A law of acceleration, definite and constant as any law of science, cannot be supposed to relax its energy to suit the convenience of man.
– Henry Adams, The Law of Acceleration
As exponential growth continues to accelerate into the first half of the twenty-first century, it will appear to explode into infinity, at least from the limited and linear perspective of contemporary humans.
– Ray Kurzweil, The Law of Accelerating Returns
The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.
—Nick Land, Meltdown
If you’re accelerating, there are material constraints upon your capacity to accelerate, but there must also be a transcendental speed limit at some point. The ultimate limit is not a limit at all for him, it’s death, or cosmic schizophrenia.
– Ray Brassier, Accelerationism
Technological acceleration and its alliance with late capitalism Benjamin Noys reminds us becomes fused in the utopias of cyberpunk fiction (here). As Noys remarks: “while promising the traversal of capitalism I argue that what it delivers is a reinforcement of the ‘thrill’ of capitalism as a continuing operator of the dematerialization and rematerialization of new ‘bodies’ of labour, while minimizing or valorizing the ‘threat’ of these experiences.” One can remember Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams, Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, and Neuromancer by William Gibson to name only three of the fabled cyberpunkers. One could add one’s own favorite list: Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, Paul Di Filippo just to name a few. In later times such utopian dreams of capital would turn toward the dystopic critical appraisal of such works as Richard Morgan’s trilogy of Takeshi Kovacs a sleever who changes bodies as regularly as we do our clothes. Reincarnated on demand by elite socialites this cyborgian mercenary version of the Chandleresque private eye slips into an out of death sequences without a hitch since his recorded memories backed up and locked away can be retrieved from a subcortical implant hooked to his brain stem. Against this speedworld theoretic of cyberphutures as Noys names it he tells us “rather than the reinforcement and replication of capitalist relations as the means to achieve our future we consider imagining new avant-gardes and new politics that take seriously the reconfiguration and negation of these relations. In this way we could finally rescind the promise of the cybernetic phuture”.
Richard Feynman once remarked: “The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom.” It was another twentieth century visionary, Buckmenster Fuller, who described his concept of ephemeralization as the apparent driver of accelerating change, “the invisible chemical, metallurgical, and electronic production of ever-more-efficient and satisfyingly effective performance with the investment of ever-less weight and volume of materials per unit function formed or performed”.1 The point of this concept is the ability of technological advancement to do “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing”. Fuller’s vision was that ephemeralization will result in ever-increasing standards of living for an ever-growing population despite finite resources. Utopian?
A critical eye was cast early on toward such postmodern motifs as accelerationism by both Lewis Mumford and Jaques Ellul. It was Mumford who concerned himself with the machinic world of technique: “The machine is antisocial, it tends, by reason of its progressive character, to the most acute forms of human exploitation”. 2 While Ellul railed against those critics of capitalism pointing out that they had missed the real point: “Capitalism did not create our world; the machine did.”3
Mumford divided techniques into two types: megatechiques, which emphasizes constant, unrestricted expansion, production, and replacement. He contends that these goals work against technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and overall human satisfaction; and, biotechnics, an organic model of technology in which organic systems direct themselves to “qualitative richness, amplitude, spaciousness, and freedom from quantitative pressures and crowding. Self-regulation, self-correction, and self-propulsion are as much an integral property of organisms as nutrition, reproduction, growth, and repair.” Biotechnics models life in seeking balance, wholeness, and completeness. Yet, Mumford went further he explained that technique shifted between two operations: polytechnic, which enlists many different modes of technology, providing a complex framework to solve human problems; and, monotechnic, which is technology only for its own sake, which oppresses humanity as it moves along its own trajectory.
Jaques Ellul defines technique as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”(ibid.) Ellul was pessimistic about the outcome of technology and saw technology becoming a total phenomenon for civilization, a defining force of that would give birth to a new social order in which “efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity”. (ibid.) Ellul set forth seven characteristics of modern technology that make efficiency a necessity: rationality, artificiality, automatism of technical choice, self-augmentation, monism, universalism, and autonomy. Most of this would during the postmodern era become stock and trade within the neoliberal order. At the center of this neoliberal order would be formed a technique and an ethic to enforce this technique based on Rational Choice Theory. The basic idea of rational choice theory is that patterns of behavior in societies reflect the choices made by individuals as they try to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. In other words, people make decisions about how they should act by comparing the costs and benefits of different courses of action. As a result, patterns of behavior will develop within the society that result from those choices.
Yet, as one critic pointed out the concept of rationality, to use Hegelian language, represents the relations of modern capitalist society one-sidedly. The burden of rational-actor theory is the assertion that “naturally” constituted individuals facing existential conflicts over scarce resources would rationally impose on themselves the institutional structures of modern capitalist society, or something approximating them. But this way of looking at matters systematically neglects the ways in which modern capitalist society and its social relations in fact constitute the “rational”, calculating individual. The well-known limitations of rational-actor theory, its static quality, its logical antinomies, its vulnerability to arguments of infinite regress, its failure to develop a progressive concrete research program, can all be traced to this starting-point.4
Yet, many neoliberal thinkers still assume that humans make decisions in a rational, rather than a stochastic manner which implies that their behavior can be modeled and thus predictions can be made about future actions. They also buy into the mathematical formality of rational choice theory models believing that these allow social scientists to derive results from their models that may have otherwise not be seen, and submit these theoretical results for empirical verification. Much of the outgrowth of Rational Choice Theory began in the early work of Game Theorists. John von Neumann published a paper in 1928 which became central as an original proof that used Brouwer’s fixed-point theorem on continuous mappings into compact convex sets, which became a standard method in game theory and mathematical economics. He would later write Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. This foundational work contains the method for finding mutually consistent solutions for two-person zero-sum games. During the following time period, work on game theory was primarily focused on cooperative game theory, which analyzes optimal strategies for groups of individuals, presuming that they can enforce agreements between them about proper strategies.
