On #Accelerate (#2b)

“If any system has been associated with ideas of acceleration it is capitalism,” says #Accelerate, unobjectionably. “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.”

As previously noted, of the trends referenced here “economic growth” is easily the most accessible (due to its commercial self-quantification). The technoscientific apprehension of technoscience, while already embryonic at the beginning of the modern epoch, is still some distance from mathematical self-comprehension as a natural event. Its quantification, therefore, poses far more challenging problems, leaving even very basic questions about its trend-lines open to significant controversy. (Self-quantification of development trends in the electronics and biotech sectors merit focused attention at a later stage.) Any attempt to provide a precise and coherent measurement of “social dislocation” is likely to confront even more formidable obstacles.

Capitalism present itself as the exemplary accelerative mega-object because it is self-propelling and (cross-excitedly) self-abstracting. In both its technical and commercial aspects, it tends towards general-purpose potentials that facilitate resource re-allocations (and thus efficient quantifications). Productive capability is plasticized, becoming increasingly responsive to shifting market opportunities, while wealth is fluidized, permitting its rapid speculative mobilization. The same self-reinforcing process that liquidates traditional social forms releases modernizing capital as volatile abstract quantity, flexibly poised between technical applications, and inclined intrinsically towards a ‘decoded’ or economistic apprehension.

Under capital guidance, the modernization of wealth tends to the realization of abstract productive potential, which is of course to say: it tends towards capital itself, in the circuit of self-propulsion that determines it as a genetic (or even teleological) hyper-substance. At this point a complex theoretical fork is reached, from which paths lead in a number of Marxian and decidedly anti-Marxian directions. The primary question is whether the abstract body of capital is susceptible to a consistent mathematical conversion conforming to the Law of Value, which interprets it as a reification of organically composed (variable and fixed, or ‘living’ and ‘dead’) labor power. Can the accelerative thing be practically recognized as the alienated collective capability of a future classless humanity?

#Accelerate considers this question to have been satisfactorily resolved in advance, and answered in the affirmative. Since it provides no supporting references in support of this stance, it has to be considered a left-identitarian document. Only those who affirm the prior closure of its fundamental questions are able to access it at the level of its own rhetoric. It assumes ideological solidarity as an extrinsic, and unmarked, preliminary.

To intrude, nevertheless, from an open problem of capitalist ontology, is to navigate chaos. The relevant passages are found in the second part of the manifesto, which consists of seven numbered paragraphs. Whatever we are told about the accelerative thing has to be extracted from these … or almost everything.

It is remarkable that the first use of ‘accelerate’ in the manifesto is both critical, and almost dismissively casual. In occurs in the third paragraph of the introduction, where it summarizes a set of “ever-​accelerating catastrophes”:

… breakdown of the planetary climatic system [which “threatens the continued existence of the present global human population”] … Terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves [raising “the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars”] … continued financial crisis [which] has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages. [And] Increasing automation in production processes including ‘intellectual labour’ [which] is evidence of the secular crisis of capitalism, soon to render it incapable of maintaining cur­rent standards of living for even the former middle classes of the global north.

This, quite clearly, is their lurid introductory portrait of the accelerative thing, as it is in-itself, converging upon a terminal historical singularity, or comprehensive ecological, economic, and technological over-performance crisis. It is both the thing #Accelerate wants to talk about, and the thing it decides explicitly not to talk about — introduced as theatrical stage setting, or a reminder of something before and outside the discussion, which can subsequently be assumed. The rhetorical function is completely unambiguous: this list serves as an enumeration of that which need not be discussed further. It is unfortunate therefore, to say the least, that this seems to be the closest approximation within #Accelerate to the real object of accelerationist attention, “gather[ing] force and speed [as] politics withers and retreats” until “the future” we were promised is “cancelled” (if only through a rectifiable failure of “the political imaginary”). The enemy is an accelerative thing, but #Accelerate will be discussing something else.

