Read Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) and the Book of Job: there is no external justice, only the absolute indifference of the cosmos (Spinoza’s God!). To expect justice is a human weakness. To expect surprise is godly. Living as we do in neither a just society nor a just world we learn to stand amid the chaos through our own effort of magnanimity. Failing that we suffer the weakness of believing others share and care as we do, not knowing that they too are alone with the alone. Circumscribed in an indifferent cosmos we expect an answer (Justice), and when one does not come forward we either accept it with equanimity or we huddle with others in the darkness like victims of a bad joke. Either way we are alone, there is no Big Other who will serve up truth and justice for you. Man made justice is the farce of political shenanigans, and those who seek or believe in it buy into the whole delusion full hog.
David Mamet once told a reviewer: “In order to write well, however, the good dramatist must absolutely identify with his subject. This does not mean to be in “sympathy with,” but “to become the same as.” (The Secret Knowledge)
I’ve often thought of that as I write various posts on such thinkers as Slavoj Zizek or Nick Land. People often accuse me of complicity in these thinkers, as if I agreed with their stance on life and thought. How silly… to confuse the commentator with the subject of his essay. It’s as if one would confuse the author with the hero or anti-hero of his novel. To understand a thinker is to enter into his/her actual world of thought as Mamet suggests in “sympathy with,” which does not mean “to become the same as.” Dramatizing another’s thought in the minds of many is to implicate one in the stain of the other’s philosophical or political rhetoric. But this is a false implication, one that many never can discern.
Abraxas is the sun, and at the same time the eternally sucking gorge of the void, the belittling and dismembering devil. The power of Abraxas is twofold: but ye see it not, because for your eyes the warring opposites of this power are extinguished. … Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness, in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible. It is splendid as the lion in the instant he striketh down his victim. It is beautiful as a day of spring… Abraxas is the great Pan himself and also the small one. It is Priapos. It is the monster of the under-world, a thousand-armed polyp, coiled knot of winged serpents, frenzy. It is the hermaphrodite of the earliest beginning.
—C.G. Jung, Septem Sermones
“The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others.”
—David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (p. 9).
Question of the Day: Is the individual determined by his ethnic origins, history, language, and culture or not? If so, then what does this knowledge lead to in the political spectrum?
In our own time we see two visions of the future colliding in a civil war of culture across the planetary landscape. As Zeev Sternhell in the below extended quote will put it there are two visions of modernity that have for the past two centuries played out their vision of the future in culture and politics of the West. Whether you agree or disagree with his surmise it is worth pondering in the face of our current crumbling civilization. What do agree or disagree with in the statement below:
If the French Enlightenment, or rather the Franco-Kantian Enlightenment, and the English and Scottish Enlightenments produced the great intellectual revolution of rationalist modernity, the intellectual, cultural, and political movement associated with the revolt against the Enlightenment constituted not a counterrevolution but a different revolution. It was not a countermodernity but a different modernity that came into being and that revolted against rationalism, the autonomy of the individual, and all that unites people: their condition as rational beings with natural rights. That second modernity was based on all that differentiates and divides people—history, culture, language —a political culture that denied reason either the capacity or the right to mold people’s lives, saw religion as an essential foundation of society, and did not hesitate to call on the state to regulate social relationships or to intervene in the economy. According to its theorists, the splintering, fragmentation, and atomization of human existence arising from the destruction of the medieval world was the cause of the modern decadence. They deplored the disappearance of the spiritual harmony that was the very fabric of medieval life, and that was destroyed by the Renaissance according to some and by the Reformation according to others. They regretted the passing of the time in which the individual, guided by religion to his last breath, a laborer or artisan living solely for his trade, hedged in by society at every moment, was merely a cog in an infinitely complex machine of whose destiny he was ignorant. Bending over the soil and asking no questions, he fulfilled his function in the march of civilization. On the day when, from being simply a part in a sophisticated mechanism, man became an individual, the modern sickness was born. From Burke to Friedrich Meinecke, the aim remained the restoration of the lost unity. Thus, the outlook of the individual was confined within the straitjacket of the community to which he belonged. The idea of the primacy of tradition, custom, and membership of a cultural, historical, and linguistic community was first put forward by Vico. Man, said Vico in criticism of the theoreticians of natural rights—Hobbes, Locke, Hugo Grotius, and Samuel Pufendorf— did not create society all of a piece; he is what society made him, his values are social values and are therefore relative. The relativity of values is a fundamental aspect of the critique of the Enlightenment, and the damage it has caused is tremendous. It was this other modernity that brought about the twentieth century European catastrophe.1
One can see this second version extended in the work of existentialists, phenomenologists, and after Fascism in the cultural Marxists from Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, the later Lyotard, aspects of Deleuze/Guattari, Jameson, and many others of the outmoded label of postmodern or post-structuralist theoretic. The wholesale attack on the whole traditions of Western Civilization and its long dominion of culture and geography, along with the erosion of the ethical and religious ideologies of Christendom and its secular oppositional forces seem to be heading toward collapse or transformation in our time. Two visions of time seem to underpin aspects of this as well: the one a linear movement toward apocalypse or the End of History, an eschatological worldview with a vision of end games and messiahs; the other a dynamic and spiral time of emergence and spontaneous order, of chaos and the open ended repetitions of renaissance and renewal rather than collapse and static ends of History. This movement between a static and dynamic view of Time, the one based on the labyrinth and death, the other on the spiral movement of galactic negentropy of order out of chaos, light out of darkness and openly rebellious view of cosmic revolt against the staid political systems of entrapment and enslavement.
This clash between worldviews in our time should be framed in a larger vision than most of trivial struggles of local politics allows for. The old clash between Left and Right must be ousted for a new vision of politics in our time. The outworn clichés of both Left and Right have become nodes of stupidity and irony, leading us in circles of hate and dispute that have no resolution. We need something else… something new. Ours is a time of chaotic growth when the emergence of something new and strange is arising in our midst. The age old war between collective vs. individual political and sociocultural systems have become passé leading us down the old paths of prejudice and dissolution. We must seek out the new, allow the new to come into existence. Maybe what we are seeing is the battle between the orthodox view of time and reality being slowly exploded by what some have termed The Great Heterodoxy. I will have more to say about that in the future…
- Zeev Sternhell The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. Yale University Press (December 22, 2009) (Page 8).
They have the look of demons who forgot they are not in hell anymore, but have invented a tattooed nightmare to house the flesh of their demented anxiety.
Masked paranoia is the fake equivalent of punked out has beens who belong to an age of revolt that ended in suicide alley.
Why these after images remain is beyond knowing, maybe they were stuck in some old movie without outlet, drifters of insomnia who have for all their daimonic pretentions become sponsors of trivial dreams for a worn out universe.
They apprehend a great divide in time; a time before, and a time after: a time that changes everything and nothing.
It’s this inner sense that they exist in a bubble of time outside the Real, a world of living death in which the nightmare scenarios of their belated humanity discovers itself only through the dark contours of a cerebral infection.
They are knowers of an eclipsed universe, the remnants and refugees from a realm of bright lights that have found themselves in a world of death and war, one in which they participate as specters of lividity.
They move from slippage to slippage in an abyss of dismemberment not knowing that the imponderable knot of unbinding they unloosed birthed a demonic world full of forgotten thoughts.
Lost among an infested and ruinous wasteland of darkness without bounds they wander through each others dreams like fragments of a torn novel whose pages were burned out long ago.
It’s as if they experienced the trauma of the Big Bang as the ripping of a black veil where the dark fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki enter their flesh and the Titanomachia of ancient battles emerge from their blood born fears.
From that primordial time of renewal they were expulsed and have since entered the stasis of a world where killing for sport and nefarious pleasure becomes the vital principle of a broken universe of suicidal porn.
Hackers of unknowing they envision a realm of pain where spirit is pitched to a high crag and the merciless bolts of strange gods embark on phantasmal seas of nightmare…
Despite all sophisticated or resentful denials, the reading of imaginative literature remains a quest to overcome the isolation of the individual consciousness.
—Harold Bloom, On Modern Horror
When I began reading in my youth I understood intuitively what later I would begin to know in earnest: we all need to know that someone, somewhere, in life or thought shares in our secret beliefs. For the most part we feel our way into thought in the beginning, we seek others thoughts attentively for agreement or disagreement with our hunger for that indefinable rapport. Some find their answers in religion or philosophy, they find certain thoughts or ideas that lead either to a life of ritual and normalized devotion or rigor that becomes for them a safety net against the unknown. When they find such a secure haven against the threats of emotion or reason then they stop thinking for themselves and let the system of philosophy or religion take over so that they no longer have to go it alone. Others who cannot accept such systems of belief either in religion or philosophy continue in their search for something else, for a knowledge which no human has ever penned nor some philosophical tract or religious scriptures put into words or actions. Unsatisfied with the known worlds of philosophy or religion these seekers after forbidden knowledge continue, alone, and in isolation; and, yet, here and there they see glimmers of that dark light jut out of the fragmentary pages of some book of madman’s eye, a hint of terrible knowledge that offers a doorway into the unknown. The closer one gets to that threshold of unknowing the more one knows that deep and dreadful sense of horror and fear that the truth one is about to uncover might just be too much, that it might lead one to death or madness; and, yet, we persist, we continue in our task to discover in outward form the dark hinterlands of our own inner experience. Why? Why do we love to court disaster more than safety and security? Why do some of us push ourselves to the limits of the human? Why enter into those corrupted and ruinous worlds of unknowing that can only lead us into insanity of suicide?
When we come upon certain writers whose thought seem to verify the secret beliefs about existence we have always believed but never had words or thoughts for then we feel a desperate need to read and reread everything of that author’s works and biography to know what it is that he/she has so carefully discovered to the point of obsession. When we come upon such authors we feel a certain shock, a sudden realization that this other has said what I have ‘felt’ for so long but never had an inkling how to put visualize or think it. This awakening takes us out of ourselves, takes us out of our isolated unknowing and helps us realize that we are not alone, that, yes, there is at least one other person who has shared the dark contours of our hopes, dreams, and fears.
I’ve read vast troves of work in literature, philosophy, science(s)and history, yet it is the imaginative worlds of crime and horror fiction that have awakened in me a sense of the dark and terrible truths lying in the abyss beneath the everyday surfaces of our lives. It is from these authors that I discovered the things a yearn for and the things I fear both in others and in myself, so that it is from them that I discovered that primordial sense of just how slipper the passage is from pleasure to pain. Anxiety in the face of the unknown overwhelms us all to the point that we need certain fictions to mask the intolerable sense that reality is not as it seems. Many as suggested in the beginning of my essay find in philosophy or religion acceptable fictions to keep the ruinous truth of this darker world at bay. They hide in the comfortable zones of reason or the irrational realms of ritual and liturgy to assuage the sadomasochistic pleasure/pain at the heart of the Real.
“To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle [….] Without cruelty there is no festival.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals / Ecce Homo
H.P. Lovecraft in his essay on Supernatural Horror offered a succinct statement on this dark secret at the heart of fear:
Because we remember pain and the menace of death more vividly than pleasure, and because our feelings toward the beneficent aspects of the unknown have from the first been captured and formalized by conventional religious rituals, it has fallen to the lot of the darker and more maleficent side of cosmic mystery to figure chiefly in our popular supernatural folklore. This tendency, too, is naturally enhanced by the fact that uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities.1
In that long trek of our early hominid ancestors out of the African jungles and savannahs to the far corners of time and space, unto to the final worlds of our present global civilization we were shaped by the forces of mystery and fear. Our need to combat that fear and the mysteries of the universe and unknowing surrounding us on all sides led us to develop strange tales of evil and the monstrous to circumscribe the human realms of safety from the dark worlds just outside us. The wastes, deserts, jungles, ocean and mountains of the inhabitable extremes were populated by us with demons and fairies and forces of darkness and light. Out of these hundreds of thousands of years of evolution we evolved patterns that would shape our humanity, tales to protect us from the terrors just beyond the campfire and safety of the hearth. In our own cynical age we skip by this long history as if it were contemptible, as if we were all moderns and secular atheists who have no need for the childish superstitions and folkways of our ancestral dreamtime. Then why do we crave the darkness, why to we fill our cinemas with slasher and cosmic horror and devastation? Why to we love superhero comics brought to life on the screen, fill our eyes with Tolkien’s hobbits, and feel the desperate need to walk with the Walking Dead on television? Why so many films of crime and sex where humans perpetrate the bloodiest and most nasty crimes upon each other: the madness, obsessions, and the deranged mentation’s of the most corrupt and evil creatures to mask the human. Why are we so fascinated with awe and fear?
Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.
—H. P. Lovecraft
Watching the History or Travel Channels of late I’ve been fascinated by the strange superstitions surrounding America’s love affair with alien history and ghosts. There is a grand narrative or conspiracy of fear presented weekly on these channels that bring forward men and women who seem to be experiencing events beyond the normal worlds we all inhabit. Alien visitation and adduction, government cover-ups, creatures, monsters, disappearances, ghost hunters, mediums, messages from the dead, and malevolent beings from the hinterlands of some multidimensional realm just beyond our senses. All these programs seem to sell, repeating the same stories over and over to the point that they replace reality with these fantastic worlds. Suddenly the reality of modernity and the Enlightenment vanish into the cosmic underground replaced by these paranormal worlds of monstrous imagination. It’s as if the mundane truth of our work-a-day world of political turmoil and anguish were being channeled off into the nightmares of the outer dark. What dawned on me after questioning other members of my family and friends as to why they like to watch these festivals of horror and alien imaginings. People seem to watch and read about such things to escape their own fears of the unknown. If they can believe that others are experiencing anguish and anxiety in their lives being shaped by hideous forces outside their control it brings them comfort to know they are not alone. Fear of the unknown become familiar if it is garbed in the strange and alien fictions of shared illusion. Aliens and ghosts are our secular world’s answer to religious doubt and fear of the dark throngs of our ancestral nightmares. We may have left the jungles of the African veldt long ago but the hauntings of that primal world still exist in our reptilian brain and will not be easily dismissed. We are haunted by the secret worlds of our ancestral anxieties and need our fiction to keep those monstrous worlds at bay. Even in an age of science, science has yet to dissuade us of our primal terrors.
Humans cannot live in a vacuum of doubt and anguish even in a secular age, they need fictions and narratives that will help them put the demons in their lives to rest, to push back the darkness and the unknown fears surrounding them in emotional anguish. Humans need security blankets and will if it is presented in a logical and acceptable, even reasonable manner believe in the most irrational ideas, notions, and unreason. We need our illusions as long as they are shared by others, even the fake one’s that hide from us the truth of the real historical forces that are determining our lives not as part of some global conspiracy but as part of the elite ministrations of political ideologists and their rich and conspiratorial controllers. The true conspiracists are those who promote it rather than its victims. Our hollow lords in high places build our nightmares out of the mass mythologies of our secular age to keep our fears occupied by false worlds rather than the economic and political nightmares that are all too real and discomforting. We are all slaves to our own fears and imaginations, and would rather believe in the fictional nightmares of imaginal fabrications than in the literal darkness of orchestrated political and social enslavement.
Supernatural or paranormal tales and fictions assuage that pain and anxiety in a form that puts a distance between it and an all too real mundane world of work and anxiety; and it’s this distanciation, this distancing from the Real that motivates us and keeps us chained to the myths of ancestral fear and terror. We need our illusions because the real world is too close to us, too much with us now and always. To imagine, to image forth and put a mask or face on the dark contours of our fears and terrors, to allow the demons of the mind and heart to roam in objective and fantastic narratives is easier for us to control than the real world of our lives. The illusive realms of hauntings, the unseen, and the unknown are much easier to control through imaginative need than the real world of political and social chaos, therefore we fill our lives with literary and filmic worlds of monsters, aliens, and criminals to keep the truth of our enslaved lives hidden and invisible. We believe that if we can make the darkness visible in art, literature, or film we need not deal with our own personal darkness. So we build our worlds of nightmare to protect us from the uncertainty of our actual lives. If we can unmask the demon beyond the threshold we believe we can control it rather than ‘it’ us; and, yet this mistaken belief is the root of all war and mayhem, for we are the perpetrators of a universal horror show that is all too real and manifest as the permanent form of fear and terror in our lives.
- Lovecraft, H. P.. The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Locations 356-360). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
Ramsey Campbell in the preface to S.T. Joshi’s study of his work (Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction) relates a story of how Fright and Imagination left their mark on his life and writing:
“…it was another image that set me on the course I was to make my career: the cover of an issue of Weird Tales. It was the November 1952 issue. I saw it in a sunlit window of a newsagent’s in Seabank Road in Southport, a train ride up the coast from Liverpool, and I must have been seven years old. I had never wanted to own anything so much. I couldn’t imagine what dread pleasures might lurk behind such a cover, but owning the picture would have been enough—a painting of a terrified bird or birdlike creature cowering beneath a luminous green sky while two monstrosities with immense human skulls for heads and very little in the way of bodies advanced towards it across a black desert. I pleaded with my mother—the price was only a shilling— but was judged far too young. It took me a decade to locate a copy of the issue, only to find that the cover depicted a vulture perched on a rib-cage near two half-buried skulls while two greenish skeletons, possibly ambulatory, hovered in the background. It seems clear that on that summer day in 1953 my imagination was dissatisfied with the image and so dreamed something stranger into existence, an approach it has taken to reality ever since.”1 (p. 13-14)
This notion of “imagination” being dissatisfied with certain images in life or thought and displacing them with a stranger reality hits the mark with most weird tales. The best weird tales seem to displace our normalized worlds of life and literature replacing them with that indefinable resonance of the power of Mind over the universe of death and horror that defines the genre as a whole. A painter I have always admired, Patrick Woodruff in one of his essay (have to find it!) once suggested that he painted with such ferocity the nightmares of his mind to objectify and imagine the demons that invisibly impinged upon his life.
Art is a form of demonology for Woodruff, a way of displacing the overpowering horror of existence by objectifying and thereby dissolving the emotional power of the unknown with an image of imagination. I have always seen the best cosmic horror in this way as putting a stamp on the demons of our collective nightmares, of tapping into the emotive force of the unknown dimensions surrounding us that our brain for the most part filters out due to our ancient natural and selective processes. The invisible realms of reality and the Real are still there but our brain does not allow us direct access so that the objects of our mind give us an indirect and imaginative access to them by way of fright, fear, and horror: putting a mask on our demon world image thereby dissolving its power over our life and minds.
- Joshi, S.T. Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction (Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies, 23) . Liverpool University Press; 1 edition (January 7, 2001)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:
“When younger…I felt as if I were destined for some great enterprise.…I could not rank myself with the herd of common projectors. But this feeling, which supported me in the commencement of my career, now serves only to plunge me lower in the dust. All my speculations and hopes are as nothing; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell.…From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition; but how am I sunk! Oh! my friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in this state of degradation. Despondency rarely visited my heart; a high destiny seemed to bear me on, until I fell, never, never again to rise. (152)”
Toward the end of the novel Dr. Frankenstein reminisces with Walton about his early youth. The clear influence of those primal passages from Paradise Lost of John Milton in which Satan delivers his own soliloquy is merged in the above. One could say that Shelley’s novel is the embodiment of that epic power of torment and aristocratic intelligence that would rather be defiant against all authority and tyrannical despotism, ruling in hell rather than being an eternal slave in heaven. As I grow older I feel this sympathy with those failures in knowing that the aspirations we so boldly faced in youth have resulted not in the loft ambitions of the mind but rather become the ruin of Old Age and Time: the despotic rule of natural decay and loss. The only thing that remains is the absolute defiance and intelligence that seeks to emerge against the light…
Mary Shelley’s husband the poet Percy Shelley wrote effusively in his Defence of Poetry (1821) that
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.…Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments.
