From Caffeine to Gasoline: Monarchy, Oligarchy, and the Rise of the Oil Monopoly


September 19th, 2016

By Ethan Indigo Smith

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

In the late 1700’s, people in servitude to their respective oligarchies began to question exploitative conditions and revolt against harsh treatment. Around the world there were revolutions with new ideas being discussed. There were revolutions in Scotland, the Caribbean, the Americas, Russia and France. People grew tired of being controlled by control monarchies and empires. The people wanted fewer restrictions, but the few at the peak of the social pyramid tightened their grip and increased their hold. Revolt was a result of repression and exploitation.

The Sun never set on the British Empire and other European monarchies violently tried to keep up. Powerful monarchies initiated global shipping institutions, and monopolization and institutionalization expanded all around the world. The world was fast becoming globally interdependent, with global commercial institutions the tentacles that linked them together.

To question the authority of oligarchical institutions was a veritable death sentence in many places. To suggest that their power was not absolute, and not absolutely derived from God, could get one absolved of life. Yet people the world over began to question; at first in whispers over tea until eventually people boldly and loudly questioned the authority of institutions. Despite the stranglehold their respective oligarchies that ruled over them, people broke free from the shackles of fear that kept them forever holding their tongues.

It is hypothesized that caffeine and the café culture were essential in the advent of free thinking and open communication of enlightened ideas. The café provided just the right stimulant, in just the right environment to enable the free discussion of questions and concepts of liberty and freedom. The café was a gathering place for the community to come together and communicate, and may have been the first place where people openly proclaimed their resentment of monopolization and the special privileges given by a society to royalty, nobility and clergy.

Tea, and the Early Days of Oligarchy

FACT: Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant. In small doses it can have a positive effect on one’s physical performance and stimulate mental focus. It also produces faster reaction time and heightened short term memory.

The history of the tea and coffee trade was to become a major turning point in the emergence of philosophies of libery, freedom, and the limits of government.

A brief history: In December 1600, Queen Elizabeth I commissioned The British East India Company for expeditions to Asia. They were to seek out the best tea, opium and spices to bring back to the British Isle. At the time, tea was so expensive that only royalty generally partook. In 1601, The Company embarked as the world’s first multinational corporation, which marketed tea as a medicinal beverage. As the years passed there was so much tea in England and Europe that it became affordable and popular.

By the 1650s, the first coffee houses were opened in London. As coffee houses were the ideal place for intellectual types to meet and chew the political fat, King Charles II (fearing dissent) issued a formal ban on coffee houses in 1675, claiming that coffee houses “disturbed the Peace and Quiet of the Realm”, encouraged “the Defamation of His Majesties Government”, and promoted idleness in those who should “otherwise be imployed [sic] in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs”. (The King’s proclamation was ultimately revoked under pressure from his own Ministers.)

In 1670, King Charles II granted The Company the privilege to act on its own, and it soon ruled South Asia on the King’s behalf. Charles II also created the Hudson Bay Company, which colonized much of Canada and acted as defacto government in parts of North America.

By the late 1700s there was a major tea market established in the British Colonies. The principal objective was to help the financially troubled British East India Company reduce the massive amount of tea held in its London warehouses; a commercial decision, to help the struggling company survive. And they did this by undercutting the price of the ‘black-market’ teas smuggled into the North American colonies and exempting the Company from paying of export duty — but included a tea tax in the price, thereby implicitly forcing colonies to accept for the first time the Parliament’s right of taxation. They believed colonists would be willing to pay for cheaper Company tea on which tax was collected, their consent to which would legitimize Parliament’s ability to tax the colonies.

Some Colonists felt increasingly exploited and began to express their dissatisfaction and resentment toward the laws of the distant monarchy and their local authorities. And tea was not the only commodity that was being unfairly levied against the Colonists. The Tea Act was just one of many commercial exploits, enacted into law by the King: The Pine Tree Laws, the Stamp Act, the Townsend Act, and the Sugar Act all subjugated and financially exploited the Colonists.