In 1946 General Henry H. Arnold, commander of the United States Army Air Forces, established Project RAND with the objective of looking into long-range planning of future weapons. This project would turn into one of the early think tanks of the coming Neoliberal Era. Since the 1950s, the RAND has been instrumental in defining U.S. military strategy. It was here that Nash would use his early doctoral thesis to produce his famous Nash equilibrium theory that provides a solution concept of a non-cooperative gaming involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his own strategy unilaterally. This became the basis of the prisoner’s dilemma, a canonical example of a game that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. Nash would later develop work on the role of money in society. Within the framing theorem that people can be so controlled and motivated by money that they may not be able to reason rationally about it, he has criticized interest groups that promote quasi-doctrines based on Keynesian economics that permit manipulative short-term inflation and debt tactics that ultimately undermine currencies.
While all this was going on the Chicago School of Economics took an interest in such game theories to provide the Neoliberal Order a way of ousting Keynesianism from the world. Chicago economists such as Thorstein Veblen, John Maurice Clark, Frank Knight, Jacob Viner, Theodore Schultz, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Ronald Coase, Merton Miller, Robert Fogel, Richard Posner, Gary Becker, Robert Lucas, Kevin Murphy, and Steven Levitt.5 The dark roots of the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 1980s can be found at the University of Chicago. Over the past quarter-century, one by one many developing countries have adopted free-market oriented economic policies, and the same holds true for them. China, India and the countries of the former Soviet Union are the highest-profile examples, but many other smaller countries followed the same route. Although some contest it, globalization, which is nothing more than the application of free-market policies across borders, cultures, and continents, has enforced its strange logics onto the world on a heretofore unseen scale. As activist Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, argues criticizing that Chicago School rational monarch of neoliberal economics, Milton Friedman, stating that his ideology and principles have guided the economic restructuring that followed the military coups in countries such as Chile and Indonesia, drawing analogies between the way that Friedman proposed using the social “shock” of the coups to create an economic “blank slate” with Ewen Cameron’s controversial medical experiments that used electroshock therapy to create a mental “blank slate” in patients with mental disorders. Based on the extent to which the application of neoliberal policies has contributed to income disparities and inequality, both Klein and Noam Chomsky have suggested that the primary role of neoliberalism was as an ideological cover for capital accumulation by multinational corporations.(wiki)
An aspect of Ellul’s notion that technique pervades our postmodern era comes with such ideas as Resilient Control Systems which takes the Rational paradigm of game theory and neoliberal economics and considers all of these elements and those disciplines that contribute to a more effective design, such as cognitive psychology, computer science, and control engineering to develop interdisciplinary solutions. These solutions consider such things such as how to tailor the control system operating displays to best enable the user to make an accurate and reproducible response, how to design in cyber security protections such that the system defends itself from attack by changing its behaviors, and how to better integrate widely distributed computer control systems to prevent cascading failures that result in disruptions to critical industrial operations. One can imagine a dystopic web of interconnected control systems, either architecture termed as distributed control systems (DCS) or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), the application of control is moving toward a more decentralized state. In moving to a smart grid, the complex interconnected nature of individual homes, commercial facilities and diverse power generation and storage creates an opportunity and a challenge to ensuring that the resulting system is more resilient to threats. The ability to operate these systems to achieve a global optimum for multiple considerations, such as overall efficiency, stability and security, will require mechanisms to holistically design complex networked control systems. Multi-agent methods suggest a mechanism to tie a global objective to distributed assets, allowing for management and coordination of assets for optimal benefit and semi-autonomous, but constrained controllers that can react rapidly to maintain resilience for rapidly changing conditions.
David Hume would displace the Reason of the dogmatic rationalists with ‘desire’ as the great governor of behavior in human and other systems. Hume’s anti-rationalism informed much of his theory of belief and knowledge, in his treatment of the notions of induction, causation, and the external world. But it was not confined to this sphere, and permeated just as strongly his theories of motivation, action, and morality. In a famous sentence in the Treatise, Hume circumscribes reason’s role in the production of action: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Immanuel Kant waking up from his proverbial “dogmatic slumber” after reading Hume would spend the rest of his life answering the corrosive power of that philosopher by internalizing Reason, no longer in the world, but in the very seat of human cognition: “Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but … let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition.” This would turn the Copernican Revolution on its head by reversing course and internalizing both Plato’s eternal realm of Forms (the Categories of Thought, Intuition, Understanding, etc.) and Value (Ethics). As John McCumber argues in Time and Philosophy Kant tried to salvage traditional ethics which up to his time had resided in an atemporal timeless realm of pure knowledge by internalizing it within the Mind itself.6 This notion of Reason and the Categories of the Mind being somehow eternal and situated outside of time lead to a series of unresolved issues within Kant’s system that later Idealists and two hundred of years of philosophical speculation have yet to resolve. The point being, that if Reason and the Categories are timeless how do they ever produce change in a temporal world, how do they even relate to temporal objects such as Kant’s ‘appearances’, much less his atemporal things-in-themselves that can only be inferred never known directly?