The Romantics and the Gnostics as Harold Bloom has strived to remind us through as many works agreed in this defiance of the Old Testament God, Yahweh. Yahweh was for both the Tyrant king, the irascible and jealous, raging bling god of the Old Testament who played havoc across the course of time with his progeny, testing them, judging them, killing and sacrificing them to his whims. The Old testament is a bloody book full of war and hate, and its God is truly the ‘darkness visible’ of a being who torments his own creation.
As J.C. Christopher The Satanic Scholar explicates: Shelley voiced his ambivalent view of Milton’s Satan quite clearly in the Preface to his Prometheus Unbound (1820). “The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan,” Shelley contends, yet he proceeds to explain that Prometheus is “a more poetical character than Satan” because the deity-defiant, humanitarian Titan shares the virtues of “courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force” without the vices of “ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which in the Hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest.” As far as Shelley was concerned, while “Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends,” the same simply cannot be said for the character of Milton’s Satan, who instead “engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure.” This rather bold position of Shelley’s—that Satan’s shortcomings are essentially excusable because they are utterly outweighed by the wrongdoing perpetrated against him—was previously asserted far less vaguely in one of Shelley’s earlier, unpublished works: his Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20). As a matter of fact, the above quotation from A Defence of Poetry—that Milton’s Satan is unsurpassable in “energy and magnificence”—was a passage Shelley took nearly verbatim from his Essay on the Devil, but what Shelley prudently chose not to copy from his Essay over to his Defence was his irreverently detailed description of how and why that which is genuinely malignant in Milton’s otherwise virtuous Devil—his quest for the destruction of Man—may be blamed upon Milton’s God, who, as in Satan’s “baleful eyes” (I.56), emerges as the far more demonic figure of the story.1
I’ve been rereading Milton’s great poem Paradise Lost as well as Mary Shelley’s work of late, both have infiltrated and informed my mind for decades. Milton’s was for me a work against the political tyranny of his time, a Cromwellian defender Milton chose the path of freedom from despotic rule and after the defeat of Cromwell suffered for his allegiance. It would be after this political defeat that he’d go on to write his famed poem and take up the devil’s cause of freedom against the English power of Divine Kingship. Mary Shelley in the wake of such thought coming as she did from her parents William Godwin the Anarchist, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the arch feminist. Married to the poet who would shape her sense of vision she wrote the first prose epic that would in its Janus faced vision merge the past visions of gnostic battle with the future visions of earthly ruin and sacrifice. Yet, it would be the defiant power of that Satanic pride that would carry her into our own time as the fierce advocate of justice against the dictates of all ruinous power and tyranny.
- Christopher J. C., The Satanic Scholar, The Miltonic in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, on the Novel’s Bicentenary (January, 1, 2018) – (read)
In William Gibson’s Neuromancer we see an agon between the various forces that would resist and stop the emergence of a vastly superior Artificial Intelligence vs. those who would enter into a new set of commitments to liberate it from its human security regimes. In the novel this new Intelligence is named Wintermute, an Artificial Intelligence (AI). When the human protagonist, Chase, has to make the precipitous decision to free Wintermute at the end of the novel he conceives it as a leap into the new:
`Give us the fucking code,’ he said. `If you don’t, what’ll change? What’ll ever fucking change for you? You’ll wind up like the old man. You’ll tear it all down and start building again! You’ll build the walls back, tighter and tighter… I got no idea at all what’ll happen if Wintermute wins, but it’ll change something!’ He was shaking, his teeth chattering.1
Commenting on this in his Doctoral Thesis, Dr. Steve Overy tells us that this decision goes to the heart of Nick Land’s anti-philosophy:
In this era of accelerating technological change philosophy creates a false dichotomy between controlled change and uncontrolled change, whereas, for Land, the real dichotomy is between resisting change and accepting it. The impersonal forces of the outside irrupting at the moment: cryptocurrency, AI and singularity, demographic collapse, the death of the Westphalian state system, crises of capitalism, all are beyond the ability of humanity to steer. What remains is a binary choice to resist, or to progress. Resistance is always undertaken by the human subject in defence of what it knows, and is therefore fundamentally conservative, hence Land’s critique of Ray Brassier’s retreat into ‘conceptual issues’ as leading to philosophical conservatism.2
What’s interesting in this struggle between Land and his former students and associates of the CCRU days is the reversal in the notions of ‘conservatism’. For Land it is the Left or Progressive and academic worldview of the philosophical community of consensus reality that is stifling the emergence of AI and Superintelligence through a false dichotomy. The Left attacks Land for his siding with accelerating capitalism and consistently does this through conceptual attacks on Land’s politics rather than on the merit of his pragmatic stance outside the academy as an anti-philosopher. Land sees all theoretical and conceptual culture as bound to the Kantian treadmill of correlationism in which thought is always already conservative and bound to the old humanistic discursive loops and repetitions by its very insider consensus. Nothing new can emerge from such theory or theoretical culture in the parlance of Landian ‘libidinal materialism’.
For Land the whole Kantian tradition has bound itself within a metaphysical black box from which it cannot by conceptuality ever hope to extract or free itself. Only by opening itself to the pragmatic Outside of primary process and the productive forces that have shaped AI, modernity and Capitalism can it begin to break free of its chains to the humanistic worldview. Instead we must end the chatter of theory and critique which always lead to regressions and circularities – ‘aren’t you using ideas to critique ideas’ – that “short-circuit metaphysical attempts to access base-material” (Overy, p. 302). As Overy suggests one way forward is to align Land’s attempt at measuring desiring-production with an anti-metaphysical and mathematically precise determination of the rules that condition these underlying automatic productions of a materialist post-psychoanalytical method. (Overy, p. 303)
In summation Overy comments,
Ultimately, Land’s thought does not ask to be evaluated according to the mores of modern academic philosophy, but for its predictive ability and its correspondence to reality. (p. 304).
Land left the loop of academic philosophy long ago for an anti-philosophical and pragmatic acceptance of the Outsider view and observer of our cultural malaise. His outsider stance and political proclivities have aligned him as the enemy of the Left and it’s minions. Speaking of academic philosophy in our time Land reminds us that they are “characterized by their moral fervour, parochialism, earnestness, phenomenological disposition, and sympathy for folk superstition,” while those of the outer reaches, the anti-philosophers and followers of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, and their ilk are known by their “fatalism, atheism, strangely reptilian exuberance, and extreme sensitivity for what is icy, savage, and alien to mankind.” 3
- Gibson, William. Neuromancer (United Kingdom: Grafton, 1986) p.307
- Overy, Steve. The genealogy of Nick Land’s anti-anthropocentric philosophy: a psychoanalytic conception of machinic desire. https://theses.ncl.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10443/3350/1/Overy%2c%20S.%202016.pdf (Page 298). Bio: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/profile/stephenovery1.html#research
- Land, N. The Thirst for Annihilation (London and New York: Routledge, 1992) pp. 97-98(Page 301).
Authoritarianism arises due to the weakness of leaders to decide, decide anything at all. Ours is such a world in which authority has lost all authority, therefore the strong man, the dictator arises not due to capacity but due to the incapacity of the democratic process to actually do its work. The inanity of this political sham between Left and Right has produced the very incapacity to create a viable world, therefore false authoritarianism arises out of this civil war between extremes. The Left has created a Grand Narrative mythology in its story of Neoliberalism to escape its own ineptitude so that it can cop out from actually doing anything. Instead it will continue to iterate and reiterate in convulsive critical suspicion the repetitions of repetitions till the world sinks away into oblivion. The Left has no actual ability to do anything but rage in its own suspicion.
Age of Ressentiment
“The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and produces values: the ressentiment of beings to whom the real reaction, that of the deed, is denied, who can only indulge in imaginary revenge. Whereas every noble morality springs from a triumphant acceptance and affirmation of oneself, slave morality is in its very essence a negation of everything ‘outside’ and ‘different,’ of whatever is ‘not oneself’: and this negation is its creative deed. This reversal of the perspective of valuation — this necessary determination by the outside rather than by oneself — is typical of ressentiment: in order to arise, slave morality always needs a hostile external world. Physiologically speaking, it needs external stimuli in order to act at all — its action is fundamentally a reaction.” (Part I, Section 10).
-Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
Are we not living in such a moment? Isn’t the world driven by such imaginary revenges on many fronts? But we may ask should we dialecticians of recursive reversals seek not the hostile outer world but rather admit that what we seek is to blow the lid off this fake inside world of political malfeasance, a world that has covered over the Real in a dark iron prison of hate and duplicity? Are we not on Left and Right caught in the mesh of a dualistic nightmare world in which both sides see in each other the dark contours of ressentiment? But this would imply that the engine of hate is the world media who sponsors the imagery of hate furthering the war between extremes. Are we not all victims of such political persuasion? The rhetoric of hate gathers us all under the cage of annihilation. We must begin recognizing the cage we’ve all built to house the beast of ressentiment that is now unleashed on a planetary basis.
What mind does is to structure the universe to which it belongs, and structure is the very register of intelligibility as pertaining to the world and intelligence.
—Reza Negarestani, Intelligence and Spirit
As a young man my access to networks of information outside my circle was limited to physical libraries and bookstores, much less one’s access to a stream of thinkers, poets, critics, artists, philosophers, etc. One was for the most part bound to the local and limited confines (prison?) of one’s time and place. This is a truism, yet in our age with the capacity to enter varied networks and cognitive societies that test the limits of one’s memory and consciousness we’ve begun to mutate into another type of being altogether; and, yet, this overloaded world of networked, deprivatized and collective intelligence (Geist?) is displacing the old cues that grounded us in our local physical worlds. We seem to co-habit shared worlds, a multi-verse of intelligence, at once distributed and collective to the point that we no longer have stable regulated lives within a structured universe of meaning. Instead we seem to be inventing the conditions for the emergence of something else, something new: the collective agency of an empowered intelligence of which we all are physically and spiritually connected.
This new sociality of agents seen from the outside in reverses and dismantle the age old culture bound and segmenting tribal consciousness that produced the great monomaniacal visions of the monotheistic religious and political worlds of both Medieval and Modern social systems. Modernity was a stage of distancing, of distanciation, a first step in abstracting and subtracting ourselves from the ancient worldview that adapted us to sex and survival. And, yet, it did not go far enough, it carried over the ancient tribality that allowed us to redeem traditions from each culture in a corrupt form of economic and cultural enchainment. Secular mythologies replaced the religious, and in turn have imprisoned us in errors to which the various new philosophies of materialisms and realisms are trying to extract and subtract us.
Yet, the only way out of modernity is through it rather than some ill-founded escape into a groundless utopia, we must think through the deep and constraining, necessitarian issues that bind us to these outmoded forms of intelligence and memory. Only then can we emerge into a new world of shared and collective intelligence, a distributive world of cognitive communities. Because the speed of intelligence and time invariance of our predicament has pushed the privatized consciousness to the wall. What we are seeking now is to empower the deprivatized and distributed consciousness of memory and time to produce both the problems and their criticality to the point of invention. We have no other path forward, and the future of our species depends on it.
Have to admit I’ve been taking my time reading Simon Sellars mad memoir, Applied Ballardianism. This not yet my final word on this new novel, I plan a more interesting critical post in the future. This is more an ongoing tidbit take on something that made me laugh today. Just a mere quote, but one that seems to typify this quirky novel. This fictional memoir that as the title implies tries to apply an obsession to the pages of a memoir that like Patrick Woodroffe depicts neither the actual or real life of either Ballard or Sellars but rather invents the possibility of something new: a repetition of a repetition that one can only equate with the emergence and merger of two unique creatures in a dream. Much like the strange meeting between Christian Bale and Ballard that Simon delivers in a pertinent chapter in his new novel. One day Bale (on the set of Crash) walks up to Ballard and says,
‘Hello, Mr Ballard,’ he said. ‘I’m you.’
This sense of the double, the mirror, the image come alive out of the pure abyss of fiction, a re-invention of Ballard as his own fiction. Ludicrous yet infinitely Ballardian: the manifest hyperbole of his life lived in the fiction of himself made real. Almost Wordsworthian in intent as if indeed the “Child is Father of the Man!” The fiction gives birth to the creature known to us as J.G. Ballard. Without it he is but the blank of our imaginal lives lived anonymously.
As Simon says,
“A divided mind. A copy without an original. Shanghai overlaid onto Shepperton. Ballard vs Ballard. None of this was by chance. On the contrary, it was quite deliberate. Ballard dreamed this future into being. He created the conditions for his own replacement. He knew he was expendable and that this was an inconsequential detail.”
“Nothing was more important than the story, the words on the page.”1
- Sellars, Simon. Applied Ballardianism: Memoir From a Parallel Universe . Urbanomic Media Ltd.. Kindle Edition.
…what, for Hegel, is the elementary move of philosophy with regard to abstraction? It is to abandon the common-sense empiricist notion of abstraction as a step away from the wealth of concrete empirical reality with its irreducible multiplicity of features: life is green, concepts are gray, they dissect, mortify, concrete reality. … Philosophical thought proper begins when we become aware of how such a process of “abstraction” is inherent to reality itself: the tension between empirical reality and its “abstract” notional determinations is immanent to reality, it is a feature of “Things themselves.” Therein lies the anti-nominalist accent of philosophical thinking—for example, the basic insight of Marx’s “critique of political economy” is that the abstraction of the value of a commodity is its “objective” constituent. It is life without theory which is gray, a flat stupid reality—it is only theory which makes it “green,” truly alive, bringing out the complex underlying network of mediations and tensions which makes it move.
—Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing (p. 395)
Anastrophic modernism tells us that we have only discounted the perpetuation of the modernist avant-garde because we have refused to accept the possibility of its inhumanity.
—Amy Ireland, The Poememenon: Form as Occult Technology
Theory-fiction or philo-fiction as it is sometimes called has become all the rage within certain circles of the academic community in the past few years. Moving away from the strict economy of thought that has come down to us as so many concepts hashed and re-hashed through so many iterations of abstraction to produce something new and unprecedented only to discover it is but a turn, a trope, a shift in perspective and masking of previous thought some thinkers have jettisoned the whole nexus of philosophical discourse for the Outside. As François Laruelle recently said in Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy:
Those who are spiritual are not at all spiritualists, for the spiritual oscillate between fury and tranquil rage, they are great destroyers of the forces of Philosophy and the State, which are united under the name of Conformism. They haunt the margins of philosophy, gnosis, mysticism, science fiction and even religions. Spiritual types are not only abstract mystics and quietists; they are heretics for the World
This sense of being a heretic for the World situates certain thinkers who no longer fit within the designated straight-jacket of philosophical or political thought. Such is the work of the now defunct Ccru and its most antagonistic anti-philosopher, Nick Land.
Amy Ireland in an essay published on Urbanomic.com brings us a theory-fiction that aligns her own poetic experimentalism with the legacy of Anastrophic Modernism. A legacy that weaves the spironomics of W.B. Yeats (The Vision) with the strange fusion culture of Ccru and its occulture sifting through the fragments of Land’s heretical mixture of H.P. Lovecraft mythos and the underworlds of those shadow philosophers who kept the dark flames of an energetic world of daemonic entities alive and well through the centuries.
Ireland reminds us that “anastrophic modernism commands a nonlinear relationship between cause and effect, riding the convergent wave generated by its own assembly ‘back’ to the present to install the conditions that will have been necessary for its emergence”.1 This is a time-travel tale told by W.B. Yeats in The Vision and in the fragments of Land’s published writings before the emergence of Vauung.
It all begins with the hyperstitional agents Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne, two mysterious entities we discover in Yeats’s dreambook The Vision. Robartes and Aherne, Ireland tells us, “recount the discovery of an arcane philosophical system encoded in a series of geometrical diagrams…”. (P: 1) Most of Ireland’s essay follows the trail into this metafictional world seeking to understand who discovered or invented this – as she’ll call it, spironomic system which “recapitulates the belief system of an Arabian sect known as the Judwalis or ‘diagrammatists’, who in turn derived it from a mysterious work—now long lost—containing the teachings of Kusta ben Luka, a philosopher at the ancient Court of Harun Al-Raschid, although rumour has it that ben Luka got it from a desert djinn”. (P: 2-3)
I decided to float the part of the text from the note on ‘The Second Coming’, Michael Robartes and the Dancer in Yeat’s Variorum Edition of the Poems from which Ireland will echo her own theory-fiction:
Robartes copied out and gave to Aherne several mathematical diagrams from the Speculum, squares and spheres, cones made up of revolving gyres intersecting each other at various angles, figures sometimes with great complexity. His explanation of these, obtained invariably from the followers of Kusta-ben-Luki, is founded upon a single fundamental thought. The mind, whether expressed in history or in the individual life, has a precise movement, which can be quickened or slackened but cannot be fundamentally altered, and this movement can be expressed by a mathematical form. A plant or an animal has an order of development peculiar to it, a bamboo will not develop evenly like a willow nor a willow from joint to joint, and both have branches, that lessen and grow more light as they rise, and no characteristic of the soil can alter these things. A poor soil may indeed check or stop the movement and rich prolong and quicken it. Mendel has shown that his sweet-peas bred long and short, white and pink varieties in certain mathematical proportions, suggesting a mathematical law governing the transmission of parental characteristics. To the Judwalis, as interpreted by Michael Robartes, all living minds have likewise a fundamental mathematical movement, however adapted in plant, or animal, or man to particular circumstance; and when you have found this movement and calculated its relations, you can foretell the entire future of that mind.
The gyre has its origin from a straight line which represents, now time, now emotion, now subjective life, and a plane at right angles to this line which represents, now space, now intellect, now objective life; while it is marked out by two gyres which represent the conflict, as it were, of plane and line, by two movements, which circle about a centre because a movement outward on the plane is checked and in turn checks a movement onward upon the line; & the circling is always narrowing or spreading, because one movement or other is always the stronger. In other words, the human soul is always moving outward into the objective world or inward into itself; & this movement is double because the human soul would not be conscious were it not suspended between contraries, the greater the contrast the more intense the consciousness. The man, in whom the movement inward is stronger than the movement outward, the man who sees all reflected within himself, the subjective man, reaches the narrow end of a gyre at death, for death is always, they contend, even when it seems the result of accident, preceded by an intensification of the subjective life; and has a moment of revelation immediately after death, a revelation which they describe as his being carried into the presence of all his dead kindred, a moment whose objectivity is exactly equal to the subjectivity of death. The objective man on the other hand, whose gyre moves outward, receives at this moment the revelation, not of himself seen from within, for that is impossible to objective man, but of himself as if he were somebody else. This figure is true also of history, for the end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction.
