One of the major points of contention concerning unconditional accelerationism (henceforth U/ACC) is a perceived slight or rejection of any ‘positive’ form of political activity or organizing. The complaint can be summed up with the single phrase “U/ACC lacks praxis”. In the common leftist deployment of the phrase, this is exactly correct. Moreover, we could go as far to say that U/ACC rejects praxis, even that it is anti-praxis – yet, at the same time, this is not so straightforward. If we step back take praxis in its most broad sense – the higher form of acting in the world – then U/ACC is hardly anti-praxis; it simply asks that the limits and the inevitable dissolution of things be acknowledged (there is no contradiction between posing this alongside the Xenofeminist mantra “if nature is unjust, change nature”). No, U/ACC manifests an anti-praxis line when a very specific sort is proposed, that is, the political-territorial subordination and navigation of the forces in motion by a mass subject – the politics of striation. For this reason, perhaps it is best to view U/ACC not as anti-praxis, but as anti-collective means of intervention.
The rejection of collective intervention does not, in the first instant, derive from a normative political claim, though it can (and should up to a certain degree, in my opinion). Instead, U/ACC calls attention to the manner through which collective forms of intervention and political stabilization, be they of the left or the the right, are rendered impossible in the long-run through overarching tendencies and forces. Thus, while left-accelerationism (L/ACC) and right-accelerationism (R/ACC) seek to recompose or reterritorialize Leviathan in accordance with each of their own political theologies, U/ACC charts a course outwards: the structures of Oedipus, the Cathedral, Leviathan, what have you, will be ripped apart and decimated by forces rushing up from within and around the system, which in turn mobilize the entirety of the system towards its own dissolution point. Unlike L/ACC and R/ACC, U/ACC is not at the bottom a political theory; it is one of mobilizing materialism.
Consider the classic Marxian formula: M – C – M’. This is, of course, a simple pathway of capital, beginning with money (M), which is translated into the commodity (C) to be sold on the market. If successful sold, the commodity is translated into a greater amount of money than at the beginning (M’) – and it is at this point that the process restarts. M – C – M’ – C…. on and on and on. If this is the ‘general formula of capital’, as Marx describes it, then it is also the general formula of modernity itself. This, in turn, clues us into the abstract force, glimpsed through diagrammation, which can lurks behind modernity rendered as historical totality: positive feedback. M – C – M’, the process looping for what appears as eternity, forever pushing itself to higher and higher heights. The processual relations of capital appear here as far from any sort of homeostasis.
Positive feedback not only marks the evolution of a given system, or a generalized forward direction. It is also indicative of dissolution, of breaking apart, of past forms being undermined and propelled towards catastrophe. While for many the catastrophe might appear as something like communism, Marx as early as the Communist Manifesto was enraptured by the image of capitalist modernity as unfolding through creative destruction. As Marshall Berman describes, Marx’s depiction of “all that is solid melting into air” is a vision of these processes rendered “luminous, incandescent; brilliant images succeed and blend into one another; we are hurtled along with a reckless momentum, a breathless intensity.”i From here it is only a small leap to Lyotard’s depiction in Libidinal Economy of Marx slowly going mad, seduced by the delirious circuitries of exchange of capitalism and committing himself to “microscopic analysis of the aberrations of capitalism… no longer able to detach himself from it.”ii It begins with a general formula, a singular positive feedback code, and compounds itself endlessly, its circuitries deepening and widening, expanding and contracting, an array of falls and upward-propelling factors.
The positive-feedback processes does not end in the modular pathways of the transmutation between money, commodity, and labor. It radiates out across the entirety of social, cultural, political, even ecology strata (it is for this reason that we can describe capitalism as a historical era, even if all these elements were in play long before capitalism itself). The widening of commodity production over here generates trade networks, churning up market expansion over there. Rapid technological development diffusing through a given industry pushes prices down, bringing more into the cycles of production and thus consumption – and technological development radiates into newer, faster, more adaptive technologies. Technocommercialism begins to shake culture, society, and polity, forcing them into fragmentation and new forms. Firm structures and deeply-held beliefs buckle and break under the movement of people, money, and goods. All these forces lock into momentum with one another and act as force multipliers, each looping through the other, pushing it forward, faster, moving the entirety of the system towards… something – and it is this something that control systems, of either the left or the right, would be forced (and will always fail) to contend with.
Yaneer Bar-Yam, founder and head researcher of the New England Complex Systems Institute, describes the bulk of human civilization as capable of being characterized, first and foremost, as a “control hierarchy”, in which (at the ideal level, at least) “all communication, and thus coordination of activities, must occur through the hierarchy.”iii Workplace dynamics must be routed through management, just as military affairs pivot on the chain of command. Nations deploy presidents and prime ministers, and businesses bring on CEOs. In spaces where control hierarchies prevail, the controller not only serves to properly manage and direct the channels of communication for coordination (thus presaging directly the concerns of first-order cybernetics); it also plays the role of forging that sense of continuity, the inscription of organic wholeness on the myriad of parts.
