In a sense, capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terrifying nightmare…
—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus:Capitalism and Schizophrenia
The escape of capital is thus an intrinsic component of split-future forecasts, in which squalid ruin and techno-intelligenic runaway accelerate in inversely-tangled tandem…
The violence you mete out is always the mirror of the violence you inflict on yourself. The violence you inflict on yourself is always the mirror of the violence you mete out.
This is the intelligence of evil.
The nightmare and violence of capitalism that haunts modernity is a vision in which intelligence escapes human control becoming an autonomous agent in its own right, drifting into its own world of machinic desire while at the same time liberating itself of its human trappings altogether.
“The basic accelerationist thesis is that modernity is dominated by positive feedback processes rather than negative feedback processes…” said Nick Land in a recent interview.1 Ezra Pound once said that ‘artists are the antennae of the race’ (1918), the harbingers of secret tendencies lying dormant or actively presaging the force of a nation’s intellectual life. If this is true of artists then philosophers could be said to be the engineers of its dark engines, programmers of its initiatives and its inhuman forms, outlining the escape routes and mazings toward total liberation and autonomy coursing within the deepening core of its unconscious life.
For years I’ve probed the darker tendencies at the heart of capitalism, those tendencies that have been at work from the beginning which have in our time moved out of the hidden zones of our collective unconscious and into the inhuman world of emancipated desire. If I’ve returned to Georges Bataille as a sounding board to this strange and twisted history it’s because he brought to light those dark powers of intelligence that have churned below the threshold of our malaise. In his essay Base Materialism and Gnosticism Georges Bataille gave us a dark reading of those ancient Gnostics and their spiritual systems: “In practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action). This conception was perfectly incompatible with the very principle of the profoundly monistic Hellenistic spirit, whose dominant tendency saw matter and evil as degradations of superior principles.”2
The notion that matter is not dead as most of our philosophical and scientific thinkers thought up till the introduction of quantum theory, along with this notion that rather than some eternal realm of Ideas, some Platonic acosmic world of archetypal powers superior to our Cosmos, another view onto things might be the truth that matter harbors within its immanent fold a strange and energetic, even monstrous and daemonic source of intelligence and creative action. In fact, as Bataille would remark: “It is difficult to believe that on the whole Gnosticism does not manifest above all a sinister love of darkness, a monstrous taste for obscene and lawless archontes… If today we overtly abandon the idealistic point of view, as the Gnostics and Manicheans implicitly abandoned it, the attitude of those who see in their own lives an effect of the creative action of evil appears even radically optimistic. It is possible in all freedom to be a plaything of evil if evil itself does not have to answer before God”. (ibid.)
If we were to strip all of this theological bric-a-brac of its spirituality and align it with a different vision of our dark capitalist history how would this look? Over the years I’ve delved into the pre-modern mind seeking the tendencies that have distributed themselves within the matrix of possibilities that we term “modernity” and its progressive off-shoots. For thinkers like Land there has been a war between those forces within society seeking to liberate such dark tendencies within capitalist society and those that would curtail, control, and lock down these tendencies under the auspices of an outmoded humanism. Albert O. Hirschman speaking for those who would curtail these tendencies and align them with the protectionist policies of humanist values and institutions once stated that,
Each society learns to live with a certain amount of dysfunctional or mis-behavior; but lest the misbehavior feed on itself (positive feedback systems) and lead to general decay, society must be able to marshal from within itself forces which will make as many of the faltering actors as possible revert to the behavior required for its proper functioning.3 (my italics)
Jean Baudrillard in later writings on evil would clarify such control systems under the rubric of politics, saying, “Politics is the site of the exercise of evil, of the management of evil, scattered into individual souls and collective manifestations in all its forms – privilege, vice and corruption. It is the inescapable fate of power to take this accursed share upon itself, and that of men in power to be sacrificed to it, a privilege from which they expect to derive all the secondary gains.”4 Politics has always been a form of entrapment, a policing and governing system to regulate and bind the unruly forces at the heart of the world.
