Science Fiction, Technology, and Accelerationist Politics: Final Thoughts on an Williams and Srnicek’s Manifesto

One of the guiding factors in my science fiction series (quartet) is the collusion and convergence of the current and future trends in NBIC (nanotech, biotech, information tech, and computer tech) and ICT (information and communications technologies) technologies and their personal, social, political, environmental, and moral impact over then next couple centuries.

With notions of economic and environmental collapse central to this I hope to cover the underlying tension of global governance, technological risk, and the posthuman-transhuman singularity in both its neoliberal, reactionary, and ultra-left varieties. With the alternate forms of a philosophy of Accelerationism being promoted by the Right and Left one wants to enact theses differing tensions in an approach to the micro/macro scaled transformations of society and environment across a future history spectrum.

Science Fiction has always based itself on current trends and forecasting, providing both the hard science and the strangeness or wonder at the impact upon society and environment. The idea of giving shape to such a realm is daunting to say the least, but over the past few years I’ve been listening to our philosophers around the globe, as well as the scientists and engineers who enact the pragmatic materiality of such systems of thought through everyday practices. They all seem to agree that the utopian ideologies of the 20th Century or now defunct, passé and of little use in ongoing scenarios that incorporate such technological and economic impacts to both the physical well-being and health of our global civilization and those other creatures we share its resources with. Ours is a time of both accelerating change and a moment when the future of life on this planet is being decided. Over the next hundred years or even less we have some hard choices to make in our ethical initiatives which seem almost archaic as compared to the accelerating pace of technological innovations.

In the Third world we see the manipulation and oppression of billions of humans by war, famine, genocide, economic and social oppression, religious intolerance and bigotry, racial and gender inequalities, etc. The global elite and their minion governments are doing little to obviate such things and seem instead bent on supporting national agendas that will instead worsen the effects of such dire issues. Our intellectuals seem bankrupt and unable to spur the needed actions on the planet to curtail such problems. In a short-lived series of Spring revolutions and Occupy movements we’ve seen the implosive force of late capitalism not only able to survive the shocks of economic disaster but also to co-opt the many initiatives of the left at their own game.

Why? Why has the left withdrawn into an academic cocoon of meetings, speeches, globe-trotting speeches that only the high-brow of academia are interested in? We seem to have no center, no rallying point around which to gather even the semblance of a message. Each faction seems to have broken off like a fractured schizophrenic nomad spouting the messages of its specific needs: colonialism, gender and racial equality, economic anarchist or communist agendas, green speak, etc. The list could go on. The point being there seems to be no umbrella banner under which all these various agendas could be brought together. Part of it is the aversion to monoculture systems with grand narratives that we’ve been taught over the past postmodern era to shy away from. This notion that one fits all just doesn’t work anymore, yet the notion of a thousand petals storming heave want work either.

What to do? Rereading Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics   the tells us that “today’s politics is beset by an inability to generate the new ideas and modes of organization necessary to transform our societies to confront and resolve the coming annihilations” (3). The enemy for them is the neoliberal project that encompasses our globe whether within the West (EU and Americas) or the East (Russian, China, and other nations). They realize that the housing collapse in 2007 was a mere blip in the neoliberal eye, and that it has slowly recovered and hardened its agendas to deprivatize the planet and through global governance and legal pressures to slowly denationalize and enforce incursions against the remaining social democratic institutions and services (4).

Against the neoliberal world order Williams and Srnicek tell us that the left as situated within its Kitsch Marxism is a lost world of possibilities, that it is bankrupt and hollow and that the only way forward is to “the recovery of lost possible futures, and indeed the recovery of the future as such” (5-6). The notion of the “future” as a concept has a unique heritage in the cycle of 20th Century thought. From the Italian and Russian Futurists on through many of the Utopian visions turned hellish of the different enactments of communisms, democratic socialisms, and darker worlds of Fascism, etc. A global history well documented in Susan Buck-Morss’s Dreamworld and Catastrophe. After the failure of May 1968 and the political struggles of that era a malaise overcame many on the left and as Bifo Berardi in After the Future would affirm com­mu­nist pol­i­tics fell into lethargy with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the new China. As he states it in our age communisms will emerge from an exo­dus, both vol­un­tary and com­pul­sory, from a stag­nat­ing and increas­ingly preda­tory state-capital nexus. This exo­dus is both social, in the devel­op­ment of an alter­na­tive infra­struc­ture, and per­sonal, in the with­drawal from the hyper-stimulation of the semi­otic econ­omy. Bifo aban­dons hope in col­lec­tive con­tes­ta­tion at the level of the political. It’s this fatalism, this miserabilism of no futures, not possibilities, no hope that aligns such a communism with what Williams and Srnicek among others see as retrograde and feeding into the neoliberal agenda.

