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this blog collective has consistently pursued the open question of how we might think of a post-nihilist praxis, a problem amenable to torsions activating new kinds of “resolutions” to such an open problem.

with that, i want to depart from an idea popularized by the anti-psychiatry movement from the 60s and 70s–“ontological precarity” (definition coming soon, below) is imbricated in a social field, a general economy of flows, political events, economic surges and downturns, and ecological stirrings.  a paranoiac’s relation to the world, just as a psychotic’s or a neurotic’s, they might argue, includes communication with elements that go far beyond the borders of one’s skin.  feelings of persecution, mania, depression are not dependent upon a hermetically sealed “meatbag,” but rather, involve the human being’s status as an “open system” in continuous communication and exchange with the world.  breathe-in air, perceive objects enmeshed with social meaning (or deviating from it, interestingly), letting out words and always indicating one’s posture facing the world, for a few examples.  but this open communication can be a rather risky operation, especially when you nor anyone else has total control over time, the cosmos, space, other people, and all those things that constitute us and the world we individually and collectively navigate.

who among us, for a more quotidian but pervasive example, does not feel anxiety today?  emerging ecological crises w/ the momentum of hundreds of years of capitalist economic activity releasing CO2 into the air, the continuing austerity and uncertainty of the future produced by neoliberalism (“the god that failed”) and the global financial crisis of last decade, their consequent spawning of a cohort of new fascisms springing up with Trump et al., severe political crisis and instability globally, and horrifying violence signaling both swaths of people (e.g. ISIS) and individuals (e.g. the Orlando shooter; the knife attack in Sagamihara, Japan; etc.)…i’m sure there’s plenty that could be added, things that i’m missing, but i think we have the general picture forming before us.  i’d be surprised if it didn’t–it’s nothing new.  “business-as-usual.”

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there’s plenty, in short, of reasons for anxiety today.  a general sense of insecurity, of precarity, regarding the present and future conditions of existence for oneself, loved ones, and the rest of those less proximate individuals involved in this experiment called “civilization.”  it is very easy to deduce or incur the debilitating sense that “the future has been cancelled,” and that the present isn’t worth living.  it is this precarity that binds us, an affect or comportment that we all share to differing extents.  we are all precarious about our existences today in an era of ecological, economic, political, and social crises: “ontological precarity.”

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the dank meme attests

this ontological precarity is, i want to claim, one way of understanding the nihilism that we at SZ would like to position ourselves as “post-” to.  nihilism as premised upon precarity…upon scarcity.  a real scarcity just as much as an organized and engineered scarcity:

“terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves, offers the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars.  continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages.” (Srnicek + Williams, Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics)

The challenge, then, for any praxis with the ambition to be “post-nihil(ist)” lies in part with taking up the problem of scarcity as both real and as in need of “overcoming” ethically and politically, individually and collectively.  in today’s climate (see above), this bears the ring of a heresy, something which our situation’s closing horizons today permit no “belief” for.  and yet, that seems to be precisely what any progressive political project worth its salt requires today, a belief that we are indeed not at “the end of history” (is there an uglier phrase, one dripping more with venomous inhibition?)…but not a belief for its own sake.  instead, a “belief” that un-rivets us from our learned helplessness writ large.  an opening up of a future that could motivate its own construction, like a time-loop of positive feedback.  an un-riveting that enables alternative ways of thinking and acting than those over-coded by the logic of scarcity.

one that lets us interact with each other on kinder terms, in more humane and error-tolerant ways striving to reject the primacy of counter-productive aggressive behaviors and the defensive complexes they arise from.  less “homo homini lupus / man is a wolf to man” (hobbes) and more “hominem homini Deus esse / man is a god to man” (spinoza).  not as if precarity and scarcity do not exist, but b/c none of us have scarcity as an “idea of the good” that would sustain us throughout our lives.  i mean, yes, we come to “desire servitude as if it were our freedom,” (spinoza) but if we could somehow be given the option “deep down” between scarcity and “post-scarcity,” we would pick the option that involved less fear, less screaming, less explosions, less self-destructive death drives, less exhaustion, and more good encounters with other people, more of a sense of agency, more control over living lives that we actually enjoy, more space for care ethics and enjoying vulnerability, more free time to use as we see fit.  in other words, we would opt for the post-scarcity and its less disabling, more enabling conditions for human freedom.  (the more universal we define these as, the more people can envision themselves as a part of such a project)