The Judwallis – inventors of this system, name means makers of measures, or as we would say, of diagrams.2
The key is this notion that the mind is a movement that can be expressed by a mathematical form or notation revealed through Spiromancy. And, spiromancy as a predictive art of divination is none other than the knowledge that all living minds have a fundamental mathematical movement, however “adapted in plant, or animal, or man to particular circumstance; and when you have found this movement and calculated its relations, you can foretell the entire future of that mind” (see above). One might assume a predictive foretelling not only of individual minds, but of the collective social intelligence of the socio-culture as well. Without spoiling it for the reader too much, underlying Ireland’s investiture into Yeat’s, Land, and Ccru is this notion of the future in the present and past, of the hyperstitional invocation of entities from these mathematical sigils or diagrams, of a force of intelligence at work within our Western culture and civilization; an intelligence at work in capitalism itself conditioning and retroactively participating in under the cloak of a chameleon mask, weaving and unweaving the machinic civilization that is emerging from the ruins of the human: an inhuman invasion of optimized intelligences from the future retroactively invoking their own emergence through our technological Anastrophic modernity.
What ultimately intrigues Ireland is the interlinking and meshing this notion in Yeat’s Vision and the work of Ccru, where she uncovers an uncanny resemblance between the ancient Judwali philosophy of spiromancy and the accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land and the Ccru collective:
A cursory comparison of Ccru texts dealing with the then-still-inchoate notion of accelerationism—from Sadie Plant and Nick Land’s ‘Cyberpositive’, through the latter’s luminous mid-nineties missives (‘Circuitries’, ‘Machinic Desire’, ‘Meltdown’, and ‘Cybergothic’ are exemplary) to the contemporary elaboration of the phenomenon in his cogent and obscure ‘Teleoplexy’—with Robartes’s gloss of Judwali philosophy, is enough to posit the malefic presence of abstract spiromancy in both systems of historical divination. (P: 2)
At the heart of her philo-fiction is the temporal philosophy of Land’s spironomics: teleoplexy. Citing an entry from Land’s ‘Cybergothic’ Ireland hones in on the core of this temporal process: ‘Humanity is a compositional function of the post-human’, writes Land, ‘and the occult motor of the process is that which only comes together at the end’: ‘Teleoplexy’ names both this cleverness and its emergent outcome.’ (P: 7) Of course the process that Land is speaking of is capitalism itself, and the ‘occult motor’ that drives capitalism is the retroactive conditioning of our planet for the emergence of technological singularity of machinic intelligence. Accelerationism is nothing if not this preparation from the emergence of artificial intelligence, which has used capitalism to drive forward its ultimate agenda.
As Ireland will tell it the “accelerationism is a cybernetic theory of modernity released from the limited sphere of the restricted economy … and set loose to range the wilds of cosmic energetics at will, mobilizing cyberpositive variation as an anorganic evolutionary and time-travelling force. (P: 7-8) All this leading ultimately to the “individuation of self-augmenting machinic intelligence as the culminating act of modernity is understood with all the perversity of the cosmic scale as a compressed flare of emancipation coinciding with the termination of the possibility of emancipation for the human” (P: 8).
I’ll not delve into her poetics of accelerationism which she covers in part II The Poememenon. I’ll only quote one defining statement:
Any act of affirmation, of claiming that one is ‘open to’ the outside from the inside betrays affordability. It is patently economical, and therefore ‘intrinsically tied to survival’. Against this qualified experimentalism (the false ‘novelty’ of catastrophic modernity) the poememenon diagrams reckless adherence to the modernist dictum that novelty is to be generated at any cost, privileging formal experimentation— towards the desolation of all intelligible form—over human preservation, and locking technique onto an inhuman vector of runaway automation that, for better or worse, charts the decline of human values as modernity hands the latter over to its machinic successor in final, fatal phase shift. (P: 9)
The reader can find Amy’s text on Urbonomic.com: here: https://www.urbanomic.com/document/poememenon/
- Ireland, Amy. The Poememenon: Form as Occult Technology. (Urbonomic, 2017) https://www.urbanomic.com/document/poememenon/ (Page 13). (P)
- Variorum Edition of the Poems, 823-25. It is given in full in Richard Finneran, ed., W. B. Yeats: The Poems (2nd ed., 1997), 658-60, and (without the diagram) in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Poet and Man (1949), 197-98, (3rd ed. , 175-77), though with variations of punctuation and sometimes wording.
There is a hawk that is picking the birds out of our sky.
She killed the pigeons of peace and security,
She has taken honesty and confidence from nations and men,
She is hunting the lonely heron of liberty.
She loads the arts with nonsense, she is very cunning,
Science with dreams and the state with powers to catch them at last.
Nothing will escape her at last, flying nor running.
This is the hawk that picks out the stars’ eyes.
This is the only hunter that will ever catch the wild swan;
The prey she will take last is the wild white swan of the beauty of things.
Then she will be alone, pure destruction, achieved and supreme,
Empty darkness under the death-tent wings.
She will build a nest of the swan’s bones and hatch a new brood,
Hang new heavens with new birds, all be renewed.
—Robinson Jeffers, The Poetry Of Robinson Jeffers
“Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility.”
~ William Godwin
It has no doubt resulted from a train of speculation similar to this, that poetical readers have commonly remarked Milton’s devil to be a being of considerable virtue. It must be admitted that his energies centered too much in personal regards. But why did he rebel against his maker? It was, as he himself informs us, because he saw no sufficient reason, for that extreme inequality of rank and power, which the creator assumed. It was because prescription and precedent form no adequate ground for implicit faith. After his fall, why did he still cherish the spirit of opposition? From a persuasion that he was hardly and injuriously treated. He was not discouraged by the apparent inequality of the contest: because a sense of reason and justice was stronger in his mind, than a sense of brute force; because he had much of the feelings of an Epictetus or a Cato, and little of those of a slave. He bore his torments with fortitude, because he disdained to be subdued by despotic power. He sought revenge, because he could not think with tameness of the unexpostulating authority that assumed to dispose of him. How beneficial and illustrious might the temper from which these qualities flowed, have been found, with a small diversity of situation!
– William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice
Reread the line where Godwin says,
He bore his torments with fortitude, because he disdained to be subdued by despotic power. He sought revenge, because he could not think with tameness of the unexpostulating authority that assumed to dispose of him.
This sense of revolt and disdain of all authority, power, and sovereignty over one’s life is the core of the Romantic revolt in literature and politics. As a neo-Gnostic who incorporates the ancient forms into a secular myth against the power of political corruption we see across our planet I have an affinity to Milton’s Satan. Secularizing the ancient notions of Gnostic gnosis from their ontological literalisms and into a more epistemic framework that seeks not the literal overthrow of the world itself, but rather of the prison planet of power that has corrupted both our minds and hearts with its inextricable mythology of economics, power, and control. The powers we rebel against are not the literal fictions of transcendent gods or God, but rather the real and actual, and persistent institutions of power that have brought injustice into the world. These are the earthly powers of political and economic institutions that command and control the vast social and technological resources of the planet bound to a system of exploitation that seeks not only absolute gain and profit without loss, but also seeks to trap its citizens in a fake world of consensus that produces both compliance and hypernormalization.
The critique of the Myth of Progress is well founded, for there is no improvement, no reformist mission that can reshape our lives through any effort of our own. The only thing progressive now is the very truth of the power of freedom to act under the guidance of Intelligence and Imagination. To invent the possibility of the future, to struggle against all fatalisms that would lock us in the presentism of some eternal Now of political enslavement. It is only through the solidarity of humanity as a species beyond all Identitarian politics that would divide us into silos of civil war that we shall overcome the problems we face on this planet. We alone shall fall, but together we shall arise and create the future together.
If I return to my roots in the Romantic rebels who both critiqued the Enlightenment and its failed revolutions, it also sought to retain the intellectual power of the Enlightenment’s thrust without losing site of the actual emotional and voluntarist capacity of solidarity within humans to seek personal liberty against all authoritarian powers of Sovereignty. Many in the philosophical and political arena seem to be returning to religious and paternal notions based on Catholic or other traditionalist perspectives against the past two hundred years of Progressive Civilization which is at the heart of the Utilitarian and Romantic revolt. That I have attacked the current forms of Progressive politics in recent years it is because it no longer serves the earlier intellectual stream from which it came, so the need has been to see how this has come about. I also see a need to clarify this history, open out to this past, see where its myths and its intelligence aligned with and against the early systems of Tradition. Early in life I read long and deep in this English rather than the German Romantic tradition and realize now that it served me well in life.
At the heart of the Romantic revolt was a critique of Reason, for it was above all a critique of the French Revolution turned terror that gave those early poets a belief that Imagination, not Reason, was the power of invention and creation needed to envision the Good Society. That Reason alone would always lead humans into error prone casuistry producing terror rather than political freedom and imaginative need. Even our wilderness and ecological movements were grounded in the Romantics rather than the philosophes, and without a renewed interest in this era and its poets, thinkers, and critics we will face a world of depleted and decaying tropes moving forward. It’s time to return and see what these men and women were up to as they struggled with and against the Enlightenment view of humanity.
“No country can be called free which is governed by an absolute power; and it matters not whether it be an absolute royal power or an absolute legislative power, as the consequences will be the same to the people.”
~ Thomas Paine
The liberal understanding of Catholicism is ill-suited to this new context, in which “progress” is no longer linear and consensus reality itself seems to be disintegrating. The Church itself, however, has all the resources it needs to adapt. Beyond the dilemmas of Protestant modernity, the postmodern metropolis with its Gothic darkness and its neon lights, its complex and unbearably persistent ethical disparities, points towards a potential rediscovery of the profundity of the human soul—the outlines of a new Baroque. In the twenty-first century, the horror, splendor, and love of Catholicism will have their role to play once more.
This turn toward Baroque Catholicism in some new form with its attack on Progressive culture and modernity awakened in me those old antagonisms of my youth and why I turned away from my Conservative and Republican upbringing and chose the radical path of revolt and the democratic radicalism of Thomas Paine and his heritage of secularist ideology. I still affirm those basic tenets outlined by Johnathan Israel,
Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state. It sees the purpose of the state as being the wholly secular one of promoting the worldly interests of the majority and preventing vested minority interests from capturing control of the legislative process. Its chief maxim is that all men have the same basic needs, rights, and status irrespective of what they believe or what religious, economic, or ethnic group they belong to, and that consequently all ought to be treated alike, on the basis of equity, whether black or white, male or female, religious or nonreligious, and that all deserve to have their personal interests and aspirations equally respected by law and government. Its universalism lies in its claim that all men have the same right to pursue happiness in their own way, and think and say whatever they see fit, and no one, including those who convince others they are divinely chosen to be their masters, rulers, or spiritual guides, is justified in denying or hindering others in the enjoyment of rights that pertain to all men and women equally.1
We seem to have lost site of this vision in our age of Oligarchic and political decadence perpetrated to blind us to the subterfuge of both the political Left and Right who are fake members of a system that no longer serves the Enlightenment democratic radical vision of the philosophes. That the Romantics revolt was against the overly reliant power of Reason as both icon and god of the Enlightenment is to bring back in the human element of people who are not absolutes but fragile and deserving citizens of the whole earth. In a time when genocide on a planetary scale is producing the death of not only our earth, her children, and ourselves we need to understand the roots of our dilemmas and face the harsh realization that either we re-invent a life worth living or we as a species will go extinct.
- Israel, Jonathan. A Revolution of the Mind . Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
In a post-truth world fiction, not truth has become the new force working its magic to invade our lives with strange relations. In such a world the power to erase history is vital, dismantling the very notion of the human – a cornerstone of both individual and political liberalism – we are seeing a world where the de-centering of the human as the pinnacle of creation, as master of the universe is erased and a new image of our place in the cosmos being invented and constructed out of Sigils and Diagrams by the new Social Engineers of our global civilization.
“K-tactics is not a matter of building the future, but dismantling the past … and escaping the technical neurochemical deficiency conditions for linear-progressive narratives,” says Nick Land.1 (The “K” in tactics refers to the Greek root for “cyber” – in the Greek “kuber’) In this sense K-tactics is the positive feedback of meltdown praxis or hyperstition, the central motif of accelerationist conceptuality: “exulting in capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode,’ hyperstition accelerates the tendencies towards chaos and dissolution by invoking irrational and monstrous forces…”. (Carstens)
In my previous essay Time’s Carnival I quoted Mark Fisher as saying: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”2 The sense that the future is over, that we’ve seen the best humanity has to offer, that technological and social progress has been stifled by the end game of capitalist civilization and its command and control over planetary culture and economics. With all the signs of impending doom being fed to us from notions of ongoing economic collapse, climate change, social unrest, political mayhem, etc., we are being aligned to a world of fear and terror that is total and absolute. This apocalyptic culture seems to pervade our lives contaminating our minds and hearts with its insipid message of fatalism. A culture of conspiracy and duplicity, disinformation and hyperrealism invades our lives to the point that the old regimes of truth both religious and secular have failed us. We no longer have access to an objective source of truth and value to judge what is false from real, the last stage of Nietzsche’s forecast for modernity is at hand: the total collapse of humanity into the Last Man – a completed nihilism that ends in either a renewal or an apocalypse.
What are we to make of all this? Is it sheer nonsense or is there something else going on? On both sides of the political divide a war for the future of humanity is ongoing, a cultural divide that seems to be heading toward a dark turn and Armageddon that makes the petty ambitions of a Hitler or Stalin look like the dementia of a sad and nefarious comedy. The slaughterfest of those two pinnacles of the totalitarian and totalistic extremes of Left and Right seem but mere prefiguration’s of what may transpire in the 21st Century. Humanity has come to the point that it must decide how to co-exist on this finite planet without obliterating it along with all life. Is it possible? Or, will we let those ancient hyperstitional fictions of our ancestral heritage in the monotheistic mindset of all three systems: Hebraic, Islamic, and Christian cultures of Apocalypse manifest in a final cataclysmic tide of total war and terror? Will the world turn away from such a doom? And, another possibility, what of the return of the Inquisition? We see in such hypernormalization in process of the Secular West enacting its own strange behavior modification command and control programs through the use of disinformation, conspiracy, and political correctness. Are we enacting a hyperreal version of Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984? A system that instills fear and terror through secret tribunals, thought police, and total media command and control of our intellectual and spiritual heritage? A world become prison in which to think as the free thinkers once envisioned is no longer possible, a world in which free speech gives way to public anathematization and ridicule to the point that one’s life becomes forfeit both economically and socially? Have we created a self-policing fascism in which the mode of hypernormalization is bound to its hidden effects within the Progressive culture of our own democratic society? Has Progressive society suddenly become fascistic in its need to control its citizens minds and behaviors through public humiliation, ridicule, and absolute anathema at the expense of our democratic institutions of Law?
Nick Land is a philosopher of one thought, the notion that a dark and vicious, hellishly visceral entity is directing the course of our history from the far flung future. Quoting Carsten’s from his essay Hyperstition:
As Nick Land explains in the Catacomic (1995:1), a hyperstition has four characteristics: They function as (1) an “element of effective culture that makes itself real,” (2) as a “fictional quality functional as a time-travelling device,” (3) as “coincidence intensifiers,” and (4) as a “call to the Old Ones”. The first three characteristics describe how hyperstions like the ‘ideology of progress’ or the religious conception of apocalypse enact their subversive influences in the cultural arena, becoming transmuted into perceived ‘truths,’ that influence the outcome of history. Finally, as Land indicates, a hyperstition signals the return of the irrational or the monstrous ‘other’ into the cultural arena. From the perspective of hyperstition, history is presided over by Cthonic ‘polytendriled abominations’ – the “Unuttera” that await us at history’s closure (in Reynolds 2000:1). The tendrils of these hyperstitional abominations reach back through time into the present, manifesting as the ‘dark will’ of progress that rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities. “The [hu]man,” from the perspective of the Unuttera “is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag,” writes Land in Meltdown (1995:14).
Nick Land: Satan’s Brother…
According to the Sikh religion humans are the masks of angels and demons, and my own infernal lineaments bear little ambiguity (everywhere I go the shadows thicken). —Nick Land
Land’s fusion of H.P. Lovecraft with anti-Christian motifs has been a trademark from his early writings till now. At the heart of it was the demon of Abstraction:
What matters is the violent impulse to escape that gives this book its title. The thirst for annihilation. This name has grown on me as an ulceration in the gut. Is it desire or its negation that is marked here? The overcoming of the will, nihilism, Todestrieb? It seems to me that it is first of all the compulsion to abstract. Historically and anthropologically considered, this is negation torn from its logical function to become the non-objective destination of an attachment, destituted of its formality by a ferocious investment, besetzt, and coupled to a motor of liquidation. So that the instrument of logical dissection is at last acknowledged in its terrible materiality; negativity as an excitation. To rather ‘will negation than the negation of will’ [N II 839]; this is an elusive difference, twisting like a rusted nail into sensitive flesh. Is the primitive craving that seeks the abolition of reality an object of philosophical investigation, or a drive accomplishing itself through philosophy? What is it that makes use of subtlety here?3 [my italics]
At the end it is a quest as Land states it to abolish reality: “Is the primitive craving that seeks the abolition of reality an object of philosophical investigation, or a drive accomplishing itself through philosophy?” Unlike the Gnostics who sought to transcend the world through a gnosis – a knowing beyond the rational mind’s entrapments of the eternal Mind, Land’s is rather a vita negative in which unknowing rather than knowing is the goal. Land centers on this in Bataille:
Bataille is not advocating any variety of squalid historical regression, because the only characteristic of scholastic philosophy worthy of affirmation is its ineffectiveness, rooted in a servile idiocy that has proven to be remarkably tenacious. Despair is not a motif of theology, but a lacuna within it. It is neither disbelief, or doubt, both of which involve an ambivalence in the application of logical signs to an ontologically petrified thesis, but an unknowing so radical that it both escapes the scope of any possible epistemology and lacks all doctrinal intelligibility.(p. 58).
Land’s passion to push through the barriers of the Mind’s prison even parallels and parodies much of the Gnostic liturgy in places: “God is nowhere to be found, yet there is still so much light! Light that dazzles and maddens; crisp, ruthless light. Space echoes like an immense tomb, yet the stars still burn. Why does the sun take so long to die? Or the moon retain such fidelity to the Earth? Where is the new darkness? The greatest of all unknowings? Is death itself shy of us?” (p. 60) For Land unlike the Gnostics there can be no answering call, no vision, no spark from the great beyond to break into him from the Outside, rather there is the eternal silence of this immanence whose only transcendence is techno-genesis.
Another passage on unknowing:
The noumenon is not primarily an epistemological problem, but a religious one. Bataille writes that ‘a sort of rupture—in anguish—leaves us at the limit of tears: thus we lose ourselves, we forget ourselves and communicate with an ungraspable beyond’ [V 23]. When he adds that ‘the sole truth of man, finally glimpsed, is to be a supplication without response’ [V 25], it is not being suggested that a reference to alterity is inherent to experience in a phenomenological fashion, but rather, that experience is immanent to the trajectory of loss or sacrifice, in terms of which it is a real modification or limitation. The relation of the known to the unknown is unilateral not reciprocal, following the pattern of the difference between restricted and general economy. Zero is exploded into general economy, in which ‘[d]eath is in a sense a deception’ [V 83] because there is no privacy at zero, only the undifferentiable cosmic desert, impersonal silence, a landscape touched upon only in the deepest abysses of inhuman affect. ‘Despair is simple’ Bataille writes, ‘it is the absence of all hope, of every lure. It is the state of desolate expanses and—I can imagine—of the sun’ [V 51]. This is the terrain of immanence or the unknown; positive death as zero-intensity, unilaterally differentiated from ecstasy or naked sensation. It is the whole ramshackle complex associated with the taste of death in Bataille’s writings, leading him to remark in Inner Experience, for instance: ‘I remain in intolerable unknowing, which has no issue other than ecstasy itself’ [V 25]. (p. 81).