Instead Williams and Srnicek look at current capitalism, at the neoliberal project as it situates its global agenda in the face of no opposition – or, at least, minimal. What they see is an economics of acceleration: capitalism demands economic growth, one in which its ideological self-presentation is one of liberating the forces of creative destruction, setting free ever accelerating technological and social innovations (02). With the rise of these new global economies we see an increase in the need for workers across the board. One of the largest underworld trading systems is in human trafficking to supply these new initiatives both physical and sex labor workers (i.e., undocumented workers who act as human slaves to the new marginal initiatives in building the smart cities of the future, etc. see Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai by Pardis Mahdavi;  Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales; Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves by Kevin Bales, etc. the list could go on). As well as the global drug, money laundering, financial austerity and intervention, etc. (i.e., Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations by Andreas Peter; Banished: The New Social Control In Urban America by Katherine Beckett; A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption by Steven Hiatt; Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement by Luis Alberto Fernandez, etc.)

Williams and Srnicek diagnose two forms of accelerationism: 1) the neoliberal form exemplified by Nick Land in essays (Fanged Noumena, The Thirst for Annihilation, etc.) in which the neoliberal or late capitalist system is rushing forward blindly in a unidirectional system of transhumanist or posthuman bricolage that constructs itself from the fragments of former civilizations and will at some point reach a techonomic singularity thereby sloughing off its human benefactors and creating the AI and Machinic civilizations of the future; and, 2) the left version of accelerationism that offers an open-ended navigational process of discovery “within a universal space of possibility” (02). This last notion of a “space of possibility” is a take off from a Sellarsian-Brandomian model of a normative “space of reasons” in which a collective consensus of experts commutes through practices of “give and take” a carefully planned out and coordinated effort which Williams and Srnicek will later term The Plan (cartographic mappings) and The Network (infosphere of global action encompassing both virtual and actual environments).

They see a conflict between speed and accelerationism at the heart of these disparate worlds of the neoliberal vision (speed; or, confusion of speed with acceleration) and the communist left vision (accelerationist): one in which the neoliberal version constrained by the tactics and strategies of speed force progress into an economic framework of “surplus value, a reserve army of labour, and free-floating capital” in which economic growth and social innovation becomes “encrusted with kitsch remainders from our communal past” (02:3). Instead of an expansion in cognitive labour and its self-fulfilling innovations they see instead that neoliberalism is shutting down human cognitive labour with automation and the machinic implementation of smart or intelligence systems that will eventually replace humans as the knowledge makers of tomorrow (02:4).

They also look to Marx himself and recite that it was him as well as Land who realized that capitalism should not be destroyed but rather that its “gains were not to be reversed, but accelerated beyond the constraints of the capitalist value form” (02:5). They even realize that Lenin himself understood that large scale capitalist efforts constrained only by the latest sciences could offer the socialist regimes an economic future (02:6). As Williams and Srnicek see it the left must embrace technological and social acclerationsim if they are to have any future at all (02: 7).

In their critique of the Left they see two forces at work: 1) a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism; and, 2) an accelerationist left “at ease with modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology (03: 1). The former seems content on a no future politics of withdrawal and exit, of creating non-capitalist zones that will exist outside capitalist relations altogether. The accelerationist alternative politics seeks to manifest the gains of late capitalism without its dire consequences of oppression and exploitation, transforming its goals toward non-oppressive and non-exploitative egalitarian purposes.

