Over the last couple of weeks, I have compulsively (and relentlessly) shared bits of Andrew Nikiforuk’s The Energy of Slaves on this site, as well as on Twitter.
Nikiforuk’s thesis – that the deadly indignity of human slavery exists along the same capital-accumilation-excuses-everything trajectory as the egregious exploitation of natural resources – is hugely, hugely problematic in terms of humanism and racism. But it is also a weighty damnation of neoliberalism and consumer culture.
Thanks to Nikiforuk’s research, my future reading plans include: Terry Lynn Karl, Vaclav Smil, Charles Hall, Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen, Jacques Ellul, Frederick Soddy, John Ruskin, Fred Cottrell, Jonathan Watts, and – years overdue – Vandana Shiva.
One last startling quotation before I move on:
I summon my blue-eyed slaves anytime it pleases me. I command the Americans to send me their bravest soldiers to die for me. Anytime I clap my hands a stupid genie called the American ambassador appears to do my bidding. When the Americans die in my service their bodies are frozen in metal boxes by the U.S. Embassy and American airplanes carry them away, as if they never existed. Truly, America is my favourite slave. (168)
King Fahid bin Abdul Aziz, describing Saudi-American relations in 1993, qtd. in Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.
[An orthodox economist] would find it inefficient to carry two lungs and two kidneys[…]. [Nature] would dispense with individual kidneys – since we do not need them all the time, it would be more ‘efficient’ if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis. You could also lend your eyes at night, since you do not need them to dream. (128)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, qtd. in Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.
In 1969, [engineer, architect, and futurist Buckminster] Fuller asked J. François de Chadenedes, a petroleum geologist, to figure out what it cost Mother Nature to make one gallon of petroleum. The innovator instructed the geologist to include the cost of photosynthesis as well as the slow cooking by heat and pressure into crude over millions of years. De Chadenedes obliged, estimating the price at more than $1 million per gallon. (62)
From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.
We probably have a right to prefer our thousandth joy ride to the thousandth joy ride of our grandchildren, but whether we have the right to deprive them of their only ride in order that we may indulge ourselves with two thousand such rides is another question. (45)
Economist John Ise, qtd. in: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.
This independent bookstore [Bookmark II] is a mainstay of street and intellectual life in the Halifax downtown core. At this writing there is no Chapters Indigo or Coles Books nearby, and the economic depression of the Maritimes means that there are not a lot of big box stores around anyway. (163-64)
From: Rak, Julie. “Genre in the Marketplace: the Scene of Bookselling in Canada.” From Codex to Hypertext. Ed. Anouk Lang. Boston: U Massachusetts Press, 2012. 159-73. Print.
I am compelled to make a few points:
- There is a Coles 1.2 km from Bookmark II — less than 15 minutes on foot. It has been there for years.
- Halifax itself is not “economically depressed.” It has a ~6% unemployment rate, for example — among the lowest in Canada.
- Bookmark is downtown; that’s why there are no big box stores nearby.
- Halifax is ringed by industrial parks — Bayer’s Lake, Burnside, Dartmouth Crossing — that are brimming with eager shoppers and the big box retailers they expect.
- Bookmark soldiers on anyway.
Unlike nearly all other economists, Marx does not simply assume complete commodification as a given. For example, he lets us see the complete commodification of land as s historical process in which lands held in common are gradually taken over and enclosed by a powerful landlord class — often resulting in brutal expulsions of the commoners. By reminding us of this history, Marx also demonstrates the close connection between the commodification of land and the commodification of labour-power, for once peasants are denied access to the commons, they tend to increasingly have only their labour-power to sell to capital for a wage. Instead of simply assuming complete commodification of the land as some sort of magical fait accompli, or assuming a fully formed labour market, Marx sees them accurately as the result of a brutally violent and exclusionary historical process. (21)
From: Albritton, Robert. Let Them Eat Junk: How Capitalism Creates Hunger and Obesity. London: Pluto Press, 2009. Print.
When the Americans come, we sing, we dance, they take our picture, and they go back and show everyone how they are helping poor black people. But then all they do is hijack our projects and count our children. (227)
South African aid worker Elizabeth Rapuleng, qtd. in: Epstein, Helen. The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.
[Many women in Mozambique] — farmers, market traders, housewives, and so on — form steady, sometimes clandestine relationships with relatively wealthy men in the hope that it will bring them some material benefit, the occasional chicken perhaps, school fees for the children, or favourable deals for a few cabbages. […] These people are so poor, in other words, that sex has become part of their economy. In some cases, it’s practically the only currency they have. (101)
AIDS has been described as a disease of poverty, but it might be more accurate to describe it as a disease of inequality, which settles along the ever-deepening chasm between rich and poor. […] The poor themselves know that money is at the root of their AIDS problem. (101-102)
The World Bank itself admits that the inefficiency of the basic institutions that should serve the poor, including banks, pension funds, insurance companies, courts and real-estate transfer systems, are a major hindrance to economic development throughout the third world. Making those institutions work requires government oversight, and so does rebuilding Africa’s devastated economies. But donor policies emphasizing free trade and small government make regulation of such institutions more difficult. (102)
From: Epstein, Helen. The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.