this un-riveting, both practiced and desired, also modifies our space and vision of possibilities.  if one thinks that there is no future remaining, or finds the present endlessly horrifying, then it becomes more difficult to think of ethico-political activity that would not only not be futile, but worth the effort.  why work towards a future that isn’t going to be there?  it’s hard to motivate one’s desire for post-scarcity anything if it’s disavowed as a fact of life, left to rot without any experience of post-scarcity to suggest and impel otherwise.  in so far as drugs, for example, can be found in these moments of spinning in the void, they appear friendly precisely b/c of the way that they satisfy that need of ours to feel that something else is possible, even if only for a fleeting time.  however, if one can experience post-scarcity, or understand it as a good-in-itself given its effects for us, then there is a perceptual opening up of the future-horizon allowing one to project such post-scarcity into the future as a good that is on the table again.  this in turn propels behavior, organizational planning, and thinking that can take such post-scarcity as an (complex) object to be materialized through individual and collective effort.  now, as always, political (and ethical too, for that matter) success for such a demanding project is not guaranteed beforehand, and this one is no different.  but to respond to today’s problems and crises, nothing less will do for any humanism with universalist ambitions.

if the philosopher nick land got anything right, it is the recognition of the force of our desire for libidinal dis-inhibition.  such dis-inhibition is incredibly effective as a motivator, something that we desire in so far as we can be freed from something oppressive towards the hope of something else better than what is currently given (whether situational present or anticipated future).  an interlinking of a dynamic between negative freedom (“freedom from”) and positive freedom (“freedom to”).  freedom fromthe limits and violence and fear of scarcity, and freedom to the ease and abundance and flourishing of post-scarcity.  (an aside: critique does an excellent job of the former, but can’t quite do the job of the latter as, say invention can.)  it is both, but especially the latter, that progressive, universalist humanist projects today need to become better at formulating.

take back control.”  “make america great again.”

inscribed in both of these cynical injunctives are both kinds of freedom.  there are insinuations that control has been lost, or that america is not / no longer great.  these are the perceived inhibited conditions that boris johnson and donald trump target for their discontent, for their fear, for what people desire deliverance from.  but there are also glimmers of promised effects tucked away as well in these slogans.  one can enjoy agency again, one can have one’s voice heard and participate in and directly affect the collective and the nation.  one can not only be delivered from scarcity, but also delivered towards what scarcity inhibits, to the post-scarcity goods of a sense of agency over one’s life (rather than subjected to vicissitudes) and lending one’s agency for the desirable-in-itself project of greater collective freedom.  the broad brushstrokes of these slogans can be ambiguous as to what specific policies are put forward, but it is clear that they are utilizing not only mechanisms of negative freedom–about anyone today has a list of things they’d like to be free from!–but also positively articulating the intrinsic good of a sense of agency related to augmenting individual and collective autonomy / freedom.

has *anyone* ever given you that woman’s look before? have you inspired that in another person?

trump’s supporters enjoy him perhaps not so much b/c they think his policies can really be carried out, but b/c he offers what bernie sanders offers and what neither hillary nor any of the republican candidates offer/ed: a “collective hallucination” or collective fantasy that they are indeed part of the formation of alternatives in a time when america is certainly not “great.”  the feeling of moving somewhere and enjoying the wind under one’s feet, whether at one of their rallies or even extending to the internet phenomenon of bernie sanders’ dank meme stash (deserving an analysis all on its own) and its own surprising success at creating a culture of support not enjoyed by any of the other candidates.

it’s not about picking one  kind of freedom over the other, but recognizing the necessity to mobilize both for ethico-political projects of post-scarcity.  the popularity of the leftist-tending phenomena of bernie sanders and jeremy corbyn, in the same countries, speaks to not only their ability to articulate the problems to be delivered from, but also what goods conducive to humanist agency that could be concretely moved towards (e.g. free college, re-nationalize social institutions like the NHS)…effectively implying that not only can there indeed can be a future, but it can be a desirable one that doesn’t have to be “scarcity-business-as-usual.”