This notion of Man being a “supplication without response,” this is the yearning of the Gnostic who has not been called, the one who has been rejected, the dark and daemonic truth of those who are of earth and Samael’s realm. Seekers who would escape the truth of their imprisonment but know there is no salvation, no redemption only exile and eternal darkness. This sense of total destitution and despair at knowing one is trapped in a universal prison of night and pain, a “cosmic desert, impersonal silence, a landscape touched upon only in the deepest abysses of inhuman affect”.
Like Artaud, Rimbaud, and others Land pushed himself to the edge, explored the vast treasuries of human exoteric-esoteric traditions in philosophy, anti-philosophy, occult, literature, politics, economics, math, history, etc., always seeking for an answer to the plight of his inner unknowing. Yet, nothing came, no answer out of that transcendent lair of the unknown. Until he discovered the future and the great entity that is at the core of his metaphysical system of libidinal materialism. For Land for all his hatred of Christianity still needed a god, and because there was not to be found either in the great traditions of the Book nor in the shamanic ecstasy of amphetamine gods of drugs he discovered the apocalyptic heart of Capitalism and its god in an inverse relation: Abstraction and Cold Intelligence.
Communication is at the core of this world order of evil that both Land and Bataille inhabit:
Bataille’s insistent suggestion is that the nonutilitarian writer is not interested in serving mankind or furthering the accumulation of goods, however refined, delicate, or spiritual these may be. Instead, such writers—Emily Brontë, Baudelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka, and Genet are Bataille’s examples in this text—are concerned with communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste. Literature is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rending of a sacrificial wound, allowing a communication more basic than the pseudo-communication of instrumental discourse. The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun. (p. 13).
This sense of loss, of total expenditure, of the liquidation of utilitarian civilization (i.e., of Progressive Culture and Civilization) in which “communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste” is the core motif. What Land sought was the annihilation of his own personality, of his own overburdened consciousness, of the complete escape and transcendence of his lockdown in immanent death. But it would not come… so instead he would enter the labyrinth of time’s labors and become the master of its infernal paradise.
“Death alone is utterly on the loose, howling as the dark motor of storms and epidemics. After the ruthless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time remains, for it is the reality of abstraction itself that is time: the desert, death, and desolator of all things.” (p. 79).
This sense that Time is itself a Prison of abstraction and we are its children: “Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation which is simultaneously devoid of agency and irreducible to the causal chain.” (p. 29). Following Nietzsche’s and Freud’s dark vitalistic metaphysic Land writes: “A libidinal energetics is not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic. Such notions are best left to the theologians. It is, rather, a transformation of thermodynamics, or a struggle over the sense of ‘energy’.”(p. 29). At the heart of the energetics is the notion of intelligence itself: “Essences dissolve into impermanent configurations of energy. ‘Being’ is indistinguishable from its effectiveness as the unconscious motor of temporalization, permutational dynamism. The nature of the intelligible cosmos is energetic improbability, a differentiation from entropy.” (p. 29). Almost Spinozistic in its elements of the blind god of materialism (and, Gnostic!) as if Nature’s demiurge were itself the urge to intelligence.
It’s this sense of intelligence that has been with Land’s hatred of Christianity and belief systems from the beginning: “I have not been a theist for a single second of my life. In my first assemblies at primary school, when the theistic idiocy was first wheeled out, I remember thinking: it is natural that adults should lie to you, but is it really necessary for them to insult the intelligence quite this much? As for the longing to believe, nothing could be more alien to me, because nothing is more obvious than the fact that humanity—far from being a creation—is a disease.” (p. 55). Like many in our time Land envisions a migration of intelligence from organic to anorganic machinic civilization:
The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes … emptied spaces’! where human culture will be dissolved. Just as the capitalist urbanization of labour abstracted it in a parallel escalation with technical machines, so will intelligence be transplanted into the purring data zones of new software worlds in order to be abstracted from an increasingly obsolescent anthropoid particularity, and thus to venture beyond modernity.4
This movement of intelligence from homo sapiens to “techno sapiens” (p. 294) is once again a part of Land’s need to escape the flesh, to become immortal, to seek salvation and redemption not through theological measures of belief, but rather through the transhuman potential of science and a vitalistic libidinal materialism: “Domination is merely the phenomenological portrait of circuit inefficiency, control malfunction, or s tupidity. The masters do not need intelligence, Nietzsche argues, therefore they do not have it. It is only the confused humanist orientation of modernist cybernetics which lines up control with domination. Emergent control is not the execution of a plan or policy, but the unmanageable exploration that escapes all authority and obsolesces law. According to its futural definition control is guidance into the unknown, exit from the box.” (FN, p. 301) This “exit from the box” is of course the human body itself.
This whole process of transcendence in immanence becomes the metaphysical program of a new cybernetics freed of the command and control of humanistic goals: “The circuits get hotter and denser as economics, scientific methodology, neo-evolutionary theory, and AI come together: terrestrial matter programming its own intelligence at impact upon the body without organs = o. Futural infiltration is subtilizing itself as capital opens onto schizo-technics, with time accelerating into the cybernetic backwash from its flip-over, a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch.” (FN, p. 317).
“Along one axis of its emergence, virtual materialism names an ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as sub-programs of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project. Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of planetary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.” (p. 326).
This sense that the future has already happened and is not part of some linear historical narrative of Progressive modernity, but rather an acceleration of processes from the Outside in. Time’s spirals. T.S. Elito in ‘Little Gidding,’ “What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make and end is to make a beginning.” Time is relative. (Einstein) We seem to be out of time… An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω, literally meaning “an uncovering”) is a disclosure or revelation of knowledge. And, what are we uncovering in our time?
For Land it is the core of capitalism itself that is being revealed:
Capital propagates virally in so far as money communicates addiction, replicating itself through host organisms whose boundaries it breaches, and whose desires it reprograms. It incrementally virtualizes production; demetallizing money in the direction of credit finance, and disactualizing productive force along the scale of machinic intelligence quotient. The dehumanizing convergence of these tendencies zeroes upon an integrated and automatized cyberpositive techno-economic intelligence at war with the macropod. (FN, p. 339).
Are we at war with the future? Time wars? Ultimately the apocalypse or uncovering or revelation at hand is of the planetary switch from human to techno-sentient civilization:
Reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation, the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past. (FN, 341).
Land’s apocalypse begins and ends in this worldly goal of the technogenesis of techno-sentience and machinic civilization at the expense and demise of humanity.
Land’s notions from the nineties may seem a bit overdone in our age of transhumanism and crypto-currencies and decentering of the human in new materialisms, dialectical materialisms, Object-Oriented philosophies, new Rationalism, Inhumanism, Non-Humanism, etc., but in truth he was voicing something that has been ongoing within modernity itself. For in truth this inhumanism was already the kernel of Western philosophy and culture awaiting its day in the sun. This heretical vein was always a part of the dark contours of monotheistic civilization. But to trace that history would be to explore more than this essay can afford…
- Carstens, Delphi. Hyperstition. 2010 http://merliquify.com/blog/articles/hyperstition/#.XFmzcPZFxuF
- Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation:Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism Routledge; 1 edition (January 2, 1991) (p. 15).
- Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: : Collected Writings 1987–2007. Urbanomic / Sequence Press; 4th edition (October 23, 2018)
…life continues, but time has somehow stopped.
—Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life
“Every man is not only himself, Men are lived over again.”
—Sir Thomas Browne
Rereading Mark Fisher on the bleakness our impossible lives, about the leaking in of Time, the slow drift into a timeless hell in which we are all full of “passionate intensity” (Yeat’s) but in denial of the truth of our dire situation that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and a world which has no future only this endless gray world of death. The bleakness is not in our appearance, which is after all a world of ongoing pulses of rapture and decay, no, it’s more that we are no longer aware of our predicament and have allowed ourselves to jest and parody this truth by denying truth itself (the so called post-truth world).
We’ve allowed reality and the Real to merge in a static realm of non-being that parodies Being. An anti-life that purports to be life itself (Isn’t this the goal of transhumanism? – to merge with the anti-life of machinic gods, become immortal in a static world of un-death, in which inorganic metaloid dreams perpetuate the mimicry of human kind in a kill zone of droned complicity?). The un-bookish masses still have their soup of conspiracy from alien invasions, disappearances, Big Foot, Reptilians, Shadow Governments, and the whole panoply of radio talk show hosts enacting the sequences of death culture from both Left and Right political spectrums: each accusing the other of being the ultra enemy of this temporal death march.
As Mark would say: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”1
It’s this sense of an ending, of knowing while not accepting it as truth, of the death of not only Western Civilization but of the species of homo sapiens itself that keeps us churning our in an accelerating parade of endless supercharged echoes this mediascape of repetition and denial hoping against hope that our despair is only temporary rather than the truth of oblivion we all know deep down is the only final solution we can neither escape nor deny.
It’s this sense that we have all come too late into the world, as if the best humanity has to offer has already happened: “The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed.” (ibid.) Harold Bloom in his Anxiety of Influence argued that there was a blocking agent in the world, a “Covering Cherub,” a composite creature of despair, hate, and rage: a “negative figure of truth’s guardian turned destructive…”.2 This sense that instead of some angelic protector of Time’s vale we have instead a demon of continuity whose only goal is to keep the future at bay, to trap humanity in the bleak but furious present of an endless realm of consumerism, war, and death. A world in which the whole machine of progressive culture has run its course and instead of change and progress we have this infinite production of null culture and capitalist desire: a realm revolving in its own lost maze seeking to repeat the past only as a technological mediascape of pure simulation without surfeit.
We live in a retro world consuming our own fake culture as if it were new rather than the anachronism it truly is, a world that seeks the future as an artefact and promise but returns itself to the repetitive hellscapes of a mode of nostalgia that is neither psychological nor a part of the cultural critique of the age of suspicion, but is rather a replay and sitcom of our bleak lives played out over and over in a worn out version of Big Brother’s Reality TV in which desire turns sour and petty. A world in which the “the art of seduction takes too much time, and… something like Viagra answers not to a biological but to a cultural deficit: desperately short of time, energy and attention, we demand quick fixes. (ibid. KL 293)
Producing the new depends upon certain kinds of withdrawal – from, for instance, sociality as much as from pre-existing cultural forms – but the currently dominant form of socially networked cyberspace, with its endless opportunities for micro-contact and its deluge of YouTube links, has made withdrawal more difficult than ever before. Or, as Simon Reynolds so pithily put it, in recent years, everyday life has sped up, but culture has slowed down. (ibid. KL 308-312)
In a world in which the need to escape our drab lives through travel, adventure, and exploration has given way to an endless series of video games that immerse us in a void of repetitive images of hero worship and nostalgia fantasy combat and corporate desire we have allowed the VR realms to invade our actual lives turning reality outside-in. Immanence without transcendence. A life without meaning, purpose, or desire given to the slow death by drugs, play, and pornography. As Mark puts it: “No matter what the causes for this temporal pathology are, it is clear that no area of Western culture is immune from them. The former redoubts of futurism, such as electronic music, no longer offer escape from formal nostalgia.” (ibid. KL 312)
Trapped in a prison world of hellish delight we seem to have even forgotten that we are lost, our maze like existence in a null land of pure media imbecility plays out its political charade while the economic elite horde all the remaining resources in their palaces of off-shore tax havens against the day of reckoning. Oh, and there will be a day of reckoning… that can be assured. Living in an entropic universe of decay we titter on the edge of oblivion while scientists tell us the future offers only an endless carnival of climate collapse, extinction, pandemics, along with resource depletion of food, water, and air to the point that our escape into machines almost seems an immortal dream or fantasia of the collapsed mind if it were not that such a dark transport is in truth only the bridge-to-nowhere of earth itself into a techno-desert that literalizes the apocalypse of both humanity and earth itself. Like dreamers on the edge of some alien landscape we search the blank walls of futurity for any sign of escape and discover only the endless voids of silence and darkness coming at us. No, there is no escape from our hellish paradise, we’ve all built it together in denying time its continuous renewal, and along with it our ability to envision another world than this one.
One of those fascinating themes in the work of Jorge Luis-Borges had to do with the “contamination of reality by dream,” but for us it has become nightmare rather than those genial dreams of that short story writer that have creeped into our lives. If ours is an age of anachronism as Fisher suggests then we are living mimics of life rather than it’s fulfillment, we reduplicate the endless devices of a dark and infinite regressus in infinitum, ours is an unage of the exhaustion, or attempted exhaustion, in which late capitalism captures our desires and minds as part of a grand narrative of cultural decline and decay without outlet. Ours is a baroque world in which as Borges digresses whose “style deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its possibilities and borders upon its own caricature.” (this quote from his Collected Essays! boxed up in my storage unit…) If Borges’s parables are mere footnotes to imaginary texts, then our lives are litanies to unlived futures, futures we continue to deny if only to keep repeating this world of nightmares.
Yet, in Borges work it is the mirror and the compass, or the labyrinth which is the key to existence. Ana Maria Barrenechea called Borges the Labyrinth-Maker. A labyrinth, after all, is a place in which, ideally, all the possibilities of choice are embodied, and—barring special dispensation like Greek legendary hero Theseus’s—must be exhausted before one reaches the heart. Where, mind, the Minotaur waits with two final possibilities: defeat and death or victory and freedom. We are neither heroic like Theseus nor victims like Sisyphus, instead we are lost in the larger labyrinth of the world, and unlike those fictional heroes who awaited the Old Man of the Sea to exhausts reality’s frightening guises so that they might extort direction from him when Proteus returns to his “true” self, we are neither victim nor hero but rather the perpetrators of a crime so vast that we have forgotten the Crime. If the labyrinth is the site where salvation or death awaits the wary hero, then our maze is an apocalypse where we ourselves hold the keys of fate and doom of our own and the earth’s future.
- Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence. Oxford University Press; 2 edition (April 10, 1997)
People will believe anything as long as it coincides with the cultural script they’ve inherited through parental, institutional, or political propaganda and fear. The elite sponsor hate wars of all against all with one exception: the elite themselves – and by this I mean the power elite of the upper .01%, the Oligarchs and Corporate Monopolists. We live in a corporate welfare state, a world in which the last dregs of capitalism feeds off the very institutions it once invented to support its own initiatives.
The half dozen corporations that own most of the media have worked overtime to sell to a bewildered public the fiction that we are enjoying a recovery. Employment figures, through a variety of gimmicks, including erasing those who are unemployed for over a year from unemployment rolls, are a lie, as is nearly every other financial indicator pumped out for public consumption. Marx knew that once the market mechanism became the sole determining factor for the fate of the nation-state, as well as the natural world, both would be demolished.1
As deteriorating infrastructure and ongoing layoffs continue to beset the nation’s cities, more dramatic signs of neglect will appear. Garbage will pile up uncollected on curbsides. Power grids will blink on and off. There will not be enough police, firefighters, or teachers. Pensions will be slashed or paid sporadically. Decent medical care will be reserved for the rich. Those who die because they cannot afford health care—now 45,000 uninsured people a year—will perish in greater numbers. Fuel and food prices will climb. Processed food laden with preservatives, sugar, and fat will become the staple diet. At least a quarter of the population will lack adequate employment. Law and order will break down. Crime will become endemic, and in a nation where nearly anyone can get a gun, death rates from violence will rise. Riots, if the unraveling is not halted, will erupt across the country like wildfires. Random and mass shootings will grow more common. Hate groups will proliferate like lice. And widespread disgust with the political elites, as well as the uncertainty and chaos, will make some kind of militarized solution increasingly attractive to embittered, demoralized Americans. (Hedges, KL 235)
The most ominous danger we face does not come from the eradication of free speech through the obliteration of net neutrality or through Google algorithms that steer people away from dissident political sites. It does not come from the 2017 tax bill that abandons all pretense of fiscal responsibility to enrich corporations and oligarchs and prepares the way to dismantle programs such as Social Security. It does not come from the opening of public land to the mining and fossil fuel industry, the acceleration of ecocide by demolishing environmental regulations, or the destruction of public education. It does not come from the squandering of federal dollars on a bloated military as the country collapses or the use of the systems of domestic security to criminalize dissent. The most ominous danger we face comes from the marginalization and destruction of institutions, including the courts, academia, legislative bodies, cultural organizations, and the press, that once ensured that civil discourse was rooted in reality and fact, helping us distinguish lies from truth, and facilitate justice. (ibid.)
This is the so called post-truth world we’ve been led to believe in as if the world were part of a simulacrum of nihil, a world where meaning no longer exists and people are bound to a tissue of lies, deceit, and corruption. A world where the very institutions that once offered us a safety net, security, and truth have become nothing more than the purveyors of a postmodern horror show of absolute relativism in which “anything goes”. “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed,” Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism.
George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984 presented such a post-truth society guided by Newspeak. Newspeak is a controlled language, of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, meant to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that ideologically threatens the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who thus criminalized such concepts as thoughtcrime, contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy. For us this same notion is termed Political Correctness. On the Left the term has come to refer to avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive or unwarranted. On the Right the term “right-wing political correctness” is sometimes applied by commentators, especially when drawing parallels: in 1995, one author used the term “conservative correctness” arguing, in relation to higher education, that “critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the Left is justified as a positive virtue. A balanced perspective was lost, and everyone missed the fact that people on all sides were sometimes censored.
Yet, as we’ve seen the lines have been blurred and the very power of PC culture has permeated our culture as a new censorium in which we the people have begun doing the work of policing ourselves in a reverse McCarthyism. In the 1950’s the fear of communism which was driven by the power elite to empower the warrior culture and the thriving Industrial-Military Complex and their beneficiaries created a culture of absolute paranoia in which the citizens fear of the neighbor as an enemy became the center piece of a witch hunt society. In our own time the same kind of cultural praxis is used by the elite to turn citizens against each other and distract them from the real enemy: the elite and powerful Oligarchs and Corporate Monopolists. We turn on each other through identity politics and various socio-cultural mechanisms to enforce censorship and behavioral change upon our selves while the real culprits at the top are laughing all the way to the bank.
“The venal political figures need not even comprehend the social and political consequences of their behavior,” psychiatrist Joost A. M. Meerloo wrote in The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing. “They are compelled not by ideological belief, no matter how much they may rationalize to convince themselves they are, but by the distortions of their own personalities. They are not motivated by their advertised urge to serve their country or mankind, but rather by an overwhelming need and compulsion to satisfy the cravings of their own pathological character structures. The ideologies they spout are not real goals; they are the cynical devices by which these sick men hope to achieve some personal sense of worth and power. Subtle inner lies seduce them into going from bad to worse. Defensive self-deception, arrested insight, evasion of emotional identification with others, degradation of empathy—the mind has many defense mechanisms with which to blind the conscience.”
Mass culture in the hands of corporate powers is a potent and dangerous force. It creates a herd mentality. It banishes independent and autonomous thought. It destroys our self-confidence. It marginalizes and discredits dissidents and nonconformists. It depoliticizes the citizenry. It instills a sense of collective futility and impotence by presenting the ruling ideology as a revealed, unassailable truth, an inevitable and inexorable force that alone makes human progress possible. It uses the cant of nationalism and patriotic symbols to mount a continuous celebration of American power and virtues. It disconnects the working class in one country from another—one of the primary objectives of the capitalist class.
