V. Petrohistory

“Petropoliticial undercurrents, with oil as a global conspirator, function as Telluro-occultural lubricants on which everything slides, advancing in all directions.” — Cyclonopedia 130

Although they are not identical, the material history of oil is intertwined with the political history of its producers, and with the war machine. Once one gains an understanding of this history, current events such as the Ukraine War become much more legible. My goal is not to give a complete or authoritative history, but rather to move fast and fill in some of the interstices. 

I divide the landscape of American oil interests into two bulbs of money that erupted from different streams of oil: the Texan Nexus and the Atlantic Complex. The Atlantic Complex is the big one; it grew out of European colonialism and was fed first by Baku, controlled by Nobel in the 1870s, back when oil was mostly used for lighting. It included the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which would become BP, which produced oil in Iran and shipped it both West and into Europe and East to India. Shell. And the big one: Standard Oil. Daddy Rockefeller had started building the monopoly over oil services with the huge capital it had amassed from coal revenue from the late 1800s that was trust-busted in 1911. That complex legal affair was handled by Sullivan, Cromwell, where John Foster Dulles successfully created a swarm of allied Standard companies. 

The Texan Nexus was founded by an evangelical terrorist, Patillo Higgins, who bombed a Black church and shot a cop in Beaumont, in southeastern Texas, in 1880. Ten years later, he became a land speculator buying up properties outside of town, including Spindletop, where, according to his telling, he smelled petroleum sitting by the lake. Ever a fuckup, he screwed up the drilling, wasting so much capital that his investors were able to oust him from control of the venture, though not his shares in it, until 1900 when he celebrated the turn of the century with a gusher that began the stream that funded entities we now know as Texaco, Chevron, Gulf, Phillips, Conoco, etc. The people who got rich in the Texas Nexus, like Clint Murchison, Haroldson L. Hunt, and John Healy, must be considered heirs of the “Prophet of Spindletop,” Patillo Higgins.

a. The World War Machine

Modern petrohistory began in 1912 when the British Royal Navy converted their fleet to oil. Before then, oil was still technically competing with whale oil for lamplight demand. Coal did all the heavy lifting of the first phase of Industrialization. There was a very limited demand for oil, especially compared to the vast reserves already discovered and exploited in Baku. Of course the Brits were prepping their navy for war, The Great War. Daniel Yergin, though he be neoliberal, earns his quote: “World War I was a war that was fought between men and machines. And these machines were powered by oil.” The first, and still the largest, institutional-scale buyer of oil is the War Machine. The history of oil can be told as the history of the military-industrial complex, to maintain Eisenhour’s historic turn of phrase. 

One point of tension that led to the Great War was the Baghdad Railway, a proposed venture by Deutsche Bank that threatened Anglo-Persian’s monopoly over the markets in their own colony in India. Rockefeller backed Britain’s efforts to block the project, which helped to clarify what side of the war the American government was on. But other American oil interests, including a significant share of the nouveau-riche Texas Nexus, maintained their partnerships with the Germans. Many of those investors were clients of the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, where Foster Dulles was to become a senior partner after the war. The War killed the German rail project, as the Allies wanted, but tremendously boosted the ascendancy of oil. The war “ended.”

In 1925, Ibn Saud, a warlord who had formed a coalition with Islamic puritans captured control of Mecca and Medina. Five years later, tourism to the Holy Cities crashed because of the global depression. He had his British agent, St. John Philby, negotiate a deal to sell the oil rights in Arabia to the company that became Chevron. From this deal forward, the Saudi family became an extension of the Texan Nexus: a Texan creature in the Middle East. The Saudi government didn’t get control of it until 1988, and even now its culture is American. 

In 1931, prospectors in East Texas and Oklahoma—Spindletop area, deep south—drilled what turned out to be the largest oilfield yet. The huge fresh flow by independent producers caused the price to collapse. After four months of this, the governors of both states declared martial law in the region and sent in the National Guard to occupy and shut down the oil wells. The Major General of the Texas National Guard just happened to be the general counsel to Texaco. This tactic, exported abroad, became the model for the relationship between the already-dominant oil majors and the military. 