By circuitous route I slowly return to Accelerationism by way of Nick Land who in his Thirst for Annihilation and Fanged Noumena would lay the ground for a critique of the Neoliberal Order. “To describe Kant and capital as two sides of a coin is as necessary as it is ridiculous. A strange coin indeed that can synthesize a humble citizen of Konigsberg with the run-away reconstruction of a planet.”6 (3) One dismisses Land at one’s peril, for Land brings sparks, insights into the central dilemmas of the past two hundred years of thought by descending into Kant’s lair and discovering there the failure of thought that is with us still. Even the great Hegel does not escape the scathing indictments: “Hegel’s philosophy is the life support machine of Kantianism, the medical apparatus responding to a crisis” (3).
It is to Hegel Land turns for an understanding to accelerationism, because Hegel understood that the Kantian conception of infinity which “abstractly opposes itself to finitude rather than subsuming it, indefinitely perpetuated a dangerous tension, insofar as it ascetically suspends the moment of resolution” (4). It is just here that the key to Land’s original insight into accelerationism comes into play: “This bad infinity – the endless task of perpetual growth (capital) – is incapable of ever diminishing the prospect of utter collapse” (4). For Kant the mathematical sublime is situated in the failure of the imagination to comprehend natural objects that appear boundless and formless, or appear “absolutely great”. This imaginative failure is recuperated through the pleasure taken in reason’s assertion of the concept of infinity. The English word infinity derives from Latin infinitas, which can be translated as “unboundedness”, itself calqued from the Greek word apeiros, meaning “endless”.
“When you cut into the present the future leaks out,” said, William S. Burroughs. Reading Fanged Noumena is like entering the thoughts of a machinic intelligence which like some Philip K. Dick novel has descending into the transmorgraphied flesh of Nick Land’s brain indelibly switching out and replacing neurons with nanobots that have collapsed from the future to produce a new vision of futurity in the now. In his essay Meltdown he remarks that conversing “upon the terrestrial meltdown singularity, phase-out culture accelerates through its digitech-heated adaptive landscape, passing through compression thresholds normed to an intensive logistic curve: 1500, 1756, 1884, 1948, 1980, 1996, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2011 … Nothing human makes it out of the near future” (443). But not to worry he tells us, we have K-tactics which is not a matter of building the future, but of dismantling the past. It assembles itself by charting and escaping the technical-neurochemical deficiency conditions for linear-progressive palaeo-domination time, and discovers that the future as virtuality is accessible now, according to a mode of machinic adjacency that securitized social reality is compelled to repress. This is not remotely a question of hope, aspiration or prophecy, but of communications engineering connecting with the efficient intensive singularities, and releasing them from constriction within linear-historical development. Virtuality counterposes itself to history, as invasion to accumulation. It is matter as arrival, even when camouflaged as a deposit of the past. (FN 452)
John Lindblom in his essay speaks of ‘creative interventions’ that can take place in the gap between ‘deterritorialization’, such as in the mobilization of images, machines, information, and so on, which then is ‘reterritorialized’ and incorporated into the latest functionalism concomitant with the constantly updated capitalist infrastructure: “by pinpointing those moments of creative possibilities that capitalism inevitably needs to produce in order to maintain its own potency, and follow them along lines which capitalism itself would never consider.”7 He goes on to argue:
Going back to technology and new media, a key issue for accelerationist theory would be to reflect on how one would approach the vast number of technological resources (the Internet, social media, portable electronic devices, etc.) which have been developed under capitalism, and instrumentalize them in ways which capitalism itself necessarily must inhibit.
He takes note of Nick Land’s contribution to a theory of Accelerationism remarking: “Land’s vision of capitalism as an inhuman invasion from the future that dissolves human culture into ‘dehumanized, emptied landscapes’ has been criticized for its rabid nihilism, machinic obscurism, and Deleuzian Thatcherism.” Yet, against those who would dismiss Land out of hand, he amends that under the hood of Land’s dark Deleuzian nightmare world bleakness is a series of “philosophical arguments that provide a sobering contrast to the tiresome conservatism of much postmodern theory”. He comments that for Land, techno-capitalist acceleration is not simply a process that will restore corrupted human relations under current technological infrastructures, but rather an “inhuman desubjectification-program that will renegotiate our basic notions of what it means to be human to begin with”. In an almost agreement with both Mumford and Ellul in regarding humans as being infiltrated by technique rather than adapting to it, Lindblom remarks that we need better tools to diagnose the “technological infiltration of human agency” as the future collapses upon the present. Yet, he also points toward a posthuman or almost transhumanist movement as he sees opportunity in an accelerationism, saying, late capitalism “consequently points at an even more radical form of accelerationism, in which the ultimate aim goes beyond the political concerns of reinventing human relations in light of new technology, and instead sees the current mutations of techno-capital as a speculative opportunity to rethink basic notions of humanity as such.”(ibid.)
As Anti-Realist social constructivist discourses begin to fall out of favor as a possible speculative realist turn takes effect, such divisive categories and nature-culture begin to dissolve the distinctions of their binary categories offering what Rosi Braidotti calls new forms of posthuman possibilities. In her new work The Posthuman she set about to answer four basic questions:
1. How can we account for the intellectual and historical itineraries that may have led us to the posthuman?
2. Where does the posthuman condition leave humanity and, more specifically, what new forms of subjectivity does it engender?