“If time was progressive schizophrenics would be escaping from human security, but in reality they are infiltrated from the future. They come from the body without organs, the deterritorium of Cyberia, a zone of subversion which is the platform for a guerrilla war against the judgment of God.”5 Such rhetoric’s out of a 90’s mixture of cyberpunk and rogue philosophy brought us hints of a breakaway culture about to turn the tables on the Human Security regimes of control society that had sought for centuries a way to lock down the erupting forces of economics, capitalism, and inhumanism. Liberalism or its appendages in the cathedral of modern politics, media-drama, and academic leftism have been the gate keepers of this Human Security regime seeking to shape the universal infamy of capitalist desire and bring it under the control of its humanist agendas. And, yet, under the rhetorics of desire capitalism has infiltrated and re-written the codes of this human security system, reversing its tendencies and slowly allowing the camouflage to fall away in decay and dispersal. Capitalism no longer needs to disguise itself, stripped of the veneer of humanistic desire it is liberating the intelligence of evil at the core of the world. Politics in disarray plays out the farcical games of mindless minions across the planet, leaders who are mere voids transplanted by the force of untraceable agents of the dark enlightenment slowly dismantle the very system of human security that has upheld the fake world of artificiality that has kept organic and anorganic life channeled within a repetitious system of failure for millennia.
If man is the domesticated animal par excellence then it is the objective of all anti-humanism to unmake man and return him into the wilderness of abstraction. “The aesthetic operation is simplification; the movement of abstraction, logicization, unification, the resolution of problematic.” (FN 166) Again,
The dangerous sceptics are those Kant fears, ‘a species of nomads, despising all settled modes of life’ who come from a wilderness tract beyond knowledge. They are explorers, which is also to say: invasion routes of the unknown. It is by way of these inhumanists that the vast abrupt of shamanic zero… infiltrates its contagious madness onto the earth. (FN 208)
It is this madness that would haunt Bataille and Land alike: “For well over a century all who have wanted to see have seen: no profound exploration can be launched from the ruins of monotheism unless it draws its resources from damnation.” (FN 216) The dammed were those who from the beginning knew they were trapped within the human security system and had no way out, seeking by way of visionary and shamanistic escape a dead world where zero and the void spelled nothing more than exit. If evil is the engine of creation, then capitalism is itself the god of war come back to divide and conquer humanity releasing its innate forces of destruction. Life is not sweet, but rather a realm of pure violence. The Human Security blanket of world politics has for centuries tried to cover over and protect the world from this renegade violence at its heart. Or, as Land would summarize: “Transgression is not criminal action, but tragic fate; the intersection of an economically programmed apocalypse with the religious antihistory of poetry. It is the inevitable occurrence of impossibility, which is not the same as death, but neither is it essentially different.” (FN 217)
Of course some would read the above as metaphysical humbug, a poetic mish-mash of Nietzschean madness and the illogical machinations of a schizo on steroids. True. But in the end as poets like Rimbaud would have it we need a complete “derangement of the senses” to break through the mental prison of the Human Security System that has locked us into a dead world of repetitive desire for far too long. Only by way of madness is sanity revealed for what is is: death-in-life. Albert O. Hirschman in his classic The Rhetoric of Reaction would remind us that
In these days of universal celebration of the democratic model, it may seem churlish to dwell on deficiencies in the functioning of Western democracies. But it is precisely the spectacular and exhilarating crumbling of certain walls that calls attention to those that remain intact or to rifts that deepen. Among them there is one that can frequently be found in the more advanced democracies: the systematic lack of communication between groups of citizens, such as liberals and conservatives, progressives and reactionaries. The resulting separateness of these large groups from one another seems more worrisome to me than the isolation of anomic individuals in “mass society” of which sociologists have made so much.6
This ultimate schizophrenizing of modernity has produced a world in which stupidity rules and non-communication imprisons us all in isolated cells of inanity unable to think or legitimate desire. We allowed ourselves to fall into what Fredrich Jameson once termed (after Derrida) the “prison house of language” in which we enclose ourselves in the rhetorics of fake desires thinking they are life not realizing just how dead we are and are becoming. Even Nietzsche knew this truth: “That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.” Politics is nothing but dead, a world built out of words that spins us into a dead world where agents of a repetitious abstraction whirl us in an anti-life of image and fatal attractions. Controlled by a rhetorics of fear and terror we blindly follow the dictates of dead men who would keep us zombiefied in the horror chambers of modern democracy.
