Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist

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Jotting down some notes that popped into my head just as I was about to fall asleep, so take the following as a rough draft of, well, probably nothing. I’m not sure why these sorts of things crawl about in the late night hours, and not anything related to more pressing projects. Perhaps poor time preference? Idk. Here following a cheeky quasi-shit post:

In his recent interview with Justin Murphy (a transcript of which can be read at the Vast Abrupt), Land offers his thoughts on that concept that will be intimately familiar with those who have kept up on the various /Acc wars: the autonomization and escape of capital. Here’s solid quote:

…in using this word of emancipation, sure, I will totally nod along to it if what is meant by that is capital autonomization. I don’t think that’s something that it isn’t already there in the 1990s, but I’m no longer interested in playing weird academic games about this and pretending this is the same thing as what the left really means when they’re talking about emancipation. I don’t think it is. I think what the left means by emancipation is freedom from capital autonomization.

What would it mean for capital to be autonomized? On the one hand, we might just be talking about the autonomization of capital in a flat sense, a coupling-together of Marx’s depiction of capable as “a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will” with extreme deregulation. I don’t think this is what Land means, however. In the quote above, he suggests that this concept is already in play in his work CCRU, and it would be exceedingly difficult to reduce the schizophrenia of that period to simply an enthusiasm for transnationalized, post-Fordist capitalism (critics are oft to do this, but this needs to be considered as the ground, not the totality). In the late-CCRU era of the Hyperstition blog references abound to technomic acceleration as Shoggothic insurgency, a concept that appeared earlier in a piece concerning the possibility of a nanotech gray-goo apocalypse and later in the (admittedly more sober) essay in the #Accelerate Reader, where he describes a “dominion of capital”, “robot rebellion” and the conversion of “all natural purposes into a monstrous reign of the tool”. In a Xenosystems post, meanwhile, Land muses that “At a certain point, the machines are in this for themselves”.

Jumping off from this, let’s assume capital autonomization as a given, and interpret it – which I believe is correct, but am open to counter-arguments – as indicating, at some point, the emergence of distinctly post-human life. My contention is that by accepting that capital autonomizes in this way, one is also accepting that capital is overcoming – and thus annihilating itself – through the very same process. This isn’t the destructive of the living object or system that we deem to be post-human life, but the destruction of both the categorization and the system that it, up to this point, was embedded within.

The reason for this is that what Land identifies as the process of capitalist autonomization is the same vector that Marx traces out the dynamic means-ends reversal that characterizes the development of the capitalist system. To sum it up as simply as possible, what begin as means – capital, particularly in its money-form – are transformed into ends in themselves. The situation of money progresses from being a means to buy and sell commodities to both the accumulation and circulation of itself being an end (the movement from C – M – C to M – C – M’). Alongside this simple commodity production is transformed into advanced production and the laborer goes from being one who uses the tool (as in pre-capitalist craft production and simple commodity production) to being one who is subjected to the tool (as described in that machine fragment in the Grundrisse everyone is going on about).

Through these sorts of processes, we perceive the advancement of capital as unfolding through the subjugation of the human. If capital, however, doesn’t transcend its status as an end, then it hasn’t actually escaped. As alluded to above, for Marx capital is independent of the individual will of the human agent, and while the activities of the human agent are the processes through which capital expands, it is beyond it in the sense that it is what compels these activities – in other words, an abstract mode of social domination. If we’re taking capital’s escaping as simply the intensification of the subjugation of the human, then no true change has occurred. Capital remains locked in place, and while it may have achieved the status of the master, the ultimate end, the great teleological catastrophe, it stays fundamentally attached to class society. This would be far from the suggestion that the human element is a drag, something to be overcome.

If capital truly escapes, then, it would be through a break with its status as an end, and this would entail nothing less that the concrete separation from the system that maintains it as such. This would be an emancipation from the law of value, and it would be at this very point that capital would not be capital.

One might argue that a posthuman, post-capital something might be forced to retain capitalist for survival. Three lazy responses:

  1. The existence of such a hypothetical entity will have emerged specifically from centuries of struggle for optimization against these very conditions, and thus the natural inclination of these systems would be to work against this sort of thing (this is retaining the idea of contradictions internal to the capitalist mode of production, per Marx).
  2. If we take seriously the suggestion that predictive is breaking down the deeper we get into increasingly non-linear developmental processes (that is, taking seriously questions posed by U/Acc and the accelerationist trolley problem, and more generalized knowledge problems in the context of complex, interconnected societies situated in a fast-paced global world assaulted by increasingly weird weather), we actually lose the ability to make overly strong claims of these nature.
  3. The Bataille response – excess is intrinsic and fundamental, bby. Go mine an asteroid and eat a star and make peace with eventual heat death.
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Machinic Surplus Value

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“Celibate machines reproduce human surplus value, furnishing the bourgeoisie with recording rights to all of capitalism’s operative axioms, bringing organic stratometers, judgments of God governing isometric command chains, crushing down on schizonomadic economic swarm space. Diffused through the microphysical weave of spinal multiplicity, metrophage control command sequences institute the bourgeoisie as the optimal distribution profile for State power. No more dysfunctional despotic masters: slaves command other slaves in the ravenous stomach of the crystal factory complex – the mutant, urogenital servomechanism calibrated for the reproduction of the capitalist socius in the gambling dens of Terra Nova markets.”

In the “Civilized Capitalist Machine” chapter of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari (henceforth D&G) introduce a major revision of Marx’s analysis of capitalist dynamics: the addition of what they describe as machinic surplus value to the more tradition category of human surplus value. They begin by grappling with what Marx described as the organic composition of capital, that is, the input-ratios of constant capital (fixed costs like machines and other equipment, raw materials, building, etc.) to variable capital (human labor) as contained in the commodity – and thus as serving as an index for what is happening within the process of production. This organic composition can be analyzed with the very basic formula C/V, with C denoting constant capital and V denoting the variable capital; if C rises over V, this means that more capital is being put towards fixed costs, and if rises over C then it is a greater allocation to the human labor.

D&G choose instead to approach this by way of a different formula: Dy/Dx. In this differential relation, Dy represents the fluctuations of variable capital, its rises and falls over time, while Dx denotes the fluctuations of constant capital. They write:

It is from the fluxion of decoded flows, from their conjunction that the filiative form of capital, x+dx, results. The differential relation expresses the fundamental capitalist phenomenon of the transformation of the surplus value of code into a surplus value of flux. The fact that a mathematical appearance here replaces the old code simply signifies that one is witnessing a breakdown of the subsisting codes and territorialities for the benefit of a machine of a another species, functioning in an entirely different way. This is no longer the cruelty of life, the terror of one life brought to bear against another life, but a post-mortem despotism, the despot become anus and vampire: “Capital is dead labor, that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more the labour it sucks. (AO, 228)

What they are describing here as the surplus value of code refers to the innate laws governing pre-capitalist modes of economic and social organization (I’m not comfortable at all with this concept, but I’ll have to get more thoughts in order to properly articulate why), while the surplus value of flux is the surplus value of Marx proper. The Janus-faced fluctuations within Dy/Dx (or C/V) are thus expressing the very process of “all that is solid melting into air”, as everything that was once fixed (coded + territorializing) is unleashed from itself, stamped with new codes, and entered into the mad circulation of the market. Commodity production then, for D&G as with Marx, is historically specific, and is therefore conceivable as being ultimately transitory.