 In the interwar years, Foster Dulles began a “complex merry-go-round of transactions that funneled massive US investments into German industrial giants” (Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard), including the multifaceted patent-trading deal between Standard, Shell, and IG Farben that is a backbone of the plot of Gravity’s Rainbow. Not only did that deal create the modern plastic industry, it also created a hedge against American oil for the Nazi war machine in the form of coal hydrogination technology, which allowed Germany to make 2.5 million tons of synthetic oil in 14 hydrogenation plants around the country by 1938. 

As we all know Standard, Phillips, Texaco, and Shell, all sold oil to the Nazis throughout the second war. But had they been stopped by embargo or sanction, Standard had already taught IG Farben to liquefy coal—domestically available within the Third Reich—into an oil substitute. Western oil could then potentially mobilize this as an argument against blocking oil exports to Germany during the war: it would make no difference if Rockefeller kept selling to Germany, they’d be able to fuel their war machine with “synthetic,” so the Allies might as well keep taking the profit. Of course in reality, the Nazi war-machine was ever thirsty for oil, insatiable, and would burn anything.

The Dulles brothers were creatures of the war machine. From afar, it appears that Allen acted upon history more than his older brother did, but Foster set the agenda. The working dynamic between the brothers was created at Sullivan and Cromwell, where Foster’s authority was impregnable. Foster’s biggest client was Standard Oil.  Foster helped maintain the Rockefeller vertical monopoly over oil services after it was broken into separate companies, which was a complex task that involved many stakeholders in the Atlantic Complex, yes, but also with affiliates of the Texas Nexus. Both sets of interests were firmly aligned, even if they ended up on different sides of the War at times. 

Foster was a Germanophile. He really loved his business with Germany, even from back when his client Rockefeller was pushing for intervention on the English side of the Great War, but much more so after he had helped his clients get rich off of the Versailles debt structures, and well after the Nazis took over. This is why he opened Sullivan’s Berlin office, and made a big show of crying when they had to close it in 1935 so Sullivan employees could stop signing all their correspondence “heil Hitler.” All his partners, including his little brother, had to stage an intervention to get Foster to stop openly supporting the Nazis, and what did he do? He cried pitifully and dramatically, according to accounts. What a fragile little fascist who needs to be punched. Oil was the strongest thread in the rope that connected American and German industries throughout the Second War, although oil-burning corporations like IBM had plenty of room to participate. 

Meanwhile, oil was fueling an increase in capital circulation that made it necessary to begin talking about a new thing with its own actancy: “The Economy.” Before that, the word economy mostly referred to the process of managing resource distribution in an efficient manner, but after JM Keyens put the definite article in front of it, it became a new object of politics that could justify power itself, in lieu of the fading Divine Right of Kings. 

The Dulles brothers fought a different WWII than the rest of the country. The rest of America was fighting the Germans, Italians, and Japanese. The Dulleses were fighting Stalin. Russian Oil has always been a real enemy of American Oil. That is why American oil companies, including Standard, fueled the Nazi war machine to invade Russia in 1941. American oil companies-plus-Shell would have rather had Baku in Nazi hands than Soviet, because that’s what Operation Barbarossa was all about.  The result was Stalingrad, one of the greatest tragedies of the War, and it was only by making a massive sacrifice that the Russian people were able to defeat Hitler and end the war in Europe. Stalingrad was fought over the oilworks at Baku. 

While the Russians were doing that, Allen Dulles was meeting with Karl Wolff, plotting to cut the Russians out of the coming peace deals. It didn’t technically succeed, but his wish to join with the Nazis came true, as he absorbed huge numbers of the Nazi personnel and technology into his organization after the war. It seemed like one of his main objectives was to piss off Stalin, and in that, he succeeded. 