Before capitalism drops away entirely into the hazy background of implicit narrative, it is worth taking a brief digression into “the political imaginary” and its suggestion. If there is a single formula that crystallizes the left appropriation of accelerationism as sheer cognitive collapse it is Frederic Jameson’s claim — obsessively repeated across the Left Web — that It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. To grasp the profound mindlessness of this pronouncement it is only necessary to return to the thought of real abstraction, through which the virtualization realized by capitalism is distinguished from any determination of abstraction as a logical property of intellectual representation. Within capitalist futures markets, the non-actual has effective currency. It is not an “imaginary” but an integral part of the virtual body of capital, an operationalized realization of the future. It is scarcely imaginable that the Left is willing to follow the path it has set out upon here, therefore, unless through thoughtlessness of simply staggering proportions, since it necessarily leads to the conclusion: while capital has an increasingly densely-realized future, its leftist enemies have only a manifestly pretend one.

Because #Accelerate Section Two is a tightly-tangled thicket of conceptual outrages, it is worth recalling once again its first two sentences, which are exceptional (in this context) for their soundness:

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.

The primary object of Accelerationism is economic growth, as demonstrated capitalistically, in a process inextricably bound to competition-driven technological development, and also to social disorganization. If #Accelerate concluded here, there would be no case to be made against it. Unfortunately it continues through a string of such radically disordered sentences that no elegant pursuit of its argument is possible. Instead, it demands a piecemeal series of corrections, objections, and re-animations of obscured, half-buried, and arbitrarily suppressed problems.

The descent begins immediately: “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.”

Why is the term ‘creative destruction’ (coined by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942) being associated with ‘neoliberalism‘ here? Schumpeter considered it applicable to capitalism in general, with abundant reason, and #Accelerate articulates no objection to this standard usage. If ‘neoliberalism’ is the ideology of creative destruction, it is the ideology of capitalism in general.

In the introduction we were told that “since 1979” neoliberalism has been “the hegemonic global political ideology … found in some variant throughout the leading economic powers.” It is characterized, apparently, by “structural adjustments … most significantly in the form of encouraging new and aggressive incursions by the private sector into what remains of social democratic institutions and services.” This, too, sounds like simple capitalism (as does “Landian neo­lib­er­alism”). The emptiness of the term only re-echoes sonorously with each succeeding use. ‘Neoliberalism’ is criticized because it is nothing other than capitalism (post-1979), and it is criticized for no other reason. In #Accelerate, if not elsewhere, it has no ideological content distinguishable from classical liberalism, making it a perfectly useless word. The opacity serves only to smuggle through two preposterous suggestions:
(1) The cacophony of leftist critics of ‘neoliberalism’ share some coherent core of economic and political analysis.
(2) Classical liberal socio-economic ideas enjoy an essentially unperturbed hegemony over the present world order. (Didn’t you know that Keynes was dead, and Libertarians rule the earth?)

(So why not start calling today’s fundamentalist Marxists ‘neo-collectivists’? while implying that Stalinist industrial central-planning is the world’s dominant economic arrangement? — Because it would be patently ridiculous and senselessly annoying, but actually no more so than the ‘neoliberal’ alternative.)

This ‘neoliberal’ tic, while infuriating in its smug idiocy, is actually so vacuous that it matters little to the #Accelerate argument. Its effect is merely to serve as a sleight of hand, presenting a cartoon opponent to distract from the absence of concentrated attention upon the target of realistic analysis and criticism: the accelerative thing. The second theoretical diversion to appear is scarcely less evasive, which is to slide off the core ontological problem into a ‘conceptual clarification’ of astounding sloppiness.

We know from the children’s dictionary that acceleration is a change in speed over time, which does not prevent #Accelerate claiming (without any obvious evidence):

The philo­sopher Nick Land cap­tured this [capital dynamic or neoliberal ideology?] most acutely, with a my­opic yet hyp­not­ising be­lief that capitalist speed alone could gen­erate a global trans­ition to­wards un­par­alleled tech­no­lo­gical sin­gu­larity. … Landian neo­lib­er­alism 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.