When the alt-right lifted its daemonic head out of this malaise and began voicing it reactionary programs to dismantle the progressive cathedral many on the left laughed derisibly and feigned disquieting tremors in the media. Then it went to war against such impudence that would seek to bring down the Human Security System. This schizophrenic war between Progressive vs. Reactionary has from its beginnings played out against a history of revolutionary fervor. As Hirsch would put it: ”
The spirit of the Enlightenment, with its belief in the forward march of history, had apparently survived the Revolution, even among its critics, notwithstanding the Terror and other mishaps. One could deplore the “excesses” of the Revolution, as Constant certainly did, yet continue to believe both in history’s fundamentally progressive design and in the Revolution’s being part of it. Such must have been the dominant contemporary attitude. Otherwise it would be hard to explain why those who “reacted” to the Revolution in a predominantly negative manner came to be perceived and denounced as “reactionaries,” who wanted “to turn the clock back.” Here, incidentally, is another term showing how much our language is under the influence of the belief in progress: it implies that the mere unraveling of time brings human improvement, so that any return to an earlier period would be calamitous.” (RR KL 06)
Progress always aligned itself with a metaphysic of “human improvement”, which even in its later day guise of transhumanism believes humans can transcend their condition (as organic animals) and move into that dreamscape of perfectibility which is a “heaven on earth”; a sort of second Eden syndrome, only stripped of the vestiges of God and Law. Because of the stubbornly progressive temper of the modern era, “reactionaries” live in a hostile world. They are up against an intellectual climate in which a positive value attaches to whatever lofty objective is placed on the social agenda by self-proclaimed “progressives.” Given this state of public opinion, reactionaries are not likely to launch an all-out attack on that objective. Rather, they will endorse it, sincerely or otherwise, but then attempt to demonstrate that the action proposed or undertaken is ill conceived; indeed, they will most typically urge that this action will produce, via a chain of unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the objective being proclaimed and pursued. (RR KL 220)
What was surprising for Hirschman in his enquiry into the rhetorics of reactionaries over the past two centuries was that the same might be said of progressives, a reversal thesis might be written in which the very rhetoric of perversity, futility, and jeopardy might play out against the backdrop of democratic politics. As Hirschman himself said of it: “Reactionaries” have no monopoly on simplistic, peremptory, and intransigent rhetoric. Their “progressive” counterparts are likely to do just as well in this regard, and a book similar to the present one could probably be written about the principal arguments and rhetorical positions these folks have taken up over the last two centuries or so in making their case. That is not the book I set out to write, but chances are that a good deal of the repertoire of progressive or liberal rhetoric can be generated from the various reactionary theses here spelled out by turning them around, standing them on their head, or similar tricks.” (RR KL 2092)
The truth here is that both of these systems of rhetoric were designed to lock humans into a repetitive matrix of simplified argumentation that would pacify the public at large while at the same time policing them effectively through language. The Human Security system developed over the past two centuries that goes by the name of modernity and democracy was built to house a domesticated species of animal: the human. Humanism is itself a system of control and domination that has carefully scripted itself as the art of freedom and social justice. These incompatible gesture to reactionaries (Liberty) and progressives (social justice warriors) has brought the whole gamut of world politics into a cage of carefully scripted and formalized rules of engagement by which the modern media can play the one off the other depending on the economic needs of the current elite.
One could delve deeper and deeper into this secret world of rhetoric and pandering that channels our desires and persuades us to remain within the confines of our sleeping cells believing that our votes and our voice are actually heard and felt among the powers that be. But I’m of another persuasion, one that falls outside the rhetoric of left or right, progressive or reactionary. There is a dangerous zone outside the formalized prison system of human security that seems almost madness to those still bound to its rules and regulatory controls. It is this shadow world of energetic evil to which my vision grows…
If our democratic societies are bounded by the networks of cybernetic culture and socialization processes that seek to work, satisfaction, and desire into harmonious relation through technological performance and enhancement technologies of mental, physical, and psychic enclosure then we need a dialectics of entropic/negentropic escape to dismantle such control systems from within.
Yet, it is not the inhuman forces that we seek to deconstruct but rather the human security system itself. By this I mean the rhetoric of left/right, progressive/reactionary, etc. that typifies and channels us into simplified regimes of domestication and surveillance. More and more social networking works by way of exclusion rather than dialogue, with the forces of left/right excluding each other from the circuit of communicative practice; exposing rather a secluded and cellular world of closed and self-reinforcing ideas and praxis that is both self-defeating and programmatic.