Throughout the 1700s many Colonists considered themselves to be essentially Englishmen. And as Englishmen, they believed they were entitled to the rights provided by the English Bill of Rights, but the perception of the English institutions was that the Colonists were not English and therefore did not have the same rights. Freedoms were afforded to a few according to hierarchical classifications, outright liberty did not exist, and the monarchy assumed the right to impose whatever biased laws and commercial practices it pleased.

Colonists increasingly came to believe that, as they were not directly represented in the distant British Parliament, any laws it passed in relation to the colonies were illegal under the Bill of Rights 1689, and were a denial of their rights as Englishmen.

“Taxation without representation is tyranny.” ~ James Otis

The idea that there should be “no taxation without representation” was common even in the early days of English Constitutional documents, when less than five percent of the population was allowed to vote. However, this idea was clearly not meant for the likes of Colonists in the far-off new world. The Pine Tree Laws were made to produce gains for the empire, but moreover maintain and expand its political control. No matter who supposedly owned the land in New Hampshire, if there was a white pine tree that was yay tall and twelve inches wide, it was the King’s tree. For obvious reasons, American Indians were unhappy about this, but colonial newcomers also chose not to obey these laws because they too felt exploited. King George III intended to monopolize the land and sea, and all commerce therein; the straight pine trees were used for the masts of ships for the King’s Navy and Company John vessels.

A Deputy Surveyor of the King’s woods found that the owner of a mill had chopped down the King’s trees in Weare, New Hampshire. He informed the Sheriff, and on April 13, 1772, the Sheriff and his Deputy rode into Weare. The pair arrived to collect the relevant fine from the mill owner, a prominent member of the community, under threat of imprisonment. It was late when the Sheriff and logger met, both agreed to meet again in the morning to settle the fine then. But, while the Sheriff and Deputy rested the night, the mill owner made other arrangements…

The mill owner and his peers must have been up all night — probably hyped up on the caffeine of high-grade tea — for the crew of loggers disguised themselves with coal blackened faces and armed themselves with switches made of pine branches, and went to the inn where the sheriff slept. Just before daybreak they woke him up with beating. When the deputy tried to help the sheriff, they beat him too, stringing both of them up, cutting the hair off of their horses and sending them out of town on their (now devalued) steeds. Known as the Pine Tree Riot, a white pine tree stands in the area commemorating the event. Eight men of Weare were identified through their thin disguises and were eventually caught, tried and (to the disdain of the sheriff) ordered to pay a small fine.

Months later, in May 1773, the Tea Act was passed. This gave The Company a monopoly on tea in the Colonies and increased its profit margins by eliminating some of its costs — costs that were not exempt for other companies. As a result, the Tea Act made tea more affordable to the Colonists, but it also gave them less choice, and parliamentary taxation, and gave The Company monopolization of the market.

At the time, The Company was facing financial troubles and needed an income boost. The recent costs of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War or The War of Conquest) along with rampant starvation in the Asian Colonies had financially devastated The Company. The French and Indian War was fought all around the world, but was concentrated in the Americas; a battle for American resources.

FACT: George Washington and those under his command fired the first shots of the French and Indian War. George was known as a bold and impulsive young officer. The British and Natives fought the French and other Natives for seven years. George hoped to become a British officer for many years. When the promotion did not come, he became a farmer, until the Revolutionary War.

The British Empire owned South Asia and had virtually removed the French, the major competition to the rule of the British empire, from the Americas. Again (as is always the case when oligarchies rule) monopolization was instituted and power duly expanded, simply because it could.

At times like these, true patriots defy laws to directly and symbolically express the sentiment, “No more, shove off.” And, as people grew dissatisfied with the encroachments of the expanding empire, they expressed their feelings about the exploitation of the Tea Act in terms those in power would understand; by raiding ships and throwing boat loads of perfectly good tea into the sea.

The Boston Massacre

In addition to the exploitation by the King and The Company, other events occurred that invoked the same sentiment as the Pine Tree Riot, and rebellion, civil disobedience and nonviolent dissent soon arrived to Boston Harbor. People remembered the Boston Massacre of 1770, which occurred three years prior, in which five colonists were shot and killed by British soldiers and six others were injured, so the mood was just right for the Boston Tea Party protests of December 1773.