In section (03: 2) they wonder at the inability of capitalist theory against its pragmatic outcome in the very notion of reduction of labour hours. Instead of a reduction as predicated by Keynes and other labour theorists what has transpired is the severing of the private and public realms of work and play in which the worker has been incorporated into a 24/7 economy that is pure work-at-play or play-at-work based on ludicrous incentives and lucrative strategies of desire. Instead of human freedom and potential capitalism has squandered its perennial dreams of space flight and technological innovation and into a consumerist nightmare of repetitive gadgetry that must be replaced the moment it is used (03: 4). They tells us that accelerationists do not wish for a return to the Fordist era of the factory, that it is behind us, and even the post-Fordist era of consumer iterations in a void is on decline: the worlds of colonialism, empire, and a third-world periphery in nationalist terms is coming to an end. The days of race, sex and subjugation are coming to an end too. (03:4).

Instead of crushing neoliberalism they tell us we should overtake it, repurpose it toward common ends, allow for a movement toward a post-capitalist future beyond neoliberal traditions and values (03: 5). They admit that technology itself remain entrapped and enslaved by neoliberal agendas, and that even they and the accelerationists have little foresight as to the potentials that a unexploitative technological imperative might bring to the table (03: 6). Against techno-utopians that see technology as autonomous from the socius, and as some kind of ultimate salvation system in its own right, the accelerationist believe that technology should be subordinated to social needs rather than granted superior rights and privileges. In this sense they would constrain technology to human needs and social practices – a return to aspects of the Enlightenment project or a new humanism rather than some techno-extroprian vision beyond human needs and purposes (03:7).

To do this they tells us some form of planning will need to take place, a way of mapping this accelerationist future: “we must develop both a cognitive map of the existing system and a speculative image of the future economic system” (03: 8). As part of this we need the existing toolsets that have informed and made neoliberalism so successful: the very ICT (information and communications technologies) developed over the past half-century; social-network analysis, agent-based modeling, big data analytics, and non-equilibrium economic models, etc. All these will be needed by the left base intellectual or cognitariat in developing a way forward (03: 9). Also there will be a need for a new culture of innovation, creativity, and experimentation that allows for failure and practice on all fronts, an open-ended trial-and-effort model that takes into account the mistakes of the past and revises its methodologies and practices on the fly (03:10).

For all of this to happen the left will need to provide a hegemonic platform of informatics (virtual/immaterial) and material (actual/substantive) infrastructural technologies and realistic social practices and institutions (03: 11). Without the infrastructure the material and immaterial platforms of production, finance, logistics, and consumption will remain in capitalist not post-capitalist modes that will be less effective and stymied by capitalist modes of social relations rather than collective goals and aspirations. To accomplish such a task is to leave behind the needles quarrels of ineffective direct action appeals and failures of the political left’s past, instead we need new modes of action: politics must be “treated as a set of dynamic systems, riven with conflict, adaptations and counter-adaptations, and strategic arms races” (03: 12). Instead of any one strategy or tactic we need to confront the events we meet on their own terms and have an arsenal of strategies and tactics, modeling trajectories and smart systems available at our beck and call that can open up and allow us to act in the moment in real-time with the best available data and cartographic strategies available to move ahead. Instead of centralized bureaucracies we will have decentralized systems of command and control based on immediacy of situational analysis and synthesis using advanced analytic and synthetic algorithms superior to any slow institutional pull and push leverage. This will be a community of trust, a socious of individuals working in collusion and cooperating through modes of being that no longer are tied to senseless hierarchies of command and control that were never effective to begin with. We must study these past failures in the systems and incorporate them into our innovated algorithmic programs of emerging intelligence systems: revisable, updatable, changing systems of multiplicity and openness.

In section 03: 13 I simply disagree with Williams and Srnicek who tells us that the ‘radical Left’ is simply wrong in their fetishisation of openness, horizontality, and inclusion. Instead they want to incorporate older forms of “secrecy, verticality, and exclusion” as having a place in effective political action. But for whom? For which players? This need for secrecy sounds like a return to some notion of hierarchical command, of leaders and followers, rather than comrades all working toward equalitarian ends. Veritcality: as hierarchy, top-down structures of command? Exclusion: of whom? And, who would be the excluders, the judges of this exclusion? Maybe in the transition process I could see this as the neoliberal order is still the enemy we must overcome: but after? Do they presume that in this final post-capitalist order we will need such notions?