In truth, he almost needn’t have bothered. Truman, whose orders he had treasonously defied in negotiating with Wolff, was already threatening to nuke Stalin’s troops: on the way to kicking Hitler’s ass and winning the war for everybody, the Soviets had occupied oil assets in Northern Iran.  Truman turned this into a major national crisis in 1946 and forced Stalin to surrender the assets to his buddies across the pond at the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at the end of the nuclear barrel (still warm from the year before). The pivot to enmity with Russia after the War seems overdetermined, at least from the American side.

In sparking the Cold War, Dulles and Truman were working in the interests of the War Machine itself, which didn’t want to disband just because it had defeated one opponent, who was never really much its enemy as its collaborator in producing war. The supposed threat from the Soviets was always mostly fictional. Right at the beginning of the Revolution, Bolsheviks had expected the workers of the world to rise up spontaneously around the world, but when that didn’t happen, first Lenin then Stalin had adopted a policy of “socialism in one country,” meaning that he had no real interest in fighting for control of other countries: no imperialist ambitions, in stark contrast to the Americans. Petrologically, the Soviets were mostly interested in developing its own sources of oil, and helping allies like Iraq under the leftist Abd al-Karim Qasim nationalize their oil industry. 

Everything that happened in the USSR after World War II must be understood in relationship to a USA that was pathologically bent on its starvation and destruction—a sentiment that wasn’t reciprocated. The monomaniacal campaign by American Cold Warriors fatally perverted whatever the USSR could have been. Another victim. Perhaps without this paranoid antagonism from the States, communism could have thrived. But the military-industrial complex could never live and let live, not in as advanced a stage as it was at the close of open War.

We might ask ourselves, on whose behalf were the Dulles brothers acting, really? What was the real Force behind the Force? A multiplicity of interests and industries, of course: the accumulated network of privately-held Power. But I think that first among those had to be the oil industry, upon which everything came to depend. Throughout the century, oil worked itself into every other major part of the economy, taking over agriculture beginning in 1909 when The Father of Chemical Warfare, Fritz Haber, introduced nitrogen fertilizer, and taking over manufacturing and durable goods with polymers, ushering an era in which any physical form that could be imagined could be created in plastic. And all of it needing to be moved around. 

With the growing importance (usefulness) of oil to everybody, the oil producers gained corresponding influence in power and in politics. John D. Rockefeller: the name so powerful it had to be carried by two different men. Rockefeller nurtured the Texas Oil Nexus not as competition, but as a means of strengthening and expanding his own empire. Long gone were the old North/South animosities of the 19th century.

b. The Genocide

The World War Two Machine successfully transformed into The National Security State under the Dulles brothers. That effort included the Korean War, and hundreds of other illegal operations around the world to murder and overthrow legitimate governments. It also included the transformation of McCarthyism from a circus show into a paranoiac fantasy that would justify the actions of any of its believers: anticommunism. 

This Dulles Machine finally consolidated its power with a series of assassinations from 1960, when they killed Adriano Olivetti, to 1968, when they killed RFK. They simply killed anyone who could have possibly offered an alternative to their own hegemony. Not a subtle tactic, but it worked. 

And the one in particular. Others have already convinced both you and I that Dallas, 1963 was a major turning point in American history, a point at which a better, more pluralistic future was foreclosed upon. Dallas was the administrative capital of the Texan Nexus, a convenient 4 hour drive from their infrastructural investments in Houston. “Psychotic oil-rich millionaires ordered and paid for the assassination of JFK,” in the words of Jim Garrison. Oilmen, they called themselves, these descendants of Patillo Higgins. These men were allowed to get wildly rich by the Atlantic shotcaller John D. Rockefeller, who could literally pick the winners and losers of the oil industry, both with his monopoly over refineries and services, but also with his enforcers, the Dulles Brothers. 