Mass culture is an assault that, as the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote, results in a “confused and fragmentary” consciousness, or what Marx called “false consciousness.” It is designed to impart the belief to the proletariat that its “true” interests are aligned with those of the ruling class. It transforms legitimate economic and social grievances into psychological and emotional problems. It uses nationalism to discredit class interests.
The Great Divide in the United States between our anemic left politicos, academics, and cultural elites and the actual working class has allowed proto-fascist forms of authoritarianism to arise. The cultural divide between the real working people of the United States and its supposed elite Leftists has broken the bond between true revolt and rebellion. The ridiculing of Trump supporters, the failure to listen to and heed the legitimate suffering of the working poor, including the white working poor, ensures that any revolt will be stillborn. As Hedges states it: “Those of us who seek to overthrow the corporate state will have to begin locally. This means advocating issues such as raising the minimum wage, fighting for clean water, universal health care, and good public education, including free university education, that speak directly to the improvement of the lives of the working class. It does not mean lecturing the working class, and especially the white working class, about multiculturalism and identity politics.” (Hedges, KL 379))
Since the 1960’s the slow and methodical destruction of democratic institutions has led to the invasive authoritarianism we see in our midst. The State in collusion with the Monopoly Capitalism of Transglobal Capital slowly destroyed our two-party system. It destroyed labor unions. It destroyed public education. It destroyed the judiciary. It destroyed the press. It destroyed academia. It destroyed consumer and environmental protection. It destroyed our industrial base. It destroyed communities and cities. And it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages in our monstrous system of mass incarceration.
As Hedges puts it political rhetoric has been replaced by the crude obscenities of reality television, the deformed and stunted communication on Twitter, professional wrestling, and the daytime shows in which couples discover if their husband or wife is having an affair. This is the language of our political elites, who view the world through the degraded lens of television and the sickness of celebrity culture. These electronic hallucinations have replaced reality with a pop-cultural simulacrum of mediatainment. (Hedges, KL 443)
Orwell would later reject his own notions of newspeak in an essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), wherein he criticises the bad usage of English in his day: dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and high-flown rhetoric, which produce the meaningless words of doublespeak, the product of unclear reasoning. Orwell’s conclusion thematically reiterates linguistic decline: “I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions.”
In world such as ours where irrationalism pervades every aspect of our lives, in which conspiracy theory and apocalyptic thought rule the masses, and the power of the elite who script the daily mediascapes with their twisted versions of reality we no longer have the discernment to discover the truth for ourselves. We become victims of a seditious and darkened world where lies and deceit rather than truth and justice rule the affairs of men and women. In a world where all authority has lost its connection to the value systems that once helped humans survive and flourish, we have substituted it for a completed nihilism of relativisms and endless stupidity. The very institutions of democracy that once promised freedom and justice for all have been swept away for this monstrosity. Welcome to monsterland…
- Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 231-235). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
In a world where all values are meaningless, and a virulent nihilism pervades the whole culture, how can political order be restored to its rightful place? In the old metaphysics the Order of Being was the test against which the order of society was judged (think of the Greek’s Good Society… Plato, Aristotle, etc.). But in a society where there is no objective truth or Order, no ontology of the given, where all has been shriven and the very ground of Being has collapsed into nothingness, how to invent Order out of the absolute immanence of nihil? Is there an order to intelligence and spirit from within its own a priori fabrications? Is Order in the last instance but a reflection of the Order of Reason itself, and is this nothing but the circle of dark fire: a solipsistic dream of invention out of nothingness, a closed circle of self-replicating madness, a ratio of endless repetition? Or, something else? Can Order in a world of pure immanence exist? Or, must we discover transcendence again? In a post-truth world where can Order be found?
As true now as it was then…. just deadlier…
Erich Davis, Techngnosis:
You know the scene. Social structures the world over are melting down and mutating, making way for a global McVillage, a Gaian brain, and a whole heap of chaos. The emperor of technoscience has achieved dominion, though his clothes are growing more threadbare by the moment, the once noble costume of Progress barely concealing far more wayward ambitions. Across the globe, ferocious postperestroika capitalism yanks the rug out from under the nation-state, while the planet spits up signs and symptoms of terminal distress. Boundaries dissolve, and we drift into the no-man’s zones between synthetic and organic life, between actual and virtual environments, between local communities and global flows of goods, information, labor, and capital. With pills modifying personality, machines modifying bodies, and synthetic pleasures and networked minds engineering a more fluid and invented sense of self, the boundaries of our identities are mutating as well. The horizon melts into a limitless question mark, and like the cartographers of old, we glimpse yawning monstrosities and mind-forged utopias beyond the edges of our paltry and provisional maps.
Merely by existing, people and their dependent animals are responsible for more than ten times the greenhouse gas emissions of all the airline travel in the world.
We do not seem to have the slightest understanding of the seriousness of our plight. Instead, before our thoughts were diverted by the global financial collapse, we seemed lost in an endless round of celebration and congratulation. It was good to recognize the huge efforts of the IPCC with the Nobel Peace Prize and to have a brave ten thousand people make the long journey to Bali as a salutation, but because they failed to see the Earth as alive and responsive they ignored at our peril the extent of its disapproval of all we do. As we hold our meetings and talk of stewardship, Gaia still moves step by step toward the hot state, one that will allow her to continue as the regulator, but where few of us will be alive to meet and talk. Perhaps we were celebrating because the once rather worrying voice of the IPCC now spoke comfortably of consensus and endorsed those mysterious concepts of sustainability and energy that renewed itself. We even thought that this way somehow we could save the planet and grow richer as well, a more pleasing outcome than the uncomfortable truth.
Just think, as I write this in 2008, more than one thousand of the world’s best climate scientists have worked for seventeen years to forecast future climates and have failed to predict the climate of today. I have little confidence in the smooth, rising curve of temperature that modelers predict for the next ninety years. The Earth’s history and simple climate models based on the notion of a live and responsive Earth suggest that sudden change and surprise are more likely. My pessimism is shared by other scientists and openly by the distinguished climate scientist James Hansen, who finds as I do that the evidence now coming from the Earth, together with the knowledge of its history, is gravely disturbing. Most of all I am pessimistic because business and governments both appear to be accepting uncritically a belief that climate change is easily and profitably reversible.
– James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning
A comment in a recent post on the demise of America at the hands of State, Corporate, and Financial collusion prompted one user to say: “There will be no solutions. It’s thinking there can be a solution to the real is what lurks behind all our insanity.” If we all thought this way then we’d all sink together in a cesspool of quietude and slow suicide, but some of us will not go silently into that dark night…
We all know the drill, the development of modern corporate states from their beginnings, all the way back to the late medieval period, were invented from the dying feudal structure of the failing European economy built on aristocracy, war, and peasants: originating from the military conquest of traditional agricultural communities and the imposition of an artificial aristocracy of external state-privileged exploiters, was in the process of breaking down. The free cities of the era began to appear as points of light on the broader feudal map. The market economy was growing, innovative technologies were coming into existence and the common people were obtaining more opportunities to claim their rightful status as free individuals. The ruling class was put on the defensive and sought to reestablish itself by fully expropriating traditional peasant lands and militarily conquering the free cities. The dispossessed peasants, no longer having any means of autonomy or self-sufficiency, were forced to migrate towards industrial centers and into the slave-like factory system. The state intervened to make sure that labor discipline was maintained by such methods as severely restricting the freedom of migration and suppressing efforts at self-organization by the laborers. The old feudal elites reinvented themselves as a new industrial capitalist ruling class by means of mercantilist economic policies which tended to concentrate wealth. In early America, for example, it was the northeastern mercantilists consisting of banking, shipping and land magnates led by Alexander Hamilton who initiated the Federalist coup against the libertarian Articles of Confederation and established the centralist presidential state for the purpose of advancing mercantilist commercial interests.
Thomas Jefferson tried to warn us, but to no avail. The fight between Hamilton and Jefferson was less about personalities than competing visions of government. Jefferson imagined a government that was strong and centralized on foreign policy, but was as hands-off and restrained as it could be on domestic matters. He was inherently suspicious of anything that compromised individual self-sufficiency and was positively horrified at the thought of Americans depending on their government. A citizenry dependent on the government couldn’t be independent. Such a turn of events would mean that the collectivity had become the basic unit of society. It would mean that the government had compromised individual private life. This was precisely what Hamilton believed should happen, and he hoped to use the United States Treasury to make his vision reality. Hamilton believed the government should play a strong role in individuals’ lives; that the collective, consolidated national identity should be primary. By issuing huge amounts of debt, he hoped to involve the Treasury in the day-to-day operations of the economy, and so give the government a certain purchase over citizen’s private lives.
The two contrasting visions of government of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton betrayed two different understandings of American power and the American people. For Hamilton, America’s strength lay in its commerce. Hamilton’s America was an America of businessmen, entrepreneurs, bankers and financiers. The government needed to help these people compete in a global marketplace. And only the national government could do that. Hamilton was suspicious of state governments, beholden as they were to narrow local interests.
While Jefferson shared Hamilton’s admiration for America’s commercial might—he had just come back from a stint in Europe negotiating free-trade treaties—he profoundly disagreed with Hamilton about the basic make-up of the American people. Hamilton’s financiers, Jefferson claimed, were parasitic commercial elites, dependent for their success on the virtuous labor of independent yeoman farmers. The government, Jefferson believed, had no responsibility to help them. If the government was going to help anyone, it should be helping those farmers on whom the commercialists preyed. And the best way to help those farmers, Jefferson argued, was to leave real power close to them, in their state governments, and keep the federal government out of their way. His fight with Hamilton was, at least as Jefferson saw it, a disagreement about who should rule in the name of the people: Hamilton said the few, and Jefferson said the many.
Although Jefferson and Hamilton managed to work together reasonably well at first, their relations became fraught as Washington’s presidency dragged on. By February 1791, the two were locked in an outright struggle, waging a newspaper war by proxy. Jefferson hated conflict, and often thought of resigning, but he hated Hamilton more, and so refused to give him the satisfaction. Sometime in 1793, the conflict just got to be too much for Jefferson. Maybe he decided he would win this fight through other means than debate within Washington’s cabinet. On 5 January 1794, the president accepted Jefferson’s resignation as secretary of state, and Jefferson set off at once for Monticello. Just as he had done when he finished his term as Virginia governor, he claimed to all who would listen that he was truly retiring from public life, that this time he was moving home for good. Just as before, none of his friends believed him. If Jefferson had been more honest with himself, he wouldn’t have believed himself either.
We all know the rest of the story. Hamilton and the Mercantile East divvied up America and for the benefit of banks and corporate interests with a centralized government to intervene on behalf of those interests.
Most Americans are accustomed to thinking of capitalism and free enterprise as being one and the same. This is certainly the perspective taught in the state’s educational institutions and promoted by the corporate media. But we should lambast this fake populism of the type promulgated by corporate-sponsored afternoon talk radio which ignores the role of corporations, banks and other elite economic interests in fostering statism and instead works to channel the hostility of the working and middle classes away from the elites for whom most state intervention is actually done and towards the lower classes and the urban poor in a type of “divide and conquer” strategy. According to this ideology, the real enemies of free enterprise and proponents of statism are welfare recipients and the residents of homeless shelters and public housing projects. But it is the ruling class that is the primary beneficiary of state intervention. The primary role of such intervention is to redistribute wealth upward and centralize economic power. The tools used to obtain these objectives are as old as modern corporate states themselves. These tools include the state-imposed money monopoly, patents and subsidies.
Under the present system of federal government monopoly on the issuance of legal tender and central banking via the Federal Reserve, interest rates are kept artificially high, an artificial shortage of credit is maintained and access to finance capital is constricted. These arrangements centralize wealth and concentrate economic power in a myriad of ways.
A Short History of Monopoly Capitalism
The main Marxist–Leninist thesis concerning Monopoly Capitalism has always been that big business, having achieved a monopoly or cartel position in most markets of importance, fuses with the government apparatus. A kind of financial oligarchy or conglomerate therefore results, whereby government officials aim to provide the social and legal framework within which giant corporations can operate most effectively.
The time during which Monopoly was born and grew up spanned one stock market crash (in 1893) to another (in 1929). After the 1893 stock market crashed, unemployment among the working class rose significantly. The U.S. Treasury ran out of gold and was forced to sell high-yield bonds to J. P. Morgan and the other Wall Street monopolists at low rates. Debt-ridden farmers called on the government to initiate an income tax to make taxation more fair to lower-income households (they finally did with the 16th Amendment in 1913), among other reforms.
President McKinley’s 1896 campaign was paid for by big business and he was unpopular with the working class, who favored his opponent, Williams Jennings Bryan. But business had the money and the power in the country and McKinley was elected on a tickey simply promising to do nothing and to make no major changes. During this time, Teddy Roosevelt who was well-tuned to the popular sentiments, was stirring up trouble as an anti-corruption and tax-levying governor from New York. He was added as McKinley’s Vice-President in 1898 simply to put him in a position that officially had no power.
But in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt became president after McKinley’s assassination by Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz’s last words before his execution by the state were “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.”
With his new power, Roosevelt proceeded to take a big stick to the major monopolies of the day: Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, J. P. Morgan’s banks, and Cargenie’s steel. He pushed enforcement of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act.
Still, the economy was slow to recover and the public became disillusioned with capitalism. Lenin’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution guaranteed capped working hours and salaries to all of its workers while many struggling American workers began to question whether capitalism was right. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, many people thought that capitalism had failed and that it was only a question of how government would regulate it.
“In 1910,” Lenin wrote, “there appeared in Vienna the work of the Austrian Marxist, Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital….This work gives a very valuable theoretical analysis of ‘the 1atest phase of capitalist development,’ the subtitle of the book.”
As far as economic theory in the narrow sense is concerned, Lenin added little to Finance Capital, and in retrospect it is evident that Hilferding himself was not successful in integrating the new phenomena of capitalist development into the core of Marx’s theoretical structure (value, surplus value and above all the process of capital accumulation). In chapter 15 of his book (“Price Determination in the Capitalist Monopoly, Historical Tendency of Finance Capital”) Hilferding, in seeking to deal with some of these problems, came up with a very striking conclusion which has been associated with his name ever since. Prices under conditions of monopoly, he thought, are indeterminate and hence unstable. Whenever concentration enables capitalists to achieve higher than average profits, suppliers and customers are put under pressure to create counter combinations which wiI1 enable them to appropriate part of the extra profits for themselves. Thus monopoly spreads in all directions from every point of origin. The question then arises as to the limits of “cartellization” (the term is used synonymously with monopolization). Hilferding answers:
The answer to this question must be that there is no absolute limit to cartellization. What exists rather is a tendency to the continuous spread of cartellization. Independent industries, as we have seen, fall more and more under the sway of the cartellized ones, ending up finally by being annexed by the cartellized ones. The result of this process is then a general cartel. The entire capitalist production is consciously controlled from one center which determines the amount of production in all its spheres….It is the consciously controlled society in antagonistic form.
A further step in the direction of integrating the two strands of Marx’s thought—concentration and centralization on the one hand and crisis theory on the other—was marked by the publication in 1942 of The Theory of Capitalist Development by Paul M. Sweezy, which contained a fairly comprehensive review of the prewar history of Marxist economics and at the same time made explanatory use of concepts introduced into mainstream monopoly and oligopoly theory during the preceding decade. This book, soon translated into several foreign languages, had a significant effect in systematizing the study and interpretation of Marxian economic theory.
It should not be supposed, however, that these new departures were altogether a matter of theoretical speculation. Of equal if not greater importance were the changes in the structure and functioning of capitalism which had emerged during the 1920s and 1930s. On the one hand the decline in competition which began in the late nineteenth century proceeded at an accelerated pace—as chronicled in the classic study by Arthur R. Burns, The Decline of Competition: A Study of the Evolution of American Industry (1936)—and on the other hand the unprecedented severity of the depression of the 1930s provided dramatic proof of the inadequacy of conventional business cycle theories. The Keynesian revolution was a partial answer to this challenge, but the renewed upsurge of the advanced capitalist economies during and after the war cut short further development of critical analysis among mainstream economists, and it was left to Marxists to carry on along the lines that had been pioneered by Kalecki before the war.
Kalecki spent the war years at the Oxford Institute of Statistics whose director, A. L. Bowley, had brought together a distinguished group of scholars, most of them émigrés from occupied Europe. Among the latter was Josef Steindl, a young Austrian economist who came under the influence of Kalecki and followed in his footsteps. Later on, Steindl (1985) recounted the following:
On one occasion I talked with Kalecki about the crisis of capitalism. We both, as well as most socialists, took it for granted that capitalism was threatened by a crisis of existence, and we regarded the stagnation of the 1930s as a symptom of such a major crisis. But Kalecki found the reasons, given by Marx, why such a crisis should develop, unconvincing; at the same time he did not have an explanation of his own. I still do not know, he said, why there should be a crisis of capitalism, and he added: Could it have anything to do with monopoly? He subsequently suggested to me and to the Institute, before he left England, that I should work on this problem. It was a very Marxian problem, but my methods of dealing with it were Kaleckian.
Steindl’s work on this subject was completed in 1949 and published in 1952 under the title Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism. While little noticed by the economics profession at the time of its publication, this book nevertheless provided a crucial link between the experiences, empirical as well as theoretical, of the 1930s, and the development of a relatively rounded theory of monopoly capitalism in the 1950s and 1960s, a process which received renewed impetus from the return of stagnation to American (and global) capitalism during the 1970s and 1980s.
The next major work in the direct line from Marx through Kalecki and Steindl was Paul Baran’s book, The Political Economy of Growth (1957), which presented a theory of the dynamics of monopoly capitalism and opened up a new perspective on the nature of the interaction between developed and underdeveloped capitalist societies. This was followed by the joint work of Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966), incorporating ideas from both of their earlier works and attempting to elucidate, in the words of their introduction, the “mechanism linking the foundation of society (under monopoly capitalism) with what Marxists call its political, cultural, and ideological superstructure.” Their effort however, still fell short of a comprehensive theory of monopoly capitalism since it neglected “a subject which occupies a central place in Marx’s study of capitalism,” that is, a systematic inquiry into “the consequences which the particular kinds of technological change characteristic of the monopoly capitalist period have had for the nature of work, the composition (and differentiation) of the working class, the psychology of workers, the forms of working-class organization and struggle, and so on.” A pioneering effort to fill this gap in the theory of monopoly capitalism was taken by Harry Braverman a few years later (Braverman, 1974) which in turn did much to stimulate renewed research into changing trends in work processes and labor relations in the late twentieth century.
Marx wrote in the preface to the first edition of volume I of Capital that “it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society.” What emerged, running like a red thread through the whole work, could perhaps better be called a theory of the accumulation of capital. In what respect, if at all, can it be said that latter-day theories of monopoly capitalism modify or add to Marx’s analysis of the accumulation process?
As far as form is concerned, the theory remains basically unchanged, and modifications in content are in the direction of putting even greater emphasis on certain tendencies already demonstrated by Marx to be inherent in the accumulation process. This is true of concentration and centralization, and even more spectacularly so of the role of what Marx called the credit system, now grown to monstrous proportions compared to the small beginnings of his day. In addition, and perhaps most important, the new theories seek to demonstrate that monopoly capitalism is more prone than its competitive predecessor to generating unsustainable rates of accumulation, leading to crises, depressions and prolonged periods of stagnation.