The Boston Massacre started over an unpaid wig bill. Words were exchanged, snowballs were tossed and the situation escalated. Notably, the event was used to influence how people perceived events, and the colonists capitalized on the situation by stirring up more resentment of the Kings’s soldiers, who were already seen as bullies by many. Paul Revere was involved in the anti-establishment propaganda, producing a famous engraving of the Boston Massacre. He is also believed to have been present at the tea toss protests. Following the massacre, John Adams (who later became George Washington’s vice president and the second president of the U.S.A.) defended the English soldiers in court, believing in the right to a fair trial no matter what.

Despite their resistance, however, overt oppression was increasingly perpetuated on the Colonists, who believed they had the rights of English people; thus Boston became especially rebellious and problematic for the British authorities. In defiance of the Tea Act, demonstrators destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company, boarding ships and throwing chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Although the patriotic colonists planned their act of civil disobedience to make a statement of protest, without violence or thievery, British government officials responded harshly, violently defending their monopoly and the unjust laws that installed it.


Of course, the Boston Tea Party wasn’t only about tea; there was an array of transgressions surrounding the event. With concerns mounting about colonial exploitation and repression, the original patriots questioned the entirety of the situation, as does any true patriot. Why is there a monopoly? Why is it sanctioned by the King? Why must we pay for war? Why should we serve to benefit the distant monarchy? Who benefits?

With these questions answered, the colonists called out to their peers and communicated the information they had gathered. They let the whole community know that the tea they enjoyed leads to their own exploitation, the exploitation of others, and the profit of imperialist Company strangers. No matter how good the tea was, no matter how pleasing, or cheap, it was enabling exploitation, which these patriots questioned and rejected — literally and figuratively tossing it into the sea.

In that moment, tea became the catalytic symbol of revolution against the encroachment of oligarchy.

The Oil-igarchy

If there is any commodity today that is comparable to tea in 1773, it’s oil — ironically known as ‘Texas Tea’. Tea was, and oil is, a means of imperial exploitation, the only difference is that the potential of tea to exploit was minute next to that of oil, and the exploitation today is exponentially more widespread. The colonists experienced merely a casual dependence on the tea monopoly while our society’s dependence on petroleum products is overwhelming — it is global, industrial, and heavily institutionalized.

Today, nearly all individuals and institutions are dependent on burning petroleum products. It is used as a fuel to obtain and distribute everything: people, products, even petrol itself. A global phenomenon, the status quo of today is interconnected with the ‘fossil fuel’ industry. It is literally everywhere, in everything. It is burned up into our atmosphere and spilled into in the world’s waterways. Take a breath, have a sip – it’s in there. There is no getting away from it, whether one lives next to a processing facility or in wild seclusion.

Sure, through harnessing the octane of fossil fuels, people are enabled; we can drive thousands of miles in a few days or fly around the world in hours. We can transport every whim and wish wherever we please, by petrol powered machines. However these fuels are simultaneously one of our greatest liberators and our greatest detractors. While the oil industry has helped us to explore our world, it has also fueled acts of war, and even become the object of modern resource wars. But regardless of its applications, of whether it is used to enable or destroy, the effect of burning fossil fuels is devastating to our natural world.

Petrol is widely believed to be decayed carbon matter from the distant past buried under extreme pressures, however recent scientific discoveries (including NASA research) indicates that oil is actually abiotic, formed via geological process not related to the decay of fossils. Either way, petroleum is not a renewable resource — and yet practically all of the world’s industries, including our basic food supply systems, are now dependent upon burning it, clogging our environment with its toxic byproduct.

The consequences of abundant and constant use of petrol are leading us to who-knows-where, but one thing is for sure: it isn’t a clean and accommodating place. Future generations will likely wonder at the intense consumption and environmental destruction that marks this time period, and wonder: How we could have so widely and unquestioningly used such a dirty fuel?

The Oil-igarchy: Power, Profit and Imperialism

All modern wars have been fueled with petrol; something detractors might argue would have been the case with any commonly used fuel, regardless of the environmental impact or political corruption that surrounds it. However most wars since WWI have been not just been waged with petrol, they have been waged over petrol, taking the political exploitation of the Tea era to new extremes.