3. How can we stop the posthuman from becoming inhuman(e)?
4. What is the function of the Humanities and of theory in posthuman times?
She connects her notion of the posthuman nomadic subject with both materialism and vitalism, embodiment and the embeddedness of radical immanence of a ‘politics of location’. Against the anti-foundationlism of postmodernity, and the linguistic turn of post-structuralism she finds herself moving backwards and forwards to Spinoza, Deleuze-Guattari, plus feminist and post-colonial theories.8 Ray Brassier in contrapoised critique of Deleuze-Guattari’s vitalistic proclivities once said that to “refuse vitalism is not to favour the stasis of indifference over the movement of difference but to affirm the irreducible reality of physical death along with the autonomy of absolute space-time as identity of difference and indifference.”(204)9 Braidotti in an almost direct reply expounds on Life:
Life, by the same token, is neither a metaphysical notion, nor a semiotic system of meaning; it expresses itself in a multiplicity of empirical acts: there is nothing to say, but everything to do. Life, simply by being life, expresses itself by actualizing flows of energies, through codes of vital information across complex somatic, cultural and technologically networked systems. This is why I defend the idea of amor fati as a way of accepting vital processes and the expressive intensity of a Life we share with multiple others, here, and now.(190)
In a manifesto like moment she explains that she wants to think from the here and now: “from missing seeds and dying species … But also, simultaneously and relentlessly generative ways in which life, as bios and zoe, keeps of fighting back. This is the kind of materialism that makes me a posthuman thinker at heart and a joyful member of multiple companion species in practice” (194). That Rosi’s posthumanism is positive and rosy is not hard to press, but is it viable in such a world where the unbounded nihilism of a more-than-human world machinic world vies with such an optimistic and vitalistic philosophy more than just another utopian hope? In a cannibalistic world of late capitalism are we even allowed such optimistic hope?
Ben Woodard in his early Slime Dynamics – Generation, Mutation, and the Creep of Life reminds us that humans “like any other polyp of living matter, are nothing but heaps of slime slapped together and shaped by the accidents of time and the context of space. The fact that we have evolved self-consciousness should not guarantee or maintain meaning.Meaning is only ever the final gloss on being which when removed does not then dictate mass suicide nor pure apathy (Woodard. Slime Dynamics – Generation, Mutation, and the Creep of Life. (Zero Books, 2012) p. 66).
Woodard’s excellent meditation on the dark vitality at the heart of life can be read in an afternoon. The format is a series of essays that expand in waves upon the central theme of the patient work of the negative, not the negative that negates life, but the patient negation that eliminates meaning from the very fabric of space and time revealing the pathology of existence: “… subtracting meaning, reducing ontological life to biological life is only to unbind pathology which seems like a far more useful weapon in combating a structure than meaning…”(66). He explains this saying,
“Pathology opens the oddness of any creation in time and space thereby spreading a plague of tenuousness across all of existence. … Everything Dies. This introduces the tension between inactivity between inaction and action, that things will perish but so will I. The strange temporality is reflected in the symptom, in that particular things in time form our particular pathological trajectory but this trajectory continuously reminds us of its existence (66-67).”
Reza Negarestani in his essay Death as a Perversion: Openess and Germinal Death (here) tells us the ”desire for openness has been considered the desire for life, death, horror, outside and intensity and this is why it has been cautiously appropriated whether through desire itself or despotic rigidities. However, it has been never totally blocked, for even in the case of monolithic despotism and rigidity, we do not encounter closure but strictly economical openness which is the indispensable part of any paranoiacally isolationist organization.” This type of openess Negarestani terms affordance and tells us that through “affordance, openness is represented as the level of being open (to) not being opened (the plane of epidemic and contagion: plagues, contaminations, possession, etc.).” In a declarative statement he continues:
“”I am open to you.” means, I have the capacity to bear your investment or ‘I afford you’ (this is not an intentional conservative voice but what arises as the fundamental noise produced by the machinery of different levels of organization and boundary, and finally organic survival); if you exceed this capacity I will be cracked, lacerated and laid open. ”
Woodard tells us that this kind of openess is a form of “being splayed open” that recognizes pathology but does not legitimate structure (67). He tells us that we must remain open to the pathological and to life itself so that the power of the Cthuloid ethics reveals the fissures and cracks of our lacerated pathologies (67). Ultimately Woodard’s meditation lays bare the emptiness within and without, a darkness that is a blinding nihil that affords a “metaphysical construct opposed to emergence and that is at once a simultaneous resurrection and mutilation of vitalism (8).”
The term “emergent” was coined by the pioneer psychologist G. H. Lewes, who wrote:
“Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of the co-operant forces; their sum, when their directions are the same — their difference, when their directions are contrary. Further, every resultant is clearly traceable in its components, because these are homogeneous and commensurable. It is otherwise with emergents, when, instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a co-operation of things of unlike kinds. The emergent is unlike its components insofar as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference.” 4
Woodard tells us that vitalism is traditionally not unlike emergentism in that both suggest there is something more to life, something that drives and/or affects life that is not purely reducible to the classifiable componenets of life itself (8). Against this signification of vitalism as emergentism as that which harbors the meaning of life or vital substance that “propels life forward”, he offers instead the theory that the “vital force is time and its effect on space” that propels all things forward (8). In his readings of Deleuze, Guattari, Bergson and Merleau-Ponty he comes to the realization that vitalism cannot be a thing, that it cannot be a force “because it says nothing about life itself as a force, only that it develops but not how(9).” What all the philosophers of vitalism have left out is a dark truth Woodard tells us, one that shows forth the force of time itself: “… time as something beyond thought which is the force of vitalism (life emerges over time) and the substance of vitalism is not the germ plasm trumping heredity but space as it is filled by life (9).”
