Annotated #Accelerate (#2)

[Continued from here]

02. INTEREGNUM: On Accelerationisms

1. If any system has been associated with ideas of acceleration it is capitalism. The essential metabolism of capitalism demands economic growth, with competition between individual capitalist entities setting in motion increasing technological developments in an attempt to achieve competitive advantage, all accompanied by increasing social dislocation. In its neoliberal form, its ideological self-presentation is one of liberating the forces of creative destruction, setting free ever-accelerating technological and social innovations.

The brain-bruising invocation of ‘neoliberalism’ apart, these remarks are all perfectly sound.

2. The philosopher Nick Land captured this most acutely, with a myopic yet hypnotising belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, the human can eventually be dis-carded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilisations. However Landian neoliberalism [each use of this term deepens its senselessness] confuses speed with acceleration. We may be moving fast, but only within a strictly defined set of capitalist parameters that themselves never waver. We experience only the increasing speed of a local horizon, a simple brain-dead onrush rather than an acceleration which is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility. It is the latter mode of acceleration which we hold as essential.

The difference between ‘speed‘ and ‘acceleration’ is that between the zeroth and first derivative. It is rigorous and generally understood. The difference proposed here is something else. I have no clear idea what it is. (It seems to roughly amount to a distinction between Right and Left — i.e. the mere assertion that ‘capitalism’ is comprehensible as an ‘inside’ — with no further identifiable content.)

3. Even worse, as Deleuze and Guattari recognized, from the very beginning what capitalist speed deterritorializes with one hand, it reterritorializes with the other. Progress becomes constrained within a framework of surplus value, a reserve army of labour, and free-floating capital. Modernity is reduced to statistical measures of economic growth and social innovation becomes encrusted with kitsch remainders from our communal past. Thatcherite-Reaganite deregulation sits comfortably alongside Victorian ‘back-to-basics’ family and religious values.

Is not the Left the principle agent of ‘capitalist’ reterritorialization?

4. A deeper tension within neoliberalism is in terms of its self-image as the vehicle of modernity, as literally synonymous with modernisation, whilst promising a future that it is constitutively incapable of providing. Indeed, as neoliberalism has progressed, rather than enabling individual creativity, it has tended towards eliminating cognitive inventiveness in favour of an affective production line of scripted interactions, coupled to global supply chains and a neo-Fordist Eastern production zone. A vanishingly small cognitariat of elite intellectual workers shrinks with each passing year — and increasingly so as algorithmic automation winds its way through the spheres of affective and intellectual labour. Neoliberalism, though positing itself as a necessary historical development, was in fact a merely contingent means to ward off the crisis of value that emerged in the 1970s. Inevitably this was a sublimation of the crisis rather than its ultimate overcoming.

— It is politics that makes promises (capitalism makes deals). If you think ‘capitalism’ ever promised you anything, you may have been listening to a politician.
— What is the mechanism by which ‘cognitive inventiveness’ is progressively eliminated, given that innovation is a source of competitive advantage, which the market selects for?
— Is the ‘cognitariat’ shrinking? The answer to this seems to be a data point social science might provide.
— Why (oh why) are we still talking about ‘neoliberalism’? Isn’t capitalism as such the ‘problem’ that defines this as a Left cultural-political project? This ridiculous word is merely a profession of faith, serving far more as a tribal solidarity signal than an analytical tool. (Ironically, this dripping tap ‘neoliberalism’ tic significantly disrupts the project here. The accelerationist renovation of the Left, like every species of deep modernist renovation, aims to re-activate lines of development dating back to the high-modernism of the early 20th century when — as the authors fully, if perhaps only intuitively, understand the fundamental dynamic of modernity crested and broke. Or are we seriously to believe that “back to the mid-1970s!” is the implicit rallying cry?) 

I am of course very strongly inclined to accept that the crippled parody of capitalism existing today under-performs when compared to its potential under conditions of laissez-faire disinhibition — i.e. uncompensated from the Left. But it is Keynes and the 1930s, not ‘neoliberalism’ and the 1970s, that set the terms of capital’s subordination to macroeconomic planning. 

5. It is Marx, along with Land, who remains the paradigmatic accelerationist thinker. Contrary to the all-too familiar critique, and even the behaviour of some contemporary Marxians, we must remember that Marx himself used the most advanced theoretical tools and empirical data available in an attempt to fully understand and transform his world. He was not a thinker who resisted modernity, but rather one who sought to analyse and intervene within it, understanding that for all its exploitation and corruption, capitalism remained the most advanced economic system to date. Its gains were not to be reversed, but accelerated beyond the constraints the capitalist value form.

A sound micro-portrait. That the capitalist ‘value form’ (commerce-format quantification) can be realistically described as a ‘constraint’ is the most basic proposition at stake here. 

6. Indeed, as even Lenin wrote in the 1918 text “Left Wing” Childishness:
Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand even this (anarchists and a good half of the Left Socialist–Revolutionaries).

Such adherence to the principle of central planning is clarifying.