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“and in that moment i swear we were infinite”

this is also the draw of the (in)famous #FullyAutomatedLuxuryCommunism (#FALC…can that make us #FALCons???  god, plz, yes).  rather than restrict progressive desire to critique alone, some cheeky marxists wanted to play around with the idea that, “so, yeah, shouldn’t we all have all the luxury items we want and just have a blast together?”  re-purposing the capitalist desires we all develop or incur simply by living inside capitalist society, #FALC gestures towards a program of libidinal engineering meant to siphon this capitalist desire towards the support of leftist political approaches.  (memes are great for this, btw)

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come on people, even those in the early 60s knew that #FALC was the way to go!

if projects of the emancipatory / progressive / leftist / humanist variety leave the articulation and demonstration of the plausibility of post-scarcity to the neo-fascists, the alt-right, the conservatives, chauvinists, and traditionalists, then we should not be surprised that people will be more likely to vote for the latter.  and doubtless, the right’s visions of post-scarcity will not be universalist in their ambition, meaning post-scarcity for some, scarcity-as-usual for those excluded from whatever they define their in-group as.  no doubt that real constrictions resulting from scarcity exist:–but so do tendencies angling at post-scarcity, like robotic automation of labor, renewable energy sources, and universal basic income (UBI), that need to be elaborated as existing and plausible.  “objects” for positive projects that can motivate their own materialization, which is perhaps one way to differentiate (-) and (+) freedoms in the face of some of their shared features.

so in short, the “post-” of post-scarcity needs to imply both the “negative” relation of departure from scarcity, and the temporal sense of articulating a future that isn’t premised upon scarcity alone to mark its desirability:–“i’m sorry, [gender neutral title for robot elementary teachers] X87B9, but are you saying that past humans actually worked for more than 10 hours each week?  would even die from not having enough food?” ***horrified***.

 

__/ post-nihilist praxis \__

so i’m thinking about some of the arguments from a text on the role of the american state in the 20th c., esp w/ respect to US’ informal empire.  part of the argument that i see from my readings on the times of wilson and roosevelt and in btwn is how the US state didn’t have the complexity and organizational capacities to take on the british mantle for geopolitical hegemony in the wake of WW1.  it took unprecedented financial crisis–and capitalists’ desperation for the state to “do something!”–to motivate the american state to modify and expand its organizational structure and capacities, creating new departments, increasing its “man-power”, and being given more extensive powers and passing policies meant to successfully intervene on the great depression. while it took WW2 to get the US out of its depression–as well as the rest of the world it dragged in, by one form or another given the global connectivity that had emerged at the time–the US state had developed during the new deal the needed powers to later take up global hegemony post-WW2 by forming key new relationships with american (and therefore, global) financial institutions and capitalist production.

and then i thought of nick land.  land tends to leave the state out of the equation in most of his stuff i’ve read (his pre-NRx stuff), focusing instead upon the emerging (for his time) global neoliberal market and its completing ascendancy of inhuman capitalists operations of surplus valorization, in contrast to or deviously absorbing a global human population.  for land, “politics” is dead, and the market becomes the only “revolutionary” force, or at the very least, the one that liquefies all the other systems used to prop it up, including ecological ones supportive of biological life.  there is no elegy nor eulogy for such an “end” of politics: land is tired of human limitations and takes the otherwise threatening capitalist “intelligence” emerging that continuously produces and absorbs systemic crises as a superior force worth affirming, even against our own and our desire and practical abilities that seek to counter the strains and limitations on human freedom that it produces.  it is a ghastly nietzschean-hegelian combo, one that recognizes the absurdity of a geist taking “the human” as its ultimate conclusion or summit, mixed with the affirmation of supposedly greater potencies that humans are subject to in a machinic enslavement.  with capital as the “true” subject of history–or at the very least, the more “powerful” in a socio-technical inorganic darwinism–, human politics becomes a hopeless gesture that is overrun by a stronger force.

what power do social movements, land might ask, have to actually produce not only alternatives to capitalist economics–and all that brings–but ones that are more humanistic as well?  esp since they have failed since the late 60s to actually curb or decelerate capitalism’s anti-humanist putrefaction?  incidentally, this is where the left accelerationist critique of “folk politics” comes in–folk politics must be included in larger projects of counter-hegemony that can effectively understand and navigate complexity, abstraction, and technological infrastructure.  their call for “organizational ecologies” that can together tackle the problems needed to actuate any humanist “post-capitalist” project.

but it’s curious why the role of the state seems to be lacking in land’s analysis, unless, of course, i haven’t read enough of him to see what he thinks about it.  but given his silence i’m familiar with, something in my reading on the american state made a helpful conceptual connection for me.  although the state mediates class antagonism, or the antagonism btwn labor and capital more broadly (and perhaps metaphysically), it depends upon capitalist production of surplus value for it to not only sustain itself, but to also fund its cost-intensive ways of maintaining governance.  although the state mediates labor and capital, it seems to asymmetrically rely less upon the humans that compose its functioning and interests and sociality, and more upon the capital that can corrupt its politicians and make them in many ways more beholden to business interests–including transnational capitalist corporations’ interests.