In 03: 14 they tell us that democracy must be defined by its “collective self-mastery”. Why must this be the delimiting inscription? Why not as “collective self-emancipation” rather than some organizational notion of mastery which seems a reversion to older slave/master conceptuality? They describe it as essential to the Enlightenment project of ruling ourselves. But even the notion that we need masters to rule us is a false notion of sovereign power that needs to be overcome rather than embraced. As they tell it we need to “posit a collectively controlled legitimate vertical authority in addition to distributed horizontal forms of sociality, to avoid becoming the slaves of either a tyrannical totalitarian centralism or a capricious emergent order beyond out control” (03:14). Instead of institutions of authority and control would we not be better served with balance of equal powers? I am always leery of autonomous forms of power and verticality or top-down governance and justice which throughout history have worked blindly and usually through failures of humans who were behind the thrones of such institutions. Such institutions are prone to oligarchic influx and influence which would leave the multitude at the hands of barbarous mishandling and injustice in the name of authority and justice. Instead we need instead of institutions of power and justice and new ethical society of the good life: of partnership and a sense of egalitarian values and cooperation among equals that do not allow for authoritarian institutions to develop at all.

In section 03: 15 I agree that we need an “ecology of organizations, a pluralism of forces, resonating and feeding back on their competitive strengths”. Yes, I want to say. If they affirm as such then why the need for such top-down authoritarian power and justice to keep tyranny at bay, or to even disallow total anarchy? As they affirm sectarianism and centralization are both death bringers to the left, so instead we need to build other more egalitarian structures that would disallow such emergence toward fracture or tyranny. A part of doing this they affirm is to bring the global media as close as possible back to an open popular control mechanism that allows for each player to develop his/her potentials. Obviously there will always be a need to protect the weaker members of society from exploitation by others or groups that might arise and to exploit the open-ended systems. But I do not see the need for NSA style surveillance as part of that, but rather an ethic of solidarity that polices itself through cooperation and mutual self-help mechanisms rather than from some authoritarian State of Police Justice system.

Section 03: 18 seems more about the struggle to obtain a post-capitalist hegemony, the notion of creating new categories for the solidarity of the global labor force that seems ill-defined at the moment. Yes, we will need better was of connect to each other across the globe, ways of providing a proletariat subjectivation. But it need not be based on identitarian politics. It needs to be revised toward newer notions of subjectivation rather than falling back into older form of identity. I think this is at the heart of Badio, Zizke, Johnson and many other speculative thinkers. They say: yes, yes, all this it true, but what we really need is a new “technosocial platform” and infrastructure of institutions within which all of this can be formalized and provide an ideological, social, and economic footing (03: 19).

None of this will be possible without the one ingredient: capital, money, funding (03:20). Without the nexus of “governments, institutions, think tanks, unions, or individual benefactors” the whole left accelerationist movement will go the way of dinosaurs: extinct.

Lastly, they tells us we must take up the coinage of “mastery” again and realize that for the Left mastery is not tinged by the overreach of the false Enlightenment of fascism, but is instead to be enacted in a new guise as 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.” (03: 21).

In some ways this is an enactment of the original intent of all those poets, artists, thinkers of the original modernist initiatives both in Europe and Russian that were cut off so quickly by WWI and death. The notions of contingency and jazz, improvisation and revisionary blends of processual synthetic systems that forecast the moments ahead rather than through probabilistic or stoachastic algorithms they choose contingent systems that analyze future trends rather than historical datamixes. We need to move out from under the Probabilistic Universe and into the Multiverse of plural contingencies where almost anything happens and can happen. A back to the future constructivist practice of shaping out of the contingent forces of chaos the complex relations of a real future worth having.

Ultimately they tells us we have a choice: fall back into primitivism and chaos, worlds closed into barbarous warfare, hate, and death; or, we can move forward into our long-awaited and dreamed for post-capitalist future of space faring, transhumanist or posthumanist transformations, and where the future “must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside” (03 – 23-34).