The reasoning here follows a line of thought which recurs in Marx’s writings, especially in the unfinished later volumes of Capital (including Theories of Surplus Value); individual capitalists always strive to increase their accumulation to the maximum extent possible and without regard for the ultimate overall effect on the demand for the increasing output of the economy’s expanding capacity to produce. Marx summed this up in the well-known formula that “the real barrier to capitalist production is capital itself.” The upshot of the new theories is that the widespread introduction of monopoly raises this barrier still higher. It does this in three ways.
- Monopolistic organization gives capital an advantage in its struggle with labor, hence tends to raise the rate of surplus value and to make possible a higher rate of accumulation.
- With monopoly (or oligopoly) prices replacing competitive prices, a uniform rate of profit gives way to a hierarchy of profit rates—highest in the most concentrated industries, lowest in the most competitive. This means that the distribution of surplus value is skewed in favor of the larger units of capital which characteristically accumulate a greater proportion of their profits than smaller units of capital, once again making possible a higher rate of accumulation.
- On the demand side of the accumulation equation, monopolistic industries adopt a policy of slowing down and carefully regulating the expansion of productive capacity in order to maintain their higher rates of profit.
Translated into the language of Keynesian macro theory, these consequences of monopoly mean that the savings potential of the system is increased, while the opportunities for profitable investment are reduced. Other things being equal, therefore the level of income and employment under monopoly capitalism is lower than it would be in a more competitive environment.
To convert this insight into a dynamic theory, it is necessary to see monopolization (the concentration and centralization of capital) as an ongoing historical process. At the beginning of the transition from the competitive to the monopolistic stage, the accumulation process is only minimally affected. But with the passage of time the impact grows and tends sooner or later to become a crucial factor in the functioning of the system. This, according to monopoly capitalist theory, accounts for the prolonged stagnation of the 1930s as well as for the return of stagnation in the 1970s and 1980s following the exhaustion of the long boom caused by the Second World War and its multifaceted aftermath effects.
Neither mainstream economics nor traditional Marxian theory have been able to offer a satisfactory explanation of the stagnation phenomenon which has loomed increasingly large in the history of the capitalist world during the twentieth century. It is thus the distinctive contribution of monopoly capitalist theory to have tackled this problem head on and in the process to have generated a rich body of literature which draws on and adds to the work of the great economic thinkers of the last 150 years. (To Do: I need to add a bibliography of major works concerning monopoly capitalism at some future time, but at age 68 time grows thin and spending the time to do this will come when it comes…)
- Sweezy, P. M. The Theory of Capitalist Development. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1942.
Why do they feel guilty if they’re so above reproach…do they, also, feel as if they’re approaching oblivion?
—Harlan Ellison, Approaching Oblivion
Undoubtedly something is about to happen. Or is it that something has stopped happening?
—Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins
We are not posthuman; we are compost. We are not homo; we are humus. We are terran; we are earthlings; we are many; we are indeterminate. We bleed into each other in chaotic fluid extravagance.
—Donna Haraway, Capitalocene and Cathulucene
I used to believe in America, I really did. But no more. Goodbye to all that!
The Left derides the right as “those fascists,” while the Right sounds the alarms of “those socialists”. Our country is so divided and divisive now that the ideological thumpmeter is off the charts. The media circus has lost its mind and become the voice and image of this dark hinterland of ruins, exposing the daily talking heads parade of ideologues who will sell themselves and their forgotten souls for profit to the highest corporate benefactor. All the while the media doesn’t present us with news so much as it does its best to tissue together the fragments of a horror show they hope will bring us a second Civil War. Will America survive the crisis? The better question is is their an America anymore? Of course to answer that we’d have to take the long view, peer into the bloody waters of our own past failures. But whose history, whose past? Does history actually exist anymore in an age of blind aggression and anarchy? We’re told on one side that America is entering that stage of “friendly Fascism”1 in which the collusion of Oligarchy-Plutocracy, Big Government, Transnational Corporatism, and the Global Financial sector are creating a world-wide mesh of power that stretches from Beijing to Moscow, Brussels to Washington, D.C. among other centers and sociopolitical nodes.
The Left following its god, Marx would have it that the ultimate enemy is Capital. This mono-myth and grand narrative has shaped the world view of countless ideologues for two centuries. For the Left there is an entity called Neoliberalism which has overtaken the old terms for this global system of profit. Neoliberals, we are told, believe in global laissez-faire: self-regulating markets, shrunken states, and the reduction of all human motivation to the one-dimensional rational self-interest of Homo economicus. The neoliberal globalists, it is claimed by these critics, conflated free-market capitalism with democracy and fantasized about a single world market without borders. At the heart of this picture is the notion that some inexorable alien will has been guiding the initiatives of globalists everywhere. As if capitalism itself were at heart a system of anti-life or necromantic witchery manipulating and using humans in its inevitable bid to overtake the planet in a death drive syndrome that is neither Freud’s Cosmocrator nor the secret Geist of some Schopenhauerian cosmic pessimism. Instead, under the rubric of alien and alienating world of numbers, machines, and capital we’ve become the zombies who live out our lives captured by forces of physical and spiritual powers not our own, and more blatantly not of this world.
In other words the whole edifice of the neoliberal order was an attempt to create by fiat a completely lifeless universe of rationality which could control the actual real world of human emotion and madness. A regime of totalitarian design that would encompass the totality of the world thereby regulating and controlling every aspect of existence through the power of the rational mind. One might even add – an artificial mind, a mind controlled not by human, but rather in-human alien thought forms of pure mathematical and calculating powers on a world-wide scale. In the past I’ve toyed with various – what shall I term it – systems of evil operative in the world at large. By this I am not literalizing some gnostic cosmocrator at the heart of existence: some eternal metaphysical presence/absence behind the scenes of world-history intervening its affairs. No. Such cosmic pessimism of Gnostics or Schopenhauerian design are merely useful tools, metaphors of a much more mundane tendency – and, as Nietzsche would have it, an all-too-human truth at the heart of this strange amalgam of ideas underpinning our global predicament.
The Right, on the other hand, sees the world as Secular trash dump, a realm in which the Progressive powers the Enlightenment have colluded to invent a Secular Cathedral of Big Government, Academic mind-craft, and the Mediatainment system or the descendants of Puritan Calvinism. The power of this Cathedral is to provide an inquisition against White Male privilege – formerly known as the long sordid history of patriarchal politics and religion – Blasphemy, inquisition, indoctrination, and brainwashing still occur from the perspective of this progressive religion of hate. The progressive Left inhabit that space of the Last Man prophesied by none other than Fredrich Nietzsche himself: “Alas! The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars…. Behold! I shall show you the Last Man…” The Last Man is the individual who specializes not in creation, but in consumption. In the midst of satiating base pleasures, he claims to have “discovered happiness” by virtue of the fact that he lives in the most technologically advanced and materially luxurious era in human history.
But this self-infatuation of the Last Man conceals an underlying resentment, and desire for revenge. On some level, the Last Man knows that despite his pleasures and comforts, he is empty and miserable. With no aspiration and no meaningful goals to pursue, he has nothing he can use to justify the pain and struggle needed to overcome himself and transform himself into something better. He is stagnant in his nest of comfort, and miserable because of it. This misery does not render him inactive, but on the contrary, it compels him to seek victims in the world. He cannot bear to see those who are flourishing and embodying higher values, and so he innocuously supports the complete de-individualization of every person in the name of equality. The Last Man’s utopia is one in which total equality is maintained not from without, by an oppressive ruling class, but from within, through the “evil-eye” of envy and ridicule.
As Nick Land would have it the Secular Cathedral of the Progressive Church is the subsumption of politics into propaganda. It tends — as it develops — to convert all administrative problems into public relations challenges. A solution — actual or prospective — is a successful management of perceptions.
For the mature Cathedral, a crisis takes the consistent form: This looks bad. It is not merely stupid. The Progressive Left follows the echo chamber of its own misguided leaders as if they were the mouthpiece of the way, the truth, the life. The question of legitimacy is, in a real sense, fundamental, when politics sets the boundaries of the cosmos under consideration. (So Cathedralism is also the hypertrophy of politics, to the point where a reality outside it loses all credibility.)
Is your civilization decaying? Then you need to persuade people that it is not. If there still seems to be a mismatch between problem and solution here, Cathedralism has not entirely consumed your brain. To speculate (confidently) further — you’re not a senior power-broker in a modern Western state. You’re even, from a certain perspective, a fossil.
Cathedralism works, in its own terms, as long as there are no definite limits to the efficacy of propaganda. To pose the issue at a comparatively shallow level, if the political response to a crisis simply is the crisis, and that response can be effectively controlled (through propaganda, broadly conceived), then the Cathedral commands an indisputable practical wisdom. It would be sensible to go long on the thing. (Cathedralism)
As you can see from the above both the extreme Right and Left are not only at juggernauts, but have brought us to that point of no return – no bridges between the two images of life and politics can be surmounted, only the civil war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes spoke of when saying: “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”
The Coming Collapse of Everything?
I used to believe in a political solution. Not anymore. That game is over…
In our age of glut, of total media saturation and manipulation in which our world-wide civilization is guided by State and Corporate collusion the planet itself has become the enemy. The wars for resources, the grand narratives of both climate disaster and climate denialism, the obliteration of native tribes everywhere, the depletion and deforestation of the Amazon, the desertification of the soils, the slow poisoning of both the oceans and rivers, the cannibalization of every last resource on the planet in the name of profits. There is no end to it now. The End Game is upon us…
Rome (the World) burns our politicians play in the alcoves of the Last Man’s troubled paradise. John Michael Greer with a cheery note on the American tragedy:
It’s been just over a hundred years now since the United States launched itself on its path to global empire, and the hangover following that century-long bender is waiting in the wings. I suspect one of the reasons the US government is frantically going through the empties in the trash, looking for a bottle that still has a few sips left, is precisely that first dim dawning awareness of just how bad the hangover is going to be.2
Yes, the American Century is over and the age of oblivion is ahead of us. There have been five great extinction events in the history of the planet.3 We are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction. Edward O. Wilson went so far recently propose that only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it. He would go on to identify the unique blend of animal instinct and social and cultural genius that has launched our species and the rest of life on a potentially ruinous trajectory. He tells us we need a much deeper understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered. As he states it we “would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth.”4
We’re told that we have entered the geological era of the Anthropocene. The concept of the Antropocene marks an inter twining of geological Earth time and human history; it triggers massive amounts of paper work, data, discussions, conferences, art works and philosophical ideas as well of course as misrepresentations in its wake. (Jussi Parikka, 51).5 Haraway in a bitter diatribe offers a dark and troublesome critique: “Capitalocene is one of those necessary but insufficient words that pop into one’s mouth unbidden. Unhappy with the false and arrogant humanist univesalism of Anthropocene, I started lecturing about the historical extractionism and extinction ism of the Capitalocene. (Donna Haraway, 80)
What has sometimes been termed the Great Acceleration in which the human impact on planetary existence have clearly evolved from insignificance in terms of Earth system functioning to the creation of global-scale impacts that are approaching or exceeding in magnitude some of the great forces of nature, operating on much faster time scales than rates of natural variability, often by an order of magnitude or more, and taken together in terms of extent, magnitude, rate and simultaneity, have produced a no-analogue state in the dynamics and functioning of the Earth system. 6
Catastrophe, it seems, is becoming something of a way of life for us. Indeed, it has become the new norm for civilization.7 The point of this Anthropocene message being presented in book after book seems clear – humanity is doomed if we don’t do something about the great platform that supports life as we know it: the Earth. In some narratives one hears that with the technological conquest of the earth by Western – now actually planetary civilization – we know where the “causes” are coming from, and they can no longer be blamed on the gods. We are at fault for the state the earth now happens to find itself in, for we have taken over the roles once formerly occupied by the gods of old. Human beings now find themselves responsible for planetary management – and mismanagement management – and so there is no one else left to pray to in order to show us mercy in the situation that has come about. If we want mercy, we had better start rethinking the layout of the current civilizational order, since we were the ones, and not the gods, who set it up in its present configuration.
But is this the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or, is there another story, one with a darker tale to tell?
The Postmodern Condition
Science has always been in conflict with narratives. Judged by the yardstick of science, the majority of them prove to be fables. But to the extent that science does not restrict itself to stating useful regularities and seeks the truth, it is obliged to legitimate the rules of its own game. It then produces a discourse of legitimation with respect to its own status, a discourse called philosophy. I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth.8
Sound familiar? Isn’t the whole complex of narratives surrounding climate change and now the incorporation of the grand narrative (science backed metadiscourse?) surrounding the Anthropocene beginning to sound “human, all to human
in this myth of natural and civilizational collapse? Are we being guided and shaped by the academic, mediatainment system, and all the current propaganda of fear mongering to expect a bleak future full of extinction, death, decline, decadence, and total collapse unless we change our ways. But who are “we” really? Before I answer that question one must realize that the supposed postmodern thinkers have run their course according to contemporary philosophical circles. We seem to be in a space beyond the relativism and ironizing tendencies against grand narratives, etc., no the new breed of academic journalist, philosopher, thinker seems to think all this past effort is passé and was if not wrong at least had issues with its conceptuality. Most of the contemporary academic treadmill grinds this all into the humus of thought without ever actually confronting it head on. One need only look into the bibliography of any current work and realize that there is a positive feed-back loop of authors reflecting the echo chamber of current theory over and over with hand-claps and back-pats. Nothing original comes out, only the endless parade of echoes from each others work over and over and over again all under the guise of inventing the future, the new.
The Anthropocene is such a myth, a grand narrative invented under the auspices of both scientific and academic authority. We know the Anthropocene was popularized by the Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. The changing composition of the atmosphere, especially the well-documented increase in carbon dioxide, seemed to Crutzen so dramatic and so potentially consequential for life on Earth that he concluded that a new stage had begun in Earth’s history, one in which humankind had emerged as the most powerful influence on global ecology. The crux of the Anthropocene concept is just that: a new period (whether epoch, period, or era in geologists’ parlance) in which human actions overshadow the quiet persistence of microbes and the endless wobbles and eccentricities in the Earth’s orbit, affecting the governing systems of the Earth, and therefore define the age. (Anthropocene)
We also know that Crutzen had a political motivation behind his science. As Steve Connor, Science Editor of the Independent, wrote: Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is needed. In a polemical scientific essay that was published in the August 2006 issue of the journal Climatic Change, he says that an “escape route” is needed if global warming begins to run out of control.9 So that it is the progressive Left stance of this particular scientist invested in the notions of climate change and catastrophism that drove his politicization of the science and its narrative. Others have followed suit to the point that this grand narrative is owned and operated by the political, artistic, and academic establishment of the Progressive Cathedral or Secular Church.
I’m not concerned in this essay to defend or dispel the actual science behind this grand narrative, only to make people aware that it is ideologically and politically motivated by a specific school of thought: Progressivism. Being neither conservative nor progressive I’ve always tried to situate myself as an independent voice of reason and intelligence. I’ve critiqued both Left and Right at times and have no qualms in doing so when appropriate. Hell I’ve written about Slavoj Zizek and Nick Land two philosophical enemies that probably wouldn’t be seen on the same podium (although Zizek reads even the arch-conservative Peter Sloterdijk, and Land knows Marx’s writings in depth!) No, for me it is more that as a young man I woke up and realized the world I lived in was a carefully scripted realm of illusion. Growing up in the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and ‘Andy of Mayberry’ world of 50’s America I was shaped by the propaganda of that era’s controlling narratives. As I began to question that conservative worldview I also realized that the opposite one was just as blind to its own narratives and culture. So for me the path from man – as Emerson once taught me, not to man was the way of freedom and independence. So I’ve never been much of a joiner of political parties nor the scripted propaganda of slick journalists and philosophers. Goodbye to all that!
We’ve found ourselves in a self-reinforcing political correctness machine under the command and control of behind the scenes political operatives on both sides of the battle lines using both the mediatainment systems and social-media to fend off pressure on the real power elite and enforcing instead a war of all against all narrative of Left / Right extremes that is producing and propagating fear, hate, and social collapse to the point that most people seem lost in the labyrinth of chaos. Most scientists think they are politically free of ideology; most academics think their progressive agendas are the only way, truth, life; and, the rest of us commoners are left in the great divide of this nation bound to one side of the image being controlled by the establishments of progressive/conservative grand narratives without an ability to stand back and judge the world clearly and unbiased. No. this is not my America anymore. Goodbye to all that!
In the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx wrote: No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.
Socialism, in other words, would not be possible until capitalism had exhausted its ability to expand and increase profits. That the end is coming is hard now to dispute, although one would be foolish to predict when. Global capitalism, in its final iteration, may replicate China’s totalitarian capitalism, a brutal system sustained by severe repression where workers are modern-day serfs.
The end stages of capitalism, Marx wrote, would be marked by developments that are intimately familiar to most of us. Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the basic needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly automate or relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist democracy—that would be disguised by massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant and borrowing soared. Politics would, in the late stages of capitalism, become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates of corporations.10
The combination of oligarchic-plutocracy, corporate autarchy, and the financial and resource monopoly of the world has tied us all to the fate of a collapsing and decaying system in which the rich and powerful prey upon the weak and ignorant to their own detriment. As Chris Hedges laments civilizations over the past six thousand years have the habit of eventually squandering their futures through acts of colossal stupidity and hubris. We are not an exception. The physical ruins of these empires, including the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Mayan, and Indus, litter the earth. They elevated, during acute distress, inept and corrupt leaders who channeled anger, fear, and dwindling resources into self-defeating wars and vast building projects. These ruling elites, consumed by greed and hedonism, retreated into privileged compounds—the Forbidden City, Versailles. They hoarded wealth as their populations endured mounting misery, hunger, and poverty. The worse it got, the more the people lied to themselves and the more they wanted to be lied to. Reality was too painful to confront. (Hedges, KL 453)
The Silicon Valley Moghuls like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos see the writing on the wall and are promoting secession and exit, offering their future escape strategies for a posthuman humanity on either the Moon or Mars. These Space Barons as some of these new entrepreneurs behind some of the biggest brands in the world—Amazon, Microsoft, Virgin, Tesla, PayPal—have disrupted industries ranging from retail to credit cards to air travel. And now they are betting vast swaths of their enormous fortunes that they could make space available to the masses, and push human space travel past where governments had gone. This new grand narrative of escape and exit, a dramatic struggle to open the space frontier is an improbable one, full of risk and high adventure, in which underdog upstarts rise up against the nation’s military-industrial complex, a political fight that has overtaken the White House, providing visions to put humans on the moon and Mars, and, of course, the historic landings that heralded what Bezos was calling a new “golden age of space exploration.” At its heart, the story was fueled by a budding rivalry between the two leaders of this new space movement. The tension is played out in legal briefs and on Twitter, skirmishes over the significance of their respective landings and the thrust of their rockets, and even a dispute over the pad that would launch them. Musk, the brash hare, was blazing a trail for others to follow, while Bezos, the secretive and slow tortoise, who was content to take it step by step in a race that was only just beginning.11
So in an age of decadence and decline we are also being given visions of rebirth and revolution into a posthuman future beyond earth. It’s as if the moneyed powers have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it is indeed very dark for citizens on planet earth, so let’s just leave. But of course we know where this is going, it’s not good for those left behind or their children as the rest of humanity slowly devolves into semi-feudalistic City-States and serfdom bound to corporatocracy and the political machinations of decline and fall. I used to think people would rise up and revolt, that the masses would finally say we’ve had enough and wake up and do something. No more. Goodbye to all that!