at least this fatalism and cynicism about the possibility of conducting politics in land *makes sense.*  it comes from a deep mistrust about the state and its capacity to opt for something else than its own interests created through a financial reliance upon capital.  even its taxation of citizens garnering it revenue requires that sufficient wages be paid to laborers to achieve greater wealth.  and the rivalries and competition of geopolitical actors benefits greatly from such wealth as a strength, making it particularly attractive and seemingly non-negotiable for stronger states…except in exceptional times, like w/ the UK abandoning its imperial power over decades, or the beginning of the end of unipolar american hegemony.

but even more distinguishing for land, i take it, is the way in which the state might simply not be complex enough to uphold even the neoliberal capitalism which it takes as its best or only option.  that is to say, it might not have the organizational knowledge and capacities to divert the practical anti-humanism of capital, even in some cases becoming fascist regimes that promise to change things for the better but w/o being able to solve the problems it proffers solutions for.  like trump saying that he’s got all the answers, and then his eventual failure to deliver on what he says but creating conditions and perhaps even policies for overt racism and creeping fascism that recall that of the 30s.  and that this can both stem from and lead to popular discontent that destabilizes the state is astonishing, as it would diagnose a state model that can at its best only manage and govern perpetual crises but not deliver outcomes proper to a humanist institution–one by humans and for humans–but instead those proper to transnational capital.  the ttip and other trade pacts seem to indicate this willingness of the state to accept and facilitate economic policies that would set the people in an antagonism w/ the state, distancing it from the take that views the state as an essential organon to carry out a politics that can lead to humanist directions for post-capitalism.

so for land, politics is “dead” b/c you can neither count on social movements, nor on state actors and institutions:–capital reigns supreme over both forms, even if it extinguishes even itself in the process.  whether it does so would, land might argue, be dependent upon its ability to completely substitute the humanity it is annihilating with a machinic or technological intelligence that can continue the production of surplus value.

no wonder there is a resurgence of the question of the party for those desiring alternatives to capitalism (and especially *for* humanist “post-capitalism), aided in large part by varying degrees of success of leftists parties like syriza, corbyn, podemos, bernie sanders, the ndp.  and many others globally that are struggling to come onto their national scenes as a way to reject both the radical right’s fascism and the economic hegemony of neoliberal capital.  it is seen as necessary–if not sufficient, and it is perhaps here where different leftists diverge w/ regard to the state’s desirable role and actual capacities–for being able to navigate us into post-capitalism on issues like climate change and how to deal w/ the coming waves of automation of labor.  having seen syriza’s failure to follow through on its promises, bernie sanders’ campaign’s collapse, podemos’ mediocre results in the 2nd round of voting, and corbyn under threat post-brexit, one can imagine nick land smiling w/ the air of a knowing “i told you so.”

some pressing concerns then appear: what roles, organizations, and functions might social movements in the 21st century incur, and how might they have a political efficacy for desirable post-capitalist outcomes?  how to make sure leftist parties not only come into power over neoliberal and fascist ones, but are able to counteract their influence and to form mutually supportive links w/ said popular social movements?  what coming techno-economic developments can be seen as opportunities for enabling such successful experiments to navigate these crises?  how is counter-hegemony to be constructed, especially in terms of funding and the object of financial investment–easy for the mont perlin society’s taking the neoliberal path out of the economic blockages of the 70s but not for the vast majority without accessible liquidity and the like?  how is counter-hegemony able to purposively or instrumentally relate to material infrastructures in ways to support its aims for post-capitalism?  it seems clear that we have none of this as of yet, and that it is a practical imperative more than anything fleshed out right now…although that is essential for the actual thinking and acting constructive of counter-hegemonic projects.  but not to despair either, as such projects have long time scales, and we’ve only witnessed neoliberalism as “the god that failed” less than a decade ago when the 2007 global financial crisis galvanized our collective understanding that something other than capitalism is needed if we are going to survive as a species (esp w/ ecological crisis whose causes show no sign of slowing down).

