Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital (A Quadrant Book)

Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital (A Quadrant Book)

Matthew T. Huber

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0816677859

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

If our oil addiction is so bad for us, why don’t we kick the habit? Looking beyond the usual culprits—Big Oil, petro-states, and the strategists of empire—Lifeblood finds a deeper and more complex explanation in everyday practices of oil consumption in American culture. Those practices, Matthew T. Huber suggests, have in fact been instrumental in shaping the broader cultural politics of American capitalism.

How did gasoline and countless other petroleum products become so central to our notions of the American way of life? Huber traces the answer from the 1930s through the oil shocks of the 1970s to our present predicament, revealing that oil’s role in defining popular culture extends far beyond material connections between oil, suburbia, and automobility. He shows how oil powered a cultural politics of entrepreneurial life—the very American idea that life itself is a product of individual entrepreneurial capacities. In so doing he uses oil to retell American political history from the triumph of New Deal liberalism to the rise of the New Right, from oil’s celebration as the lifeblood of postwar capitalism to increasing anxieties over oil addiction.

Lifeblood rethinks debates surrounding energy and capitalism, neoliberalism and nature, and the importance of suburbanization in the rightward shift in American politics. Today, Huber tells us, as crises attributable to oil intensify, a populist clamoring for cheap energy has less to do with American excess than with the eroding conditions of life under neoliberalism.

















contexts as varied as Venezuela and Norway), it also assumes that oil itself causes abuses of power like corruption, authoritarianism, and state violence. In short, oil appears to generate monstrous forms of Power with a capital P. Yet this vision of oil and its endowed power neglects decades of debate within social theory over the nature of power itself. Whether stemming from a Gramscian perspective on hegemony or a Foucauldian focus on bodily discipline, critical social theorists have turned

salient and culturally powerful example. While in earlier industrial eras, workers walked to work or used public transit,107 the automobile represented an individualized purchase—an apparent material expression of one’s own work and earnings—that greatly extended the spaces of mobility between home and work and leisure places. Moreover, the home—increasingly a standalone single-family home in a suburban neighborhood—suddenly had to be equipped with a particular set of machines (e.g., washing

American culture.21 Moreover, this geography of dependence is framed as utterly doomed because of the imminent arrival of “peak oil” and geological scarcity that will yield explosive price increases and usher in a Mad Max–style dystopia structured by scarcity and conflict.22 The “addiction” metaphor frames oil as an uncontrollable thing trapped in the American bloodstream—pernicious, yet practically unavoidable. A 2011 National Public Radio story featured citizens trying to “quit” oil, but they

ever before.”81 Only through state financing was such a conquest possible. The New Deal provided the much-needed investment in the infrastructures of everyday life, and those infrastructure have constrained and conditioned how life has been imagined ever since. The New Deal ushered in a dramatic material transformation of everyday life for millions of workers in the United States. This material transformation—what I call the real subsumption of life under capital— was expressed through a

Interstate Oil Compact, and federal projections of demand—to keep prices stable and high enough to protect a variety of high-cost independent oil producers. But the spatially fixed and finite nature of U.S. petroleum reserves necessarily stood in massive contradiction to the postwar Fordist regime of accumulation itself based around booming economic growth—growth both in monetary terms of gross national product and in biophysical terms of always-increasing demand for materials, energy, and the

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