Correction: It has not taken millennia to get this far. It has taken precisely 310 years and 7 months.

January 10 1709, Abraham Darby first smelted iron using coke on an industrial scale. That made iron almost as cheap as dirt, and provided the base material to build everything else — -steam engines, iron ships, cannon, and so on.

And cheap iron gave us the means to extract energy resources out of the ground in ever-increasing amounts while creating the debt based economy which could only be sustained with colossal volumes of cheap surplus fuel.

Before that date, the vast majority of people lived in an agrarian society, in a virtual (or actual) feudal system, (or various shades of it) fascist in all but name. Peasants worked the land, and were the base energy provider to the landowners. (Grain, meat timber etc). Hundreds of farm hands worked thousands of the lord’s acres.

The lord of the manor took the profit, the peasants were kept in their place. That had been the lot of most of humankind for millennia. Until 1709 there was little or no progress for the common man.

There was no equality of man. Perish the thought. The rich man stayed in his castle, they were certainly violent foolish men — — while the poor man stayed outside his gate.

But the rich man made the laws and paid the military.

The rules of society saw to that. Labour, even when paid for was at bare subsistence levels. Slavery was more convenient, buying an energy resource, working it to death like a truck or farm animal, then getting another one. This was given biblical justification.

But at a gradually increasing rate, from 1709 until now, we have all had the (increasing) services of hundreds of slaves, just like the landed gentry of old. But they were not in sweating gangs, they were in our fuel tanks.

This was why our western societies changed. It wasn’t a sudden flush of benevolence by the ruling classes, or voting for a different political party.

Cheap iron built factories and dug mines and oilwells and drove the demand for more workers. This gave workers the bargaining edge for wages and conditions. For the first time, workers demanded and got a share in the profits of their labour.

It wasn’t a benign state that brought us to where we are. It was cheap iron giving us access to cheap surplus fuel.


We thought the arrangement was permanent. We have been assured that it was so. Suddenly we are finding out that it isn’t so, and now complaints are kicking off.

It is in response to those complaints that new leaders are arising, promising to bring back that prosperity that we know is no longer there. The great leader asks for sacrifices to make it possible, and we surrender ourselves to the new laws, little realising that we are volunteering to return ourselves to serfdom.

Yes, we will revert to a ‘dark age’ but it will not be for lack of political will or collective inclination, as this piece seems to infer. It will be because we will lack the means to hold ourselves in any other state, and resist the brutality of our new overseers.

If you don’t get the brutality bit, take a look at what’s happening right now. Check how the fascist leaders are rising, and how they are getting chummy with each other. Tyranny is infectious.

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