The Persian Gulf War in 1991 was absolutely for oil, the commodity that powers the machinery of profit and control. In short, Kuwait, once part of Iraq, was partitioned by the colonizing and monopolizing British Empire via the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913. Iraq invaded Kuwait to reclaim oil, believing that Kuwaiti interests were siphoning oil from fields on Iraqi land through ‘slant’ drilling. Driven to intervene by its oil interests in the region, US-led forced invaded (under its usual guise of “freedom and liberation”), an act that culminated in Iraqi forces setting alight 600 Kuwaiti oil wells. During the Gulf War, a few hundred U.S. soldiers perished while tens of thousands of Iraqis — both combatants and innocents — were killed. This was undoubtedly an act of economic war against Iraq, and one of the most blatant exploitations of people for political and economic gain in the modern era.

The Demise of Bio-Fuels, the Rise of ‘Standard Oil’

Rudolf Diesel was born in France in 1858, the same year The Company handed control of South Asia to governmental authorities. Rudolf invented different types of engines and received his first patent in 1893. He was a dreamer, a thinker, and a doer, and perfected the Diesel engine over years of dedicated work.

Originally, Rudolf’s design used a mixture of bio-fuels, promoting and advocating their use to power his engines, along with petrol if it was locally accessible. At the time, petrol was considered the ‘alternative’ energy source, just as bio-fuel is today. His ideas for bio-fuels were not environmental or extraordinary departure, just sensible. At the time, renewable bio-fuel sources (like hemp) were the norm.

“The fact that fat oils from vegetable sources can be used may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become in course of time of the same importance as some natural mineral oils and the tar products now.” ~ Rudolf Diesel

Envisioning that his engine would be powered by the locally available fuels of the day, Rudolf moved to the U.S. to make and sell his Diesel engine in the world’s biggest commercial market. At the 1900 World’s Fair, one of Rudolf’s engines was featured running on peanut oil — a technological revelation. However Rudolf and his invention were ultimately caught up in the arms race leading up to WWI, and he subsequently suffered several nervous breakdowns. He was of German heritage, but did not support the German build-up to war.


While crossing the English Channel on the S.S. Dresden, Rudolf disappeared, lost at sea. He was on his way to sell his new technology to the British for their submarines amid the arms race leading up to WWI. It is unknown whether Rudolph committed suicide or was murdered; either way, Rudolf he mysteriously disappeared at sea (not a great way to kill oneself but certainly a good way to murder someone.) Notably, after Rudolf died, people would forget about the bio-fuels that could support his technology. Thus the petrolithic era effectively began on September 30, 1913, the day Rudolf mysteriously disappeared.

Although Rudolf intended his engine to be powered by bio-fuel and/or petrol, petrol is portrayed today not only as the standard in commercial fuel but as the only option. In reality, it is just one of many viable fuels, which are in the best interests of individuals and their independence. However petrol (a non-renewable therefore “in demand” commodity) is the most effective option for creating institutional monopolization; and that’s where we find ourselves today.

By the beginning of the 20th century, John D. Rockefeller, the founder of the prophetically named ‘Standard Oil’ company, was the world’s wealthiest individual and the world’s first billionaire. With company profits his sole motivator, Rockefeller worked to institutionalize the use of petrol the world over, entering into a secret alliance with the railroads (known as the South Improvement Company.) In exchange for large, regular shipments, Rockefeller secured transport rates far lower than those of his competitors, whose rates simultaneously rose. Rockefeller’s monopoly over the oil industry grew accordingly.

But it was not just about money. The monopolization of the primary energy resource of the 20th century helped to secure the oiligarchs not just wealth but power over the lives of billions of people, who came to depend on oil for just about every aspect of their daily lives. As a result, industrial engineering, petrol, and resource wars have become as intertwined as math and science.