But here we enter into a problem by way of that most contentious of Marx’s theoretical concepts, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. To summarize it as briefly (and thus insufficiently!) as possible, Marx suggested that over time the ratio of constant capital to variable capital would continue to grow, which would lead to progressive obsolescence of the human laborer, and on the other side of this a fall in the average rate of profit (average being the average of the capitalist economy as a whole). This is because of the race downwards of the value – magnitudes of socially-necessary labor time – imparted to the commodity in the face of overwhelming mechanization; from this perspective, the entire capitalist economy is like a gigantic clock  running down, with the zero-point basically being a fully-automated economic system.

This tendency is dampened occasionally by counter-tendencies that push the rate of profit back up, which has led to a plethora of debates over the real status of the tendency to fall within Marx’s own theory (my personal feeling is that it is of utmost importance, and that it can be empirically demonstrated, which is something I attempted in my Uncertain Futures book. The nuclear kernel of the accelerationist reading of Marx is also predicated on the centrality of the tendency). D&G, for their part, write that

First of all, it appears that – in keeping with Balibar’s remarks – this tendency to a falling rate of profit has no end, but reproduces itself while reproducing the factors that counteract it. But why does it have no end? Doubtless for the same reasons that provoke the laughter of the capitalists and their economists when they ascertain that surplus value cannot be determined mathematically. (AO, 228)

This leads them to grapple with the specter of a capitalism that, while emerging from historically-specific – and ultimately contingent – factors, has become something that exists without end, for everything that can end it is is modulated within it in order to serve as the very means of reproducing it. The classical Marxist problematic is reproduced here: capitalism, as a system, has no exterior limit (it will continually move itself to the peripheries, wherever they may be), only an interior one that is capital itself. 

It is here that the concept of machinic surplus value is introduced:

This problem was raised again recently by Maurice Clavel, in a series of decisive and willfully incompetent questions – that is, questions addressed to Marxist economists by someone who doesn’t quite understand how one can maintain human surplus value as the basis for capitalist production, while recognizing that machines too “work” or produce value, that they have always worked, and that they work more and more in proportion to man, who thus ceases to be a constituent part of the production process, in order to become adjacent to this process. (AO, 232)

D&G refer to “Fragment on Machines” from the Grundrisse in a footnote to this passage. It is there that Marx describes how automation, on the one hand, levels the human laborer through the stripping of the sort of agency that characterized simple commodity production and remakes them as a “conscious linkages” in an inhuman automation, while on the other hand engenders the “blow this foundation [for expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations] sky-high”. In clear relation to the dynamism between the fluctuations in the organic composition of capital and the rise and falls of the rate of profit, Marx describes capital as “a moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour, on the other side, as sole measure of wealth”.

This discourse on the contradictions of automation is clearly an influence on D&G’s construction of machinic surplus value, as is another term introduced by Marx in the “Fragment”: the general intellect.

Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are  of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process. (emphasis mine)

The relationship illustrated here, between the development of fixed or constant capital (particularly in the form of automation) and a more generalized techno-scientific development, would have been of supreme importance to D&G. By the time Anti-Oedipus was published in 1972, theories of a wide-ranging transformation in the nature of the capitalist mode of production had been swirling about for some three decades. James Burnham’s 1941 The Managerial Revolution discussed the intensifying role of managers and technocrats within the structural organization of both the economy and the state, a thesis that would be reiterated in 1960 by Daniel Bell in his work The End of Ideology. For Bell (who, like Burnham, was a lapsed Marxist), the ideologies of old were exhausted in the face of rationalized production and scientific management; insofar as change would continue, it would be modifications of the then-currently existing structures. These insights would lay the groundwork for his 1974 text The Coming Post-Industrial Society, which – as its name suggests – analyzed what appeared to be the overcoming of the industrial era through the ongoing expansion of techno-scientific control and automation. The term “post-industrial society” had by this point already been introduced by the French sociologist Alain Touraine in his 1969 book The Post-Industrial Society: Tomorrow’s Social History, while Zbigniew Brzezinski offered his own elaborations in his 1970 work Between Two Ages: America in the Technetronic Era (Brzezinski had a participant in the “Commission on the Year 2000, launched in 1965 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and overseen by Daniel Bell; many of the insights developed there ended up in this work).

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With this transformation in the nature of industrialization and society, so too was there a mutation in the traditional class structure. In the 1970s, Barbara and John Ehrenreich theorized the emergence a professional-managerial class: “salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor…(is)…the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations”. The expanded necessity of education at all age levels, the increased role of engineers and scientists, the rampant growth of managers and divisions of firms dedicated to human relations, so on and so forth – these constitute some of the ranks of the professional managerial class as a distinctly post-Fordist phenomenon, in contrast to the industrial managerialism of the Fordist epoch.

Earlier still, the French Marxist Andre Gorz introduced what he dubbed the “scientific and technical worker”, which D&G take-up in the course of their discussion of machinic surplus value. It would be mistaken to say, however, that they view this new worker as the source of machinic surplus value: they posit that it does indeed come from machines – but where there is an increasing number of machines, the number of ‘scientific and technical workers’ will expand. Following Samir Amin’s analyses of the globalized restructuring of capitalism, D&G find here a dynamic give-and-take between the core and peripheries of the world system. Machinic surplus value – and the ‘new class’ adjacent to it – flow in one direction, and with human surplus value going in a different direction. The former concentrated in the core countries, where we might say that post-industrialization was most emergent, while the latter moved to the peripheries, in a maneuver that Alain Lipietz (of the Regulation School of post-Marxist economics) would describe as the emergence of “peripheral Fordism”. For D&G, this is the great flux-movement of capitalist deterritorialization itself:

As Samir Amin has shown, the process of deterritorialization here goes from the center to the periphery, that is, from the developed countries to the underdeveloped countries, which do not constitute a separate world, but rather an essential component of the world-wide capitalist machine… And if it is true that the tendency of the rate of profit to a falling rate of profit or to its equalization asserts itself at least partially at the center, carrying the economy toward the most progressive and the most automated sectors, a veritable “development of underdevelopment” on the periphery ensures a rise in the rate of surplus value, in the form of an increasing exploitation of the proletariat in relation to that of the center. (AO, 231)

So here we have a two-fold movement: the increasing post-industrialization of the core, correlated to the higher rates of automation, the introduction of new class formations, and a falling rate of profit, which is necessitated in turn on the industrialization of the periphery, characterized by the expansion of human labor and thus surplus value extraction. This produces a counter-tendency against the falling rate of profit. Constant spatial re-organization of the integrated capitalist system therefore makes the claim “capital has no external limit” possible. We are thus compelled to return to the site that Marx found the opening a post-capitalist future: in the increased contradiction between the efficiency of the means of production (itself an indicating the increasing centrality of techno-science coupled to an ongoing rise in constant capital in the organic composition of capital) and the mode distribution. In this sense when they suggest against Samir Amin to “accelerate the process”, it can only allude specifically to the intensification of these conditions and contradictions. It follows that post-capitalism, the “New Earth” that is a “place of healing”, may very well be for D&G, some sort of automated society.