So it is worth rehearsing some of the oil connections to the Kennedy murder, acknowledging that we’ll never know the full extent. Since 1926 Texas oil companies had enjoyed a tax giveaway called the “depletion allowance” that allowed them to keep 27.5% of their revenue tax-free. At the time of his assassination, Kennedy was pushing to eliminate this tax concession, infuriating the likes of H.L. Hunt and Clint Murchison. George de Mohrenschildt, who groomed Oswald as a patsy, was a petroleum geologist who worked for various oil companies his whole life. Of course, LBJ was a Texan, and although I find it unlikely that he was party to the specific plot to kill the president, he certainly played his role historically in reversing the policies that the killers objected to. Of course there were non-oilmen in the conspiracy, like the Cubans, but that is no reason to let ourselves be distracted from the fact that oil spent the next ten years using American power to consolidate its grip over the whole world in an orgy of violence that spanned the entire third world. The paranoid logic of the Cold War had reached brennschluss and was raining down death everywhere. 

Meanwhile, as the easy oil available in the continental US dried up, the bulk of oil production moved to the American-owned operation in Saudi Arabia and the US became a huge importer of Middle Eastern oil. This arrangement kept the price of oil quite affordable for most of the sixties, which facilitated oil’s total saturation of the American economy. 

At the time, the narrative around oil supply largely mirrored the reality of Great-Lakes sized reserves: it was seen as effectively infinite, even renewable. Geologists were arguing that oil reserves are constantly being renewed as they are depleted, like an aquifer. There were dissenters to this cornucopian view, but they were understood as outsiders and threats to the industry who should be silenced.

c. The Invention of The Environment

Cut to October, 1973. OPEC was meeting in Kuwait to negotiate a new state tax rate on oil. Since ARAMCO was an American company that merely paid Saudis, the Texas Nexus was well-represented at any OPEC meeting. At the time, Henry Kissinger had been pushing hard for higher energy prices to justify opening Alaska to energy extraction. [endnote 7] The Gulf states wanted a higher tax rate. There was a consensus in the room: everyone wanted more money.

During the conference, Egypt and Syria (not OPEC members, but both American allies) initiated the Yom Kippur War. America saw a new outlet for its war machine, a consolation for its recent final defeat in Vietnam, and not only backed the Israelis but actively prevented the negotiation of any peace deal. OPEC successfully negotiated its tax rate. The next day the Saudi oil ministers announced from Kuwait that they would embargo oil sales to the United States unless we allowed negotiations to take place in the war.  That meeting had been planned years in advance; easy to schedule a war around that. The Energy Crisis was consummated.

It is pretty clear that actual oil imports to the US didn’t change at all, as other producers filled the void in the market. There was no material scarcity of oil, but prices shot up. This shock was welcomed by the executives who were getting rich off of it, but they worried it would be short-lived. They needed something to support the price of oil at high levels over the long term.  

At the same time, the public discourse of infinite renewable oil reversed, and oil became seen as an irreplaceable, limited commodity, a non-renewable energy source, which was much emphasized. 1973 was also the year Limits to Growth was published, and it was extremely popular. Oil companies saw it as a reason to justify higher prices and inflated margins. Oil’s interests were successful at framing the politics of “the environment.” Meanwhile, people were saying things like “Russia has enough nuclear warheads in the world to destroy it eighty times over.

We know now that there is still enough fossil fuel in the ground to scorch the earth three or four times over, at least, we still think of it as a non-renewable resource, something that we’ll run out of some day. This idea of peak oil has ebbed and flowed over the years, and it is usually compelling because individual wells and oilfields do run dry, and only so much of the oil is sitting in “conventional” reservoirs near the surface waiting to get pumped out. But the higher the price of oil, the more of it becomes available, as companies are able to frack harder, drill sideways, boil rocks (“shale”), etc. Oil makes more of itself available as it is exposed to larger amounts of capital. Higher prices facilitate the excavation of hydrocarbons. This perception of scarcity is a victory for the oil companies, because it doesn’t matter how much oil is in the ground. We have to stop or at least radically slow its flow into the atmosphere, ten years ago at the latest.  

