ACC vs DEC

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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.

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Gyres

Screenshot from 2017-08-11 15-39-20

Recently I started reading Tudor Balinisteanu’s Violence, Narrative, and Myth in Joyce and Yeats: Subjective Identity and the Anarcho-Syndicalist Tradition. The first chapter proceeds with a very interesting comparison of Yeats’s gyres of creative destruction as recorded in “The Second Coming” and Sorel’s account of the Myth of the General Strike:

…, on the one hand, for Yeats, the two cones represent contrary tendencies within the self. On the other hand, as Yeats put it, ‘this figure is true also of history, for the end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction’. At the moment Yeats was writing he perceived that the life gyre was sweeping outward, having almost reached its greatest expansion: ‘all our scientific, democratic, fact- accumulating heterogeneous civilisation belongs to the outward gyre and prepares not the continuance of itself, but the revelation as in a lightning flash, […] of the civilisation that must slowly take its place’ Critics have noted that Yeats’s fear of the forthcoming disintegration of human civilisation was brought ashore by ‘the blood-dimmed tide’ of historical events… Such frightening falling apart of established authority, mere anarchy loosed upon the world, inspired in Yeats the apocalyptic vision of the beast which struggles to become born in the violence of the world’s remaking. But this violence is a whirl of contrary tendencies: even though destructive it is also darkly creative. As Bakunin would have it in ‘The Reaction in Germany’ (1842), ‘the passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!’ The revolving gyres unravel the world at the same time as they weave a new one: a terrible beauty is born in which both grace and violence are manifested.

Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’ is of course but one example, a most expressive one, of the perception of contrary tendencies within the modern consciousness, a consciousness in which grace and violence set each other in motion even as they revolve in opposite directions. Another expression of this dynamic can be found in Georges Sorel’s work… [it is] not so much the idea of disrupting the economy that matters to Sorel, as the idea of a narrative capable of accommodating those images which best represent the aspirations of social agents in a way that compels a joining of the fictional narrative subject and the subject of action. One finds that Sorel’s picture of the general strike has features in common with Yeats’s apocalyptic vision of the approaching of a new age, even though, it seems, Yeats feared what Sorel welcomed. While both visions of the future to come are seemingly steeped in violence, this is not merely the violence of force, but also the violence of recreation. Yeats fears the possibility of ‘new creation gone wrong’, but not the violence of creation. Sorel values the violent break with retrogressive patterns of social action, produced through the rejection of Utopias and consent to participate in the unanalysable unity of vision in which narrative subject and the subject of action inhabit each other, but not destructive violence or mere anarchy loosed upon the world.

Sorel’s position regarding the general strike as social myth expresses a movement toward unity at the levels of history and the self which in terms of Yeats’s figure of the gyres would correspond to the gyre’s movement to its place of greatest contraction. That would be the place of becoming the subject of a myth expressed in an imaginary picture (of the general strike) which embodies all the aspirations of a social group (the Socialists) giving precision and rigidity, or, rather, coherence and strength, to philosophical and political thought on social change. At the same time, this movement toward unity in the myth involves a movement toward disintegration in the sense that it expresses a complete break away from the tenets of the age which passes. This chasm which widens the opposition between the faithful and the faithless makes visible the contradictions of the established social world, thus fragmenting it and bringing it to a point which in Yeats’s figure would be that of a gyre’s greatest expansion.

Cue Amy Ireland, in The Poememenon:

When applied to the task of historical divination (our interest here), the waxing and waning of the gyres can be charted in twenty-eight phases along the path of an expanding and contracting meta-gyre or ‘Cycle’ which endures for roughly two millennia and is neatly divisible into twelve sub-gyres (comprising four cardinal phases and eight triads) each of which denotes a single twist in the larger, container Cycle. According to the system as it was originally relayed to George Yeats through the automatic script (an exact date does not appear in the Speculum Angelorum et Hominis or Judwali teachings), the twelfth gyre in our current—waxing—Cycle turns in 2050, when ‘society as mechanical force [shall] be complete at last’ and humanity, symbolized by the figure of The Fool, ‘is but a straw blown by the wind, with no mind but the wind and no act but a nameless drifting and turning’, before the first decade of the twenty-second century (a ‘phase of crisis’) ushers in an entirely new set of twelve gyres: the fourth Cycle and the first major historical phase shift in two thousand years.Laying Yeats’s awkward predictions (which he himself shelved for the 1937 edition of A Vision) to one side, the system provides material for the inference of several telling traits that can be combined to give a rough sketch of this imminent Cycle upon whose cusp we uneasily reside. Unlike the ‘primary’ religious era that has preceded it—marked by dogmatism, a drive towards unity, verticality, the need for transcendent regulation, and the symbol of the sun—the coming age will be lunar, secular, horizontal, multiple, and immanent: an ‘antithetical multiform influx’. The ‘rough beast’ of ‘The Second Coming’, Christ’s inverted double, sphinx-like (a creature of the threshold) with a ‘gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, will bear the age forward into whatever twisted future the gyres have marked out for it.

In ‘Teleoplexy’, as the most recent, succinct expression of accelerationism in its Landian form (distinguished from the Left queering of the term more frequently associated with Srnicek and Williams’s ‘Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’), Land draws out the latent cybernetic structure of the Judwalis’ system and employs it to reach a similar catastrophic prediction, although the somewhat restrained invocation of ‘Techonomic Singularity’ dampens the rush of what has previously been designated as ‘a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch’ in which ‘[z]aibatsus flip into sentience as the market melts to automatism, politics is cryogenized and dumped into the liquid-helium meat-store, drugs migrate onto neurosoft viruses and immunity is grated-open against jagged reefs of feral AI explosion, Kali culture, digital dance-dependency, black shamanism epidemic, and schizophrenic break-outs from the bin’. Like the Judwalis’ system, the medium of accelerationism is time, and the message here regarding temporality is consistent: not a circle or a line; not 0, not 1—but the torsional assemblage arising from their convergence, precisely what ‘breaks out from the bin[ary]’. Both systems, as maps of modernity, appear as, and are piloted by, the spiral (or ‘gyre’). As an unidentified carrier once put it, ‘the diagram comes first’