As Gene Moreno remarks in Notes on the Inorganic –
By constantly invading and liquidating resource-rich contexts, capitalism encourages images that project what will inevitably be left in its wake: a dead world. And just as one can imagine (or see) patches of devastated and desolate land, a kind of localized post-extraction desertification, one can just as easily imagine this becoming a planetary condition: the globe as a rotating, dead lithosphere, coated in a fine dust of decomposing once-organic particles. Individual patches of dead world synthesized into a continuous crust.
As we think about the implications of the NBIC technologies (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science) that portend a posthuman matrix of possible futures we need to take stock of just what kind of future is possibly collapsing on us. Moreno reminds us that nanotech might just end in grey goo as a dead, undifferentiated, slimy surface—a “massive lithosphere covered in lifeless sludge and nanomass wreckage”. In this scenario the future becomes our hostage, a debtors prison for the unknown creatures that we must hold at bay: “This is the new normal, the way power is extracted from the only future that transnational capital proposes as conducive to its maintenance and growth. Like credit in the financial sphere, pre-emptive design objectifies the future before it even arrives.” Moreno acknowledges Land’s apocalyptic of the future collapse of a dark intelligence invading our present like an invisible monstrosity that “feeds on what it finds, leaving behind a metaphorical grey chemical sludge. This alien intelligence from the future seems committed to bringing about an ultimate inorganic state, the apocalypse of that final drag of everything into the post-biological, and it is working incrementally as it moves forward through history in order to realize the future it left behind.”
Moreno chants all the usual suspects from Franco Berardi with his no future, to the intensities of Deleuze-Guattari, to Steven Shaviro whose book Post-Cinematic Affect offers us an “accelerationist aesthetics”. In a succinct re-elaboration of the basic themes of accelerationism Moreno remarks:
Embracing capitalism’s penchant for always undoing more and more in its quest for self-perpetuation and growth, for treating any blockage as an incentive to crank up its rhythms, accelerationism experiments with the possibility of speeding up and intensifying capitalist relations and ways of living, exacerbating its dissolutions and its velocities, until something breaks. Accelerationism aims to rev up crisis and render it unsustainable, to pipe even more energy into processes of social fracture, to exacerbate the fragmentation of experience, and to intensify sensorial overload and subjective dispersal in order to drive masochistically toward an incompatibility between capitalism and forms of excess it can’t accommodate. Counterintuitive for kids brought up on the delights of critique and its penchant for refusing complicity with the dominant order, one no longer resists these tendencies. Instead, one accelerates until the scaffolding and the logic that hold it all together burst asunder. Hyperactive production is recoded as turbo-destruction and vice versa.
Remarking on Shaviro’s accelerationist aesthetics Moreno says that accelerationist cartographics is a “kind of social ground-shaping, actively adding to and participating in the space it diagrams, forging new routes through it, pressuring new curvatures and foldings on the geometries it encounters”. In a positive light he commends Shaviro’s tactic as helping us “trace the slippery contours of the warped and warping world we traverse daily, the seemingly infinite and tangled networks we are plugged into, the non-spaces we inhabit and the subjective modulations they produce, the invisible forces that sway us one way and then another”.
At the end of his book Post Cinematic Affect Steven Shaviro tells us his “argument comes down to the assertion that accelerationism is a useful, productive, and even necessary aesthetic strategy today – for all that it is dubious as a political one. The project of cognitive and affective mapping seeks, at the very least, to explore the contours of the prison we find ourselves in. This is a crucial task at any time; but all the more so today, when that prison has no outside, but is conterminous with the world as a whole.” 10
Edmund Berger chimes in over at Deterritorial Investigations Unit tells us that in an accelerating capitalism the critical question that comes to us is how autonomy and enslavement can no longer be opposed but are now synonymous with one another? (here) He comments on the similarities of Hardt and Negri’s Empire and other works to Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”. As he states it:
While differing in various ways, there are certain respects in which their accelerationist politics tie nicely into the strains of post-Autonomia thought, particularly those that were laid forth in Hardt and Negri’s Empire. Hardt and Negri too saw that the existing infrastructure of the transnational neoliberal complex was assembled from the multitude’s own desires and General Intellect (rendered by Williams and Srnicek as the procession of “technological evolution” that is captured in the machinic enslavement of “capitalist objectives”) and as such held innate potentials for appropriate and redistribution through the actualization of positive biopower. “…we must push Empire to come out the other side,” as we read in Empire.
This is where the labour of the negative still needs a place under the dark moon of theory. For if as Benjamin Noys contends that “accelerationists affirm is the capitalist power of dissolution and fragmentation,” as well as that accelerationism therefore aims “to exacerbate capitalism to the point of collapse” then we must ask just what this collapse would entail in (post)human and animal etc. suffering? Zizek once remarked that “in order to function properly, power discourse must be inherently split, it must “cheat” performatively, to disavow its own underlying performative gesture. Sometimes, therefore, the only truly subversive thing to do when confronted with a power discourse is simply to take it at its word”.11 He also advocated that we should tarry with the negative, that “the crucial, hitherto underestimated ideological impact of the coming …crisis will be precisely to make the “collapse of the big Other” part of our everyday experience … Perhaps, however, our very physical survival hinges on our ability to consummate the act of assuming fully the “nonexistence of the Other,” of tarrying with the negative.”(ibid.) Maybe that is just it, what if the Big Other is Time, the Future that we assume is accelerating toward us with its inhuman intelligence gobbling us up like some Chronos eating his titanic children is just an illusion? At the end of their manifesto Srnicek and Williams add in section 24 say:
The future needs to be constructed. It has been demolished by neoliberal capitalism and reduced to a cut-price promise of greater inequality, conflict, and chaos. This collapse in the idea of the future is symptomatic of the regressive historical status of our age, rather than, as cynics across the political spectrum would have us believe, a sign of sceptical maturity. What accelerationism pushes towards is a future that is more modern — an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate. The future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside.