But back in 1973,“easy oil was flowing strong everywhere it was produced, with ARAMCO in the lead. As always, there was too much of the stuff. The “Energy Crisis” generated windfall profits—wealth on a scale hitherto only imagined. By then, the whole economy was entirely dependent upon oil, and so high prices were an efficient mechanism to vacuum money out of People’s pockets and into the hands of any Power that was needed to play along, especially the Saudi family. It was one mechanism that accelerated a wealth transfer from poor to rich that has left us, as humans, entirely powerless. And so, the business alliance of the Americans and the Saudis–the family, not the country–became the axis around which history turned for the next forty years. America had the same relationship with Iran, and expected it to continue, but that ended in 1979.

The conversion of oil into capital creates a balance-of-payments problem. In this case, the West was constantly paying dollars to the Saudis for their points on the oil. Eventually the Saudis would accumulate all the dollars, the Americans would have to find ways to make more dollars, and at some point inflation goes parabolic. That was the threat, in the seventies. The producers need to buy something back, something that is made by the consumption of oil. Usually such purchases are bound by human need—a country only buys as much grain or durable goods as it needs.  But a country needs more oil than the sum total of all those exportable products. Oil requires another product that can be accumulated independent of human need, to flow in the opposite direction. The only such product is weapons. The larger an arsenal the more powerful its owners, without limit. Therefore the energy system operates as a triangle trade whose three sides are oil, capital, and weapons (the trinity of war). But when weapons are stockpiled, they are inevitably used sooner or later.  This dynamic is commonly associated with the US-Saudi relationship, but it is inherent in the material attributes of oil (its centralization and its utility) and can be seen throughout petrohistory.

Adnan Kashoggi, the son of the Saudi family doctor, positioned himself as a middle man for these weapon purchases and became the richest man alive. He put the cash into the BCCI where the CIA could use it for off-the-books operations. The flow of weapons to the Saudis and Iran normalized itself as a necessary and utterly bipartisan fact of the world, even while our ideological commitments (and another massive flow of weapons) stayed with the settler-colonial state of Israel. 

Israel was valuable to American oil as a source of constant conflict, as an engine of the War Machine. Back at the beginning of the Zionist project, there had been some Americans like James Forrestal who opposed Israel because of his own oil investments, but Forestal was kinetically defenestrated in 1949. The Machine favored a perpetual aggressor, a reliable source of violence to sustain the flow of weapons to the Middle East. Conflict is the combustion that oil needs to keep flowing, and a fresh genocide in Palestine was a promising asset. (And that is why its deployment of itself into the atmosphere is such a brilliant guarantor of its own supremacy into the future, because as we all know, climate change generates more conflict.)

And so, the US adopted a policy of prolonging and exacerbating every local conflict in the Middle East. Before 1989, Islamic fundamentalists, especially Sunni fundamentalists patronized by the Saudis, were natural allies against the Soviets and an excellent weapons sink as they fought in Afghanistan. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. 

d. After the Wall

These arrangements in place, the War Machine could be assured of survival after the Cold War. In 1989 America opened [endnote 8] Russia to “the free market,” and after pillaging the economy, decided they still didn’t like the Russians. Meanwhile they continued to work with Sunni (read, Saudi-backed) fundamentalist groups. The oil companies turned their attention to the still-vast reserves of Central Asia; the fact that Baku had been tapped for more than a hundred years didn’t mean the Caspian was dry, and the Soviets weren’t competing in the region anymore.  

In 1992, Chevron struck a deal to spend $10 billion in nearby Kazakhstan. In Azerbaijan, the Daddy Bush Administration was pushing for a pipeline from the Caspian across the Caucasus to Turkey, and under the cover of the MEGA oil company,  American agents set up an airline to move the “Arab Afghans” to Azerbaijan from Afghanistan where they had defeated the USSR. Bin Laden set up his base of operations in Baku, from which he launched anti-Russian operations in Chechnya and Dagestan. In 1993, the oil companies directly sponsored a coup that wrenched Azerbaijan into the US sphere of influence. Unocal (Chevron) wanted to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, and so they financed the Taliban’s operation to seize Kabul in 1996. But the Taliban wouldn’t play ball with the pipeline plan—the nationalist leader Ahmed Shah Massoud opposed it. And so on September 9th, 2001 Massoud was assassinated. On September 10th, 2001, Bush Jr. held a cabinet meeting to discuss a plan to invade Afghanistan. On September 11th, the War Machine was given a new perpetual enemy, nevermind that it had been an ally before. 

