Just finished my first pass of the first chapter of Inventing the Future. Its pretty familiar but still quite dense for that. One of the lurking monsters beneath the chapter is anarchism, and in at least two ways that have nothing to do with the horizontalism of Occupy et al. (formations that organized anarchists rejected for much the same reasons as vertical Marxists).
This is a quick thought on a few parts of the first chapter of the books. It isn’t intended as a knock down “ha fuck you” or a “look at my clever criticisms” post. Its an incomplete thought following an incomplete reading focussing on only one aspect of a chapter that includes a lot much stuff. Simply- it got me thinking.
First, there is are two ur-texts that could be the Catechism of Folk Political conjugations. These texts are both written by the anarcho-mystical “Stirnerite-Marxist” Hakim Bey. The first of those texts is the obvious anthology and eponymous essay Temporary Autonomous Zones. I’m sure this essay will be mentioned in later chapters as an almost orgasmic-ecstatic hymnal for the temporary, local, structureless ephemera of folk politics at its extreme edges. The second text is the later essay “Immediatism” that explicitly states that the immediate is better than the mediated, even after acknowledgement that the immediate is always already mediate.
The problem here is that there is a form of anarchism that also explicitly rejects the logic of folk politics at the extreme and calls for the construction of alternative organizational structures. Examples of these would be AFED and SOLFED. I’m not making the point to endorse either of these groups. It is pretty clear that the anarcho-federalists are attempting to produce mediate politics of scale via the old school federalist system, and that they have rejected the fetish of an exclusive emphasis on the local by integrating into regional, national and international levels of organization. Speaking with experience of AFED decision-making, the anarcho-federalist also rejects the religion of consensus, utilising it as a methodology for attempting to control for unspoken biases and the formation of group-bias mandating but preferring majority voting where deadlock becomes apparent.
Even so it is pretty clear that these anarchist groups remain wedded to the local level in terms of how organizing and activism takes place. Whether or not one considers members of the organisations of organized anarchism in their anarchist groups or in their deployment of social insertion, the potencies that are synchronized remain localised in the conjugation of bodies present to one another at the present-scale. Even the idea of the implementation of simple mechanisms of coordinated temporal extension- via SMART goals- has been rejected as being an instance of corruption from capitalist-neoliberal managerialism.
This kind of anarchism departs from the positions of pure folk politics but still actualises aspects of it as a virtual tendency that can be apparent to a greater or lesser degree. What this form of anarchism highlights is the ease with which the attempt to “consciously uncouple” (lolz) from folk politics can fail.
The second is that anarchists have often made exactly the critiques of folk political activism that the future-oriented leftists (nee left accelerationists) make in the chapter’s initial pass. I’m thinking about the US anarchists that labelled themselves “nihilist communists” and wrote under the collective pseudonym Monsieur Dupont.
These proto-insurrectionists also critiqued the regressively humanist, first-person sentimentalism, knee-jerk “do something” actionism, and subjectivism of the American radical political milieux of about 10 years ago. They were profoundly sceptical regarding the emphasis on consciousness and had a vicious critique of voluntarist “enthusiasm”, and as I remember they maintained an unapologetically vulgar Marxism in which revolution could only be the work of those who operate the means of production seizing control of the means of production.
Between the nihilist communists, future-oriented leftism and a leftist pragmatism is the shared dirty realization that
“What matters at the highest level is not the truth or supremacy of ideas but position, manoeuvring, taking effective action, forming alliances, betrayal and above all ambition for more power” (Dupont).
At the moment I just wanted to share this thought abstracted from any other analysis. This is because at this baseline level and at this moment of critical grounding in the abstract critique of the folk’s loathing abstraction- and terror of the inhuman dissolutions of individual human dignity- there remains nothing compelling for the adoption of this particular perspective in favour of a universal emancipatory vision of the future.
If the same scorching critique that can be shared by this progressivist leftism, class struggle anarchism and nihilist communism it remains to be seen why anyone should be committed to any vision of postcapitalist triumph. Specifically, the same basic critique can lead to three outcomes:optimism; “empty pragmatism”; and (political) pessimism. This boils down to two outcomes: a renewed leftism or a more or less active version of resignation.
There is nothing preventing me from saying: oh yes, we’re doomed. The path to optimism risks the plunge into the deepest despair*.
Of course that’s unfair because the first chapter of a book isn’t exactly supposed to synch the deal, and a leftist book is rather assuming a certain level of agreement. It assumes that its audience is on board with its concerns, or at least broadly sympathetic. And this is a problem.
Every political appeal assumes that there is an audience who will hear it or who is at least capable of hearing it; there is always a target-group who either already are or represent a latent in-group: “let him who has ears listen”. This basic assumption is a symptom of the folk political. This is maybe so formal a point that it is ridiculous. But attention to outsideness and the processes of abstracting, responding to left failures, is all part of the very necessary game here.
In the end this is *the* stupidest, most childish and egoistic response one could have to almost any prescription for political action: why should I? But this idiocy isn’t so stupid really. If it is true that there is such a thing as “left melancholy” or, as I prefer, a depression based on the learned helplessness of recent political action, then it is to the depressive that political texts must address themselves. And not just the depressive left and depressive leftists but also to the so-called “post-political” person who still couldn’t give a fuck about your weird left politics. And also those who are drawn to the neoreaction and the more tradition populist right due to neurotoxic social-relations and anomic symptoms of dissolution.
Above all a progressive “vision” or “future-oriented” dream must be able to justify itself after the onset of the slowly unfolding semantic and material collapses that constitute the traumatic disorientation of the catastrophic present of eco-pessimism and a virulent invisible nihilism.
I am a leftist. I am a leftist because I want to end suffering. This probably puts me on the opposite end of leftism from Snricek and Williams anyway. I am on the pessimist edge, at the antinatalist fringe where the dramatic conclusion of negative utilitarianism seductively whispers about the utopia of a totally depopulated earth.
Terrible thoughts. Horrible dreams. Unconscionable from within a perspective of maximising potency and health.
Yet the means to achieving such a self-managed extinction would be those of a dark accelerationism: the same strategy of re-purposing with a wildly different image of what constitutes a desirable future. The project of navigation turned over to the suicidal-depressive insistence on absolute escape.
I have suggested in the past that the accelerationism of the Manifesto was a kind of electro-shock therapy jolting a depressive body back into some kind of vitality. I also offered the alternate image a leftist bipolarity, the Promethean optimism as a sort of manic upswing following a depressive collapse. In either case the renewed libidinal activation leads to an acute suicide risk.
And here is where desire or libido or will is today: vacillating between extinction and emancipation it begins to take on aspects of both so that the two become inseparably fused. I sometimes call my pessimistic take on post-nihilist praxis “catastrophia”: the love of catastrophe. And here is an even more unsettling possibility:
The progressivist leftist orientation as the one that drives us forward is precisely the disavowed suicidal urge of an emancipatory extinction.
As I make slow progress through Inventing The Future, I’ll try to post more on it. In those posts I’ll expand on the Hakim Bey and Monsieur Dupont connections. This post is actually a Facebook post that got a bit out of hand. Given the length I thought I’d put it here instead.
*It may be objected that this is the pessimist’s absolutism. Of course any action may fail, but that is no reason for inaction. I have already suggested one response to this in a discussion of Stoicism’s reserve clause.