Yet, I wonder if this ‘constructed’ entails a return to the anti-realist program of social constructionism, or is this something different and possibly an unhinging of that unbounded nihil of which Ray Brassier once spoke? Is this ‘Outside’ the outside of the neoliberal order and discourse? And does this accelerationism push towards or does it rather need to activate the future in our local moments? And what is this modernity, this alternative modernity entail? As they tell us in the manifesto “We cannot return to mass industrial-Fordist labour by fiat, if at all.” Would we want to even if we could? Against the dark force of neoliberalism they tell us the best we can hope for is a “recovery of lost possible futures, and indeed the recovery of the future as such”.
They attack Land as a neoliberal when he is in fact against the what he, and his compatriots term, the neoliberal Cathedral. Williams and Srinicek argue: “However Landian neoliberalism confuses speed with acceleration. We may be moving fast, but only within a strictly defined set of capitalist parameters that themselves never waver. We experience only the increasing speed of a local horizon, a simple brain-dead onrush rather than an acceleration which is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility. It is the latter mode of acceleration which we hold as essential.” Yet, Land sees neoliberalism as the enemy. His form or Reactionary thought converges on what he’s termed the Dark Enlightenment. Following from such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes to Hans-Hermann Hoppe and beyond, it asks: How can the sovereign power be prevented – or at least dissuaded — from devouring society? It consistently finds democratic ‘solutions’ to this problem risible, at best. Land following his Sith Lord, Mencius Moldbug asks “Can you imagine a 21st-century post-demotist society? One that saw itself as recovering from democracy…”.
Land tells us that Moldbug teaches a new formalism – the “Neo-Cameralist State”:
To a neocameralist, a state is a business which owns a country. A state should be managed, like any other large business, by dividing logical ownership into negotiable shares, each of which yields a precise fraction of the state’s profit. (A well-run state is very profitable.) Each share has one vote, and the shareholders elect a board, which hires and fires managers.
This business’s customers are its residents. A profitably-managed neocameralist state will, like any business, serve its customers efficiently and effectively. Misgovernment equals mismanagement.
So we seem to be reverting to a Corporate Feudalism with the shareholders as the new aristocracy who “squash the democratic myth that a state ‘belongs’ to the citizenry”. As Land says at the end of 4d Dark Enlightenment tells us “liberty has no future in the Anglophone world outside the prospect of secession. The coming crack-up is the only way out.” As we move into the new century Land gives us three scenarios for a possible future:
(1) Modernity 2.0. Global modernization is re-invigorated from a new ethno-geographical core, liberated from the degenerate structures of its Eurocentric predecessor, but no doubt confronting long range trends of an equally mortuary character. This is by far the most encouraging and plausible scenario (from a pro-modernist perspective), and if China remains even approximately on its current track it will be assuredly realized. (India, sadly, seems to be too far gone in its native version of demosclerosis to seriously compete.)
(2) Postmodernity. Amounting essentially to a new dark age, in which Malthusian limits brutally re-impose themselves, this scenario assumes that Modernity 1.0 has so radically globalized its own morbidity that the entire future of the world collapses around it. If the Cathedral ‘wins’ this is what we have coming.
(3) Western Renaissance. To be reborn it is first necessary to die, so the harder the ‘hard reboot’ the better. Comprehensive crisis and disintegration offers the best odds (most realistically as a sub-theme of option #1).
Land opts for number #1, and even that will need some work he tell us:
(1) Replacement of representational democracy by constitutional republicanism (or still moreextreme anti-political governmental mechanisms).
(2) Massive downsizing of government and its rigorous confinement to core functions (at most).
(3) Restoration of hard money (precious metal coins and bullion deposit notes) and abolition of central banking.
(4) Dismantling of state monetary and fiscal discretion, thus abolishing practical macroeconomics and liberating the autonomous (or ‘catallactic’) economy. (This point is redundant, since it follows rigorously from 2 & 3 above, but it’s the real prize, so worth emphasizing.)
The typical reactionary thematic: Constitutional Republicanism, small government, gold standard, and, get rid of the Fed and Central Banks. It’s at this point that he brings us to the bionic horizon, the singularity event. We’ve been dominated by The Cathedral for too long: “The basic theme has been mind control, or thought-suppression, as demonstrated by the Media-Academic complex that dominates contemporary Western societies, and which Mencius Moldbug names the Cathedral. … The central dogma of the Cathedral has been formalized as the Standard Social Scientific Model (SSSM) or ‘blank slate theory’. Like a latter day prophet of the posthuman science Land tells us:
1. Most evolutionary change is associated with the origin of new species.
2. Several modes of evolution may operate simultaneously. In this case the most effective dominates the process.
3. Tiny minorities of individuals do most of the evolving instead of the species as a whole.
Yes, one admits the old evolutionary tracks pretty much went this route, but what do we do in an age when humans can intervene into their own genome and bring changes of which they might have no control over? And what of our machine cousins, and the technological singularity that might allow them to surpass us and replicate themselves in their own hyper formalism of the evolutionary process? As Williams and Srinicek remind us “A vanishingly small cognitariat of elite intellectual workers shrinks with each passing year — and increasingly so as algorithmic automation winds its way through the spheres of affective and intellectual labour.”
As humans become more and more obsolete within the hypertechnocapitalism of this accelerated future who will be left to repair the machines if they break down? And, more to the point, what will be the need of humans once the machines take over every latch niche of the evolutionary territory of that bright future? Will humans become the slaves of these future masters of the hypersphere of intelligence that is already cannibalizing us like morsels on the pointillist pin of time?