(1) Speed is not acceleration.
(2) Approaching singularity is marked by acceleration, not constant velocity.
(3) Who has ever spoken about “moving fast” in this context? It lacks even the dignity of a straw-man. What does ‘fast’ mean? Acceleration need not even be ‘fast’ (only ‘getting faster’).
(4) The appeal to something beyond “a strictly defined set of cap­it­alist para­meters” is mere hand-waving. Economic functionality is a confining ‘parameter’ (for acceleration)? There is clearly an attempt at some kind of transcendental argument here, marked by the appeal to “cap­it­alist para­meters that them­selves never waver.” ‘Parameter’ itself wavers between a logical usage and an empirical one, one conceptually defining, and the other materially constraining. If #Accelerate thinks it can produce a meaningful concept of acceleration without parameters, it would be a thrilling thing to see (time, terrestrial mass, physical laws, biogeological inheritance … are all ‘parameters’). Capitalist ‘parameters’ (undefined) are for some reason to be accepted as especially constraining, however. Argument? Of course not, this is an article of undisputed faith.
(5) If anyone knows what “the in­creasing speed of a local ho­rizon” means, please let me know. At least it is some kind of “increasing speed” though, i.e. an acceleration. Is this a sign that #Accelerate thinks the difference between speed and acceleration is too trivial to acknowledge, so that its discussion of acceleration is actually not about acceleration at, but about something much deeper and ‘post-parametric’? Perhaps, because …
(6) Beyond the “simple brain-​dead on­rush” (something is certainly ‘brain-dead’) …
(7) There is “an ac­cel­er­a­tion which is also nav­ig­a­tional, an ex­per­i­mental pro­cess of dis­covery within a uni­versal space of pos­sib­ility.” … and this is somehow connected to, measurable as, or explained in terms of some rigorously determinable process of acceleration (even roughly) how?
(8) Regardless: “It is the latter mode of ac­cel­er­a­tion which we hold as essential.”

This sort of thing is the straightforward, radical destruction of intelligence. We began with a defined concept (‘acceleration’) and a topic of investigation or critique (the accelerative thing). Now, less than halfway through #Accelerate, we have neither. Instead, we are left with some kind of super-parametric trans-horizonal imaginary “mode of ac­cel­er­a­tion” that has been deliberately destituted of both sense and reference. The only theoretical achievement has been to crudely chisel this conceptually and ontologically ineffable political idea away from the only historically-evidenced process of accelerating navigation, experiment, and discovery known to human history, in order to cast it into a mystically-inspiring beyond. Beginning with a cybernetically-intelligible self-propelling sociotechnical machine, we end with nothing but the adamant declaration that whatever ‘it’ (historical acceleration) is, it is not this, or anything we can understand, despite the fact that what we know of ‘it’ is entirely extracted from the cumulative reality being abandoned.

As Marx was aware, cap­it­alism cannot be iden­ti­fied as the agent of true ac­cel­er­a­tion.

On the contrary. The only “agent of true ac­cel­er­a­tion” recognized by Marx is the revolutionary bourgeoisie — his humanistic proxy for the agency of capital. The proletariat accelerates nothing, except in its function as labor power under capital imperatives. It inherits a completed, accelerative pre-history, at the point of its own revolutionary auto-dissolution into a universal humanity.

Unlike #Accelerate, Marx labored under no illusion that the accelerative thing was capital, whose mechanism he devoted himself to understanding, to the near-perfect exclusion of all other topics. In turning back to Marx’s understanding of this thing [next week], we partially withdraw from the chaotic errors of current Left Accelerationism, while perhaps remaining close enough to irritate it.

13 thoughts on “On #Accelerate (#2b)

  1. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Chaos Patch (#9)

  2. I always liked this quote from earlier days:

    Rotted by digital contagions, modernity is falling to bits. Lenin, Mussolini, and Roosevelt concluded modern humanism by exhausting the possibilities of economic planning. Runaway capitalism has broken through all the social control mechanisms, accessing inconceivable alienations. Capital clones itself with increasing disregard for heredity, becoming abstract positive feedback, organizing itself. Tubular finance drifts across the global network.