But what of this notion of machinic surplus value? By sketching the above, we can see that they retain a close proximity to Marx’s own theories (there are some other complicated things going on in this chapter that overflow classical Marxism, and they will have to be addressed at some point) as well as the most constructive offerings of the neo-Marxists – and for this reason the concept of machinic surplus value doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything at all. They suggest as one point that it also plays a role in the “elevation of the rate of profit” (AO 223), though this seems at odds with the core/periphery dynamic they trace as the backbone of the world system of their day. One possibility is that this refers to the fact this division is not absolute: as we’re far from a fully-automated society, there will still be variable capital – and thus human labor and ‘human surplus value’ – present in the composition of the commodity, while constant capital (the source of this alleged machinic surplus value) is still a factor of production in the periphery. Even if relations in the periphery are characterized by the continual expansion of variable capital with the ratio of constant capital holding the same for each individual unit, the total constant capital would itself increase, even if the rate of profit was continuing to rise.

The other path is to cut to the core of this concept, which is to deal head-on with this suggestion that machines do actually add value to the commodities they produce – which is, after all, explicitly what D&G state when they first introduce the concept. This is a profoundly anti-Marxist argument, and if held steadily throws a wrench into the entire schema they develop across the course of the “Civilized Capitalist Machine”. If machines are capable of adding value is a way analogous to human labor, then there is never, at any point, a difference between a proletarian, and, say, an auger. If there is no distinction between the two, everything becomes flattened – there is no longer any sense of historical progression or the unfolding of processes like the internal fluctuations of the organic composition of capital itself. And if there is no progression, then the entire analytic structure of the work collapses.

Simply put, the category of machinic surplus value, as presented in Anti-Oedipus, is capable of torpedoing the entire work.

The Italian Futurists made a similar move in their own critique of Marx (h/t to Vince Garton for drawing my attention to this topic when we discussed this topic many moons ago). In a brief note titled “Synthesis of Marx’s Thought”, Marinetti vehemently rejected the conclusions of Marx’s value theory by writing that

In Marx’s opinion, the function of capital, in the production process, is sterile. Only the object of labor is fertile. The highest value of the product is exclusively the result of labor, and to this it must belong. Instead, it passes unfairly to the capitalist, in the form of profits. Profit is the surplus value… Now, the premise that the function of capital is sterile in the production process is false. If the production function of capital were sterile, the industries in which salary-capital (labor) prevailed over fixed capital would have to provide higher revenue than those industries in which fixed capital prevailed over salary-capital (labor). But this doesn’t happen in reality! (Critical Writings, 317)

The Futurists anticipated a world in which the progressive development of the means of production would produce a society of abundance, as indicated by the breathless descriptions in “Electric War: A Futurist Visionary Hypothesis” of a world where “Hunger and need have disappeared” and the “need for tiring, humiliating labor is finished… No longer having to toil in order to acquire food, man has at last conceived the pure notion of endlessly breaking records”. (Critical Writings, 223). Such a world seems at odds with the classical interpretation of Marx, in which the rate of profit falls towards some sort of catastrophic scenario. I’m wondering if the introduction of machinic surplus value by D&G doesn’t try to address this same disconnect, between reality and theory. Writing in the waning years of Fordism, before the crisis of the 1970s truly reared its face, D&G – and the Marxist left at large – were grappling with a capitalism that seemed to capable of overcoming its most irrational excesses, and perhaps even long-term tendencies that were supposed to have shaken the core of the system.

Yet the collapse of the rate of profit leading to catastrophe is not the ultimate conclusion of Marx’s mature work. Yes, the rate of profit was determined to decline in relation to the accelerating obsolescence of the human laborer and its replacement by machinery (engendering, in turn, a growing mass of superfluous people) – but this tendency wouldn’t look like a long-term stagnation. The progressive development of the means of production, the integration of techno-science into the industrial process, is a mark of a capitalism that is strong and expanding, a dynamic that in turn masks the falling rate of profit and its ultimate implications. What’s more is that as this double process unfolds, the efficiency of machinery is increasing, with is constantly raising the total productivity of the industrial system. In this regards, you end up with something that looks like this:

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The introduction of something like “machinic surplus value” can never tell us something about these sorts of tendencies, because 1) they fail to apprehend the critical nature of Marx’s construction of “value”, and 2) it potentially derives from a fundamentally incorrect appraisal of how Marx conceives of capital’s long-range tendencies and transformations (which is necessary is one is hoping to delineate a possibility space from a Marxist ground).

Luckily there is a simple solution. The conundrum in Anti-Oedipus is that the rest of the major maneuvers in “The Civilized Capitalist Machine” can be conformed to Marx’s own analysis – so we’re capable of jettisoning machinic surplus value outright without damaging the integrity of their argument. This entire thing becomes a big-ass shaggy dog story.

Also, to be fair to D&G, they seemed to have realized themselves the fundamental problem inherent to the concept. It returns again in the pages of A Thousand Plateaus, but it has been transformed:

In the organic composition of capital, variable capital defines a regime of subjection of the worker (human surplus value)  the principal framework of which is the business or factory. But with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes, surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework  expands to all of society. It could also be said that a small amount of subjectification took us away from machinic enslavement, but a large amount brings us back to it… [people] are no longer consumers or users, nor even subjects who supposedly “make” it, but intrinsic component pieces, “input” and “output,” feedback or recurrences that are no longer connected to the machine in such a way as to produce or use it. In machinic enslavement, there is nothing but transformations and exchanges of information, some of which are mechanical, others human.

This isn’t a firm distinction between machinic surplus value on one side and human surplus value on the other; it’s that human surplus value has become machinic. What this means isn’t that machines are adding value – we’re no longer discussing here the individual machines of production, but the very nature of the capitalist system as a whole. If surplus value is machinic, it’s because human labor has been recast in the cybernetic era; if there is a peripheral Fordism or industrialization that lingers in the manner of old, it is going to be dominated and structured internally to post-Fordism, post-industrialization. And this is a far more constructive vision than the confused deployment of the term in Anti-Oedipus. 

Postone on Capital and History

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This Moishe Postone lecture has been the soundtrack to this morning’s chores. It’s really great, and provides a straightforward unpacking of a lot the stuff going on in his dense-but-awesome 1993 work Time, Labor, and Social Domination.