Yet it is not so straightforward as simple control hierarchies. Through the passage of time, the prevailing organizational dynamics have shifted not only at the immediate, everyday level (say, on the factory production line or in the corporate boardroom), but at the civilizational level as well. Hunter-gatherer societies often organized in clusters based on direct hierarchy, while the passage from early civilization to the industrial revolution(s) saw this hierarchy move from wider chain-of-command systems to be dynamic entanglements. With each passing iteration, the status of the hierarchical formation itself declines as the relations tend towards the network, or even post-network, formations. This is precisely because, Bar-Yam notes, of a rise in the ‘complexity profile’ being shaped within civilization. As the nonlinear processes driven by cascading positive feedback intensify and rise, organization itself becomes more complex, more heterogeneous, more multiplicitious, and less congenial to control systems. Rising complexity, in the end, trashes the orderly nature of organic wholeness.
The L/ACC critic might stop here and decry the construction of a strawman. “Of course we aren’t for firm hierarchy,” they are probably saying. “We’re interested in flexible forms, in hybridity and multiplicity.” They might add, as their neo-communist cousins are oft to do, that they even reject planning as traditionally conceived: “we support decentralized planning”. Allow me to respond to these oppositions quickly: flexible control, modular hierarchy, and decentralized planning all fall victim to the same forward rush of rising complexity as their more formalized and concrete kin.
Control systems always rely on a high degree of legibility, the ability to observe a given territory (physical or otherwise) down to its minutia and classify and categorize the elements within it in order to properly enable generalized management and specific intervention.iv Any and all forms of planning require legibility and the capability to tabulate and command every potential variable – yet this becomes its very Achilles’ heel. Consider Andrew Pickering’s description of the conclusions gleamed by the cybernetician Ross Ashby’s research into homeostats: “The only route to stabilisation is to cut down variety – to reduce the number of configurations an assemblage can take on, by reducing the number of participants and the multiplicity of their interconnections.”v The reason that this is immediately is because the control system, regardless of its inflexibility or flexibility or how centralized or decentralized its planning is, operates in a manner akin to that of the homeostat: the movement of a spectrum of variables in play towards a zone of equilibrium in order to promote generalized stability through the system. Pickering at length:
Ashby was interested in the length of time it would take combinations of homeostats to achieve collective equilibrium. He thought of them as models of the brain, so the question for him was whether one could build a brain that would adapt to the world in a reasonable length of time. Both calculations and his machines showed that four fully interconnected homeostats, each capable of taking on twenty-five different inner states, could come into equilibrium in a couple of seconds. But if one extrapolated that an assemblage of one hundred fully interconnected homeostats the combinatories were such that chance on an equilibrium arrangement would entail search-times orders of magnitudes greater than the age of the universe. Even if 99 of them found a way to settle down, chances are that the 100th would set them spinning again.
This is the point to focus on. It takes time to run through homeostat-like processes of reconfiguration, putting possibilities to others who are doing the same back, proposing and counter-posing, vetoing and counter-vetoing. And the length of time it takes to stabilise such an arrangement increases astronomically with the number of participants and the density of their connections, meaning the number of others with which entities interacts directly. Finding stability can easily become a practical impossibility.vi
To properly operate in the real, some sort of sociopolitical island of stability, L/ACC or R/ACC praxis would be contingent upon the expunging of variables upon variables to push the complexity profile downwards, to make it more manageable (which is something that R/ACC tends to admit more than L/ACC). But to do this would not only mean restricting flows of people, goods, and money, as the populists of the left and right both are rushing over one another to do. It would also require roadblocks thrown up in the path of technological development, and the suppressing of the capability of making and using tools to operate in the world. The promotion of a collective cognitive project would, ironically, be forced to suppress cognitive activity on the molecular scale.
In the end this scenario does not seem very likely. Multitudes of positive feedback processes have long since become deeply entrenched, and the system as a whole is undeniably veering far from order. The lingering populisms have rebooted themselves merely as a cynical effort to stave off the dissolution, and from certain angles are more symptomatic than truly reactionary. The complexity profile is rising and will continue, and as it does the capability for collective intervention will become all but impossible. From the perspective of sites of collective intervention both existing (nations, corporations, etc.) and envisioned (variants of post-capitalist planning), these runaway processes cannot but look like entropic decay. From the perspective of power, perhaps the forces rushing upwards are not to be visualized as all that is solid melting into air, but the crushing of all that is stable and standing into disparate granules.
Contra any gamble for collectively scalable politics of bootstrapping and navigation, Bar-Yam suggests that in the face of mounting complexity, organizational design is forced to tend towards “progressively smaller branching ratios (fewer individuals supervised by a single individual)”.vii As mutational development speeds up and legibility fades, size becomes a liability. James Scott has shown that detachment of large managerial forces from the chaotic ‘on-the-ground’ environs is a recipe for disaster. Similarly, Kevin Carson has illustrated the way that the Hayekian knowledge problem (which posits that in complex, evolutionary systems, knowledge distributes in a way that undermines any attempt at planning) not only applies to state-centric command economies, but to the organizational black box of the modern corporation.viiiAs such problems intensify, any possibility for navigation falls downward, to smaller and more dynamic firms, greater marketization (technocommercialism begetting technocommercialism), and ultimately individual actors themselves.