The more I think upon their vision and the other essays I’ve worked with concerning this strange brave world ahead of us the more I’m convinced their on to something positive. I do have my issues with aspects of the conceptual framework of the institutions based on self-mastery and authoritarianism; yet, if what they mean by self-mastery as shown above is the ongoing process of self-revisioning and self-reflective processes in a heuristic ontography of mapping our geoartistic pulsations by way of meta-ethics and meta-philosophy that is provisional and self-revisable: updated by a post-intentional scientific methodology based on the latest sciences; then yes, I, too, can affirm that we need to open our vision to the greater universe beyond our closed off global trajectories. We live on a planet of potentially finite resources that we are depleting day by day, we will need off-planet resources and strategies of survival for our species in the long-term which will be needed for any viable civilization ongoing.

Like any manifesto it is one part bravado, and 2 parts hope, with the rounding of the square in 1 part realist terms of actual social practice. Much thought went into it, but now comes the time of enacting it and making the words become works that act. Without action we are left in the void of inaction and self-defeat rather that will let our enemies – the neoliberals, have the last laugh at our expense. This we can ill-afford to do.

5 thoughts on “Science Fiction, Technology, and Accelerationist Politics: Final Thoughts on an Williams and Srnicek’s Manifesto

  1. I like a lot of what they say–even on the matter of vertical organization. Short of the more terrifying prospect of some charismatic capable of mobilizing the masses, vertical organization is simply a fact of doing human business. Vertically organized social units – soldiers – outperform mobs in competition the vast majority of the time.

    I just think they’re way too late. The truth of accelerationism is that short something drastic, our political future has already receded over the event horizon. The radical transformation of our environments means the radical transformation of our problem ecologies, means our existing tools become less and less adaptive. Just think of the movie, Her. Spike Jonze’s genius in that film is to show how ‘humanity’ is simply a certain bandwidth, a certain level of *resolution* that our machines will, as a matter brute fact, reach and then transcend. Her is only a few years away now.

    Triage is probably all we have. Things like your novels, that have potential to actually reach out of our pits of specialization. Anything that can convince the masses to keep an eye to the future, to the incredible uncertainty it represents, and to stamp out, or at least muddy, their fascist reflexes.

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    • Yea, I think that’s Land’s point as well… the show is over, boys, we can piss in our soup; or, we can invent tools to crack the gap wide open and understand it before it is too late: building the tools to negate its darker impact or at least alleviate its potential if not apocalyptic power over our imagination. Most of our ancient folk psychology – as you’ve been saying for a while, want help us on that score; so we need better knowledge of what little we can know – and, quit worrying about what we’ll never know (i.e., all those medial neglect bits of self-reflectivity, etc. Time to chunk the weight of that… and get on with what we need to survive in such a world. Ditto!).

      Yet, for the manifesto they are proposing not to abolish the acceleration of the neoliberal agenda, but rather to reform it, to modify it, and expand it toward other ends and means: toward opening out to space exploration, and posthuman and transhumanist appeals on a different basis. The biggest problem really comes down to the issue of how to do it: 1) does one infiltrate the existing system and institutions and reform them; or, 2) does one through funding, think-tanks, academia, etc. work on policy changes from the outside in; or, 3) a combination of both? Options three would be my guess… if the problems of climate change and the singularity are upon us in short time, along with health issues, war, famine, etc. One want have time to effect slow change through reforms – which at best take years of hard effort to get passed through any legislator, much less on a worldwide scale in both democratic and undemocratic regimes. The hard issues are concrete details and an actual plan of action to get it all going… Rome wasn’t build in a day… we need more than a manifesto: What comes next?

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      • The thing to remember is that the neoliberals are in precisely the same boat. The paranoia the establishment feels is the paranoia of a class parasitic upon the processes that will overthrow the equilibria they also depend on. They can no longer stand on two feet.

        Neoliberal agenda? Or myriads of technocrats pursuing myriads of incompatible interests without any real eye to the global, winning and losing battles, perpetually clueless to the real war. Is the problem organized tyranny, or is it locusts?

        I think it’s clearly the latter.

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      • Oh, I thought the swarm was neoliberalism immanent to the equation… 🙂 haha!

        As an idea or agenda of notions it may have all started long ago in the Mount Pelerin, but has since wandered out into the bee hives of the world released its noxious virus and allowed the swarm to run amok in the pollen beds of humanity!

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