One of the very intriguing points that Postone makes in his book is the way that, in chapter four Capital Volume 1 – the chapter that introduces the classic M – C – M’ ‘feedback loop’ schema – Marx resurrects Hegel’s depiction of the Geist, as an independent or self-moving substance, to describe capital itself. It’s an incredibly important point for understanding what is going on in Marx’s mature work, as undoes the common perception of the proletariat or humanity (ascending to the realization of its species-being) as the ‘subject’ of history, and attributes this position instead to capital itself.

Postone delves into this in the lecture above, and it’s worth reiterating here because it is stated so clearly. Speaking of the inner dynamics of the capitalist system (this starts somewhere in minute 37), he states:

On the one hand, it is characterized by ongoing, even accelerating, transformations of production and of social life. On the other hand, this historical dynamic entails the ongoing reconstitution of its own fundamental conditions as an unchanging feature of social life. Namely, that value is reconstituted, that social mediation ultimately remained affected by labor, and that living labor remains integral to the total social process of production, regardless of the level of productivity. So the historical dynamic of capitalism, and I think people only usually get one side, ceaselessly generates what is the same while always generating what is new. As I will elaborate, it both generates the possibility of another organization of labor and of social life, and at the same time hinders that possibility from being realized.

This dynamic, generated by the dialectic of abstract time and dialectical time, is at the heart of the category of capital, which for Marx is a category of movement. It’s value in motion. It has no fixed material embodiment. Now since this is an institute of philosophy, it’s significant that when Marx first introduces the category of capital in the book Das Kapital, he describes it with exactly the same language that Hegel used with reference to the Geist in the Phenomenology. The “self-moving substance” that is the subject of its own process. People like Althusser say to just forget all of this Hegelian language. In so doing, Marx suggests that Hegel’s notion of history, as having a logic, as the dialectical unfolding of a subject, is valid, but only for capitalist society. Moreover, Marx does not define Hegel’s subject with the proletariat, or even with humanity. Instead he identifies it with capital: a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will.

What I’m suggesting is that Marx’s mature critique of Hegel does not involve an anthropological inversion of Hegel’s idealist dialectic. Rather, I’m going to suggest that this is the idealist dialectic’s material justification. Marx implicitly argues that the rational core of Hegel’s dialectic is precisely its idealistic character. It is an expression of a mode of domination constituted by alienated relations – that is, relations that acquire a quasi-independent existence vis-a-vis individuals, exert a certain form of compulsion on them, and that because of their dualistic character are dialectical. Notice that categories like historical subject, totality, labor have now become the objects of Marx’s critique, not the standpoint of his critique.

The first part of the above quoted clearly speaks the central concern reiterated by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, that of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of constantly putting things into play, producing the new, even things that threaten to overwhelm itself, but also restraining these things, cutting them off, appropriating and recoding them, or even dredging up archaisms to repress them. In the language of Difference and Repetition, we might describe this situate as the subordination of difference to the Repetition of the Same – and it is probably by no mistake, then, that in the very second paragraph of the book’s introduction Deleuze writes of equivalence as a generality, that is, “a point of view according to which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another”. For Marx, money – an expression of the law of value, that which flows through the self-expanding, self-moving, cyberpositive process of M – C – M’, plays the role of the general equivalent, the special category of commodities that all other commodities can be translated into or otherwise mediated by.

Elsewhere in this lecture Postone posits a Marxist understanding history that is neither linear-determinist or strictly contingent, and in this he comes close to that which has haunted all debates in the accelerationist sphere, the Kantian antimony of causal determinism and spontaneity – or to put it in more contemporary, system theoretic terms, the troubled intermingling of lock-in effects and self-organization. Or again, as the esteemed Thomas Murphy once put it, the Deleuzian problematic of hierarchies and anarchies, ‘solved’ in the form of the morphogenetic crowned anarchy.

(Anti)Markets

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There are many advantages to political decentralization as a structural limitation on government power. Imagine a country the size of the United States, but consisting of only five states. Now imagine the same region containing 500 states. All other things being equal, the second situation is likely to be much more hospitable to freedom than the first. The smaller the political unit, the greater the influence an individual citizen can have in politics, thus decreasing the lobbying advantage that concentrated special interests have over the diffuse general public. Further, as the number of available alternative political jurisdictions increases, the citizen’s exit option becomes more powerful. The freedom to leave one state is small comfort if there are only a handful of others nearby to go to; but with many states, the odds of finding a satisfactory destination are much better.

In addition, competition between states can serve as a check on state power, since if any state becomes too oppressive its citizens can vote with their feet. Also, decentralization softens the impact of government mistakes. If a single centralized government decides to implement some ill-conceived plan, everybody has to suffer. But with many states implementing different policies, a bad policy can be escaped, while a good policy can be imitated. (Here too, competition can serve as a discovery process.) – Roderick T. Long, “Virtual Cantons”

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As always, Xenogoth’s blog is a machine for inducing thoughts and productivity over here on this side of things. Their latest post concerns Rana Dasgupta’s recent article for the Guardian titled “The Demise of the Nation State”, the topic of which (as the very name indicates) should be well familiar now. “For increasing numbers of people,” Dasgupta writes, “our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future.” And yet solutions posed seems to be more of the same: avoid the fragmentation, shore up that which is dissolving, and keep on keepin’ on with progressive universalism. Xenogoth writes:

it’s universalism which is the problem here and its funneling progressivism into a single, unwavering straight line. Progressivism reveals itself to be political tunnelvision. When you’re political system starts to offer you the Kool Aid, progressivism becomes putting it down and heading for the exit. There are surely better paths on the outside.

Contra more radical (and perhaps dangerous) routes to the Outside, Dasgupta’s future-oriented politics revolves around three key elements: “global financial regulation”, “global flexible democracy”, and “new conceptions of citizenship”. Xenogoth points out that these are these continue to the drift into neoliberal globalization – and indeed, are these three things not the very idealistic summit of the global regime that has existed since the end of World War II? Empire, the Cathedral, capitalist realism, the Washington Consensus, what have you; it is the unity of regulated monopolistic competition in political economy and liberal democracy in the order of politics that serve as the twin pincers of the meta-system.

The first element will be met with inherent skepticism. After all, we’re told repeatedly that the between the crisis that brought a swift and brutal conclusion to the Fordist-Keynesianism that defined the immediate post-war period (beginning in 1968 and culminating in the Nixon Shock of 1972) and the inauguration of the so-called New Economy of the 1990s, a disastrous path of deregulatory behavior was undertaken, one that undermined the developed world’s industrial base, hollowed out civic institutions and the infrastructures of ‘modern democracy’, and sent us spiraling into cycles of crisis. But is this really the case?