It is at this point where one might happen on something that looks like U/ACC praxis. If one’s goal is the dissolution of the state and/or rule by multinational monopoly capitalism, then why recourse to the very systems and mechanisms that seek to stabilize these forms and shore them up against the forces that undermine them? This question is at the core of Deleuze and Guattari’s insight in the ‘accelerationist fragment’ that to “withdraw from the world market”, as opposed to going deeper into the throes of it, is a “curious revival of the fascist ‘economic solution’”.ix The intellectual complicity of the broad left with this ‘economic solution’ is also why Nick Land – in a moment of incredible anti-fascist theorizing – charged that
re-Hegelianized western Marxism degenerates from the critique of political economy into a state-sympathizing monotheology of economics, siding with fascism against deregulation. The left subsidies into conservatism, asphyxiating its vestigial capacity for hot speculative mutation in the morass of a cold depressive guilt-culture.x
To accelerate the process, and to throw oneself into those flows, leaves behind the (already impossible) specter of collective intervention. This grander anti-praxis opens, in turn, the space for examining forms of praxis that break from the baggage of the past. We could count agorism and exit as forms impeccable to furthering the process, and cypherpoliticsxi and related configurations arise on the far end of the development, as the arc bends towards molecularization of economic and social relations. It is is in these horizons that conversation and application must unfold.
No more reterritorializing reactions. No more retroprogressivism.
iMarshall Berman All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity Penguin Books, 1988, pg. 91
iiJean-Francois Lyotard Libidinal Economy Athlone Press, 1993, pg. 97
iiiYaneer Bar-Yam “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile” New England Complex Systems Institute http://www.necsi.edu/research/multiscale/EOLSSComplexityRising.pdf pg. 9
ivOn legibility, see James C. Scott Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed Yale University Press, 1999
vAndrew Pickering “Islands of Stability: Engaging Emergence from Cellular Automata to the Occupy Movement” University of Exeter, 2013, pg. 10 https://www.academia.edu/20618708/Islands_of_Stability_Engaging_Emergence_from_Cellular_Automata_to_the_Occupy_Movement
viIbid, pg. 6
viiBar Yam “Complexity Rising” pg.
viiiSee Kevin Carson Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective BookCurge, 2008, pgs. 205-223
ixGilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1983 pg. 239
xNick Land “Meltdown” Swarm 1 http://www.ccru.net/swarm1/1_melt.htm
xiUnion of Researchers for a Collective Commons “Cypherpolitical Enterprises: Programmatic Assessments” P2P Foundation, March 15th, 2017 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/cypherpolitical-enterprises-programmatic-assessments/2017/03/15
I don’t think I disagree with anything really substantial here, but my proudhonian leanings always tend to quibble: it is important to entertain the possibility that the very processes of creative destruction will rebuild (without any collective planning) an organism, out of its catallatic behavior. techno-commerce disintermediated means sub-optimum allocation of resources, and thus functionality. how far is it, really, from organs of a super-individual?
in other words, the point is that the larger antinomy (between that which remains the same, and that which changes) cannot be abolished and is always immediate to every process. solve et coagula.
The issues you bring to light here are significant. What I write here is more of a reaction than a critique, and meant to highlight some concerns I have rather than demand adjustments to your position. The underlying questions for me being how do we accelerate positive change in ways that 1) are intensive and effective enough to actualize more adaptive systems and regimes (tactics/technics), and 2) how do we do it in a way that engages, motivates, and enriches human existenz/agency (strategy).
What accelerationism is good at is suggesting how to outstrip the current systems and punctuate current equilibriums with innovation and/or extreme dissolution. However, some of the discourse from advocates seems inadequate when we begin to consider the functional and ethical imperatives of addressing and attending to realities at the existential and personal level. If unconditional accelerationism (U/ACC) becomes more about our interest in “the blur” of change for the sake of change, or for a blind push into experimentation, than it is in enacting human emancipation and mutant design for new forms of joy and contentment, then in effect it’s just one more alien system trying to take over control and tip civilization towards some unintended and unguided and meaning-less post-human future states. Because why would any of us pay attention or even care about accelerating in the last instance if it didn’t plug into our all-too-human interests and motivations? Which is to say I prefer my accelerations conditioned by basic human interests, albeit modified and divergent from from current assemblages.