During his lifetime, Rudolf opposed the use of his invention in German submarines, but after his death, Germany gained access to Diesel’s technology. To the delight (and profit) of Rockefeller, petrol became the fuel of choice for German submarines, and a German U-boat sunk the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing over 1,000 people, including 128 U.S. citizens. President Wilson protested, and the U.S. practiced isolationism in the first instance (a contrast to its modern-day policy of “pre-emptive” intervention) until April 6, 1917 when the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany and entered WWI. Ultimately conscientious objectors in the U.S. and Britain were imprisoned, and the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act deemed that stating facts (or indeed anything considered “disloyal” to the United States of America) a criminal act — not unlike the Patriot Act of the modern era.

During and following WWI, bio-fuels and any alternative fuels to petrol became just a load of hot air. Many battles of WWI were waged over oil, as warring institutions knew very well its power and potential, and Rudolf’s ideas for an engine powered by the oils of local plants was shot down and killed, like so many people in the trenches of WWI. By the time the so-called ‘War to End All Wars’ ended, petrol had become embedded as the institutional fuel of choice. And its major competitors were soon taken out of the equation…

Supported by the Hoover administration, moves began in the early 1930’s to ban hemp. During Hoover’s presidency, Andrew Mellon became both Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury and the Dupont corporation’s primary investor. Dupont had patented a new synthetic fiber, nylon, which they planned would compete with Hemp rope in the market, and also refined a new (toxic) sulfuric acid process for producing wood-pulp paper, which they planned to compete with the hemp paper market. However the invention of the decoricator machine (which improved hemp processing) made Dupont’s new paper process obsolete. To remove the threat of the hemp industry to Dupont’s commercial interests, Mellon appointed his future nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which began a campaign of demonizing the cannabis plant. Thanks to a slew of propaganda films designed to steer public thinking — like ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936), ‘Marihuana: Assassin of Youth’ (1935) and ‘Marihuana: The Devil’s Weed’ (1936) — the crop was soon perceived as a “dangerous drug”, which was thereafter referred to by its Mexican name, Marihuana (Americans would never have allowed beneficial Hemp to be banned, but dangerous “Marihuana” on the other hand…!) Despite resistance from the American Medical Association, in 1937 laws outlawing Hemp/cannabis cultivation — the Prohibitive Marihuana Tax Law — were introduced to government. With the support of a collusive media, the public believed the government’s plans to ban “Marihuana” were because it was a violent and dangerous drug that threatened society. In reality, however, Hoover, Mellon, Aslinger and their associates had manipulated both narcotics laws and public perceptions in order to ban the primary competition to Dupont’s profitable paper, plastics and fuel concerns — unnecessary (and environmentally devastating) resources on which we are still dependent today.

Environmental Rape and Industrial Over-Development

Our increasing dependence on the petroleum industry has enabled the rise of powerful institutions. Petrol is exclusive: a limited resource, mined in far off places, refined, and then distributed by institutions. Bio-fuels in contrast are inclusive: grown locally, renewable, near limitless, and open to all. And this power has only served to fuel further wars and violent conquests, which fuel the further use of petrol technologies. It is a vicious cycle; one that has devastated the Earth’s ecosystems and driven industrial over-development to the benefit of the very same oligarchs.

Overdevelopment is the result of misused power; doing what we can because we can, not because we should. Its manifestations are sometimes blatant and other times difficult to see and understand. Sickening pollution is the most blatant consequence. Clear cut forests cannot be seen from the road, but traffic jams and smog clouds are impossible to avoid. Oil spills cannot always be seen from the shore, but the collapse of the salmon fishing industry along the U.S. West Coast is a more obvious sign.

Yet, whether noticed or not, petrolithic toxins are everywhere in quantities both casual and overwhelming. Plastic and oil pollution continue to devastate living ocean systems, which are responsible for producing most of the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen. Petrol is routinely burned into our atmosphere and spilled into our oceans. Its byproducts are turned into plastics and countless other environmentally destructive forms, and shipped to to every continent on the planet. And ultimately, one way or another, it all ends up in our atmosphere, land and waterways.

FACT: Many new chemicals and previously unknown substances came into existence as a result of petrol industry experimentation and the waste it produces. A short list of petroleum products includes: asphalt, antihistamines, aspirin, cosmetics, disposable diapers, linoleum, insecticides, fertilizers, pesticides, trash bags, bubble gum, shaving cream, crayons, plastics, synthetics, deodorant, dyes, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, paintbrushes, paint, stain, sun glasses, rubber cement, carpeting, preservatives, lotion, lip balm, balloons, children’s toys, and on and on.