In the United States, it is undeniable that there have been the neutering of regulations in certain areas – but this is only remains a part of the story. The cutting here and there – which has become major talking point for both the left and right, as objects of derision and praise, respectively – has served as the mask for a great explosion of regulatory activities. Take John Dawson and John Seater’s 2013 paper “Federal Regulation and Aggregate Economic Growth”, for instance. Looking at the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), which logs all regulations on the books in the US, Dawson and Seater discovered that its contents multiplied sixfold between 1949 and 2005, going from the (already significant 19,335 pages to a mind-boggling 134,261 pages). This already begins to overturn conventional wisdom on the left that consistent deregulation is the overarching trend in economic development over the last four to six decades – and Dawson and Seater can only pour more gasoline on this fire:

Periods of negative growth are infrequent, and, when they do occur, the absolute value of the growth rate is small. By far, the fastest percentage growth occurred in the early 1950s. High growth also occurred in the 1970s, even though there was extensive deregulation in transportation, telecommunications, and energy. Deregulation in that period was more than offset by increased regulation in other areas, notably pertaining to the environment and occupational safety, as Hopkins (1991) has noted. The Reagan administration of the 1980s promoted deregulation as a national priority, and growth in the number of CFR pages slowed in the early and late 1980s. Nevertheless, total pages decreased in only one year, 1985. The 1990s witnessed the largest reduction in pages of regulation in the history of the CFR, with three consecutive years of decline. This reduction coincides with the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” initiative that sought reduced regulation in general and a reduction in the number of pages in the CFR in particular. (Interestingly, the greatest percentage reduction in the CFR did not occur during either the Reagan or Clinton administrations but rather in the first year of the Kennedy administration, 1961.) There thus are several major segments in regulation’s time path, with corresponding breaks in trend (dates are approximate): (1) 1949 to 1960 (fast growth), (2) 1960 to 1972 (slow growth), (3) 1972 to 1981 (fast growth), (4) 1981 to 1985 (slow growth), (5) 1985 to 1993 (fast growth), and (6) 1993 to 2005 (slow growth).

There’s a similar lip-service paid to classical political economy and ideological obfuscation going on where “free trade” is concerned. While the right-wing (outside of its populist sector, of course) sounds the trumpets in the name of laissez-faire and the nationalist right and the left-of-center viciously denounce it, what goes in the West under the name of free trade is anything but. While agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and institutions like the WTO, the IMF, and the like seem to reduce this argument to an absurdity, there is an immense gulf between the sort of free trade advocated by classical political economists like David Ricardo – aaand Karl Marx – and these agreements reached by government negotiators.

Free trade would entail something very simple: the parties in question decide to mutually eliminate barriers, including but not limited to tariffs, to one another’s domestic market places. The contemporary agreement like NAFTA or the TPP, by contrast, consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of legal qualifications, special protections, and what are called “investor-state dispute settlements”. The result is an uneven playing field dominated by entrenched quasi-monopolistic corporations, protected by the state, who have suspended free trade for something profoundly different. Tariffs might have been avoided (until the looming US-China trade war, at least), but corporate protectionism reigns supreme.

A counterpoint might that this is precisely what free trade produces: concentration of power in a handful of corporate entities, who bend the legal apparatuses of the state to fix things their favor (such as implementing protectionist policies that further enforce their hegemony). It’s a good story, and one that makes clear who would be the bad guys and the bad systems (corporations! free trade!), and easy solutions (tightening the grip in advance on the exchange circuits before we get to this disastrous state of affairs). Unfortunately – or maybe not so unfortunately – it isn’t true, and one of the reasons has to do with the ubiquity of regulatory behavior. But more on that in a moment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. The despotic state was dependent on coding and territorialization of flows in a particular way; it had to, at all costs, ward off the progressive decoding and deterritorializing of flows – and to do this, it had to prevent the arrival of capital, that alien mutagen that draws power from annihilating the very limits and barriers that a socius needs to maintain organization. Hence the sheer apocalypticism of capital and the dread it instills – but the despotic state does not disappear in its dark arrival. It undergoes a transformation into the capitalist state, a unit of “anti-production” that is subordinated to the flux of capitalist deterritorialization.

The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization. Maybe it is across this tension wire that we must place something like the free trade agreement, or even the rates of regulation growth and occasional deregulation. Read this way, the free trade agreement would be series of measures taken to channel flows, to situate institutional entities and political blocs atop the slipstream of global marketization, without falling into them – which would bring the order to its very demise.

Is this not precisely an incredible compensatory mechanism, at one time aimed at global installation? Is this not a more accurate picture of what is splitting apart than most progressivist ideologues argue? And, by extension, does this not mean that the progressivist solution is ultimately to turn back the clock and complete the global installation?

________________

Braudel’s famous argument, implicit in Capitalism and Schizophrenia (this is the topic of a current in-progress work) and operationalized in full by Manuel Delanda, is that the market and capitalism must be made distinct from one another, and that capitalism must be thought as something oppositional to the market: an anti-market. The market – or micro-capitalism – is the realm of “economic life”; it is full of highly visible activities, the interchanges of commerce happening at rapid speeds, and variables profit rates attached to quickly shifting registers of price. “The market spells liberation, openness, access to another world”. Capitalism, by contrast, is defined large-scale centralization, bureaucracy, oligopoly, and decreased mobility in the price regime. Markets link themselves together in networks of “horizontal communication” between smaller firms and actors bound up in competitive behavior. Anti-markets are based around monopoly, and thus ward off the specter of competition.

We could say that, shifting into Deleuze and Guattari’s framework, the market/micro-capitalism corresponds the schizophrenizing, deterritorializing edge where capital rushes towards its ultimate limits, while the anti-market/capitalism side of the economic meshwork aligns with reterritorialization. Indeed, the capitalist state, identified by Deleuze and Guattari as composing a Katechonic mechanism for reterritorializing capital in order to avoid the end of things, is similarly found by Braudel as guarantor and protector of monopolistic entities. In the void of strong states, warding off occurs less and less, and the market emerges a norm; in the presence of them, it is capitalism that is business as usual.

I definitely hope to draw this argument out more in soon-to-be finished Vast Abrupt essay on SchizoMarketization and economic eschatology; in the meantime, however, I’d like to do something different and put forth the exceedingly questionable suggestion that the two of the ideological poles of economic governance in the US – Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism – can be roughly mapped to this schema of markets and antimarkets, in both their unity and opposition.

The Jeffersonian ideal moved power in a decentralizing direction, towards smaller and smaller, more localized levels; it opposed aristocracy and remained suspicious of mercantile, industrial and financial interests. The yeoman, an archetypal figure for small-scale, non-slaving owning farmers running the gamut from subsistence farmers to medium-range commercial entities, was the focal point of Jeffersonianism – making it a kind of populism that foreshadows many of the characteristics of certain libertarian factions in existence today.

Jeffersonianism seems to capture the ideological screen erected by the Washington establishment, but the order of business falls more under the purview of Hamiltonianism, with its emphasis on centralization of power, the supremacy of the Federal level above the local, and the creation of powerful and wealthy industrial and financial classes. The tenets of the “American School of Economics” (also known as the ‘National System’), developed in point-by-point opposition to those of classical liberalism, epitomize the Hamiltonian perspective. To quote from the wiki page, the three primary principles were:

  1. Protecting industry through selective high tariffs (1861 – 1932) and through subsidies (especially 1932-1970).
  2. Government investments in infrastructure creating targeted internal improvements (especially in transportation.
  3. A national bank with policies that promote the growth of productive enterprises rather than speculation.