nick land’s fears might end up not to be the fatalistic case he concludes them to be, but they reveal the anxiety and paranoia of knowing of capitalism’s inhumanity and its real subsumption…and what that means for our freedom, the enjoyment of our agency.  it’s pessimistic to say the least, and what becomes his theologization of this inhuman capital becomes problematic and indicative of an unnecessary metaphysicalization naturalizing an apocalyptic fatalism and despair–but his diagnosis of our crisis-ridden conjuncture is apt in many ways, and helps us to understand much of today’s craziness and the difficulty of attempting successful politics that are more than being feeble, “conservative” efforts to stymie an ineluctable capitalist “geist.”  de-potentiating his passive affect whereby he learns to desire his own servitude as if it were his freedom and reconnecting to the promethean imperative to see what a “techno-social body can do,” we can recover the needed sense of agency to involve our libidinal and informational resources in carrying out such projects.  that as summum bonum and task.

but that is very much the difficult problem now: how to take a logical and ethical imperative to drive a desirable political imperative to reformulate the economic axiom or imperative we face in its immensely global, abstract, and complex character?

I have delayed writing anything up on Inventing the Future. This hasn’t stopped me writing a bunch of short responses. These have mostly launched on Facebook but I thought I’d stick a thought on S&W’s leftism, the indigenous, colonialism, and the potential death of the left here.

In discursive deployments of indigenous people we can see the updating of an old trope. They are the new third world. They are those who a subset of white western leftists want to save and also be saved by. The revolution will come, when it comes, from the indigenous people’s self-defence of their traditional lifeworld. For instance Sophie Lewis and Dave Bell write that

so many Indigenous and pre-colonial practices, identities, sexualities and cosmologies with liberatory potential have been destroyed in the name of universalism; and whilst these are acknowledged with the claim that there are non-European forms of ‘reason’, ‘science’, ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’ (p. 77), we are not convinced that these decidedly European terms are the most suitable labels for them.

We can’t go back. The point of nihilism is that it is an absolute wave of dissolution. The attempts to make simple returns to traditional societies are bound to fail. Despite that there are examples of virulent hybrid modernist traditionalism in existence right now. These are repetitions of traditional societies that attempt to overcome the anomie and evacuations their life worlds have endured at the expense of western modernism whilst allying themselves with that same modernism. A number of commentators have suggested that ISIS is a modernist movement. We could say that it is a modernist attempt to summon a hyperstitional medieval. From this perspective ISIS becomes a hybrid traditionalist modernism.

Critics who suggest that seeing ISIS as either modernist or medieval as resting on simplistic dichotomies rest assured: the point I am making is less that it is one or the other but that it is a social chimera. While I may be expanding the idea of hyperstitional strategies beyond the idea that they must not code for dogma, I think we can see ISIS as hyperstitional through to its core. It is an artificial memetic loop that has brought itself into being through the use of post-spectacular media manipulation as much as by the deployment of real life militants. It’s war has been on the ground in reality but it has always been an augmented reality, and it has been in people’s heads by way of a media augmented reality. Even the actual Islamic State- the Caliphate- exists more as a hyper-real phantasy than it does a functional traditionalist society. It is still being born.

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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.

Salvage has a new article up that is being spread over FB. The article is by Alberto Toscano and focusses on the more or less forgotten Italian Marxist Franco Fortini. To continue my burst short and dirty posts I want to look at the Toscano’s gesture at a “communism without guarantees” and link it to Stoicism’s ethics.

A caveat: I am not a political theorist. I am not a politician. I am not even an activist any more. What I am is a worker whose job it is to never look away from suffering but to plunge directly into it.

The reason I draw attention his article is because of Toscano’s championing of Fortini’s conception of an ‘ephemeral and partisan’ Marxism. This isn’t the politics of accelerationist optimism or progressivist linearity so much undermined by our nihilist and/or pessimistic age. For Fortini Marxism was above all

a politics of unevenness, of a difference, an otherness, an antagonism that couldn’t be happily resolved, of ineliminable ‘anthropological’ dimensions of human suffering, of the tragic.

I suspect that for some the appeal to difference and otherness is already far too tiresome. We have moved into an era of Marxism obsessed with a subtractive generic humanity. For most people who read this blog- whatever your perverted reasons- I suspect this idea of otherness and difference will immediately seem not to go far enough. For this second group of readers the obsession circles around non-human animals, inorganic actants, ontological machines, a Great Outside. I don’t know how much group A and group B connect.

Regardless of how we parse this nothing of difference and otherness and whether we care much about antagonism or prefer acceleration there is a core insight in this quote that is absolutely indispensable: politics can only be based on an the ineliminable anthropological dimesions of human suffering. If we still believe in the functional capacities of ethico-political thought- and it is far from certain that we really do- then this has to be the underlying reason for doing so. Appeals to expropriation and to a fully automated luxury society are meaningless if they are not based on the promise of the eradication of the multiple forms of unnecessary suffering that continues to plague us. Of course this opens the problem of negative utilitarianism, although I’ll leave all that aside for now.

