  moving towards a simpler, more resilient system...

Now,  back to the garden....
... so much to do,  so much good food and so much fun.

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