If we’re to talk of the groundwork for the globalizing regime that is organized around transnational corporate protectionism, regulatory behavior, and liberal democracy, it is paramount not to mistake the Hamiltonian platform for free trade – especially given that the beginning of the globalization of this model corresponds with the arrival of US hegemony in the wake of the Second World War. It is an apparatus for producing monopolies – the dynamic generator of anti-market systems.

In 1888, well into the Hamiltonian era, Benjamin Tucker advocated what he described as an “unterrified Jeffersonianism” – a radical free market socialism that served as the “the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine; laissez faire the universal rule”. Blocking the path to this world were the four monopolies: “the money monopoly, the land monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent monopoly.” The money monopoly is the state’s exclusive right to establish and produce a medium for circulation, which effectively cut-off the ability for competition between currencies to take place, and alloted greater power to banks and other lending institutions. The land monopoly, meanwhile, is “the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation”, while the tariff monopoly needs little mention. The patent monopoly – which, up until recently, was the far more pressing obstruction to international free trade than tariffs – is the domination of ideas under the rubric of intellectual property laws.

To these Kevin Carson adds a fifth: the transportation monopoly, in which roads and other infrastructures are designed and paid for by the state. In both the land monopoly and the transportation monopoly, costs are externalized onto the taxpayer, either in the form of law enforcement or public works. While collective pooling of resources for a common goal is one thing, in the context of the monopoly system this means that businesses are automatically exempt from certain costs. Wal-Mart, for example, has its distribution infrastructure already established by the transportation system. Or, in another case, a landowner who must bear the costs of protecting ownership is going to own considerably less land due to that price tag.

For Tucker, examples such as these – and many others – point to how elimination of the monopolies would proceed from the elimination of the state that made them possible in the first place, and that their removal would clear the way for real competition to occur, the Braudelian market rising up to fill the void. With more competition comes lower costs, and without heavy regulatory burden the barriers to entry implode – which adds to more competition, and lower costs still. The effect would be less distance between market price and what the classical political economists called the “natural price” – the costs inputs that were expended in advance in order to initially bring something to the market.

Carson suggests an even radical transformation: the implosion of homogeneity in socio-cultural formation and politico-economic governance, and the rapid multiplication of other ways of life. Speaking from the left-libertarian perspective, he writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution that

…it’s extremely unlikely in my opinion that the collapse of centralized state and corporate power will be driven by,or that the post‐corporate state society that replaces it will be organized according to, any single libertarian ideology… although the kinds of communal institutions, mutual aid networks and primary social units
into which people coalesce may strike the typical right‐wing flavor of free market libertarian as “authoritarian” or “collectivist,” a society in which such institutions are the dominant form of organization is by no means necessarily a violation of the substantive values of self‐ownership and nonaggression… it seems to me that the libertarian concepts of self‐ownership and nonaggression are entirely consistent with a wide variety of voluntary social frameworks, while at the same time the practical application of those concepts would vary widely.

To exit from the globalist anti-market is to be propelled towards the strangeness of patchwork.

Cthelllic Tendrils (#3a: Possession and Return)

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From inside the Turning she whispers to the Bottomless Pit: Ogun the metal-bodied, one who is many, breaker of masks. The hour of her coming draws near, and her Cloud of Dispersion already casts its abysmal shadow. – Mother Mary Ann Haddok, Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks

In the final pages of Flatline Constructs, Mark Fisher turned his attention to John Carpenter’s 1994 horror film In the Mouth of Madness, which he provocatively described as something of a companion piece to the two volumes of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia project. In the Mouth of Madness is the story of a freelance investigator by the name of John Trent, who is hired by a large New York City-based publishing company to look into the disappearance of Sutter Cane, a popular horror novelist whose novels are reputed to have ‘strange effects’ on certain types of readers. Things go off the rails fairly quickly when Trent and Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, arrive in the town of Hobb’s Endan otherwise idyllic little New England ‘burg, besides a sinisterly beckoning church that loom up on the outskirts and the fact that the town itself is a fictional setting in Cane’s novels.

What binds In the Mouth of Madness to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is the twisting red thread of market apocalypticism. Cane is ultimately revealed to be to be a conduit – initially unwittingly – for the Old Ones, who are invading the world through his books, with the massive capitalist market serving as a contagion vector for belief. The more people read, the more they believe, and the more they believe, the more time accelerates towards the impending arrival of the ancients from the Abyss. In the film’s closing moments, we hear emergency broadcasts reporting in from somewhere, panicked voices warning of mass outbreaks of schizophrenia, of waves of violence and social disintegration, and of afflicted human bodies undergoing horrific mutation. A hyperstitional configuration par excellence: fiction writing itself into reality, the Outside invading in via the wildly oscillating hype(r) circuitry of capital.

So too it goes in Capitalism and Schizophrenia: capital, described in Anti-Oedipus as a flow of “abstract or fictional quantities”, is oriented towards “the wilderness where the decoded flows run free, the end of the world, the apocalypse”. This plane of cosmic schizophrenia is constantly ward-offed by Oedipal and statist compensators – yet the more capital itself proliferates, the greater the schizophrenization that explodes back from the periphery to the center, and the more the compensatory mechanisms shake and, ultimately, shatter. When social bodiesthemselves compositions of fictional quantities and mythsare “confronted with this real limit, repressed from within, but returns to them from without, they regard this event with melancholy as the sign of their approaching death”.

Cane’s role is that of the xenocommunicant: here is a figure who is opened up, unwittingly at first, to the Outside, though which the infection of the “schizo-signal” spreads. It’s not hard to see him as a composite of, on the one hand, Stephen King, with his utterly insane sales figures and strangely mutagenic effect on cultural formations; and on the other Lovecraft (another point of connectivity with Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the second volume is particular). Carpenter filled In the Mouth of Madness with references to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, from structure of the film itself, to the names of characters, to the New England setting, to the final actualization of the long-awaited return of the Old Ones.

If the fictional Cane is an xenocommunicant, is it a stretch to grant that same designation to the ‘real’ Lovecraft? Ludicrous as it may seemand it is only going to get strangerthis is the position that was taken by Kenneth Grant, who in the 1970s began to cross-pollinate Crowley’s Thelema doctrines with Lovecraft and UFOlogy. In Beyond The Mauve Zone Grant would even suggest that the signals tapped into by the author were “strange sigils swirled by the power-waves of [Frater] Achad’s work” – Achad being Charles Stansfeld Jones, a ceremonial magician and purported ‘magical child’ of Crowley. Peter Levenda also takes up this question in his work on Lovecraft, Crowley and Grant titled The Dark Lord; to quote him at length:

In Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Crowley refers to several of the images with which Lovecraft would be consumed in his stories, but especially in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Here we have a buried god that is awakened from a stone, in a coffin, in a sepulchre, and mysterious words written in an ancient book, including Tutulu. And “of pure black marble is the sorry statue” resonates with the black stone on which the statue of Cthulhu squats.Crowley believed that the first two books [the Holy Books of Thelema] mentioned above were not his writing, but were inspired works dictated to him by his Holy Guardian Angel, the ancient Sumerian personality Aiwass, after Crowley had attained samadhi during a course of rituals he undertook with his colleague, George Cecil Jones, in England. Even the undecipherable language of “Olalam Imal Tutulu” has its counterpart in the enigmatic hieroglyphics of the Cthulhu statue and the ecstatic, glossolalia-like cries of the worshippers in the Louisiana swamps. Both men—the American author and the English magician—were dealing with the same subject matter, and indeed Lovecraft had dated the first appearance of the Cthulhu statue to the same year, month and day that Crowley began writing these sections of the Holy Books.