Baby Bush and then Obama managed to maintain both their alliance with the House of Saud and their ostensible enmity with its associated fundamentalists. The fact that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi was not relevant to the War on Terror. The cognitive dissonance of this barely added to the psychosis that most Americans were under by then.

e. Vermiculating Machines and rock boilers

During the 9/11 wars, America switched from being an oil consumer back to being a net producer. That’s one of the reason why, despite the common sense that the war in Iraq was about oil, no one quite understood how exactly that could be the case, when the U.S. moved so slowly and incompetently to restart the Iraqi oil industry. It was because, at that time, the goal was to simultaneously control and restrict the flow of middle eastern oil. Iraq and Iran still both have massive, largely-untapped oil reserves. But American oilmen were back in the field again, playing with new toys. 

Regardless of whether it was ever profitable, shalers and frakers needed markets to support their vermiculating machines. The shale boom was funded entirely on credit. According to the industry, to break even on a barrel of shale oil required sustained prices over $54 per, but that was a number packaged for the investors; the reality was that it would require oil over $100, while from 2014-2022 the price never went north of $82. Shale oil was a massive money-loser during that period, making it one of the only bad investments of its era–and yet capital was so cheap that there never was any problem with financing, whatsoever. Energy began flowing out of America in 2015, the fantasy of the American Roughneck returned in the form of Man Camps, driven by investment strategies that assumed future payoffs against current losses. Sooner or later, those investors would require a spike in oil price, at least long enough for them to exit their positions.

A similar dynamic held sway in fracking for methane. The American frackers faced a problem of transportation—you can’t ship a container of gas across the ocean, so their market would be limited to the Americas without liquifying it to put it on a ship. Billions of dollars were invested in LNG 2008-2018. A typical investor presentation asserts “Share of LNG in global gas trade expected to increase to almost 60% by 2040.” Processing the gas into a liquid and shipping it overseas is expensive, and in a low price environment, wouldn’t ever be competitive with Russian gas. So how are they going to get 60% of the global market? Only by finding some way to sabotage the Russians. Set things in motion by sponsoring a coup in the Maidan, start needling Putin and trying to get his energy off the market. Some were surprised at the speed with which Gazprom 2 was reversed in 2022, but that was the point all along. The fact that the sanctions didn’t change the amount of oil and gas being sold by Russia doesn’t matter. They increase prices for everyone, and that means that sellers get rich. 

VI. The Gasses

All of that petrohistory was about oil’s release of energy, the utility of its combustion, the attribute upon which capitalism is built. We know now that the gasses released at the same moment have a vast actancy that long outlasts the engines themselves. The afterlife of oil. It acts upon the climate, insulating the earth. 

For people who think that only humans have agency (dualists like Andreas Malm), this is considered an “unintended consequence.” For them, the moral equation changed whenever humans became aware of this unintended consequence; at that point, we should have tried to stop burning oil to prevent the worst of global warming. That would have been nice, had that happened. 