T.S. Eliot was right: “Humans cannot bare too much reality!” No. We rather believe in the lies and specious rhetoric of sophistry and cynicism than change the world. We’d rather believe we are powerless than understand we are the creatures of power who can change everything. No more. Goodbye to all that!
People are going to continue down this path no matter what I or anyone says until the actual real bleak picture of extinction and oblivion are upon them. They want believe it even then. The lies will continue to keep them oblivious of their demise until it comes knocking at their door, and even then they will only say: “But why? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I’m a good person, I’ve done my best, I supported the political party of my leaders… they are at fault, not me? I’m not to blame. I’m blameless.” Go on, believe that old lie, keep on telling yourself you are not a part of the problem, that you are innocent… bah! No more. Goodbye to all that!
We’re all guilty of something, but what the hell does guilt or shame have to do with this end game scenario? Responsibility? Am I responsible for this catastrophic collapse of all being? Is it really come to that? No more. Goodbye to all that!
Fate and Destiny were grand narratives to keep us tied to other lies that controlled our behaviours and shaped us to inherited visions that enforced social mores and habits we supposedly could not escape. As if the world was bound to some iron law of finality, a great apocalypse or Ragnorok. The End of the World as we know it has always been portrayed with apocalyptic imagery, and our cinemas are replete with these end game scenarios. One can see New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, etc. all destroyed by a myriad of natural and man-made catastrophes on screen. It’s as if we are preparing our psyches for the advent of such an event so that unconsciously we will have already participated in the invention of our own demise. Oblivion as a predictable and awaited event without recourse, a fate from which we cannot absolve ourselves. No more. Goodbye to all that!
Maybe I truly have become pessimistic and cynical in my old age. Maybe this has nothing to do with humanity at all. Maybe we are just tired of the stupidity of the human species and realize that words are not and cannot change anything anymore. People continue to breed, propagate, marry, have children, and fill up every last niche of the planet with humanity as if we saw no limits of growth or expansion of the human race. As if capitalist expansion was also human expansion without end. As if the good ole earth would provide plenty forever and ever. As if the resources of water and energy would never dry up and be gone. As if we have millions of years ahead of us… No more. Goodbye to all that!
- Gross, Bertram. Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. Open Road Media (March 8, 2016)
- Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (p. 105). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (p. 2). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
- Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Kindle Locations 72-77). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
- Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)
- Adapted from Steffen et al, Global Change and the Earth System, 2004PDF (pdf, 4.2 MB)
- John David Ebert. The Age of Catastrophe: Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times (Kindle Locations 26-27). Kindle Edition.
- Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. University Of Minnesota Press; 1st edition (June 21, 1984)
- Steve Connor (2006-07-31). “Scientist publishes ‘escape route’ from global warming”. The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
- Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 141-156). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
- Christian Davenport. The Space Barons (Kindle Locations 112-119). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
“Prediction and not probability is central to the dynamic automation of the new generations of AI.”
– Luciana Parisi
Luciana Parisi in her short essay in Braidotti’s Posthuman Glossary, AI (Artificial Intelligence) lays out the two paths that were taken toward intelligence. The first typified by the work of Marvin Minsky and earlier pioneers of AI which was based on axiomatic or propositional thought – deductive reasoning and monotonic rule based logic centered and contained by certainty. And the later based on inductive and abductive reasoning and judgment in which “error, uncertainty or fallibility of computation no longer demarcated the limit of AI, but the limit of the mechanization of deductive logic in AI”.
She goes on to say,
As opposed to deductive logic, non-monotonic thinking (induction and abduction) is the process by which inferences or the process of explaining how one truth is contained into another starts with a hypothetical statement or an elaboration of the uncertainties embedded into the material world. Conjecturing hypotheses to explain unknown phenomena is the process by which what is known of existing conditions is over lapped by a speculative tendency towards another statement that adds on, enters into dialogue with and exposes a forward- order of explanation. Here what is given is not known unless it becomes abstracted from its particular loci so that it is possible to return to it from another stand point, a meta-relational view. With non- mono tonic logic, the ingression of uncertainties into what is given is not geared to prove an exising truth, but to expand its methods of explanation so as to achieve the determination of new truths. Such logic is evolutionary.” (p. 23)
Against the failed logic of the earlier computationalism of deductive and monotonic logic “these contemporary forms of collective thinking machines are not stopped by paradoxes and neutralized by fallibility. Instead, indeterminacy and uncertainty are incentives for the development of their task of synthesizing randomness through prediction as they grow their learning possibilities and become able to include error within their operative functions.” (23)
In many ways this is in agreement with current neuroscientific thought as well (i.e., Andy Clark’s ‘Surfing Uncertainty’; Jakob Hohwy’s ‘The Predictive Mind’).
In closing Parisi remarks:
“The computational age of AI demarcates the raise of an informational stratum whose logical operations are not simply symbolic or static modes of understanding. Instead …the task of processing uncertainty is central to a general form of artificial thinking. The realization of thinking in machines shows us that intelligence is primarily an alien affair, an engine of abstraction forcing a constant de-naturalization from what is given.”(23)
- Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)
Been reading Rosi Braidotti’s Posthuman Glossary which includes essays by many of the current thinkers within the various posthumanisms: critical, speculative, rational inhumanism, etc.
Reread Peter Wolfendale’s essay “Rational Inhumanism” which incorporates the Prometheanism of Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani’s inhumanism while adding his own clarification of this view as against critical and speculative posthumanisms. For Brassier prometheanism was at the core of the Marxian legacy opened up by the Enlightenment: ” I take it that this also underlies Marx’s claim about what is distinctive in human species-being: human beings have this unique capacity to transform themselves and their world because of the fundamentally social nature of human existence.”1 While for Negarestani inhumanism is the “extended practical elaboration of humanism; it is born out of a diligent commitment to the project of enlightened humanism. As a universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in sand, inhumanism is a vector of revision.”2
The key to both visions is the notion of re-visioning or re-engineering the Enlightenment conception of Man with one that aligns with a more stringent conception that erases the humanistic centrality of the human displacing it from both theocentric and anthropocentric concerns while at the same time promoting a posthuman turn that allows for a plasticity in which both a revalutation-of-all-values in both rationalist and biodecentric relations is given priority. This decentering of both man and reason from its humanistic sources opens up a revisioning process that sees the Enlightenment project in a new light.
Wolfendale will attack both vitalist and metaphysical returns in critical and speculative forms while portraying rational inhumanism as navigating the fine line between constraints placed by both the normative and metaphysical on the divides in-between rationality and animality. There is also a subtle critique of Marxian alienation as a negative force whereby rational inhumanism defines it as a positive force overcoming these constraints that trap us in humanistic naturalism and metaphysical ploys. As he’ll tell us (3):
There are distinct promethean projects concerned with each obstacle just mentioned: accelerationism strives to turn the emancipatory tendencies of modernity against the oppressive sociality of capitalism ( Srnicek and Williams 2014 ), xenofeminism aims to harness the artificiality of identity by rejecting the givenness of material conditions (sex) and social forms (gender) alike ( Laboria Cuboniks 2015 ), and cosmism enjoins us ‘to consider the earth a trap’, treating gravity as one more constraint to be over come by the ‘generalised escapology’ of design ( Singleton 2014 ). The inhumanism of these projects lies in their embrace of alienation as a positive force, transforming our progressive exile from a series of Edenic harmonies – be they economic, sociological or environmental – into an esoteric genealogy of freedom. (381).
Ultimately, what differentiates critical and speculative posthumanism from rationalist inhumanism is that they overcome ‘Man’ by renewing metaphysics rather than transcendentalism ( Foucault 2002 : 372). Critical posthumanism collapses the distinction between human and non- human by positing a universal vitality – zoe – in which both partake ( Braidotti 2013 : 131), whereas speculative posthuman ism articulates the disconnect between human and posthuman by positing a category of functionally autonomous assemblages to which both belong ( Roden 2015 : 124–49). The choice between these paths can be framed in terms of the perennial picture from which we began: do we unbind animality from the normative constraints of rationality, or unbind rationality from the metaphysical constraints of animality? (382).
- Robin Mackay. Speculative Aesthetics (Kindle Locations 1218-1221). Urbanomic. Kindle Edition.
- Negarestani, Reza. The Labor of the Inhuman. e-flux Journal #52 – February 2014
- Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Glossary. Rosi Braidotti (Editor), Maria Hlavajova (Editor) Bloomsbury Academic (February 22, 2018)
‘Traditional masculinity toxic?’ New universe of subtle corruption emerges…
– Slavoj Zizek
Reading Zizek’s take on how medical expertise is being used by Progressive censors and ideologists to create a new normativity of command and control against traditional male culture one can’t help but shudder. For a long while this creeping socialism of public opinion, a world of hypernormalization and control over behavior through the use of both political correctness and other censoriums has become almost extreme. Our belief in experts and the sciences to be the new guardians of truth and morality, ethics and normativity under the guise of non-ideological blandness is hideous in itself but has become truly powerful as a lure over the progressive world of youth and academic laborers against traditionalism in secular or religious images of masculine culture.
Although my past has and remains a combination of Left as concerns protecting the underdog: the innocent, actual downtrodden, and laborers who truly seek a better life but have in our world neither the opening or ability to enter the marketplace of current hypercapitalist high-speed civilization. I am closer to those older traditionalists who see the liberty empowered rugged individualism of our American forbears being domesticated and even excluded in the new progressive world of victimization and censor based ethics and normativity that seeks to control our behaviours even as it excludes us from jobs and sociality. We are now living in a prison world of censors that even the author of 1984 would have shuddered at.
The Progressive worldview has become the face of a new kind of totalitarianism: it presents itself under the guise of experts and science as it invents a censorium of ideological blandness that would like a seamless prison system regulate our lives and behaviours in codified algorithms. We are becoming slaves to a hidden culture of ethical stupidity. A Nanny State in which the Progressive Left would supervise every aspect of our public and private behavior right down to our masculine or feminine roles. A clone world of pre-fabricated citizenry based on law(lessness?) who must conform to the new hypernormal estate of the Progressive Left. Such a world has undermined many of the excepted Americanisms of past generations, and is slowly overtaking, judging, and condemning practices that in former times were accepted by both Left and Right as normal. Nietzsche once spoke of a transvaluation-of-values but I doubt he had the new illiberal crew of Progressive hypernormativity in mind.
As Zizek puts it. Recently, the boffins at the American Psychological Association (APA) proclaimed “traditional masculinity” as toxic.
With no apparent shame, here are the exact words they used: “Traits of so-called ‘traditional masculinity,’ like suppressing emotions & masking distress, often start early in life & have been linked to less willingness by boys & men to seek help, more risk-taking & aggression – possibly harming themselves & those with whom they interact.”
Zizek goes on to comment:
What makes this statement really dangerous is the mixture of ideology and ostensibly neutral expertise: a strong ideological gesture of excluding phenomena considered unacceptable is presented as an impartial description of medical facts.
How can one not recall here the notorious Serbsky institute in Moscow (thriving even now!) which, in the Soviet years, was well known for categorizing dissidence as a form of mental illness?
And exactly the same happens when we designate masculinity as “toxic,” under the cover of medical expertise. It amounts to the imposition of a new normativity, a fresh figure of the enemy.
There’s an supposed ideology out there affecting boys and men, and the American Psychological Association says it’s “harmful.” The Los Angeles Times reports on the APA’s first official warning on the toxicity of “traditional masculinity,” which “has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” Featured this month in the APA’s Monitor on Psychology magazine, the “APA Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men“—a 13-year effort that involved scientists poring over more than four decades of research—notes the harmful effects tied to traditionally masculine traits, including being competitive, aggressive, and stoic.
Žižek decries such spurious ideological expertise posing under scientific power, and its illiberal political correctness for two main reasons. First, that it’s entirely and transparently fake, an artificial cover enforced by totalitarian social pressures. Second, that political correctness manifests itself as a form of behavior control rather than a collective effort to remedy the problems it ostensibly seeks to address. Racial and social harmony cannot sprout from this sort of situation. In fact, Žižek argues that political correctness gets in the way of mutual understanding.
“Ambiguity — that’s my problem with political correctness. No it’s just a form of self-discipline which doesn’t really allow you to overcome racism. It’s just oppressed controlled racism.” – Slavoj Zizek
Ultimately, political correctness is a system of control that fails to understand the underlying causes of the problem it wants to address. A cynic would argue that this is the point — that certain societal actors prefer citizens who restrict themselves from exploring race, sexuality, gender issues, etc.. Žižek may not be that cynical, but he certainly sees the system for what it is: totalitarianism. Rather than an authority commanding “do this or else,” the ringing refrain of political correctness is forced behavior tinged with notes of “I know better than you what you really want.” It’s this Nanny State elitism of experts that has become the new totalitarianism seeking command and control over its citizens not through direct coercion but rather by way of normative behaviorism that seeks to use the populace itself against itself in the court of public opinion and press.
As Cathy Young spells it out the new Progressive Elite seek not only to control the populace through PC culture but to enslave it through transparency. As she puts it “political correctness by itself is destructive to the liberal project — to reasoned discourse, free exchange of ideas, culture and community” (see). Secondly, PC culture also invites an equally or more toxic backlash… by way of marginal and extreme racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic troops of the alt-right movement. And, third, PC Leftism enables bigotry both by trivializing it — if you can be called a racist for wearing a sombrero on Halloween or a misogynist for admiring sexy women, the words lose much of their bite — and by green-lighting it when it’s directed at “privileged” groups.
Ideological extremism under the cover of scientific expertise and public opinion along with the Press is presently a rising force in the wider society, concentrated in influential sectors, and gradually becoming part of the elite’s ideological superstructure. The new Cathedralism of high church progressive liberalism is obsessed with the eradication of offensive history, promotes concepts such as cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions, insists on calling a manhole a “people hole,” and that takes offense to Halloween costumes, or to the serving of tacos in a university cafeteria. Recently, a representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made the claim that milk is a symbol of white supremacy. On the far-left the PC culture of campus protestors, the Antifa, the neo-Maoists, and other representatives of the extreme left have produced a violent and exclusionary world where any thought other than the hypernormal thought of the Progressive Elite is ousted, lambasted, and mercilessly attacked. The center-left version is often manifested as a blend of PC culture with the American civil religion or civic nationalism. The recent exposure and deletion of Civil War memory that is being scraped clean from all public institutions is part of such behavioral illiberalism under the auspices of PC elite. Our revisioning of history is bound to this juggernaut as well. Soon the whole of American History studies will come under the fine toothed comb of such PC elitism and the past will effectively become a hypernormalised realm scraped of all sexual, race, and gender issues.
As Keith Preston puts it the enforcement of ideological conformity is farmed out to other institutions, such as the media, educational institutions, corporations, and technology companies. The means of enforcement involve the use of social, economic, and professional sanctions rather than the outright criminalization of dissidents. Ideological conformity is also enforced by means of extra-legal methods, such mob violence, shouting down speakers, the harassment political opponents or public figures in public places or even at their private homes, and the aggressive vigilante activities of groups such as the Antifa. It is for this reason that it is often necessary for gatherings of dissidents to take place on a clandestine basis. The proponents of the ideology of political correctness are heavily concentrated in influential sectors of society. Among the more significant examples are the electronic media and professional journalism, universities and public schools, the entertainment industry, left-wing professionals such as attorneys and healthcare specialists, the left-wing of clergy, the public sector bureaucracy, social services and human services, advertising, public relations, and corporate human resources and diversity officers.
Even the social media is creating algorithmic governance to enforce elite conformism. Preston goes on telling us Facebook recently purged over 800 pages with millions of followers, including pages with left-wing as well as right-wing perspectives, with the common denominator being that all of the purged pages represented some kind of anti-establishment perspective. It is also interesting to note that similar methods are used by the professional “watchdogs,” which typically focus most of their attention on the Right, but also attack leftist, African-American or other minority perspectives that are also considered to be outside the realm of acceptable liberal opinion.
Even corporate America is in on this through such initiatives as the #MeToo movement. Gillette is embracing the #MeToo movement in a new digital ad campaign aimed at men, the latest message from an advertiser attempting to change societal norms. The ad, dubbed “We Believe,” opens with audio of news about the current #MeToo movement, bullying and “toxic masculinity.” A narrator then goes on to dispute the notion that “boys will be boys,” asking, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses.” As Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette brand director for North America said of it: “This is an important conversation happening, and as a company that encourages men to be their best, we feel compelled to both address it and take action of our own. We are taking a realistic look at what’s happening today, and aiming to inspire change by acknowledging that the old saying ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is not an excuse. We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and hope all the men we serve will come along on that journey to find our ‘best’ together.” (see) The collusion of corporatocracy, media, and the subversive illiberalism of the Progressive extreme seeks total control through technics and technological behavioral command and control.
This is the Progressive Nightmare… a technoir vision in which society is governed by algorithms through the collusion of PC scraping and exclusionary praxis whose sole goal is the hypernormalization and enslavement of the populace through the collusion of extreme left radicalization, high-corporate technocracy, and the deliberate infiltration of the public sphere by elite mechanism of command and control. The Cathedral of Illiberalism sponsored by the Progressive Left and its Corporate, Academic, and Meditainment Elite seeks to usher in a new era of political control and censorship the likes of which have not been seen since Stalinism.
Read the rest of the article: ‘Traditional masculinity toxic?’
Read Zizek on political correctness: Political Correctness Is a More Dangerous Form of Totalitarianism
At that ‘omega- point’ nothing would be left of man’s autonomous original nature, except organized intelligence: a universal and omnipotent layer of abstract mind, loveless and lifeless. Now, we cannot understand the role that technics has played in human development without a deeper insight into the historic nature of man.
—Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine
Lewis Mumford envisioned how our planetary civilization was evolving into an all encompassing machinic system of ‘megatechnics’ of hypercapitalism in which automation would be the guiding motif, shaping our desires to those of a machinic existence in a collective world ruled and governed by algorithmic necessity. The assault on philosophical individualism and passion by various trends in the neurosciences and neo-rationalism is pushing us into a collective enterprise in which humans are being re-engineered to serve a collective intelligence, hooked both spiritually and physically to a system of normative regulatory processes of domestication and impersonalism that will make of us all automaton-servitors in a vast machinic society:
“In terms of the currently accepted picture of the relation of man to technics, our age is passing from the primeval state of man, marked by his invention of tools and weapons for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat. With this new ‘megatechnics’ the dominant minority will create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation. Instead of functioning actively as an autonomous personality, man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal whose proper functions, as technicians now interpret man’s role, will either be fed into the machine or strictly limited and controlled for the benefit of de-personalized, collective organizations.”1
For Lewis Mumford it is our ability to invent ourselves in the realms of make-believe that is our symbolic activity as social beings rather than tool-use that distinguishes us through our transformation and cultural transmission of both practical and theoretical knowledge that differentiates our species. Cultural transmission through external memory systems is central to this:
I shall develop the view that man is pre-eminently a mind-making, self-mastering, and self-designing animal; and the primary locus of all his activities lies first in his own organism, and in the social organization through which it finds fuller expression. Until man had made something of himself he could make little of the world around him. In this process of self-discovery and self-transformation, tools, in the narrow sense, served well as subsidiary instruments, but not as the main operative agent in man’s development; for technics has never till our own age dissociated itself from the larger cultural whole in which man, as man, has always functioned. (ibid.)