Levenda suggests that these may not be mere coincidences (as if there is anything mere about coincidence!), but could very well be an indication of some alien entity at work: “Either Lovecraft was in some kind of telepathic communication with Crowley, or both men were in telepathic communication with… Something Else.”

[If anyone is on the fence thus far, consider Levenda’s innocuous capitalizations in light of the following AQ equivalence: SOMETHING ELSE = 268 = SCHIZOPHRENIA]

In 1949a year after Crowley’s death, the beginnings of the modern UFO phenomenon (by way of the Kenneth Arnold sighting and the mythical Roswell Crash), and the inauguration of the Aeon of MaatPeter Vysparov convened a small group of researches together to study, among other things, these very sorts of “cryptic communications from the Old Ones, signaling return”. In a manner very close to Grant’s own untimely remixing of the edgeland currents rippling through cosmic post-war modernity, Vysparov’s goal was to find the key that would zip together Lovecraft’s ‘fiction’ with the body of work produced by Crowley and his acolytes, as well as with that of certain Indonesian indigenous populations. In his correspondence with the anthropologist Echidna Stillwell, he described this nexus as the zone of “Cthulhoid contagion”. On these matters Stillwell would response with a sense of knowing hesitance:

Whilst not in any way accusing you of frivolity, I feel bound to state the obvious warning: Cthulhu is not to be approached lightly. My researches have led me to associate this Chthonian entity with the deep terrestrial intelligence inherent in the electromagnetic cauldron of the inner earth, in all of its intense reality, raw potentiality, and danger. According to the Nma she is the plane of Unlife, a veritable Cthelll—who is trapped under the sea only according to a certain limited perspective—and those who set out to traffic with her do so with the greatest respect and caution.

Down and under…

Compensation and Escape

 

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In the earlier post Mixed Bag, I mentioned briefly Land’s argument that long-term cyberpositive trends – that is, cybernetic excitation or positive feedback unfolding primarily through technomic cycling – is continually dampened by a compensatory mechanism. Perhaps we can think of being similar to the importance of frequency compensation in electrical engineering, particularly in the case of amplifiers, which deploy negative feedback  mechanisms in order to pull back the wild oscillations and distortion engender by the lock-in to a positive feedback loop. Slotting this into the historical drift of technomic escalation, however, changes this a bit: the positive feedback process remains in the primary position, and dampening can only be secondary. Paradoxically – and this is where things get truly loopy – is that this secondary becomes a conduit through which the primary expresses itself. Consider the three forms of cybernetic circuits that cut across cyberpositive and cybernegative tendencies, as described by Land in his CCRU-era essay “Circuitries”:

  1. Long-range positive feedback: the primary cyberpositive process, characterized by continual escalation and the folding-in of machinic convergence (the ultimate unknown unknown of impending technomic concresence).
  2. Short-range positive feedback: short, harsh, unstable bursts of cyberpositivity that burn themselves out.
  3. Stabilization mechanisms: circuits that operate against cyberpositive in an attempt to suppress mutation and contagion. Ecumenonical.

These forms can be further related to the cybernetic model of history cultivated by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, where development unfolds through the coding, territorialization, decoding, and deterritorialization of flows, and the modulation of these forms through mechanisms that ward off  mutagenic shocks to each historical stage. The primitive socius carried out a dual-warding suspended between the figure of the warrior and the shaman; the former, as Clastres demonstrated, played a role in preventing the formation of the State through the use of constant warfare, while the latter capture deterritorializing flows that threatened to return the socius to the biocosmic ocean. In the age of the despotic State, it was the body of the despot itself that capture these flows, which in the age of the Civilized Capitalist Machine passed to the capitalist state (as the force of anti-production that is subordinated to, yet aids, capitalist production) and Oedipus itself. For the despotic State, warding-off the impending flux of capital was paramount; for the Civilized Capitalist Machine, it is the pull of capital itself towards the edge of the edge, where everything gives way to burning, cosmic schizophrenia. Schizo-Marketization.

The long arc that bends towards this future apocalypse is the long-range positive feedback process, and the mechanisms for warding-off and capture constitute stabilization mechanisms. In each case the slippage towards what is warded off can be deferred for a while, but can never be absolute. It happens despite all attempts to halt it. What does tend to get churned out, however, are those explosions of short-range positive feedback.

In the parlance of Land’s more contemporary work, the stabilization mechanism of the capitalist epoch is precisely what Moldbug described as the Cathedral. To return to Re-accelerationism:

…the Cathedral acquires its teleological definition from its emergent function as the cancellation of capitalism: what it has to become is the more-or-less precise negative of historical primary process, such that it composes — together with the ever more wide-flung society-in-liquidation it parasitizes — a metastatic cybernetic megasystem, or super-social trap. ‘Progress’ in its overt, mature, ideological incarnation is the anti-trend required to bring history to a halt. Conceive what is needed to prevent acceleration into techno-commercial Singularity, and the Cathedral is what it will be.

In a great post on this same topic, Uri the Cyborg Nomad drops this excellent diagram of the dampening effects of the Cathedral on technomic cyberpositivity. Hopefully he won’t mind it being reproduced here:

the-cathedral

This may seem different from the usual image of the Cathedral offered by neoreactionaries, which often seems to be a stand-in for progressive policies they don’t like. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t encompass that – the opposite, in fact! Far from being a particular mode of politics, the Cathedral defines totality of the political machine, which is intrinsically bound to self-replication (far from being stupid, politics wants more of itself), self-preservation, profit-seeking, hegemonic functioning, and – as a result from each of these – an inclination towards universalism in increasingly more managerial modes. It is for this reason that Land describes a Left Singularity that is locked into a doomed conflict with an impending future Right Singularity

[Many will immediately jump on this point and point out that this framing of singularities along a Left – Right line doesn’t quite gel with the muddied (and frankly nonsensical) history of these terms. I know, I know. To ward off in advance the endless quagmire of debate over what these terms means, consider the way in which Land is using them here: taken most generally, Left here designates the political, and Right designates anti-politics. Consider that what is being called unconditional accelerationism was, originally, called right accelerationism by Land:

a framework which would slot both the left accelerarionism and right accelerationism critiqued by unconditional accelerationism into the the framework of the Left. U/Acc, however, moves in a different direction by referring to the political in terms of a grand Left, but a mutually reinforcing secondary circuit in which left and right self-excite one another through reinforcement, antagonism, and constructive blurring. Clear as mud? Cool.]

