Modernity is in trouble. That’s the line, at least that is emerging from a particular sector of the twitterverse. It’s not a new line, of course: it’s the common call of the environmentalist movement writ large. What makes these new voices significant, however, is that their position is not only cybernetic, but transcendental. To declare oneself a decelerationist – and this applies to both those who seek a decelerationist praxis (as in, annihilating industrial civilization) or see deceleration as a given (leaving room only for mitigation and reaction when the SHTF) – is the engendering of an inverted mirror of the accelerationist. Whereas acceleration is the diagram of modernity, understood as the tragic loop of techno-capital undergoing amplificatory self-excitation, decelerationism throws the unconditional back upon the body of the earth, rife with its own loops and pressure points.
Between each there is a glimpse of a future political terrain to be caught. As anticipated with remarkable foresight by FM-2030, this terrain will be battleground where the “upwing” and the “downwing” collide. The latter looks to the earth, and thus would be like the extensive articulation of deceleration in the realm of politics, with the former being that of acceleration, gazing skyward. To those returning to the earth, the color green, and to those taking flight, black:
FM-2030 was an inveterate up-winger whose vitrified corpse awaits resurrection at the Arizona cryonics mecca, Alcor. However, even as the ecology movement was gathering steam, FM-2030 failed to see that the down-wing tendency could generate at least as much passion as his own political faith. Nowadays, down-wingers proudly self-identify as ‘Greens’. As for the up-wingers, they have begun to be colour-coded as ‘Blacks’ — and not simply because of their 1980s dress sense. The phrase ‘Black Sky Thinking’ was coined in a 2004 study by the centre-left UK think-thank Demos, and over the past decade it has increasingly been used to refer to schemes to make the whole inky expanse of the universe fit for human habitation.
As the political binary of left and right collapse into noise and nonsense (understood in the most unproductive sense), green and black stand to be serious contenders for their replacement – implying, by extension, a host of strange mixtures and hybrids, third positions, odd ghosts, and diagonalizations, but we’re running far ahead of ourselves…
The tragic loop of acceleration is that of positive feedback. This image is convergent with the thesis of John Michael Greer, Arch-Druid and decelerationist avant la lettre: civilization, particularly in its industrial phase, unfolds through phases of explosive positive feedback, thrusting creative forces to ever-higher heights. Yet this comes at an immense cost: for Greer, positive feedback is ultimately aberrant in nature. It breaks with the higher order feedback process that dominates nature and lends to it the capacity for auto-correction – that is, negative feedback, the return to homeostasis. Stripping themselves of the ability to correct their runaway trajectories, civilizations become suicide machines. The skyward flight becomes a terrifying fall back to the earth, culminating in green pastures littered with burning wreckage.
Greer’s bloody war between positive and negative feedback is thus a rigorous cybernetic account for cyclical theories of history. Read through the lenses of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, one could even say that Greer’s history is a theater where repetition of the same carries out its staccato dance; after all, it is under the repetition of the same that the abstract cycle is carried out, always bringing a system back to its initial condition. A society or civilization will always be born into the world, grow, engage creatively with nature, peak, curdle with corruption, stagnate, and collapse. Trace this pattern upwards beyond individual civilizations, to the swath of human civilization understood as a whole, or up even higher, to the great movement of nature itself, or the movement of the cosmos, and you’ll arrive at the position of Greer. There’s no better way to articulate the horizon of the decelerationist thesis.
On one hand, the conflict becomes one of competing motors governing development in itself: is it the knowing homeostat with gently violent negative feedback pressure, or is the homeostat missing, with the heat of cyberpositive runaway taking precedence (there is no easy answer to this question yet, but it is worth noting that both ultimately end in doom)? On the other hand, however, things get a little murky. If deceleration is raised under the specter of the cycle, this would imply that acceleration is that of the straight line. For Kant (and Deleuze as well), time is ultimately the straight line that cuts through everything that is. It is cold, uncaring, empty and open-ended development in its most abstracted sense, the permanent revolution that composes the stretch of the infinite itself. But this isn’t the time of acceleration itself. Following Land, acceleration must be thought of as unfolding within the straight line of time, but in the form of the spiral: the diagonalization between the straight line and the cycle, the uncompensated and the compensatory mechanism, attached to the running of “innovation and tradition together as Siamese twins” across its masked surface.
If acceleration is the accurate diagram of modernity, the cycle is already present. The future terrain stays the same, but color shades subtly adjust themselves. The burning question at the heart of it all – what is modernity doing? – can be answered as thus: critique. The posing of solutions to problems. If capitalism works by breaking down, by learning to learning, it is because modernity advances itself through encounters with problems that must either be solved or routed-around. The ecological pressure cooker bearing down on global civilization is the articulation of an immense problem, one that is indeed perhaps unsolvable. The cry to assault modernity on account of this problem is a forceful posing of the problem from the interior of modernity itself, the early spasms of a coming transformation.
The future, at least in the West, looks grim. Whatever molar shake-ups that took place in 2016 and 2017 are fading, the sheer weirdness of the time being slowly but surely recoded back into a neoconservative status quo. The bourgeoisie remain stupified, the political class broken, the great underclass masses go through the rotations. Yet will this not change, by very want of impending ecological devastation? As the noose tightens, the political articulation of deceleration will only proliferate. The existential risk of conflict will hang like a storm cloud as the black and the green draw respective lines – but this rain could very well be nourishing fluids for modernity. This is not to say that the dialectical parring is what saves modernity for itself, or that on side will necessarily win against the other. Instead, such a conflict would be learning, modernity itself working through to an other side that we cannot, by necessity, know in advance.
Understood as elements tangled in auto-critique and production, black and green are both trapped right from the start. It is in the rising from this to the level of the loops that the future of civilization will be made, or will be broken.