Speculative Posthumanism: R. Scott Bakker, Mark Fisher and David Roden

“A posthuman is any WHD [Wide Human Descendent] that goes feral; becomes capable of life outside the planetary substance comprised of narrow biological humans, their cultures and technologies.”

– Dr. David Roden, Hacking Humans

“So really think about it now,” Thomas continued. “Everything you live, everything you see and touch and hear and taste, everything you think, belongs to this little slice of mush, this little wedge in your brain called the thalamocortical system. The neural processing that makes these experiences possible—we’re talking about the most complicated machinery in the known universe—is utterly invisible. This expansive, far-reaching experience of yours is nothing more than a mote, an inexplicable glow, hurtling through some impossible black. You’re steering through a dream…”

– R. Scott Bakker,  Neuropath

In his novel Neuropath Thomas Bible, one of R. Scott Bakker’s characters – an atypical academic, not one of your pie-in-the-sky type, theorists, reminisces with a friend about an old professor who once presented theories on the coming “semantic apocalypse,” the apocalypse of meaning. He tells this friend, Samantha, that this is when the Argument started and conveys to her its basic tenets:

“Remember how I said science had scrubbed the world of purpose? For some reason, wherever science encounters intention or purpose in the world, it snuffs it out. The world as described by science is arbitrary and random. There’s innumerable causes for everything, but no reasons for anything.”1(58)

After a few arguments on how the neural process of the brain itself weaves the illusions of free-will, mind, etc. Thomas lays down the bombshell of Bakker’s pet theory: Blind Brain Theory, saying: “The brain, it turned out, could wrap itself around most everything but itself—which was why it invented minds . . . souls.”(61) Suddenly Samantha wakes up realizing that all this leads to moral nihilism and begins babbling defenses against such truths as Thomas has revealed. For Thomas this all seems all too familiar and human, he reminisces a similar conversation he’d had with his friend and co-hort, Neil Cassidy, who on realizing just where the argument led stated (stoned and pacing back and forth like a feral beast):

“Whoa, dude . . . Think about it. You’re a machine—a machine!—dreaming that you have a soul. None of this is real, man, and they can fucking prove it.” (62)

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Mark Fisher: A Critique of Practical Nihilism: Agency in Scott Bakker’s “Neuropath”

My post was generated by rereading Mark Fisher’s excellent critique of Bakker’s novel in INCOGNITUM HACTENUS Volume 2: here (downloadable in .pdf format). What interested me in Fisher’s critique was his conclusions more than his actual arguments. You can read the essay yourself and draw your own conclusions, but for me the either/or scenario that Fisher draws out is how either the technocapitalists or the technosocialists (‘General Intellect’) in the immediate future might use such knowledge to wield powers of control/emacipation never before imaginable:

For whatever the theoretical implications of neuroscience, Bakker is surely right that its practical applications will in the first instance be controlled by the dominant force on the planet: capital. Capital can use neuroscientific techniques to stave off the semantic apocalypse: ironically, it can control people by convincing them that they are free subjects. This is already happening, via the low-level neurocontrol exerted through media, advertising and all the other platforms through which communicative capitalism operates. Whether neuroscience’s practical nihilism will do more than reinforce capital’s domination will ultimately depend on how far the institutions of techno-science can be liberated from corporate control. Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself. (11)

He brings up two notions, both hinging on the amoral ‘practical nihilism’ of neuroscience itself: 1) the reinforcement by the dominant ideology, technocapitalism, to use such technologies to gain complete control over every aspect of our lives through invasive techniques of brain manipulation; or, 2) the power of some alternative, possibly Leftward, collectivist ideology that seeks through the malleability or plasticity of these same neurosciences to use the ‘General Intellect’ to freely experiment on itself. Do we really want either of these paths?

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The Age of Speed: Accelerationism, Politics, and the Future Present

We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.

– F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto

The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words a producer of speed.

– Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics

What is at stake in our world today? Should we align ourselves with what one Japanese poet sang: “I pray for the music of the citizens walking.” Is this it? Movement, speed, the future as the force of acceleration? Has accelerationism become the order of the day? Maybe we need something on the order of what Mark Fischer describes, quoting Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: “Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Against all those like the Italian Autonomists who as Bifo Berardi (After Future) remarks that the ‘future is over’ we should think differently.1 But to give him his due, Berardi was not speaking of temporality, but of ‘psychological perception’, which ’emerged in the cultural situation of progressive modernity, the cultural expectations that were fabricated during the long period of modern civilization…”(AF 18). So it is against ‘progressive modernity’ that he speaks of future as progressive, as some unending temporal order of succession as a radical Enlightenment Project projected into an endless future of possibility and hope. He says this is over, caput, dead and buried amid the wastelands of modernity strewn around us on this dying earth we all inhabit.

Nick Land was one of the first to take up the battle cry of accelerationism.  For him it was all about thanatropics: “labour is far harder to control than the live stuff was, which is why the enlightenment project of interring gothic superstition was the royal road to the first truly vampiric civilization, in which death alone comes to rule” (TA, p. 79). Continuing his inquisition he remarks, echoing Nietzsche:

“This is the initial impulse into capital’s religious history; the sacrifice of all dogmatic theology to the ascetic ideal, which is finally consummated in the death of God. The theology of the One, rooted in concrete beliefs and codes that summarize and defend the vital interests of a community, and therefore affiliated to a tenacious anthropomorphism, is gradually corroded down to the impersonal zero of catastrophic religion” (TA, p. 79).

It is in this absolute zero of capital religion that we discover Land’s accelerationism, wherein capital “attains its own ‘angular momentum’, perpetuating a run-away whirlwind of dissolution, whose hub is the virtual zero of impersonal metropolitan accumulation. At the peak of its productive prowess the human animal is hurled into a new nakedness, as everything stable is progressively liquidated in the storm” (TA, p. 80). Benjamin Noys in his own variation of this interesting doctrine tells us that it is “an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist.”  (Accelerationism)

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