This is where ‘the question of praxis’ in most significant for throwing up possibilities for opening dialogue about how to effectively link #1 and #2 (above), and why your essay is helpful for making some useful distinctions. Praxis matters as both design principle and as actual enactive effort. As you write, “[i]f we step back take praxis in its most broad sense – the higher form of acting in the world – then U/ACC is hardly anti-praxis; it simply asks that the limits and the inevitable dissolution of things be acknowledged…” Any project (such as accelerationism) or platform or assemblage of systems is inherent given to praxis, and in a sense is already itself a praxis, because it affects and can be affected, and because it manifests its own actions and expressions in the world. The praxis of accelerationism is exactly how we instantiate affects and effects in our discourses and practices. The very speciation of accelerationism into Left and Right variants shows how human interests and values always already animate the project, and thus all questions of praxis entail social deliberation and evaluation towards goal-oriented behavior (strategy). Hence “politics”.
All of which is to say that I’m very weary of a so-called “unconditioned” accelerationism. The conditions with-in which we attempt to accelerate or intervene or intensify things matter, and they matter in ways that shape the outcomes and access to whatever novelties follow. The desire for U/ACC can become decidedly anti-humanist if it attempts to decouple human political agency (as it is linked to basic subjectivizing processes) from the business of pushing various non, sub, and inter-sapient material and technical processes and systems towards accelerated change.
This was Brassier’s criticism of Land’s accelerationism from the get go. Tactics without strategy leaves rationality and intentionality (and thus care) out of the equation. Process without deliberation leads to praxis without ethics, and thus creates an annihilating wave of directionless non-human force that provides no room for agental interest let alone human emancipation. U/ACC might obliterate the existential and human agental nodes (actants) with-in the networks in order to facilitate change for change sake. It is a slippery slope from U/ACC as “anti-collective means of intervention” to U/ACC as anti-agent (human or otherwise).
This seems a bit like an ontological claim masquerading as practical concern. That all assemblages have a temporal nature and must participate in the flow of matter and energy is an important insight for political ontography, but it doesn’t address how or why or in what way we might structurally cope with-in and adapt to variable situations that are already pregnant with human agendas, concerns and interests. The anarchic nature of things at the most fundamental levels characteristically includes temporal assemblies and configurations with-in which we must necessarily navigate and carve out our existence. The question of praxis is, then, less a question of traditional politics and more a question of ecological coordinations and temporary stabilization for specific (specifiable and deliberate-able) personal to collective aims – or what I am calling ecologistics. But, again, an ecologistical approach that addresses the problematics of both 1) technics and intensities and 2) directedness and human interest/agency, which had traditionally been the domain of “politics”.
As Brassier argues against Land, without “strategy” or directedness generated at the level of rational nodal agency “tactics” or praxis can either be commandeered by some wholly other “alien” force, or by some remaining sequestered human cabal of agents. The question is which agents or sets of agencies do we want driving the accelerated processes? If we want them to be unconditioned and mostly anarchic then expect someone or something or some group to try and steer them without our knowledge, thereby determining the trajectory of an entire species, or expect unintended consequences that may or may not lead to massive human suffering.
Right now we have Lefties and Righties and other ideologically laden groups vying for guidance control, hoping to instantiate their values in the systems. My own post-nihilist take is that we need to shift the emphasis away from ideology to address the practical dimensions of our existential, biological and climatic emergencies in a way that we can begin to reformulate our identities and priorities, and open new spaces of consideration and valuing.
Here is where I undoubtedly agree with your commentary:
I agree, which is why I caution that with U/ACC it is possible that we might be in danger of unleashing non-human forces that could obliterate the very conditions for the continuation of our species. As a non-suicidal (non-speciescidal) human agent I’m inherently not inclined towards that. So even if I find U/ACC intellectually appealing in its coding of the potent machinic undercurrents of material flow and form, as a practical ecologistical program it seems inadequate for the interests of our species.
In addition, I would like to also suggest that U/ACC comes off as a rather unreflexive theology of purity in the way it attempts to strategically and tactically erase the human elements, as if there aren’t human motivations already built into the discourse. The cognitive attraction to the sublime nature of creative destruction and delirious process for advocates of U/ACC seems to be a subconscious desire for religio and at-one-ment with the machinic phylum in order escape the worldly complications of agental response-ability and complex social relations/considerations.
More adaptive how? Technocapitalism is not identical to the evolution of technics as such, the former being driven by particular interests (profit) and system requirements (production efficiencies). This is where my concern with the nature guidance with-in these processes is relevant. What are the internal sub-projects of capitalist production and innovation seeking coded for? What and who and how are accelerations being deployed and to what end?
Again, this smacks of a theology of machinic bliss to me. Why are these systems automatically given to purity, outside the complexities of coordinated or discordant systems of human intentionality? I agree that such fragmentations are happening and will happen, but human collectives and coping-strategies are part of process. We are necessarily forced to adapt and “contend with” such changes, but isn’t the contending and coping part of all this the conditioning aspect?
The rest of your essay is a brilliant, and offers much to consider re: control systems (all issues for any ecologistics) and enacting stable social assemblages. I plan to think on all that for some time.