7. As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration. [Argument?] Similarly, the assessment of left politics as antithetical to technosocial acceleration is also, at least in part, a severe misrepresentation. [OK, as long as it is an ‘unknown ideal’ of Left politics that we are talking about.] Indeed, if the political left is to have a future it must be one in which it maximally embraces this suppressed accelerationist tendency.

The final sentence of this section is at once crucial and slippery. What is it — practically — to “embrace” a tendency? How and why was this tendency “suppressed”? Either to “have” or to lose a future would be an interesting thing, so it is the future that comes next …


14 thoughts on “Annotated #Accelerate (#2)

  1. Pingback: Nick Land: On Williams and Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics | noir realism

  2. So my one naive question is: What is that Capitalism can achive if freed from the current quasi-Keynesian configurations? What wonders do await us? Higher rates of global growth? Even more rampant and ubiquitous idiocy of consummerism? etc.

    • (1) What can matter do? (2) Of those things, which are obstructed in principle by ‘the capitalist form’?
      Neither question is easily answered, but both can be addressed calmly, without premature appeal to the totems and taboos of one’s micro-cultural ‘tribe’ (if that is in fact what you want to do). The most essential product of capital teleology (‘capitalism’) is techno-intelligence (ultimately: Technological Singularity).

  3. “premature appeal to the totems and taboos of one’s micro-cultural ‘tribe’. Haven’t wished to sound this way. This and all my future comments are borne out of innocent (?) curiosity of someone far less knowledgable in this matters.

    • There’s no need for you to identify with that statement (if you don’t), it was meant to be targeted generally, rather than personally. Despite its perceived sarcasm having triggered certain outer-boundary defense systems, your question is very much appreciated, and highly relevant to the discussion around #Accelerate that I am seeking to encourage here.

  4. I thought when Williams and Srnicek are making a distinction between “speed” and “acceleration”, they are actually making a distinction between the acceleration as increased movement of something (what they say is “essential”) and acceleration as the acceleration of the frame of reference itself (that’s the “increasing speed of a local horizon”, which is also, actually, acceleration). There is a difference between the two, of course, but it’s only discernible if you are positioned at a point of reference outside the system (I don’t know what that would be for this kind of acceleration; it can be complicated enough in physics, let alone this). I also don’t see how this second kind of acceleration, the “increasing speed of a local horizon”, the future (ceiling? floor? wall? they’re all walls anyway…) hurling itself towards us is not “navigational”. Even at the simplest level – the landscape we’re in changes; we as intelligent adaptive creatures change and…well…that’s navigation. It’s pretty inevitable insofar as we’re alive and there’s change in the universe…
    (If what’s meant by “navigational”, though, is a kind of agential five-year-plan humanity is to devise and so chart a course to where it wants to go (or anything like that), the manifesto might just be asking for too much.)

    • That’s very helpful, thanks. Who gets to be transcendental (the frame), rather than the empirical (framed) whom — that’s the war.

      • That’s an interesting way of putting it…I have a faint concern though (and I do apologize, it is going to be terribly clumsily expressed) – if the point of contention in the accelerationism “war” can be cashed out in terms of transcendental vs. empirical, how does the war even take place, though (other than in unearthly calm, of course)? We cannot have a second frame of reference outside the system, so any resolution to the “war” is local. Which is alright, but, in this setting, any kind of standoff to determine where the transcendentality is in the pair “horizon vs us” just ends up resolving itself into a cycle – yes, the horizon of the future that’s crashing into us is transcendental, because it includes us, and it is hijacking us, and there’s barely an “us” to begin with. The inhuman is going to take us places and we are going to go there. But also, the horizon (of the future) is in a lot of ways a horizon dependent on and determined by us – not in some sort of sillly five-year-plan for the future sense, but rather in the fairly trivial sense that we are creatures that do things, that cause things to be, that have effects. So, I guess, framing any issue in terms of the transcendental-empirical distinction has to account for the fact that the transcendental is going to be empirical because generated by the empirical and the empirical is going to be reconstructed and modified by the transcendental. (All this, really, is a very long way of saying that I don’t really see the difference between an acceleration whereby the horizon accelerates, and an acceleration whereby humans accelerate themselves towards the horizon. Putting it in terms of “who’s a reference to whom” brings in too many who’s to a situation where there probably are none).

        • It would be an excellent thing (from my perspective, at least) if this was to become a stubborn question throughout the ‘exchange’. The theoretically expanded Right and Left positions each assume they encapsulate the other — capitalism as a cosmic horizon within which politics is dissolved, versus capitalism as a specifiable social form embedded within a cosmos of human political possibility. In this way, the traffic grid for talking past each other is neatly pre-established. Assuming that some degree of actual cross-complication is found mutually stimulating, then the structure of framing has to become a problem, rather than persisting uninterrogated, as twin redoubts.

  5. Pingback: Annotated #Accelerate (#3) | Urban Future (2.1)

  6. Pingback: On #Accelerate (#1) | Urban Future (2.1)

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