    – Sadie Plant and Nick Land, Cyberpositive

    I remember commenting at the time…

    Between catastrophe and anastrophe, the systole and diastole of the future shows its mask. It was in this essay that they took us back to the progenitor of cybertheoretic, Norbert Weiner, for whom “cybernetics was itself to be kept under control, under a control that was not itself cybernetic. It is as if his thinking were guided by a blind tropism of evasion, away from another, deeper, runaway process: from a technics losing control and a communication with the outside of man”. It was in this early technofuturistic post-cyberpunk pulse that we see the movement of Land’s modernism not as some form of nostalgia for an impossible past, but as the alien movement of our posthuman intervention in the future spaces of the city and its environs. Chemical timetravel from the Yage speedsters who immersed themselves in the cities of the red night propagating themselves virally across our planetary wrecking machine of (de)civilization, reprogramming the soft machines, and implanting strange thoughts within the distributional voids of the machinic mind of humans becoming alien(ated).

    Shanghai is a perfect embodiment of this impulse of feedback: it has continually reinvented itself over and over even as its human elements have been ground under its futuristic scapes. Been reading Qin Shao’s Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity. In it he chronicles this remake society: Shanghai has been demolished and rebuilt into a gleaming megacity in recent decades, now ranking with New York and London as a hub of global finance. But that transformation has come at a grave human cost. This compelling book is the first to apply the concept of domicide—the eradication of a home against the will of its dwellers—to the sweeping destruction of neighborhoods, families, and life patterns to make way for the new Shanghai.

    Yea, your critique of the Accelerationist Manifesto is spot on. When I attacked it people thought I’d gone mad, lost my way among the dark contours of the future. But as you suggest they seem to be following someone more like Paul Virilio who spent a career document ‘speed culture’, and as you suggest acceleration is not speed. They’d be better off rereading Deleuze and Guattari. But hey, who am I to tell them anything? My problem is that whatever the Left is now seems to be something other than the Left I espouse, or even the one that Marx himself espoused. Of course not being a part member, I’m as Emerson might have suggested: A Party of One. And, even that’s too many…

    Thanks! Keep up the great work.

          • Yea, you’re right… more of a rant than critique. I just saw their whole project as worthless to say the least. And their approach to be fantasy. Seemed that want to keep the Neoliberal Cathedral in place, but just remove the current tenants and put in their on gangsters. I josh, but who could really take their manifesto seriously?

          • “… more of a rant than critique …” — I didn’t mean it like that! (But, sure, it was passionate as always.)

          • Haha… yea, I’m a harsher critic of myself than anyone else could be. I used the ambling cliché of ‘rant’ for a lot of my emotional outbursts. This manifesto is like those purple burrs on cactus that get under your skin forcing you to itch till the suckers either bleed or die. It’s funny how terms like ‘accelerationism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ can be blanketed over so many disjunctive pieces of data that by the time an average person reads the crap it’s all to no effect. Neoliberalism just like neoconscervativism are at best ad hoc neologisms best left in the dust. Neither term conveys the truth of history. History is actions and events not isms of any stripe. You can be your bottom dollar that all the supposed Left think-tanks that are inventing these terms have no real clue how to capture history. The Left is about infighting and nuanced bullshit at the moment. They love to invent hyperinflated or hyperbolic terms as if by doing so they will form strange attractors that can like some abstract black hole gobble up the world around it so that not even the light of a supposed enlightenment can ever escape its clutches. Their motto at the moment: “Disinformation is the Cloud.”

            What’s sad is that I do not see any on the Right tackling these issues in a formidable manner either. What gives? I mean where are your Chateubriand, de Ronald, de Maistre, Le Play, Keller, Du Pin? Your enemy and mine are equally the egalitarian and the social welfare state. Both based on false assumptions about what society is. The actual French Revolution failed not because it enacted the philosophe’s enlightenment values and ideas, but because it didn’t and instead followed that traitorous Calvinist, Rousseau. People forget that even Nietzsche in his cartoon caricature new the truth: Voltaire or Rousseau? Rousseau was the first romantic, the enactor of great plans, the fictional construction of an ideal society based on a dubious idea at best – The Social Contract. Most idiot Leftist never think for themselves and still read this history with rose colored eye glasses on.