My brief supplement to your highlighting of the issues of legibility and territorialization is to advocate for the practical and functional efficacy of new forms of localism, but linked to confederations of determined public interest (infrastructure). Each bioregion offers a particular set of problems and affordances that require infrastructural attention. The wider negotiation becomes about inter-regional cooperation to maximize local success – the beneficial seeking of nonzero sums. Stabilization of communities within communities, so as to decrease the noise preventing coherence of citizenry and agency, and increase capacity for coordination and resiliency. Municipal governmentality is the central in that.
Of special note is your comment here:
I whole-brain agree. U/ACC (as, very broadly, a an/nihlistic tendency) seems great at suspending the tendency of both Left and Right variants to attempt to change control and production systems using models and resources from that system and thereby perpetuating it, but, again, I think it’s dangerous to assume that we would do better to have U/ACC as our theology when as humans seeking to survive we want our accelerations to generate generally positive outcomes. The “political’ nature of determining our strategies for acceleration is ever-present and cannot be ignored nor explained away.
Reterritorializing is not only unavoidable but desire-able.
“In addition, I would like to also suggest that U/ACC comes off as a rather unreflexive theology of purity in the way it attempts to strategically and tactically erase the human elements, as if there aren’t human motivations already built into the discourse. The cognitive attraction to the sublime nature of creative destruction and delirious process for advocates of U/ACC seems to be a subconscious desire for religio and at-one-ment with the machinic phylum in order escape the worldly complications of agental response-ability and complex social relations/considerations. ”
I think this point you raise is important and should be taken on board. But, on two different hands, a purposeful reflexivity of U/ACC and desire will, if desire and discourse is approached adequately (say, via Anti-Oedipus), will both re- and dis-humanize the project. Desire is inhuman. Desiring may very well desire what the saner pre- and conscious shiver at. Only deterritorialization is desire.
I’m sensitive to that perspective, but might argue that desire is also never pure and uncomplicated. Desire is always from and of a system-assemblage of a particular ontic character and thus already imbricated in systems of basic care (Heidegger) and intentionality. So in this case we enter into the mix of inhuman, nonhuman, and human desiring and are thus forced to either acquiesce to particular desires or contend and engage in a human-oriented material-agental sorting process (evolution). In the ecology of desiring-machines some will triumph, some will form various accommodations with and of others, and some will become lunch.
“Today, amidst a changed political and class landscape, strategy should take precedence over fidelity to the received canon. The activities of social reproduction remain the field of powerful class antagonisms. Not only has the capitalist assault on the terrain of reproduction taken the form of austerity – the devolution of the costs of social reproduction back onto workers – but the growing response to the squeeze on working-class time has been the accelerated marketization and commodification of reproductive labor.
“Many of today’s lines of political contestation are thus being drawn squarely through the terrain of social reproduction – soaring rents, crumbling buildings, underfunded schools, high food prices, crippling debt, police violence, and insufficient access to basic social services like water, transportation, and health care. It’s no surprise that some of the most dynamic mass struggles – such as anti-racism, anti-police brutality, and anti-austerity – are primarily unfolding in neighborhood. In Ferguson, where unemployment is over 13%, a social movement was born in the streets, not the shop floor. In Detroit, once the heart of factory struggles in this country, one of the major struggles today is the fight for water.
“We should not take this to mean that social reproduction is a transhistorical category of economic necessity, and that therefore it joins production as an anthropological imperative. It should point us instead to the specificity of capitalist social relations, which begin, in the words of Michael Denning, “not with the offer of work, but with the imperative to earn a living…
“The struggles at the level of social reproduction link with those in the fast food industry, agriculture, hospitals, universities, and logistics, attesting to the need for a unitary field of analysis and antagonism. The political question today is how to effectively articulate the plurality of struggles on these diverse terrains in a way that can begin the long process of building a new class power. And that brings us once again to the question of political organization.”
– Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi, “Making a Living” (2015).
Hey Mike, thanks for the lengthy and well-written response. It’s great, and sets quite a challenger, both in terms of defining the grounds of discourse and clarifying key matters and concepts at play in U/ACC in a clear and concise manner. Couldn’t ask for anything more! So let’s dive on in.
I guess the first thing to tackle is U/ACC’s overarching schema. First and foremost, it is not a political philosophy or agential system for liberatory aspirations (though, as I hoped to at least draw out in a minor register, such a thing can be drawn out in part). It an exploration of a succession of interweaving material stratifications and destratifications, cutting across all manners of scales (temporal and physical), in a way that emphases the generalized movement away from homeostasis in both generalized and relative manners. Simply put, it is the movement from orderly, stable-state systems through to their phase-spaced dissolutions. In this sense, it is a cold materialism, as is concerned not only with inhuman forces that will ultimately our tightly-woven, regulated systems, but it highlights the temporal impossibility of maintaining these systems due to the hot and loopy rush of increasing returns and positive feedback.
