Peak oil and the rise of political fascism

As the mainstream media remains absorbed by circus politics, reports from other meeting rooms are forecasting a sea-change in world affairs. A cynic might query, “In the age of multiple crises like super volcanoes, mass poverty, ceaseless bloodletting, what one single thing could spell out global change?” According to the energy policy politicos and war room brass, that thing is Peak Oil.

The Peak Oil phenomenon describes the greatest nightmare of the hyper-industrial world: geologists say that global oil production has already peaked, and is now declining in the face of increasing demand. American imperialism has been driven by that uber resource. After all, US patronage of the House of Saud and its two wars on Iraq were about transforming the immense Persian Gulf fossil reserves into Uncle Sam’s bathroom tap. Narratives of democracy conquering inferior ideas on the world stage a la Francis Fukayama merely disguised the libations of black gold that nourished American civilization.

Richard Heinberg, an expert on Peak Oil, has observed that the global monetary system is backed up by oil. The international currency for oil trading is pegged to the dollar. In essence, an expanding US economy requires expanding production of liquid black gold from South America, the Middle East, and the Caspian Sea basin. In fact, the US government’s enormous spending to haul itself out of its 2008 economic collapse was backed up by nonexistent future reserves of oil.

In late April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank in the sea. Eleven rig workers are presumed dead, and the US government is battling to contain the oil leak that is creating an ecological disaster on its doorstep. The deep-water well contraption, which punches a hole through the Gulf Basin to extract the oil, is a risky venture that epitomizes the desperation underwriting Peak Oil era’s energy gambles.

The venture highlights the fact that the cheapest and most easily accessible fossil fuel reserves have by now already been used. More and more resources are required to extract them from dangerous areas like sea basins, or process them from tar sands. “All of these fuels are in the process of becoming more expensive, and the various energy alternatives are limited in one way or another in their ability to replace hydrocarbons,” says Heinberg. “That means we are currently seeing the end of economic growth as we have known it.”

Modernity, progress, and all the other hallmarks of hyper industrial civilization rested on a single precarious point –” the intersection of the now diverging graph lines for oil production and consumption. As an exercise on the impact this will have on modern living, let’s recite all the different items that require oil. Ready? Deep breath –” computers, high-speed transportation, resource intensive suburban communities, security hardware, plastics of all kinds, clothing, gadgets and gizmos, food, bottled water, modern medicine, the internet. Yes, we’ll run out of breath long before that list is exhausted. We bathe in a constantly running shower of petroleum on a daily basis. This is no metaphor.

So, what happens in the gap of the two lines on the graph? What sort of futures are our eyes peering towards? As Muslims, our vision will look different according to the geography we live in. Hyper-industrialization requires under-development elsewhere –” this is an incontrovertible law of Eurocentric economics. We can point to the transformation of Iraq and Afghanistan, historic seats of empires and complex civilizations, into pre-historic dens of suffering as teachable modules of this process. Resource extraction must affect every level of the culture, so that the people are too demoralized to resist. Unless a new natural resource is discovered, the depletion of fossil fuels in Muslim majority countries might ironically help them throw the corpulent giant off their back.

But for Muslims living in US and European domestic space, the picture looks quite different. If Peak Oil forecasts a cliff that the train of US civilization is charging towards, we are fully implicated in the aftermath of the crash. American intellectual Noam Chomsky has recently reflected on the state of the union in terms that make a Russian novel by contrast seem like a funny Broadway musical.

“[The United States has become] very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky declared, referring to the environment of 1920s Germany that laid the ground for Hitler’s takeover. “The parallels are striking. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.” Chomsky reflected on the 1930s Great Depression, where the financial crash and agricultural Dust Bowls divorced millions of Americans from jobs and sustenance. The civil society today is far more frayed, far more desperate. “The mood of the country is frightening,” declared Chomsky unequivocally.

Political analysts are predicting that the economic collapse is setting the stage for another figure to emerge out of the wings of the political stage to formalize the US move to despotism, using xenophobia toward minorities and Muslims to accomplish this goal. Hitler and Mussolini have become visible specters to academics, activists and clear thinkers. Recently, Arizona has passed the SB 1070 bill to curb illegal immigration, which effectively gives the police authority to submit every brown-skinned or foreign looking person in the state to random checking. This opens a wide door for racial profiling and militarization to invade civil society through hysteria over “the other”.

Arizona is only one manifestation of the political culture. An impoverished, bitter US society is too enervated to take the condition of their lives to the leaders who misgovern them. Rather, people are being pulled toward Bible-Belt confidence men whose football-field sized mega churches are running out of room to fit them all. This has proved to be a political windfall, strengthening the neo-conservative-radical Christian alliance. Despite lapses like electing Obama for president, the country is increasingly tilting right wing in its culture and institutions. The New York Times and other US newspapers have reported that in the mid-term congressional elections, Republicans are poised to sweep out the Democrats from established electoral seats. The issue at hand is not whether one self-entitled satrap or another occupies a political chair, but that US culture has made the definitive turn towards fascism.

Let’s be specific here. The standard definition of fascism is the alliance of corporate interests with an entrenched political class, who craft policies of mass control over the public. As dollars depart from pockets, multiculturalism has become a luxury that no one wants to afford. With the Supreme Court’s January 2010 ruling, protecting corporations’ rights to unlimited bribery of politicians as “free speech,” tolerance, diversity, and inclusion won’t even be locatable as “just rhetoric.” Peak oil and the social collapse it is heralding in industrial countries is setting the stage for a paradigm shift, which involves organizing the nation around purely racial lines. The problem is that this too needs a kind of fuel –” the human fuel provided by “the other.” Muslims who’ve participated in the economic party, even while recognizing themselves as part of this category, may just as well find themselves to be the next expendable resource.