Williams and Srinicek argue that “if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.” They seek not to destroy capitalism but to steer it toward other goals: “towards common ends. The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism.” In number #7 of their manifesto they state: “Whereas the techno-utopians argue for acceleration on the basis that it will automatically overcome social conflict, our position is that technology should be accelerated precisely because it is needed in order to win social conflicts.” So they perceive theirs within a social accelerationist dialogue from the Left point of view?
Social Accelerationsim has been around for a while now: here and here and here. Hartmut Rosa in his book Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity advances an account of the temporal structure of society from the perspective of critical theory. He identifies three categories of change in the tempo of modern social life: technological acceleration, evident in transportation, communication, and production; the acceleration of social change, reflected in cultural knowledge, social institutions, and personal relationships; and acceleration in the pace of life, which happens despite the expectation that technological change should increase an individual’s free time.
According to Rosa, both the structural and cultural aspects of our institutions and practices are marked by the “shrinking of the present,” a decreasing time period during which expectations based on past experience reliably match the future. When this phenomenon combines with technological acceleration and the increasing pace of life, time seems to flow ever faster, making our relationships to each other and the world fluid and problematic. It is as if we are standing on “slipping slopes,” a steep social terrain that is itself in motion and in turn demands faster lives and technology. As Rosa deftly shows, this self-reinforcing feedback loop fundamentally determines the character of modern life.
One is reminded as well of Paul Virilio’s “dromology,” a narrative of historical acceleration which proceeds from the revolution in transport to that in transmission and finally to the impending “transplantation” revolution dawning in the emergent possibilities of biotechnology (Virilio 9-15). The effects of technological acceleration on social reality are certainly tremendous. In particular, they completely transformed the “space-time regime” of society, i.e., the perception and organization of space and time in social life. Thus, in the age of globalization and the u-topicality of the Internet, time is increasingly conceived as compressing or even annihilating space (e.g., Harvey 201-210). Space, it seems, virtually “contracts” by the speed of transport and communication. Thus, measured by the time it takes to cross the distance from, say, London to New York, space has shrunk from the pre-industrial age of sailing ships to the time of jet-planes to less than 1/60th of its original size, i.e., from about three weeks to about eight hours.
The most pressing and astonishing facet of social acceleration Rosa tells us is the spectacular and epidemic “time-famine” of modern (Western) societies. In modernity, social actors increasingly feel that they are running out of time, that they are short on time. It seems as if time was perceived like a raw material which is consumed like oil and which is, therefore, getting increasingly scarce and expensive. This perception of time lies at the heart of a third type of (objectively measurable) acceleration in Western societies that is neither logically nor causally entailed by the first two. Quite to the contrary, at least at first glance, this time-hunger appears to be totally paradoxical with respect to technological acceleration. This third category is the acceleration of the pace of (social) life, which has been postulated again and again in the history of modernity (e.g., by Georg Simmel or, more recently, by Robert Levine). It can be defined as an increase in the number of episodes of action or experience per unit of time, i.e., it is the consequence of the desire or felt need to do more things in less time. As such, it is the central focus of much of the discussion about cultural acceleration and the alleged need for deceleration.
Continuing with Williams and Srinicek in #8 of their manifesto they remark: “We believe that any post-capitalism will require post-capitalist planning.” Planning? Experts? Elite specialists? The very idea that we can “develop both a cognitive map of the existing system and a speculative image of the future economic system” seems almost iffy since all the variables that we’d need to take into account would use much of the same neoliberal statistical mathematics and decisional processes that are failing us now? Maybe I’m all wrong in this reading but they will need to explain to me more about what they mean by planning… and, of course, in number #9 they tell us: “take advantage of every technological and scientific advance made possible by capitalist society. We declare that quantification is not an evil to be eliminated, but a tool to be used in the most effective manner possible. Economic modelling is — simply put — a necessity for making intelligible a complex world … The accelerationist left must become literate in these technical fields.” So again we have experts and specialists who we will have to depend on for knowledge of their respective domains to make these accurate models through simulation, etc. Does any of this sound familiar? Rational choice planning, anyone? The very control systems we’re using (computers) have already integrated us into their own design. Our freedom is already illusory when we forget that we are no longer independent of the tools we once created, but are instead totally dependent on them for our very survival or modeling of future scenarios? What ever happened to human imagination?
In number #11 they tell us “The left must develop sociotechnical hegemony: both in the sphere of ideas, and in the sphere of material platforms.” Yet, I wonder if any group left or right gains such totalistic hegemony will we not end in a conformist non-autonomous society, a pure dictatorship of mind and culture: the perfect control society? Listen as they continue: “While much of the current global platform is biased towards capitalist social relations, this is not an inevitable necessity. These material platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption can and will be reprogrammed and reformatted towards post-capitalist ends.” Isn’t what their saying the reeducation of the mass of society, the reprogramming of men, women, and children who support this system? A vast Paideia of pedagogical reconstruction programs to intervene into humanity on a scale never before seen?
In number #12 they throw our participatory democracy as an option: “We do not believe that direct action is sufficient to achieve any of this.” In number #13 they make it explicit: “The overwhelming privileging of democracy-as-process needs to be left behind.” So if people will no longer have a democracy as a process, then what replaces it? They return to the Enlightenment in number #14: “This is a project which must align politics with the legacy of the Enlightenment, to the extent that it is only through harnessing our ability to understand ourselves and our world better (our social, technical, economic, psychological world) that we can come to rule ourselves.” So the idea of using every aspect of the sciences and Enlightenment project will remain within the paradigm of this new regimen of practices. Instead of a centralized command center the opt for (number #15) “an ecology of organisations, a pluralism of forces, resonating and feeding back on their comparative strengths.”