It does nothing to undermine the pleasure you might take in reading the full article if I jump to the end. The article concludes with Toscano invoking the idea that

the Marxist tradition can only be a tradition of discontinuity, of wagers and unevennesses – where our greatest allies may turn out not to be on ‘our’ side – and that communism can only perdure if it is a communism without guarantees.

This is a mature approach to politics. By that I mean that it rejects the childish insistence that there be clearly defined sides. Politics is not a morality play with good guys and bad guys. The world doesn’t fall into so neatly packaged categories. It is entirely possible that in the chaotic maelstrom of an ever increasingly complex nexus of causation that we cannot absolutely identify friends and enemies on the basis of the outcomes their actions or their putative intentions with any real confidence.

The insight from accelerationism that “the enemy” has all the tools and has mastered a kind of tactical and strategic competency that the left lacks is important. The angels of a purely prefigurative politics dance on the head of pin in a haystack the size of a galaxy. Their confidence in their methods and those of their allies, as well as in radical subjects like the trans or the working class, is hilariously idealist.

The truth is we don’t know how our actions will turn out. The complexity of a situation is too vast and reduces everything we do to a kind of gamble. This isn’t true only of political action, it is also true of any action we undertake in the world. It is that persist baseline level of hope that even the most ardent pessimist could never obliterate. As Cioran said, even breathing is a betrayal of pessimism’s absolute standard of disenchantment. We act and in acting we reveal a vanishing point of hope: we “hope for the best”.

Mark Fisher recently told me he thinks of me as a kind of anarcho-communist realist. To be honest I don’t know that I can lay claim to either “anarchism” or “communism” any more. But the idea of a leftist depressive realism appeals to me. A leftism that could accept the world as it is without protest. This doesn’t mean total resignation. It means adaptation to the complexity of the situation on the model of evolutionary adaptation to a given ecological niche. Of course part of human evolutionary success is our capacity to modify these niches. We aren’t resigned and don’t just accommodate ourselves.

This kind of leftism would understand that the world is what it is and is not. The left is pretty weak and it may be that every strategy is recuperable. If the left is to do anything, if it is to increase it’s capacity to act and thereby achieve any of its desired outcomes, it has to begin from the world as it is with an eye on the world that could be. I don’t mean this in the utopian sense. Instead I mean that the maximisation of capacity for efficacious action depends upon analysing a situation and discovering the affordances that exist in that situation. I suppose this is a call for a left pragmatism. Specifically it is a call for a left pragmatism that exploits any and all machines for maximizing the capacity for efficacious and effective action. Crucial to this is the development of normative and cognitive plasticity within recognisably leftist parameters.

I’m not sure if this would accelerationist or traditional Marxism. It might not even be Marxism. Only one thing would be certain: given that it’s fundamental orientation would be the elimination of unnecessary suffering it would view any tactical action that achieved that goal as a success. This is of course spatially and temporally scalable: a local victory doesn’t prevent catastrophic climate change.
I have said this politics might not even be Marxist. This is because I don’t locate its origination in the Marxist tradition whatsoever. For me it begins at the moment when Epictetus said that wisdom consists in knowing what is and isn’t under our control. It is possible that ultimately nothing is under our control- there is no free will whatsoever. That doesn’t mean there is no agency: it doesn’t stop the fact that collectivities nonetheless express causative potency. The goal is thus simply to maximize the left’s share of influence in the causative nexus. That is, the goal is to increase what is under our control.

So how does this tally with the idea of “a communism without guarantees”? It does so through the Stoic doctrine of the reserve clause. The Stoics knew that the world was messy, complex and that much of what we think of as under our control isn’t. They were also no strangers to politics, often to highly compromised politics. Marcus was Emperor of Rome, Seneca an advisor to another emperor, Epictetus a quietistic apologist for slavery. But none of that disqualifies us from exploiting what is useful to us in their work. What follows is a highly condensed version of the Stoics’ practical philosophy.

Whether we like it or not we must act in the world. The Stoics also had to act in the world despite having a doctrine of ethical indifference towards it. Externalities were considered as lacking value. Only the cultivation of wisdom through the development of a virtuous character held any value to the Stoics. They were focussed entirely towards the interior. And yet the recognised that they had to act in the world. They also recognised that they preferred not to suffer. There was no moral judgement made against suffering and no moral judgement made in favour of luxury, they just recognised that we tend to avoid suffering and seek out pleasure. The Stoic therefore had to guard himself against ruining his virtue whilst pursuing preferred externalities. To do so he would cultivate an attitude of indifference and fatalism to whether his actions succeeded or failed without going so far as to paralyse the possibility of acting at all. It is in this context that the reserve clause is deployed.

