Humans invented boats in early historical times. Eventually they found ways of making them bigger and sending them ever further away from home. Those boats became the first machines for getting stuff, which was just as well, because the princes and barons who had the most stuff were beginning to get a little paranoid about running out of it.
Sometime later, the Americas were discovered. The natives had so much stuff, it made the head spin. Best of all, they didn't know about stuff, which gave the visitors a great advantage over them. Their continent was so rich with stuff, the boats couldn't take it all away. There was nothing else for it but to settle down and just use up the stuff where it lay.
Meanwhile, back east
For centuries, the Middle East just baked in the sun. The natives didn't really have any stuff that anyone wanted. They had plenty of sand, but nobody wanted that stuff, so they were left pretty much alone. They were skilful at transporting stuff from far away. They were happy to fetch stuff across the burning desert, from other lands that did have plenty of stuff. Everyone was more affable then.
It was noticed that the Middle East was full of ancient ruins and skeletons that had once belonged to humans who had eventually run out of stuff. If anything, that only served to make visitors feel more paranoid. The fact that the skeletons' descendants had learned to live without so much stuff, was a treasure that was simply overlooked.
The Middle Easterners had figured out an antidote for stuff. Some humans, like T.E. Lawrence, reckoned they were among the most liberated people on Earth.
The advent of Hydrocarbon Man
It all would have been so different if humans hadn't discovered some stuff called oil. You see, oil was a revolutionary way of getting more stuff. It allowed the machines for getting stuff to sail faster, fly through the air and to grab stuff more quickly. This was stuff raised to the Nth power (if you get my mathematical drift).
Perhaps I should clarify that statement. My great grandparents lived in a world of stuff PLUS stuff, whereas I have known nothing but stuff TIMES stuff. I live in a blizzard of stuff, without ever being aware of it. Every day a tsunami of stuff dumps a mountain of stuff at my uncomprehending, ungrateful feet.
In short, there is no other stuff which is as supercalifragilistic as oil. Why? Because oil is the only stuff capable of exerting the magical multiplier effect upon other stuff.
Some humans have pointed to the multiplying effect that oil has on foodstuffs, in which the magic pudding seems to replenish itself while we sleep. I eat magic pudding every day, but the problem is, you are what you eat.
Hydrocarbon man - that's me.
STUFF gets a life of its own
No one knows exactly when it happened, but there came a day when the growth of stuff got entirely out of hand. Thanks to oil, stuff grew faster than the ability of the human brain to comprehend it.
Many humans grew tired of even thinking about how stuff got there and invented a mystical force with a beard, which could be called upon to send more stuff if there was any unexplained shortage. They didn't do their science homework when they were kids, and it showed.
Chris Shaw was a mining metallurgist, until retreating to care for his beloved partner. Mining metallurgists are trained to appreciate the laws of natural abundance. Mining is where the wishful thinking of economists meets the reality of nature. Chris sometimes operates under the pseudonym "Feral Metallurgist", so that he can enjoy an air of mystique which he doesn't actually deserve.