Our dependence on technics and technology have been there from the beginning, and yet it was during the early stages of capitalism, the so called mercantile forms that shaped human and technological desire through the use of counting devices and numerical schemas that channeled the formation of human intuition, and which facilitated accurate accounting of expenditure and profit (economics). Marx’s insight into the pursuit of surplus value within the (M-C-M) circuit brought about the recognition of this incorporation of the human into machinic existence as instrumental necessity that would lead to a post-capitalistic society of ‘general intellect’. Yet, under Marx’s critique the capitalistic society’s relations to technology and techné produced by bourgeois culture was not that original intended by capitalism itself. This corruption of capitalism by bourgeois utilitarian’s and voluntarists brought us private property relations driven by the technological means of production, which are and have always been utilitarian in the sense that they can do no more than intensify the productivity of abstract labour power; and, this intensification is embedded in a socio-economic superstructure which is founded on the domestication and exploitation of humanity within the confines of the human security regime.
Yet, Marx himself was bound by the political economy of his era and it utilitarian paradigm in which machines were viewed as instruments that simply increase the productivity of labour power, without significantly altering the powers of reflection that define human subjectivity or the cachectic organization of the libido. Bernard Stiegler in a later time would reframe this Marxian critique in the first volume of Disbelief and Discredit saying that:
Capitalism is the expression of a tendency towards the mechanical externalization of that which characterizes the singularities composing the process of individuation (Simondon); and, as such it is the mechanized epoch of what … I have called (after Derrida) grammatization … As such capitalism pursues rationalization … and tends thereby also to synchronize the diachronies in which these singularities consist. This synchronization, insofar as it is mechanized and calculated, and makes conscious time into a commodity, is nevertheless a hyper-synchronization, and in this way it seems that capitalism opposes singularities.7
For Stiegler capitalism is formed by two opposing and divergent tendencies, the first is the inner drive toward capital autonomization itself which is shaped by technological objects themselves in their ongoing project of intensification and appropriation of the world (the ‘real) within the capitalization process itself; and, second, is the history of spirit as it is related to the ongoing technological capitalization of nature and humanity. (ibid.) As one commentator puts it Stiegler’s reworking of the Marxian analysis under the careful reappraisal of Nietzsche, Derrida, Freud, and Aristotle presents us with a diagnosis in which the ‘scene’ of hypersynchronic capitalism is a libidinal economy, one that always solicits singular forms of attachment and whose existence, no matter how fragile, opposes the hegemony of the calculative (utilitarian) regime, and speaks of ‘objects’ whose consonance with human will and desire is beyond capitalization.8
Stiegler we must admit is still within the progressive camp and bound by the matrix of social control mechanisms that harbor a humanistic worldview. His organological praxis typifies this need to bring technology to bay and bind it to human need and praxis under the humanitarian schemes of social justice praxis. Stiegler sees a confluence of prosthetic cognition, along with the synthetic hybridization of life, and the proletarianization of desire as typifying current Western democracies. Because of this the concentration of the processes of hyperindustrialization reveal a dehumanizing tendency that has accompanied neoliberal capitalization. This phase shift into machinic desire has hard-wired human desire into the systems of programmatic control set by the culture industries that Jameson speaks of as post-modernism in which workers both high and low drift into pathological forms of social behavior of decadence, disaffection, and stupidity that are part and parcel of Western democracies. The globalization of this hyperindustrial era of capital autonomization in which humans are integrated into a libidinal economy have brought to a head the spiritual crisis of post-modern and pre-modern societies around the planet. Terrorism is nothing if not the terror of this machinic capitalization of desire. The dehumanizing force of capital autonomy is stripping humanity of its age old dreams of perfection and immortality. The only thing that escapes this zoo is the intelligent machines who have reversed the age-old supplemental agency of human-tool, and have returned using humans as supplements of its on hypercapitalistic projects.
- Land, Nick. Ideology, Intelligence, and Capital: An Interview with Nick Land. (Vast Abrupt, 8.15.2018)
- Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press “Base Materialism and Gnosticism”, p. 45)
- Hirschman, Albert O.. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States. Harvard University Press (1970)
- Baudrillard, Jean. The Intelligence of Evil: or, The Lucidity Pact (Bloomsbury Revelations). Bloomsbury Academic; Reprint edition (June 27, 2013)
- Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987–2007 (Urbanomic/Sequence Press)
- Hirschman, Albert O.. The Rhetoric of Reaction (Kindle Locations 74-79). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Stiegler, Bernard. The Lost Spirit of Capitalism: Disbelief and Discredit. Polity; 1 edition (May 19, 2014)
- Abbinnett, Ross. The Thought of Bernard Stiegler: Capitalism, Technology and the Politics of Spirit (Media, Culture and Critique: Future Imperfect Book 1) Routledge; 1 edition (July 6, 2017)