This is why it is “unconditional acceleration”: one stands back at looks at the system, the horrible seething mess of the megamachine with its inputs and outputs running through ‘natural systems’ that it so arrogantly assumes it is separated from, and regards it as a singular cybernetic metasystem. It observes the way this system unfolds in time, and tracks its tendency towards its own end, not necessarily from some grand external event that arrives and suspends all that is happening, but by forces that are within, rushing upwards through the machine and ripping it to pieces. The future isn’t in human control, and it very likely will not respect the human form.
This sort of notion is grows in the line beginning in Marx, and running down through Deleuze and Guattari up to Nick Land. That we’re dealing with forces that are etched by an arrow of time is what is lost, I think, on critics like Brassiers, who bemoan what they perceive as a lack of political engagement or agency in Land’s work (I would argue that he is actually quite wrong on this fact – early Land does offer a notion of the political, simply one stripped of “Christian-Socialist” architecture) and turn away from the alien forces that assume primacy. To argue against the theoretical framework on the grounds that it cedes power to alien forces is missing the forest for the trees: that is precisely what it is arguing… and for certain critics (Brassier and Noys come to mind) to link this line to ‘neoliberalism’ is to carry out an egregious misreading, as neoliberalism, and even capitalism itself – rendered here as quite distinct from both capital and markets – are parasitic structures riding the back of these forces while also seeking to contain and steer them into capture.
Now, to the political content!
The arrow towards dissolution might, as a whole, might be a terminal configuration, but within its movement are series of countermovements, things that push against it. I’m reminded of those great reflections scattered in Norbert Wiener’s books on cybernetics, like
“In Gibbs’ universe order is least probable, chaos most probable. But while the universe as a whole, tends to run down, there are local enclaves of whose direction seems opposed to that of the universe at large and in which there is a limited and temporary tendency for organization to increase. Life finds its home in these enclaves.”
Clearly we could view affirmative political content as operating in a manner akin to these enclaves – but the contents of this metaphorical alignment begin to fall apart when we make the maneuver from 1st order cybernetics (where Wiener and his own idiosyncratic, if perhaps overtly liberal, brand of humanism remained lodged) to 2nd order systems theory, where these stable enclaves reveal themselves as pocket-systems teetering on the edge of chaos. Or, the even more horrible realization (for traditional humanists): that the dissolution of the enclave barriers, and their entering into mutation, is essential for any forward momentum (noise is the only possible source of new patterns). Hence the tendency – one that is absolutely trackeable – for crisis to compound from within organized systems of massification, be it the state or the capitalist corporation. The larger processes identified by U/ACC overshadow these secondary politic processes. The challenges to organizationalism (especially those identified in the second half of my essay here) emerge precisely from these processes operating in chain-reaction and positive feedback (as describe in the first half).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unsympathetic to political mobilizing or either articulating politics in the framework of liberation (even if I’m extremely skeptical of anything from of grand ‘human liberation’). I come from an activist background that I continue to remain very engaged in, particularly where ecological issues are concerned – so I totally get where you’re going with the line of ecologistics thinking. This is why I urge, towards the end of my piece here, not to look away from the rushing torrent, but to dive into it. Crisis is exacerbated and compounded by increasingly ad-hoc, short-sighted, and heavy-handed responses to what is happening on the ground. U/ACC processes might grind apart the organic and the whole, but the jagged unevenness that moves through the real often (frequently, even) emerges not second-order from these processes, but from their partial obstruction. Thinking about building something that flows in with these processes, not struggling to divert or block them (which can only be despotic in the extreme) nor to radically modulate them, is a bit of a hard pragmatism that can serve as a way to get out of the morass that even the most ‘futural’ of the left find themselves locked into. Hence “let go”: not only letting go in the face of the processes, but letting go of the mechanisms that keep us territorialized in a stage unequipped to cope with the meltdown — because the meltdown is precisely the only thing we are sure of.
“The political question today is how to effectively articulate the plurality of struggles on these diverse terrains in a way that can begin the long process of building a new class” talk about prometheanism unbounded by their actual capacities, these folks make the people planning physical engineering responses to climate change (some of which will no doubt will actually be assembled and unleashed on the biosphere) seem practical, meanwhile for those of us with eyes on the horizon and our feet on terra firma the question remains of what can one do with the resources and allies at hand in the here and now?
Yes, I’m very wary of anything that discusses “new class” formations from plurality of struggles; there follows an unavoidable dip into the kind of crass-technocraticism that has plagued the Western (and Eastern!) lefts since time immemorial. Telling that those who promote such things often tend to be themselves from the professional-managerial class… and the 20th century – and the current juncture – is a testament to the end result of the PMCs’ fixation on planning and control. But we also need look no further than James Scott’s research on why this is the case.
Also, when people talk of constructing something from the plurality of struggles, I wonder if they’ve ever watched two distinctly different politico-activist modalities try to interface with one another – or if they’ve ever sat through those long, tedious activist planning sessions!