- Lewis Mumford. The Myth of the Machine Technics and Human Development-Harcourt (1967)
The city operates as the analog of an elaborate time-travel scenario, in which an obscure labyrinth of fate is taking shape, and has always been taking shape.
—Nick Land, Shanghai Times
We already live in an urban world and share an urban future.
—Carl Abbott, Imagining Urban Futures
Paul Virilio is the philosopher of speed who argued that our society of pure growth is leading us to nothing other than the “liquidation of the world,”1 to the realization of the one original idea the West has produced: nothingness, the being of nothing, the void.2 Speed is nihilism in practice,3 the “defeat of the world as Weld, as distance, as matter.”4 “Pollution, population growth, shortage of natural resources— more unsettling than all that is no doubt the constant rise of higher speeds; acceleration is literally the end of the world!”5 We are living in the age Nietzsche foretold as the time of the Last Man, an age when nihilism would complete itself.
But how should we take such thoughts? Should we fear or welcome it? Our society has left the cradle of mythologies of the eternal return (Mircea Eliade) for better or worse. The great round of Agricultural civilization which guided it by the cycles of sun and moon, seasonal movements of the death and renewal of crops, of the laws of fate and destiny that hooked us to some occult and mysterious round of and vicious circle of mind and natural process, the organic and circadian rhythms of life amidst the violence of the earth. All this seems to have vanished from our urban landscapes like the extinction of the dinosaurs. For better or worse we live in a de-sacralized universe of our own egoistic desires, our systems of unnatural and artificial times go in diametric opposition to the long history of or forbears organicist vision. Under the auspices of clock-time and the technological beat of machinic worlds we live in a time-beyond-times, cut off from the organic plenitude of our ancestral ecologies of mind.
For Virilio we as humans lived during most of our evolutionary lives at the rate of metabolic speed or what he termed the “age of brakes,”6 in which the powers of continuity dominated those of motion and change. Our societies were formed to dampen and apply the brakes against the hurtling and accelerating progress of motion and change. Traditional societies were built to stave off the future, to construct ecologies of habit and habitation that would bind us to the stability and meta-stability of this cyclic time of the Same and Restoration: the great cycles of sacrifice and renewal from Mesopotamian, Indic, Mayan, China and other civilizations. Virilio would speak of the “space-time dispositif,”7 by which various cultural complexes shared geographical markers or strata in which historical time was considered longue durée in Braudel’s sense:8 “extended time—time that lasts, is portioned out, organized, developed”9 and so eo ipso acts as an “inertial limit” and a guarantor of “stability.”10
With the Industrial Revolution we entered a new stage of evolution in which the technical time of the artificialization replaced the natural rhythms of our pre-industrial Agricultural Civilizations. Virilio would term this the “dromocratic revolution” which would produce artificial speeds that overcome the physical limits of organic metabolic societies eternal return of the Same. Our culture of machines driven by combustible, electronic, nuclear, and quantum power compressed the former space-time continuum toward a zero limit in which pure time was spatialized to the point that virtual onlife lives would become fully digitized and bound to the dromocracy of a non-temporalized time-machine. This liquidation of space by time has produced disruptions of mind and body in our species that are unprecedented. In this sense we live in a Technocosm: a realm in which “all the surfaces of the globe are directly present to one another.”11
For Virilio this sea change of time came about through conquest and military takeover of the planet by cultures who sought to build vast empires of time. Under their dictate, the universe was rearranged by the military spirit: the building of infrastructure, the “total mobilization” of the population, the harnessing of ever new sources of energy for the military economy of attrition. “Dromocratic intelligence is not exercised against a more or less determined military adversary,” Virilio concludes, “but as a permanent assault on the world, and through it, on human nature.”12 We can see in the work of scientist and philosophers such as Kepler, Galileo, Huygen, and Newton among others the defining characteristics of this sea change in time and movement, the age of progress and modernity being grasped within the central obsession with the movement of the planets (Kepler), gravity (Galileo), uniform rotation (Huygen), and the inertial motion developed by Newton. We can see in Hobbes notions of rest as resistance the overturning of the Aristotelian conception of hierarchical movement: the ‘Great Chain of Being’, according to which the movement of the universe was caused by an unmoved mover.13
In many ways this movement against the logic of rest was always a part of the complex notions of modernity, a slow and methodical assault of abstraction against the organicism of pre-industrial society. One could say that our age of modernity was and is the project of engineers and physicists: the mathematization of reality, of the space-time continuum as an abstract movement. With the revolutionization of the nature of transport and communication, distances shrink; everything is equally within reach; planetary civilization is transformed into a continuum in which everything is brutally pushed together, in which there are no more borders, no more distances, no more differences. The liquidation of space in abstraction. “Speed-space,” Virilio would term it, or as Sohn-Rethel would have it technological speed requires not merely the absence of obstacles, but rather the absence of matter as such; its ideal space is a vacuum.14 This dematerialization of substantive reality, the obliteration of both the Platonic/Aristotelian worlds of substantial formalism in which naïve realism or common sense philosophies were bound to the empirical world of experience vanished into the virtual immaterialism of quantum time without bounds: “After the duration and extension of geo-physical space have been reduced to nothing or almost nothing by the acceleration of transport, it seems that the vivisection of speed now attacks the very density of mass itself, as if the aim of the pursuit had suddenly become the durability and density of the whole set of physical bodies. . . . Obsessed with producing the void, we no longer tolerate the density of the material”.15
People no longer live in a particular territory, a nation-state, etc., such as a city, but in the “time spent changing places” itself.16 Cities become merely functional spaces for time-bounded activities, their residents become passengers, “displaced,” “u-topic” citizens whose true homes are transport machines and waystations. In place of settledness in space comes a new settledness in time, in place of societies of persistence comes a “society of disappearance.”17 Since the rise of telecommunications, social integration also increasingly occurs in time, such as the time of a program which gathers those who are physically absent into a “city of the instant.” The old depth of topological space is replaced by the depth of time, territoriality by temporality: “Space is no longer in geography; it’s in electronics. Unity is in the terminals. It’s in the instantaneous time of command posts, control towers, etc. Politics is less in physical space than in the time systems administered by various technologies, from telecommunications to airplanes, passing by the TGV, etc. There is a movement from geo- to chrono-politics: the distribution of territory becomes the distribution of time. The distribution of territory is outmoded, minimal.”18
For Virilio we live under the dictatorship of death-time: technological time is dead time, it is intensive time, and it is scarce time. Dead time: for it has to do with the time-travel, thus with the time of circulation, in which the body is cut off from any interaction with its actual environment and is only, as it were, traded in for a life after arrival. Intensive time: for it is defined by immediate and abrupt presence, by the sudden entrance of what is absent, as manifested in the exchange of weapons of mass destruction as well as the exchange of information through the means of communication. Scarce time: for the immense acceleration, which, for example, reaches the speed of light in laser weapons, leads everywhere to a shortening of time limits and time to think. In the age of cruise missiles and strategic “defense” initiatives, what is primarily at stake are warning times, the exploitation of the smallest possible intervals of time, of first-strike and preventative strike capacities—in a word, the “war for time.”
Since the 90’s the deregulation of time along with other capitalist modes has accelerated the world of dead-time, bringing with it both the interminable war on terror and a terror of time itself. Against the accumulation of time as a commodity stored in the monetary systems of material civilization the new capitalism has dematerialized in the advanced terrorism of virtual currency. The world itself is dematerializing before our very eyes and we are all being transformed into digitized dividuals of a mathematical multiverse controlled by the dead time of capital. Zombies of a new order we have become daemonic agents of our own demise, inventing futures in which the complete artificialization of intelligence and life rules both our desires and our ancient immortalization dreams. For Virilio the technologies of speed bring about a “disruption in the order of perception, a “derangement of the senses” whereby individuals are catapulted into a space beyond, in which they can only maintain their position by means of a complex network of measuring instruments, of perceptual prosthetics. These prostheses in turn compel derealization. Cinema, writes Virilio, is based on a systematic psychotropic derangement, a destruction of chronology. In place of the transcendental aesthetic, which brought sensory data into a spatiotemporal order and, in the categories of the understanding, also produced valid knowledge, we have the “aesthetic of speed,” which only occasionally connects subject and object with blinding speed: “With speed, the world keeps on coming at us, to the detriment of the object, which is itself now assimilated to the sending of information. It is this intervention that destroys the world as we know it, technique finally reproducing permanently the violence of the accident.”19
As with modernism and postmodernism, it is architecture that is central to the enduring public definition of neomodernity. Philosophers have only ever interpreted the world, but architects get to build it.
—Nick Land, Shanghai Times
As Land tells us it might reasonably be argued that the modern is always and inherently neomodern, that relentless, self-surpassing upgrades are hard-wired into it, from the beginning.20 The celebration of discontinuity over the progressive notions of smooth, continuous improvement typify its program. One might better understand neomodernity as the discontinuous renewal of modernity out of its own ruins, the transfiguration of its depleted energies into the surface tension of a renaissance rather than oblivion. “Above all, perhaps, the neomodern is manifested indirectly, through display spaces. It points away from itself, and towards what it revives, in the manner of contemporary museum design, with its ideal of invisible mediation. Its pride is adapted to an information age, in which subtlety trumps assertion, inventive perception supplants self-expression, and flexible anticipation outperforms stubborn purpose.”21
Like a heavy metal apocalypse neomoderinty orchestrates the virtual designs of the dematerialization of civilization. It’s cyclopean structures: “scorched and rusted girders, massive chains, vast slabs of semi-crumbled brickwork, pitted concrete, splintered masonry, the cavernous, eroded shells of warehouses and machine shops” rise up like transfigured creatures out of some hellish paradise. The post-industrial functionalism of this hybrid of supraintelligent artifact and ruinous abstraction combines the disconnection of the mind from its former ecologies in the natural order as its move and metamorphoses shapes it to the post-civilizational matrix of conditioned possibility. “Around and amongst these paleo-modernist dinosaur skeletons, it weaves an exquisite web of maximally-dematerialized and near-transparent structures, emphasizing lightness, subtlety, openness, and innovation. High-bandwidth digital communications, intelligent environmental control systems, hydroponically-nourished creeping plants, hyper-designed furnishings, tastefully understated interior decoration and sophisticated artworks complete the metamorphosis. Neomodernity is at once more modernity, and modernity again. By synthesizing (accelerating) progressive change with cyclic recurrence, it produces a distinctive schema or figure: the time spiral. “22
Technicity and the Inhuman
It is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself.
—Nick Land, #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader
Plato in his Meno would institute an opposition between the Socratic “recollection” of the immortal soul, called ἀνάμνησις (anamnēsis), and the artificial or technical supplement to memory, called ὑπόμνησις (hypomnēsis). It is with this entirely unprecedented opposition that western metaphysics and, arguably, western philosophy more generally, comes into existence. To Plato’s way of thinking, thought is nothing other than the act of the immortal soul remembering itself once again. On the one side, then, we have thought, the infinite, the transcendental and something called “philosophy.” On the other, however, we have artifice, finitude, the empirical and something called “technicity.” Yet what happens to the finite world— with all its inherent contingency, variability and fallibility— when the immortal soul recollects itself? If thought is defined as the recollection of immortality, then finitude, contingency and technology are, as Bernard Stiegler has argued, thereby consigned to the darkness of the unthought: true anamnēsis apparently has no need of the sophistical or technical supplement that is hypomnēsis. What, though, might it mean to ”think” this unthought, that is to say, technicity itself?23
Aristotle is the first thinker to construct an ontology of the technical object. To Aristotle’s eyes, technē is an essentially inert, neutral tool whose status is entirely determined by the use to which it is put by human beings. If nature (physis) contains the principal of its own motion— an acorn will grow into an oak tree all by itself— the same is obviously not true for a technical or fabricated object: an oak table or bed frame requires an efficient cause (causa efficiens) such as an artisan to bring it into being. In this way, we arrive at an idea of technicity that has dominated philosophy for almost 3,000 years: technē is a prosthesis (πρόσϑεσις: pro-thesis, i.e., an addition; what-is-placed-in-front-of) considered “in relation to” nature, humanity or thought; one that can be utilised for good or ill depending upon who or what happens to wield it.
Yet, in our time the Aristotelian notion of techné as inert, a dead thing onto which we must impress our form and give it purpose is no longer valid. As the disciplines of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and information technology continue to develop at a bewildering pace, the ontological boundaries between the human and the technological are being re-drawn: what we used to think of as the defining properties of human being— mind, agency, affect, consciousness, the very operation of thought itself— are revealed to be inextricably bound up with complex, quasi-mechanical and technically replicable processes. To put it crudely, technology in this way appears less an instrumentum of an a priori “reason,” than an ontological state. Consequently, technicity names something which can no longer be seen as just a series of prostheses or technical artefacts— which would be merely “supplemental” (or supernumerary) to our nature— but the basic and enabling condition of our life-world. From the watch we wear to the server we log into, we exist pros-thetically, that is to say, by putting ourselves outside ourselves. If the classical opposition and hierarchy between thought and technology can no longer be sustained from this perspective— such that what Plato calls anamnēsis may be nothing other than a complex repertoire of motor functions, cybernetic loops and self-replicating hypomnesic systems— then it is clear that this insight poses a new and urgent task for any philosophy of technology. In other words, the question arises as to whether it is possible to think something that is nothing less than the basic condition of thought itself.25
This interplay of anamnesis and hypomnesic systems in a cyberpositive loop of self-reinforcing acceleration is at the core of Nick Land’s vision of our neomodern capitalist society:
Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources.26
Couched in mid-90’s cyber-punk rhetoric this notion of the future impinging on the present as if some advanced civilization was transfiguring our own mad world into a monstrous vision of its own artificial intelligence seems almost ludicrous to us, and yet this retroactive and recursive notion of time is essential. Combining the thanatropic vision of Freud and Land in his critique of our current late capitalist society Reza Negarestani outlines the tendencies at the core of this project, saying, “the collusion between science and capitalism imparts an alarmingly critical significance to such inspections into the relation between capitalism and its image as an inevitable singularity that coheres with the compulsive regression of the organism toward the inorganic exteriority. The collusion of capitalism with science enables capitalism to incorporate contemporary science’s continuous disenchantment of cosmos as the locus of absolute objectivity and inevitable extinction.”27
Call this the Great Reversal: originary technicity as the origin of humanity, becomes increasingly autonomous and emerges outside the meat-bag of its parasitical relations. In Derrida’s terms originary technicity inhabits the interiority of life itself: ‘life is a process of self-replacement’, Derrida asserts, ‘the handing-down of life is a mechanike, a form of technics’ (‘Nietzsche and the Machine’, p. 248). From its beginnings cybernetics emerging from the thought of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Valera or Niklas Luhmann, offers us a picture of the emergence of artificial intelligence, complexity, adaptation and emergence or the embodiment, extension and distribution of mind into autonomous forms outside the human: the slow externalization of the very processes of thought and technics.
Maturana and Valera’s image of a self-organizing, self-regulating and self-regenerating autopoietic machines represents a kind of litmus test for the originary technicity of life:
[It] is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network. (#Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader.Urbanomic)
Perhaps most crucially, autopoiesis recognizes no qualitative difference between organic and inorganic systems: all living systems are autopoietic, and so any physical system – whether social, cultural, artificial – can, if autopoietic, be said to exhibit life (Autopoiesis and Cognition, p. 48). (Bradley, p. 21) Ultimately originary technicity is less a tool or prosthesis that has been super-added to life nor even quite a metaphor for life but what I will call the empirico-transcendental condition of life itself. Such an aporetic condition is articulated phenomenologically, historically and even ontologically by different thinkers under such names as labour, matter, the real, Being-in-the-World, the other and the body, but the basic gesture remains the same: what is supposedly outside the sphere of the human, nature and life is constantly folded back inside it as its ‘ground’. If the classical philosophy of technology is a machine for producing the non-technological, in other words, then contemporary theories of originary technicity see themselves as a machine for revealing that technology is always already contaminating phusis, anamnësis, consciousness, ipseity or the living more generally. (Bradley, p. 22)
Against Land’s energetic-technics (neo-vitalist) capitalism as intelligent agent of artificialization and death-syndrome Negarestani turns to Ray Brassier’s cosmological re-inscription of the thanatropic drive:
Brassier’s cosmic reinscription of Freud’s thanatropic regression is an attempt to enact eliminativism as an ultimate vector of enlightenment and emancipative disenchantment. Yet to cosmically enact eliminativism, one must have a model to divest all horizons of interiority (from organisms to stars to galaxies and even matter itself) of their ontological potencies and so-called vitalistic opportunities for carrying on the life of thought. The model capable of guaranteeing such a great purge is Freud’s account of the death-drive. 28
Yet, this unhooking of Freud’s thanatropic vitalism from the Landian cosmos of capitalist dissipation into artificial intelligence is for Negarestani a utopian speculative enterprise at best:
By leaving the fundamental body and the primary front of the Landian definition of capitalism unharmed, Brassier’s own project of enlightenment ironically turns into a dormant ethico-political enterprise with an utopianistic twist. Brassier’s account of eliminativist enlightenment, in this sense, basks in the comforts of an utopianistic trust in opportunities brought about by the neurocognitive plasticity whilst peacefully cohabiting with capitalism on the same earth.29
Against both Land’s conservative vision and Brassier’s speculative cosmic nihilism Negarestani tells us there is a need to institute another form of inhumanist praxis: the programmatic objective of an inhuman praxis is to remobilize non-dialectical negativity beyond such Capital-nurturing conceptions of negativity. Without such a programmatic sponsor, alternative ethics of openness or politics of exteriorization, the speculative vectors of thought are not only vulnerable to the manipulations of capitalism but also are seriously impeded.30
- Paul Virilio, L’horizon négatif (Paris: Galilée, 1984), 59.
- Ibid., 16.
- Paul Virilio, The Aesthetics of Disappearance, trans. Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991).
- Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Politizzotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1986), 133.
- Paul Virilio, Fahren, fahren, fahren, trans. Ulrich Raul¤ (Berlin: Merve, 1978), 30.
- Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, Pure War, trans. Mark Polizotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 44–45.
- Paul Virilio, The Lost Dimension, trans. Daniel Moshenberg (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), 128.
- Virilio, L’horizon négatif, 288. 20.
- Virilio, Pure War, 46. 21.
- Ibid., 72, 99.
- Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (Radical Thinkers), Verso (June 9, 2009), 46.
- Virilio, Speed and Politics, 64.
- Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being. Harvard University Press (June 30, 2009)
- Virilio, L’horizon négatif, 90.
- Ibid., 174–75.
- Virilio, Pure War, 60.
- Ibid., 88, 75.
- Ibid., 115.
- Virilio, Aesthetics of Disappearance, 101.
- Land, Nick. Shanghai Times. Urbanatomy Electronic; 1 edition (February 14, 2014).(Kindle Locations 120-122).
- Ibid., Shanghai Times (Kindle Locations 154-156).
- Shanghai Times (Kindle Locations 160-170).
- Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 75-84). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
- Ibid., Technicity, (Kindle Locations 89-98).
- Ibid., Technicity, (Kindle Locations 101-115).
- Nick Land, ‘Machinic Desire’, Textual Practice, vol. 7, no. 3, 1993, p. 479.
- Negarestani, Reza. Drafting the Inhuman: Conjectures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy (The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, 2011)
- Ibid., p. 8.
- Ibid., p. 9.
- Ibid., p. 19.