But the most direct actant upon the climate is the carbon itself, driving the planet towards a specific heat-death. Whether by coincidence or intent—my argument is the latter, but it doesn’t matter—fuel is pushing the biosphere towards another iteration of the planetary regime from when the stuff was last actually alive: the carboniferous period, 360 million years ago, when, as will always be mentioned first in this type of article, the sea levels were 120 meters above their current level. All of the water that constituted that pre-Pangea ocean is still here on this earth, and the portion of it that is currently frozen will not be forever. Much of the land that remains unflooded will become desert. The interface zone between these landscapes will be salt marshes, where the remaining terrestrial life will thrive, metabolizing the pollutants of our own century, so fecund that the vegetation could become thick enough to become, following its own eventual descent into the earth plus another 360 million years, petroleum again. “Archaic memories of the terrifying jungles of the Paleocene, when reptiles had gone down before the emergent mammals, and sense the implacable hatred one zoological class feels towards another that usurps it” (J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World, 29). Is that what It is after, its driving desire? A return to a Paleozoic climate? Or is it, as Negarestani says, “the Tellurian Omega through which the Earth reaches utter immanence with the burning core of itself and the Sun” (104). Which is, scientifically speaking, the way the Earth as a planetary object will end.

Every single combustion from the 1860s onward has contributed to the accumulation of carbon dioxide, before and after that awareness dawned. A much greater portion of the carbon in the air dates from after the truth of climate change was known. From the point of view of oil itself, the intended and unintended consequences cannot be differentiated, any more than a drug’s effects can be differentiated from its side effects. 

The thing that maintained the flow of oil at all costs was always, has always been, the military-industrial complex. This must be understood in historically specific terms, rather than a constant refuge in theory. This “deep state” has created a circumstance in which our interests, as humans, are firmly subordinate to those of oil and its creature, capitalism. War itself has a monopoly on violence, and war is an oil machine. 

The goal must be to stop or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. As the billboard proclaims, “it’s not too late to do something about global warming, but later will be too late.” We need to resubordinate oil to the needs of humans. We need collective decision making power about who gets to burn oil, and why. Only with that power can we pursue policies like climate reparations. The goal, therefore, must be to weaken the petrological agents that have seized control of our politics. Oil companies have far too much power; to witness their utter control, look to Steven Donzinger, or Ken Saro-Wiwa. And they are supported by a deep state that amassed tremendous power under cover of anticommunism. This was not historically inevitable: that very fact is why they had to assassinate Olivetti, Hammarskjold, Lumumba, Kennedy. But now, their power hasn’t been meaningfully contested for at least thirty years; they’ve had that much time to consolidate and entrench themselves.

So for the first time in history, a human can confidently predict the future; we all know what happens next. The 21st century will be defined by catastrophic, rapid climate change. Because of the effects of the gasses released in the combustion of the excavated flesh of the dead god; and in the case of methane, the unadulterated thing itself. We have given one substance power over all the rest of the earth. We are morally culpable for doing that, but that seems incidental at this point. We would like to regain control, to wrest our power back from oil’s grip. But that doesn’t seem likely right now. We are instead going to have to face and live inside our complicity.  

What people really mean when they say that it’s an “unintended effect” is that it is outside of capitalism’s logic; money was made on the combustion, not the atmospheric insulation. It is indeed radically outside of capitalism’s capability to manage, or even comprehend. But it is of capitalism’s making. That doesn’t mean that it is outside of human’s control, outside of political control; it might be victorious, but the power of the People can reassert itself. Oil is powerful because of the historically specific rapid proliferation of imperial capitalism that now is on the wane. We all feel the imperial decline. We all know the military is the largest consumer of oil in the world. If we can regain control over our war machine, it would be a huge first step, a necessary first step, toward gaining control over our energy. I call oil a god or demon, Druj, not to say that it is omnipotent; these lesser gods always have a fatal weakness. The whole point of the Venidad is that through rigorous practice, humans can keep Druj-Nasu out of their homes. Perhaps a new petrovenidad can be written that can teach us how to purify ourselves of the resurrection of Druj. Or perhaps it already has, and it just hasn’t caught on because it’s not easy to read. It would tell us to dismantle the war machine: a mortal entity, slayable, but not yet slain.

— Jed Bickman is a worker and a father based in the Bay Area. His writing can be found at The Spouter Magazine, he sells typewriters at Vineland Typewriters (with big discounts given to writers who want to actually use them; if you’re interested in a typewriter, don’t order through Etsy–DM via Twitter), and is on Twitter. The images featured in this essay are available on OpenSea.