Insofar as the liberatory is concerned, I find that Gillis’s treatment of organizations gels much better with my own experiences… https://humaniterations.net/2012/01/31/organizations-versus-getting-shit-done/
” I wonder if they’ve ever watched two distinctly different politico-activist modalities try to interface with one another – or if they’ve ever sat through those long, tedious activist planning sessions!” yeah that’s the point really, we have no new hack of human psychology that allows for a truly new and effective means of organizing, part of why capitalists love those robots…
listening now to:
Pingback: Unconditional Acceleration and the Question of Praxis: Some Preliminary Thoughts — – radicalsubjectivityblog·
I’m inclined to agree with your conclusion, but I have reservations with the way you get there. The problem I tend to have with these approaches to the question of future polity is the degree to which the subpersonal human components of the systems discussed tend to be assumed/overlooked (because no one has a bona fide theory of cognition). Approaching the problem as primarily one of technocratic complexity is guilty of this, I think, because complexity is the cost of doing any and all biological business. Just recently, for instance, neuroscientists have determined that dendritic elements of neurons are performing their own operations, potentially bumping up the computational capacity of the human brain by a factor of 10. Thanks to evolution, however, we are quite adept at managing this complexity using the simple heuristics comprising intentional cognition. The point being that in brute physical terms modern societies are only marginally more complicated than ancient ones.
So then what renders the *marginal* complication of our social/natural environments so problematic? The fact that it is historically unprecedented. We have evolved to manage ancestral complexities. This is why we’re prone to think premodern life so ‘simple’: not because it was, but because we possess the tools required to manage it. The marginal complication of social/natural environments is problematic (vis a vis political action) to the degree that it crashes our ancestral capacity to successfully navigate/solve them. All political praxis now turns on science fiction for this very reason, thus the contemporary crisis in political thinking, and thus the growing appeal of atavisms, the conservative urge to force complexity back into its ancestral forms (‘turn back the clock’), and the progressive urge to master complexity via new technologies (‘stay ahead of the curve’). Neither strategy has anything to do with the ‘reducing variables’—the monstrous complexities are there, regardless! Both strategies, rather, aim to render social/natural environments *tractable,* the one by purging novelties, the other by mastering them (via novelties). The former, of course, results in brutalities, while the latter simply feeds the very processes generating the problem (this is the criticism I level against Ito’s Whiplash: the way his ‘survival guide’ doubles as a suicide manual).
We can both neglect and solve intractable ancestral complexities because we evolved ways to predict/manipulate/explain those complexities given what little information we had available. We could solve those supercomplicated systems without knowing anything about them because they remained (relatively) invariant. So long as the machinery remains the same, then we can trust the reliability of the scant information available to predict outcomes. Once that machinery changes we find ourselves with cues disconnected from consequences: in crash space. You could say both conservatives and liberals are in the reconnection game, the former by reviving/preserving ancestral backgrounds, the latter by innovating new tools possessing the reliability our ancestral systems have lost. This latter strategy has been a wildly successful one so far: I’m not sure generalizing observations of certain complex systems (which may or may not be analogous to our case (I think not)) is going to convince anyone to abandon this strategy.
On my ecological account, the counter-argument is both straightforward and devastating: liberal approaches amount to doubling down on cognitive pollution to cope with the consequences of cognitive pollution. ‘Innovate or perish’ at the local level means ‘innovate and perish’ at the global.
Hey R.S. — thanks for the lengthy reply! Reading through it, I’m not sure where our disagreements would lie (if any), as U/ACC is grows out of many of the same concerns you have here, and is ultimately less interested in manifesting future polity as L/ACC and R/ACC do. Some of the broader concerns have been outlined by Vince Garton, and here’s some links in case you haven’t seen ’em:
“Acceleration Without Conditions” https://vincentgarton.com/2017/03/08/acceleration-without-conditions/
“The Missing Homeostat” https://vincentgarton.com/2017/03/18/the-missing-homeostat/
The reason my piece here deals in praxis and the question of technocratic polity (and its rapidly proliferation operational limits) is because it is a response to certain L/ACC critics of the emergent U/CC perspective, individuals who still cling to the hope of large-scale mastery and sweeping work-arounds for the issues of complexity, entropy, and flight from homeostasis.
“The reason my piece here deals in praxis and the question of technocratic polity (and its rapidly proliferation operational limits) is because it is a response to certain L/ACC critics of the emergent U/ACC perspective, individuals who still cling to the hope of large-scale mastery and sweeping work-arounds for the issues of complexity, entropy, and flight from homeostasis.”
And this is precisely my point: I don’t see why any L/ACC proponent would accept that those three issues generalize to systems comprised of human agents (I know I don’t!). Either you all need HNT, or you need some other empirically anchored theory of cognition.
“The crisis of the now demands something upon us: the dismantling of globalized capitalism, yet such a program cannot proceed without knowing what kinds of social systems, knowledge systems, infrastructural systems can be used to aid in such a monstrous necessity. If we don’t, it is very likely that we have everything to lose.” (E.Berger)
How does U/ACC not contradict this important point you made elsewhere re: conditions for not losing everything? U/ACC seems like an anarchism clothed in a shiny mech-suit staking all its claims for legitimacy on hopes that things might somehow turn out great in the long duree.. L/ACC at least attempts to install anthro-relevant soc-know-infra systems to aid in the process and help guide (not completely control) the trajectories such that some kind of human might find its place, does it not?