            Well, enough ranting. I’m glad you found Shanghai. What I see going on there gives me hope. This neomodernist Confucianism actually is for the East probably the best path. Let’s face it China has lasted longer than any other empire in history, and even the so called communist interlude will in the long view be seen as a blip within China’s greater traditionalism. We have nothing like it in the West. Too bad…

  3. Yea, in one passage I spell it out. What W & S seek is a new neoliberalism 2.0 not its escape or demise. Reading them for what they say: they seek a planned society, based on think-tanks, academia, private investment, etc. Is this not what is already in place in the Cathedral? Some accuse me of misreading their manifesto, but all I see is another tyranny of the social, and expansion of the Cathedral rather than something new…

    The Left is in Denial, it want except the fact that democrats – whatever they were in the past, are part of the Cathedral and have failed the system just as the Right (at least those in the State) have:

    “They describe a neoliberalism 2.0 that is reinventing itself, something Land and his neoreactionaries call the ‘Cathedral’. The idea of the State as encompassing Academia, Think-Tanks, Finance, Governance, etc. etc… to the nth power as an all pervading octopus with its tentacles everywhere in our lives with no escape other than that of ludicrous gestures of comic subversion or pathetic terrorism based on mindless and meaningless gestures of inertia. They seem to feel that all of this is the Right’s fault: “In the absence of a radically new social, political, organisational, and economic vision the hegemonic powers of the right will continue to be able to push forward their narrow-minded imaginary, in the face of any and all evidence.” As if the Left were not a part of this neoliberal world (Clinton, Obama) as well. As if the supposed democratic party were absolved of its complicity in this state of affairs. It’s not, it’s as guilty as hell. There can no longer be any justification for either party in its complicity as it allows such a hypercapitalism to slowly cannibalize the world. All the breast beating in the world will no stop this. The Left has failed itself and cannot continue to blame some imaginary Right, when its very own parties enact neoliberal agendas.”

  4. Sorry, one last piece from the essay:

    “W & S seem to be stuck and fixated in the ‘progressive futurism’ of the past, rather than in accelerationsm as it is: a future coming at us, rather than as some progressive accumulation of past successes and transformations. “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.” How could progress become constrained, when accelerationism is about the implosion of the future in accelerating speed upon the present? Isn’t it Williams and Srnicek themselves who have misunderstood Land, accusing him of myopic vision, when in truth it is they themselves who have become fixated on outdated tools of critical appraisal an Marixian discourse that is no longer viable for what they see in front of them?”

  5. I’m always confused by how literal is this agency you seem to give to capital.

    Here (from #Accelerate, quoted from your post), I read what I call an Intangible Metaphysics of Agency:

    > rather than an ac­cel­er­a­tion which is also nav­ig­a­tional, an ex­per­i­mental pro­cess of dis­covery within a uni­versal space of pos­sib­ility.

    Sure, it’s a logical clusterfuck, but it’s also well within the program of Negri & Hardt. It’s a restatement of the critique against “economism” I’ve been hearing from the folks up the Beards Department all my life, recast on this understanding of Marx as acceleraccionista. It’s the politics of human agency in face of structure-constricture.

    I appreciate your work’s emphasis on a nonhuman agency of some kind in the context of (pas d’hors-texte) ubiquitous hyper-humanism — the same way I can appreciate Meillassoux’s cartesian realism for its Great Outdoors. I appreciate that we can emphasize capital’s own drive — the drive of its own structure — rather than, say, class and human discretion.

    But I start to be puzzled by trying to grasp capital as some general ‘thing’, as if it was the magmatic fields under the earth rather than a dynamic, process in-determination. Both as an amateur reader of philosophy and a professional economist. (At some point I was thinking of sending practical manuals on valuation to philosophers but then you get Lozano reading the geology of morals into CDOs and finding tranching to be the general structure of finance.)

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