Petroleum products such as plastics could be easily replaced by other renewable, biodegradable and non-toxic resources — if only the industry wasn’t regulated in a way that (like the Tea Act) favors the financial interests of the ruling oligarchy.

Many places on Earth experience direct and destructive pollution as a result (for example, oil spills the regularly plague the industry) while others parts of the world experience an accumulation of dispersed and diluted poisons that accumulate over time (for example, our oceans are now clogged with plastics). Indeed, petrol and its by-products can be found in water of deep and remote wells and in ice of the most remote glacier, atop the highest mountain, and in the most distant lands. When and if archaeologists of the future, thousands of years from now, dig down to the layer of sediment on which we live today, they will find a global, poisonous layer of muck splattered across the strata of this time period. And this toxic outcome is the direct result of the rise of energy oligarchies, who have suppressed renewable bio-fuels for over a century, fashioning a petrol industry on the back of WWI, and subsequently, a nuclear industry following WWII.

Civilization’s growth is currently dependent on resources that have negative consequences to development of the simplest functions of civilization. Clean water alone is difficult to obtain for most of the world, and growing more difficult. Meanwhile, our perpetual need for other resources is based on actual and imagined dependencies — and all geared toward the oligarchy.

The industrial revolution and the rise of the oligarchs behind it set the (unsustainable) fast pace of modern life. It was all about quicker construction, faster transportation, delivering people and resources far and wide, accelerated exchange of money, goods, services, and information, increased human development and, intrinsically, increased destruction of our natural world. Unsustainable development and dirty power have become our status quo, and we’re collectively too damn busy to deal with the grim realities of overdevelopment, ecocide, corruption and war that now surround us. And none of it would have happened without the oil-igarchy pulling the strings.

Where to Next?

People cast our ancestors as barbarians and yet, it was only in the 21st century that bombing cities became possible, then acceptable! Following this path of overdevelopment — of science without conscience — by WWII the same forces of profit, power and imperialism had overseen the creation of their next symbol of corruption and reckless overconsumption — the ultimate manmade environmental catastrophe: the atomic bomb, and all its tailings.

Today, we must learn to support the environment, even if it means (dare I say it) cutting back on some materialistic things and slowing the modern pace of life. And, when it comes to a situation so dirty as ‘black gold’, the Political Bottom Line applies: we must value humanity over institutions, stand up to wrongdoers, and assist others to do likewise — like the example of the water protectors in North Dakota, most recently, and most stunningly.

Stay tuned for my follow up article, From Petroleum to Radium, which tracks the rise of nuclear weapons experimentation, the energy experiment it spawned, and examines the grip of power and dependency created by the oligarchs who made it happen. In the meantime, perhaps we should consider the question: Why do Governments prohibit hemp cultivation and promote nuclear experimentation?

The Complete Patriot’s Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism: Theory and Practice

The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism

Ethan Indigo Smith’s book The Complete Patriot’s Guide is an insightful exploration of history, philosophy and contemporary politics of today’s heavily institutionalized society.

An inspiration for positive, peaceful individual action, The Complete Patriot’s Guide is pro-individual in its perspective and, although political, discusses our society and its institutions from neither left-wing nor right-wing perspectives, and explores metaphors and symbolism relative to the fictional work of George Orwell through real history, philosophy and contemporary politics. Layered with insight, it is in part a literary exploration of the themes raised in Orwell’s 1984, and provides theories for individual and collective empowerment.

The Complete Patriot’s Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism is available here on Amazon.

About the author:

Activist, author and Tai Chi teacher Ethan Indigo Smith was born on a farm in Maine and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before migrating west to Mendocino, California. Guided by a keen sense of integrity and humanity, Ethan’s work is both deeply connected and extremely insightful, blending philosophy, politics, activism, spirituality, meditation and a unique sense of humour.

Ethan’s publications include:

For more, visit Ethan on Facebook and check out Ethan’s author page on Amazon.

Recommended reading by Ethan Indigo Smith:


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