Not all technic and systemic accelerations happen at the same velocity and with the same or even coinciding effects. Why can`t human systems, as just another assemblage in the mix, gain some purchase on the way it becomes meshed through a type of guidance that both ensures existence and instructs us to be better in relation to the earth?
With Ecologictics I advocate support for human potential via adaptational niche-construction projects. Need they be dominating global or conglomerated patchworks? No. In fact they would be fundamentally based on eco-regions, energy catchments and redesigned transport systems/priorities so inherently regional and communitarian.
“Conditions“ are inescapable. We can rebel and run with Prometheus, striking out to create some hybrid accommodation with the flow, or we can bow down to Thanatos and fade to black. Or something weird in between. I`d rather be a rebel.
Michael – the quote of mine there is from nearly two years ago to the day (April 1st, 2015!) and while I’m generally operating in the same discursive/active spectrum (left/post-left activities and critique), my positions have shifted consistently since then. Had I encountered many of the things I’m currently critiquing then, I most likely would have jumped on board – but it was examining what it would honestly take to pull something off has led me to precisely the opposite position when it comes to the question of ‘what must be done’. So when you write that “U/ACC seems an anarchism clothed in a shiny mech-suit”, sure, to an extent, since I am an anarchist (which I cannot say for all other people involved in U/ACC) and runaway technology is a central question here. But to suggest “staking all its claims for legitimacy on hopes that things might somehow turn out great in the long [run?]” is incorrect – because U/ACC is not staking hopes on anything, much less the realization of things turning out great. As I said in the main body of the piece “U/ACC is not at the bottom a political theory” in the sense that it poses a liberatory program (at least in any macro-sense). Instead, this is an exploratory diagram of something akin to what Bakker has described as the “crash space”, and the materialist-historical tracing of its emergence. Any secondary politic concerns, I would argue, must emerge and meet the conditions of existing in that crash space.
“Not all technic and systemic accelerations happen at the same velocity and with the same or even coinciding effects. Why can`t human systems, as just another assemblage in the mix, gain some purchase on the way it becomes meshed through a type of guidance that both ensures existence and instructs us to be better in relation to the earth?”
Different accelerations are certainly not moving at the same speed, but they do collide and speed one another up, engendering long-term patterns of increasing returns and path-dependencies of varying degrees of optimization. Spoken of generally, this is that compounding of pockets of hyper-accelerated complexity (say, social, economic, cultural, ecological, etc) into a more generalized global (and probably later extraterrestrial) complexity that can be viewed from a distance and as a machine propelling itself forward. Complex organizations and organizing platforms require signal-to-noise ratios tipped in favor of the signal in order to coordinate activity and thus execute their agendas at scale; complex systems have a tendency to trash the duration and operational field of the signal and compress its effectiveness into smaller and smaller spaces. This is the reason that Bar Yam identifies a historical trajectory in which organized command and control systems must shrink their branching ratios down to the smallest possible point. This is not conducive to any form of liberatory politics derived from the majority of traditional political traditions.
In fact, the only way mass politics and macro-level steering could take place would be through the incredible reduction of variables in play, by preventing catalytic forces from coming into contact with one another and creating a boom. But how would that happen? By throwing up roadblocks on technologies that are miniaturizing to individual scale? By preventing people from tinkering with their bodies? By halting the flow of goods over borders? By halting the flows of people over borders? By pushing downward the amount of information produced everyday by the infrastructures of transnational interconnectivity? None of these possible or desirable, and attempts to carry out such programs will produce the worst outcomes.
I’m certainly not going to poo-poo any and all attempts to carve out livable enclaves and attempts to ‘ride the crest’ of current technoscientific virtuality – be it green tech, smart logistics, etc. – are all certainly welcome, and could be cast as part of this processes. It, after all, is still the breaking-apart of past orders. But the outcomes of any attempt to forge positive polity will likely differ considerably in execution than in the blueprint phase. Planning always collapses and lapses into unplanning (of varying degrees, of course), like so many of the would-be utopias: New Harmony, Catalonia, Soviet Union, China, the United States of America
just delving/bumbling into the world of U/ACC now, and can’t help seeing comparisons between your views here and Reza Negarestani’s flavour of accelerationism as seen in ‘the Labour of the Inhuman’. The main point being the lack of guidance/control/preservation of the human + related structures. How would you compare U/ACC to inhumanism?
you might have better luck reaching him @ https://deterritorialinvestigations.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/manifesto-for-revolution-abstract/
just bumbling/delving into the world of U/ACC today.
I’m surprised not to hear Negarestani’s name mentioned in this context. It strikes me that his flavour of accelerationism in ‘labour of the inhuman’ is similarly oriented away from preservation/direction/humans/etc. How would you compare your view to inhumanism?