So in number #16 they return us to the neoliberal beginnings, where “Mimicking the Mont Pelerin Society of the neoliberal revolution, this is to be tasked with creating a new ideology, economic and social models, and a vision of the good to replace and surpass the emaciated ideals that rule our world today.” Why do we need ‘ideology’? What do they mean by ideology? False consciousness? The Zizekian definition of The Sublime Object of Ideology? A vision of the ‘good’ – a Utopian vision? Is this a return to Platonic forms, or something else?
In number #17 that speak of ‘reform’ – why Reform? “We need to construct wide-scale media reform.” If they plan on taking over the reigns, why reform it – why not just change it as they use their supposed planning? Reform is the neoliberal way of working within the system… can we reform a dead system that is bound to the economic strictures? Do we even want to use such terms as ‘reform’?
In number #18 they want to “reconstitute various forms of class power”. Why? Why would we want to bring about the very inequalities of separation and meritocracy that has caused many of the issue to begin with? Privelege, exceptionalism, etc. Are we going to keep all the old hierarches as well?
In number #21 they offer us mythology: “We declare that only a Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment is capable of either dealing with global problems or achieving victory over capital.” War words. Victory over capital? In earlier sections they assumed to use capital, to accelerate it toward their own goals. One doesn’t have a victory of capital, one has a victory over others? Capital is a machine a technique that in some ways uses us rather than we do it. One can have no victory over capital, only a long slow movement of deceleration… it’s called depression. To have a victory of capital is to stop the flow and end most of civilization with it. Yet, as they tell us “What must be coupled to such complex systems analysis is a new form of action: improvisatory and capable of executing a design through a practice which works with the contingencies it discovers only in the course of its acting, in a politics of geosocial artistry and cunning rationality. A form of abductive experimentation that seeks the best means to act in a complex world.” Problem with improvisation is that how can you have some systematic planning committee and also artistic economics? Experimenting with peoples lives like it was some algorithmic game?
Then in number #22 they exclaim “We need to revive the argument that was traditionally made for post-capitalism: not only is capitalism an unjust and perverted system, but it is also a system that holds back progress.” Does it? Is it capitalism that holds back progress? From what I’ve studied it is control, and especially the corporate and governmental control policies of these very think tanks and academic policy makers that stymies innovation and technological advancement. Seems we have religious ideology as well: look at Stem cell research, etc. In drugs and pharmaceuticals we have years of testing and rigid regulations etc. that hold back innovation. It’s not capitalism per se but progressive regulation and reactionary religious practices that hold back innovation. These are cultural not economic factors that must be considered.
In number #23 they strike fear: “The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse.” Why an either/or scenario? Are there other scenarios? We always seem stuck in the endless war scenarios of us/them… if you don’t follow our path you’re doomed type scenario. Can our language rise above all this partisan bullshit? Are we to remain in a world where there is a left / right split forevermore? How can we ever build a path forward unless we somehow forge new forms of governance that respect both sides of the issue without partisanship. Are we doomed to our Stalinist purges and our Hitler ovens? Is there no path forward that allows humans an alternative to the vast machine of ideological entrapment? Until we on the Left reach across to the Right the path forward will forever end in either genocide or self-defeat of endless war or tyranny. Is this your future?
I kept thinking of the ‘Outside’ that Williams and Srinicek seem to want to push through at the end of their manifesto. What would it be? Is this the Utopian site of no site? The place where the equilibrium is finally reached, or the eternal realm where history finally ends, or an earthly paradise where we lay down our arms and turn them to ploughshares? Or, is it just that mirror image of our own real lives where we can finally just breath normally and without fear, where we can walk alone at night or with another under the stars vulnerable to whatever may come our way, finally able to accept life on its own terms without forcing it into some model of life, some constructed simulation of life rather than life itself? Why can’t we just slow down rather than accelerate? Why do we need to push things beyond their limits? And, I kept remembering Brassier’s statement about that transcendental speed limit, that bionic horizon beyond which we dare not go, for if we reached it we would discover that unbearable lightness of being of which Milan Kundera once said:
“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
1. Buckmenster Fuller, Critical Path. St. Martin’s Griffin; 2nd edition (February 15, 1982)
2. Lewis Mumford. Techniques and Civilization. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934)
3. Jaques Ellul. The Technological Society. (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1964).
4. Foley D. K (1989) Ideology and Methodology. An unpublished lecture to Berkeley graduate students in 1989 discussing personal and collective survival strategies for non-mainstream economists.
6. John McCumber. Time and Philsophy. (McGilles-Queen’s University Press 2011)
5. Van Overtveldt, Johan (2006-08-01). The Chicago School: How the University of Chicago Assembled the Thinkers Who Revolutionized Economics and Business (p. 365). Agate. Kindle Edition.
6. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)
7. Jon Lindblom. Techno-Cultural Acceleration: A Few Initial Remarks: here.
8. Rosi Braidotti. The Posthuman. (Polity Press 2013)
9. Ray Brassier. Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction. (Palgrave 2007)
10. Shaviro, Steven (2010-10-12). Post Cinematic Affect (Kindle Locations 1969-1972). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle
11. Zizek, Slavoj; Fish, Stanley; Jameson, Fredric (1993-10-20). Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (Post-Contemporary Interventions) (Kindle Locations 4616-4618). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.