The Gift of Oil
Where labor was once the main source of value I believe we should realize that there are now other energies, which have to some extent replaced it: coal, electric, and oil energy. Society has created the technological 'ecological niches', which can use these energies to create products and services previously unimaginable. Oil is the most important of these for several reasons. In paying for its products and services, consumers are not paying for the labor contained in the oil as they would with mined coal for example. Indeed, once oil is discovered, very little labor goes into its production. The oil flows out of the ground by means of a pump operated by minimal amounts of electricity with very little human labor involved. It is therefore almost pure gift energy, requiring only transportation and some refinement to ready it for consumption. Oil is a gift, with which the earth could provide abundance for all if it were distributed freeˇand if it were possible to use it in an environmentally appropriate way. The economic/technological niches that have been created for oil allow it to enormously potentiate human capacities.103 Taking as an example only its use as fuel for automobiles we can see that the speed and mobility, which characterize our society are enormously greater than that which could be provided by human labor alone. (Compare the speed and stamina of a rickshaw puller to that of a Ferrari automobile for example).
The price of gasoline does not cover the gift value of the oil. In fact the price is arbitrarily set by market forces and the corporate and governmental owners of the free gift-energy sources, who play with supply and demand. Because the oil costs so little to produce, the amount paid by the consumers is actually a gift they give to the corporations, extracted from the consumers' salaries, displacing other human-made nurturing goods they might otherwise buy. Thus oil companies reap profits coming from the rest of the nurturing economy (lets re name GNP the 'Gross Nurturing Product'), and those who create new uses for the oil, for example the many forms of plastics, are also skimming off gifts from consumers' salaries.
We have created a situation in which we are de facto essentializing human nurturing energy by practicing gift giving towards exchange.
Redirecting nurturing energy away from human needs and towards masculated ego value and ego oriented exchange value actually creates a situation in which gift giving can itself be substituted by104 non human gift energy, for example, the oil energy used in machines. This energy servant of 'Man' is aptly called by the French 'essence' in its existence as gasoline. Through the use of this 'essence' in transporta-tion new circulations not of gifts but of traffic on land, sea and air take place.
The masculation of men and the resulting femization, essentialization, and plunder of the gifts of women excavate the channels in the society through which other gifts flow towards the few and away from the many. The flow of the 'essence' into the machine is an analogy with the flow of gifts towards the common mechanisms of the male identity and of the market.
The pumps that take the place of the heart
Machines are analogous both to the masculated identity and the market processes that function according to the appropriation of gift energy. The substitution of verbal for non-verbal gifts is be-nign and useful in language. However, when it is transposed into the masculated identity or the market or machines, it is invested with long-term values and consequences it does not usually have in simple linguistic acts. When substitution and the change of levels it creates are transposed into machines, they are used to produce goods for others without giving, or to transport goods from place to place in an imitation of gift transitivity. Moreover the transposition of giving which is hitting combines with substitution to create vio-lent means of domination, whether this is expressed in wife batter-ing, war, economic and military invasion or the piston repeatedly being driven into the vacuum chamber.
Gift giving is a very creative process and cannot be eliminated. When it is hindered at one level it transposes itself onto another.
Thus the analogs of gift giving in our society include the automobiles that are driven from town to town where their contents are deposited, or where their drivers perform some useful personal or commercial action before returning home.105 The motors of the automobiles focus and circulate energy, which is transmitted to the wheels to move the vehicle. The vehicles are for transportation of goods, services and people from one location to another. All of these levels involve transposed substitution and gift processes. What we need to do is use our machines to create circulations of gifts to needs, not the false and inflated circulations of products and people who are driving and driven by the attempt to surreptitiously capture and bind more gifts.106
The essence that is oil energy is also reflected in the essence we call 'power', a complex taken as a concept, hypostatized, the compendium of acts of domination or parasitism, the upward movement of gifts, which we do not recognize as such. Since we do not recognize gift giving we do not see that power is not a thing, a property, an entity that can be owned. Rather it is given as obedience by the many to the one who is exercising it and enforcing it.
Since so many uses have been found for its energy, oil is indeed the 'common essence' of many products and processes of produc-tion and, like women's labor or like the surplus labor contained in abstract labor and exchange value, it producesˇgivesˇmore gifts (profit) than it costs to reproduce or maintain. In the motor, that obedience of the many to the one is transferred on to non-human pieces of machinery, which are moved by the essence to carry out various pre-established mechanical processes.
Those businessmen, prospectors who fail to discover oil, like those who lose in the stock market, are simply unlucky, like women and other have-nots, born without the phallus or the money necessary to potentially become the prototype. Even if they have the 'derrick' they do not have, cannot access, the essence. They do not have the power, the ability to make the gifts flow upward towards them from the earth in the form of black gold. This risk of failure to make a profit has been typically compensated in the US however by large tax discounts for those who search for oil, and tax discounts are also given for losses due to the depletion of this non renewable resource.