Marcus Aurelius writes that

That which holds the mastery within us, when it is in accordance with Nature, is so disposed towards what befalls, that it can always adapt itself with ease to what is possible and granted us. For it is wedded to no definite material, but in the pursuit of its aims it works with a “reserve clause”; it converts into material for itself any obstacle that it meets with, just as fire when it gets the mastery of what is thrown upon it. (Meditations, 4.1)

“That which holds the mastery within us” is reason. The reserve clause is thus what allows reason to adapt itself to any given situation. It is the kind of tactical reason that surveys obstacles in a given situation and without protest sets about assessing their value as affordances. Thus Marcus continues

Though a man may in some sort hinder my activity, yet on my own voluntary impulses and mental attitude no fetters can be put because of the “reserve clause” and their ability to adapt to circumstances. For everything that stands in the way of its activity is adapted and transmuted by the mind into furtherance of it, and that which is a check on this action is converted into a help to it, and that which is a hindrance in our path goes but to make it easier. (Meditations, 5.20)

As contemporary materialists we may not share this libertarian optimism regarding “voluntary impulses and mental attitudes” but even so we can recognize a kind of cognitive flexibility that refuses to dwell in paralysis or in reactive protestations that amount to impossible demands that the world not be what it is. The risk of the such demands is that one comes to see the world not as it is but as one’s in-group wishes it could be. It is this kind of perceptual error that resulted in the shock that took hold of the UK left following the General Election and which the left seems so prone to.

Many Stoics seem to talk as if this reserve clause amounted to a magical spell that made them invulnerable. Their psychic fortress become impregnable, no worldly disappointment or defeat could harm them. Of course this is itself a phantasy. But such a dream of invulnerability is only born from an acute awareness of just how vulnerable we are, and of how our every action is exposed to recuperation and corruption; to being ineffectual at best, and damaging at worst. A more sober version of the reserve clause is found in Seneca’s comment that

The wise man considers both sides: he knows how great is the power of errors, how uncertain human affairs are, how many obstacles there are to the success of plans. Without committing himself, he awaits the doubtful and capricious issue of events, and weighs certainty of purpose against uncertainty of result. Here also, however, he is protected by that reserve clause, without which he decides upon nothing, and begins nothing.

In a way this is a basic therapeutic insight. Stoicism has been used as the basis for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and REBT would go on to give rise to cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT is hated by the left. I am one of many people who have written critiques of its ideological noxiousness. And yet the core political issue with CBT is how it is deployed by certain interests for certain interests. The key insight of CBT remains useful and the therapy could easily be repurposed by an eclectic leftist psychotherapy. It boils down to a cognitive re-framing that eschews the “catastrophisation” in which every failure is total, and the cognitive rigidity in which everything short of revolution is useless reformism.

This approach is not without its problems. But it attempts to be clear-sighted in undertaking a map of the present and developing the ability to respond to the present. I don’t know whether this left stoicism is a workable idea philosophically, but I think the spirit of it is workable politically. In the end my orientation is simply one of getting through the day. The ambitions of a social revolution that would usher into a concrete utopia are pleasant dreams with which to torture ourselves. I prefer to remain with Marcus:

For me, the present is constantly the matter on which rational and social virtue exercises itself.

Anything else would seem delusional. But I’m not a political philosopher or a politician or even an activist any more. What would I know about it? I work in a field that is in the end a pragmatism lacking a theory. You’re depressed? Schizophrenic? A drug addict? We’ll try some shit and see what works. You may never be cured but you’re life might finally be liveable.

A: Proletkult

Can we be infrapunks, builders of tiny bits of a structure of another life?[1]

I. Living in Shadows

Last month I made the trip from Louisville to Frankfort, Kentucky’s state capitol, to attend an annual rally protesting the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. A coal industry favorite, this process of extraction involves the rapid deforestation of the landscape, followed by the blasting apart of the surface layer rocks, defined as “overburden,” which is then most commonly moved into an adjacent valley. The coal removal can now take place, with excavator digging deep pits into the truncated mountain; when this particular mine is fully emptied out, it becomes the dumping site for the next overburden removal. It continues like this, large paths of ruined forest snaking through the Appalachian mountain country.