The gifts that are given to oil companies come from the many who earn their money in the market by selling their labor and giving their gifts of surplus labor. These gifts of profit to the oil producers have become part of the 'cost of reproduction' of the workers who have to buy gas for their cars or heat their houses with oil based fuel. Needs satisfied by oil products have displaced needs satisfied without them, from the need for transportation satisfied by the horse and buggy to the need for heating satisfied by the wood burning stove. By ma-nipulation, brainwashing and price fixing, the oil companies can set a price that has nothing to do with costs of production. As we have been saying, once discovered, oil costs almost nothing to produce. The free gift of fuel given by the earth that oil should be, is trans-formed into the gift of profit given to the oil companies by the gen-eral public in the money they take from their salaries to pay for a good that is virtually free to its producers with only some value added through refinement and transportation. The appeal to the risk of the prospector as justification for the high price is irrelevant. Risk is due to privatization. If the state paid for the prospecting and owned the oil, there would be no risk.
This transfer of gifts from the population to oil companies (producers and refiners) takes place particularly in the first world as opposed to the third world (even when the oil comes from the South, it is most profitably sold in the North), among those who for example own means of transportation and can afford to give gifts of profit from their salaries to the oil companies. Meanwhile the labor of the third world people, commodified by Northern companies has become as cheap to the corporationsˇas much a giftˇas oil. The transfer of gifts from South to North produces the gift margin in the North to pay for the oil, this gift of the earth, which if taken at all, should have been free. This commodiification of a gift of the earth, oil, 'black gold', is like the privatization and commodification of water, 'blue gold' which should also be free, or the commodification of blood, 'red gold', or the patenting of plant species, formerly a common heritage, 'green gold' or of the until recently unexplored genetic inheritance of all, 'gene gold'. Each of these gifts was once a free gift commons, 'virgin' to commerce. These transformations of gifts into commodities follow the path laid down by oil and by the extraction of the gift 'essence' of profit from labor. The presence of oil as a relatively low cost energy source pro-vides the precedent for the re distribution into the exchange economy, of other sources of heretofore undiscovered gifts.
The pump functions by creating a vacuum in a chamber. Simi-larly, a need is created for the oil energyˇgift energyˇthat is greater than other needs. Nature does not 'abhor' a vacuum after all. This turn of phrase is a translation of 'filling a lack' into negative, patri-archal, probably oedipal 'abhorrence'. In this vein, the family is the chamber where the woman's gifts are channeled by scarcity-vacuum to the needs of the husband and children. She cannot receive from outside it or give to anyone outside it. There is also a vacuum cre-ated by scarcity outside, which pulls their work to the capitalist and with it the gifts of housework, then part of it back again in money to the family. Then more scarcity is created in the context by war or antagonism between countries.
The pump could be seen as an imitation of this psycho-eco-nomic mechanism and vice versa. The creation of scarcityˇof a low pressure space, sucks the oil up to the surface in an oil well or to the chamber of an engine. That low pressure or vacuum is created artificially. Similarly the artificial cornering and waste of a society's wealth creates a context of scarcity of money and jobs and some-times goodsˇin each locale, which sucks the gifts of workers and consumers into the bank accounts of the capitalist.
Moreover the new needs based on oil and the general need for the gift of profit also create an economic suction which pulls the oil towards the market without concern for the side effects of pollution and waste, which occur from the use of this pump. By creating scar-city of clean earth, water or air, new zones for leveraging gifts are created, so that those gifts too can be pulled into the market and sold, re named the capitalist's 'just profit', which s/he 'deserves' by performing the 'service' of purification of the earth, water and air. There seems to be no recourse to protect what is free from the capi-talist pump. (See NAFTA Chapter 11) Penalty of law now applies to those who oppose the profit of the multinationals. Ross Perot was right. There is a giant sucking sound, but its US creating the vacuum and aspirating and swallowing the gifts.
By affirming the gift paradigm and restoring it to view every-where we can discredit capitalism for the capitalists, the manhood agenda for men, and the acceptance of the victimization of gift giv-ing for women, workers, poor people, everyone. Moreover we can discredit these roles not only for their protagonists but for everyone else, so that people in general will not approve them for others or for themselves. If it is gift giving that makes us human, the oppressor role cannot itself be satisfying . That is why it has had to be validated in many other ways to ensure that people continue to practice it. The constructions of patriarchy serve this purpose including the construction of the male identity and the market based 'reality' that accompanies it in the 'West'. The victim role is not satisfying either but it continues because of the parasitism of the oppressor upon it (and because of use of force and disguise as well as systemic mecha-nisms). The same constructions of reality that validate oppression and parasitism validate the victimization of the gift giving 'hosts'.
A better world is immanent. All we have to do is liberate our selves from masculation and exchange and allow our gift giving hu-manity to come to the fore, mediating them with the gifts of lan-guage. Then we can embrace a world of abundant material gifts and distribute goods to needs without exchange. One day the market will be seen as an obsolete practice, as harmful and incomprehen-sible as bloodletting appears to us now. Click to read Part Six: Transpositions