033

The environmental and social impact is immense and negative. The process of blasting dumps pulverized rock, dirt, and chemicals into the air, blanketing any towns or property that happen to be near the mining site. The processes of deforestation and the dumping of overburden in the valleys, where streams and rivers make their way through the landscape, obstructs the functioning of the regional ecosystems. The streams that aren’t cut off fill with minerals and chemical run-offs; aquatic biodiversity collapses and the toxins find their ways into the water table. The rates of pulmonary disease, physical deformities and birth defects, cancer, and heart disease are skyrocketing amongst the local populations. The purpose of this entire process, coal, is shipped across the country and burned for energy; as the third most common energy source – and perhaps the dirtiest – it accounts for the majority of America’s c02 emissions. The machine eating away at the Appalachian Mountains, and the eco and social systems that inhabit these spaces, is plugged directly into what we call the Anthropocene.

Shivering the winter weather, the rally moved through downtown Frankfort, ending on the steps of the Capitol building where speakers, many from the devastated regions, analyzed the multilayered crisis this paradigm has ushered in. Their talks were militant: one speaker spoke in the plain, familiar language of the everyday about dismantling the state’s current power structure, embodied by a senator with a thirty year tenure in office and enough dark money paths to keep investigative journalists spinning in circles for ages.[2] She linked the reality of this dysfunctional representation to the environmental degradation triggered by strip mining, and connected this further to her own experiences and those of others in Kentucky’s Harlan Country, where the coal industry sucks up not only natural resources but regional job markets. Like so many other places across America, Harlan County – once the site of the legendary 1973 “Brookside Strike”[3] – is an experimental neoliberal laboratory for living suspended between a dying ecosystem and a collapsing economy. Another speaker followed a similar route, emphasizing the need in movement building to connect the disparate strands between a varieties of struggles: no isolation between the fights for racial justice and economic equality, between environmentalism and the crisis of governance. This is the truth of being on the left in age of the Anthropocene: there can be no radical struggle that doesn’t hold the ecological as the foundation of its horizon.

As the Situationists once said, “Our ideas are in everybody’s minds.”

How could such a required transformation take place? The career politicians have posed vague solutions such as carbon capture storage; attempts to legislate plans such of these, perversely, have produced incentives and tax breaks for coal extraction to continue.[4] Going wide view, the efforts of cap-and-trade, originally the brainchild of conservative bureaucrat C. Boyden Gray, have done little to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; other environmental regulations have amounted to little more than reshuffling the deck of cards without any long-term impact. For all intents and purposes there is no compatibility between the current global economic paradigm and living conscious of the Anthropocene.

Mike Davis, best known for his outstanding work on global poverty in The Planet of the Slums,[5] attempts to unify the questions of labor and ecology in a vision of the urban environment as the place to prototype sustainable futures. He draws our attention to the development of the postmodern metropolis through the anti-democratic regimes and investment luring, resulting not only in our ecologically unsustainable infrastructure, but also a rampant “growth of peripheral slums and informal employment, the privatization of public space, low-intensity warfare between police and subsistence criminals, and bunkering of the wealthy in sterilized historical centers or walled suburbs.”[6] The point he is stressing is that today, more than ever, the spatial is the political (or, as Metahaven would have it, the ‘personal is geopolitical’). In my home state this is illustrated by the fact that the parceling out of public infrastructure is part of the same machine as the crisis of representation in the capital, along with the corporations that profit, the coal they extract, they carbon they dump into the atmosphere, the think-tanks that whitewash the effects, the money spent lobbying to carve up more public space…

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“It’s a speculative accelerated realist bootleg throwdown! This episode features STEVEN SHAVIRO and ALEXANDER GALLOWAY discussing their recently published books THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS: ON SPECULATIVE REALISM and LARUELLE: AGAINST THE DIGITAL. DOMINIC PETTMAN introduces and EUGENE THACKER moderates this conversation that took place AT THE NEW SCHOOL IN NOVEMBER 2014. An additional recording of Shaviro discussing the #Accelerationism movement in JUNE 2014 AT PRO QM IN BERLIN appears at the end of the episode.

The sound quality is a bit buggy from start to finish–difficult to hear on occasion, encoding hiccups, cell phone interference and more–reminders from the Real of objects’ permanent permeability, as well their ineludable availability to disruption and translation”

<> http://bernardg.com/podcast/speculative-futures-steven-shaviro-and-alexander-galloway%20
<> http://cultureandcommunication.org/galloway/the-universe-of-things