Something that I’ve been interested in is how Land sees Neoreaction itself fitting into this schema. It designates something still internal to the Age of the Civilized Capitalist Machine – the encounter with the Dweller on the Threshold is still a ways off yet – but past the Cathedral proper, which is anticipated to be shattered into countless, fractioning polities. The death of politics, by way of the insane multiplication? Such a maneuver would constitute the annihilation of the universalist stabilization mechanisms, though it would – in the patchwork model, at least – make possible all sorts of localized, dynamic, and variable stabilization mechanisms available. This flips back to an argument posed on this blog before: that what Land designates the Cathedral and Fisher assessed as “capitalist realism” are, in fact, the same thing (once we separate capitalism from cyberpositive capital, and approach capitalist realism via the former), and that breaking through to the other side of these immense blockages opens into a plane of differentiation: micro-scaled units rising up like a nano-swarm. But, Land argues, and yet this is ultimately as doomed as the Cathedral itself, as is made clear by the brief comments on the ultimate fate of neoreaction at the end of Dark Techno-Commercialism:

Dark Techno-Commercialism — provisionally summarized — is the suspicion that the ‘Right Singularity’ is destined to occur in surreptitious and antagonistic relation to finalistic political institutions, that the Cathedral culminates in the Human Security System, outmatched and defeated from the Outside, and that all hopes that these ultimate historical potentialities will be harnessed for politically intelligible ends are vain. It is, therefore, the comprehension of capitalism ‘in-itself’ as an outsider that will never know — or need — political representation. Instead, as the ultimate enemy, it will envelop the entirety of political philosophy — including anything neoreaction can contribute to the genre — as the futile strategic initiatives (or death spasms) of its prey. (emphasis added)

There’s a rabbit hole to tumble down here, full of numogrammatic, Deleuzeguattarian, and Thelemaic resonances that are best left for future investigation – though it’s worth considering how the above relates to the neoreactionary Trichotomy. This triad model is used to survey the terrain of NRx in a way that, on one hand, illustrates its opposition to the Cathedral, and on the other illustrates its own internal oppositions. By sketching all of these out, the Trike reveals an intended motor of fragmentation, where the pieces can never really fit into a higher unity synthesis, and can only ever proceed through ongoing shattering. The three sides are: Theonomy, Ethnonationalism, and Techno-commercialism. The first finds itself into opposition to the treatment of religion under progressivist universalism, and is resolutely opposed to ethnonationalism and techno-commercialism; the second rejects political integration and the demand for multiculturalism, and is opposed to theonomy and techno-commercialism; and techno-commercialism clashes with the technomic dampening of the stabilization mechanisms, and can only ever be structurally opposed to theonomy and ethnonationalism (it’s clear that this latter force is intrinsically linked to the primary accelerating process, hence the identification of a dark techno-commercialism that rides beyond NRx into the unutterable void of futurity).

Behind the Neoreactionary Trichotomy is a second, more esoteric triadic formation that maps not the political, but fate itself: the Horrorist Trichotomy. Each point is rendered as that which cannot be escaped from: Providence, Heredity, and Catallaxy. If the Neoreactionary Trike is ecumenonical, the Horrorist Trike serves as the planomenon. The alignments are clear: Theonomy to Providence, Ethnonationalism to Heredity, and Catallaxy to Techno-commercialism.

What relevance does this strange architecture, twisting as it does through the political and arcane materialism, have to these questions of compensation and accelerating trendlines (or: why this deep dive into the far end of NRx theory)? The answer to this follows the introduction of yet another triadic formulation, one that clearly anticipates the Neoreactionary Trichotomy: the “Golden Meme” introduced by Walter Russell Mead, and discussed by Land in an ancient post from waaay back in 2011 titled “Reign of the Tripod” (reign indeed!). In Mead’s historiography, the Golden Meme (i.e. the concept of the invisible hand) is the formula that produced the two centuries of “Anglosphere hegemony” – or what ensured the long-term stability of the British empire and the United States. Three points of a triangle: “Newtonian celestial mechanics” (serving as the modernization of “the religious idea of providence”), “Smithian political economy”,  and “Darwinian evolutionary biology. Again, the alignments are clear, though at the same time they cannot put fracture a little. Both Newtonian celestial mechanics and theonomy derive from providence, but one charts a secularizing path whilst the other stakes out a religious one. Something is shifting here.

Land writes that opposition that cannot be reconciled via synthesis becomes institutionalized in a power balance. In other words, the Golden Meme functioned because the three points checked one another. A compensatory dynamo is generated, one capable of pressing down on short-term burnouts that could arise from each triangle tip. Yet what stabilizes also sows the seeds for fracture:

Cultural hegemony follows from a semi-deliberate fatalization, as the sovereign center is displaced by a substantially automated social process, which no social agent is able to master or entirely impede. Each major faction steps back into its position in the triangle, from which it can strategically engage the others, but never fully dominate or eradicate them. The triangle as a whole constitutes a social and historical motor, without adequate representation at any identifiable point.

By placing the three Trichotomies in alignment, we arrive at a picture of ecumenonic consolidation and subsequent fragmentation, both shot through with the concealed Horrorist diagram of fate:

[Providence] :: Newtonian point of the Golden Meme –> Theonomy

[Heredity] :: Darwinian point of the Golden Meme –> Ethnonationalism

[Catallaxy] :: Smithian point of the Golden Meme –> Techno-commercialism

This picture is clearly a messy one and needs further work into integrating it into a more cohesive model, but it reveals a certain insight into neoreaction itself (or at least the form that Land is sifting through, which seems to go far beyond the work of many of his interlocutors). If the Golden Meme is the production and governing protocols for the Anglospherical compensatory mechanism, then it is what produces the Cathedral itself, which would as the Atlantean summit of this development. It follows, then, that if the NRx Trike etches a cartography of fragmentation that proceeds from this, then NRx is not simply an opposition to the Cathedral (as an activist movement for politico-cultural restoration would be, for example); it is the dynamical fall-out of the Cathedral’s fracturing in itself.

This is the very position staked out by Land in a post titled “Crypto-Brahmins”:

The Brahmin priest caste, like the digital elite, specializes in signs, but they are signs of exhortation, rather than of intrinsic efficiency. Is not the Cathedral precisely a name for that apparatus of signs — (non-STEM) academia, media, bureaucracy, politics … — which cannot in principle ever compile? The Cathedral is a secular religion, which has to preach because it does not work.

When NRx insists upon a division within ‘progress’ between techno-economics (which works) and socio-politics (which decays), it opens a rift that splits the Brahmins, rather than further separating them from social inferiors. NRx, at its core, is a ‘Brahmin’ civil war.

There’s much more to be said here, especially in light of how US democracy promotion exercises export Cathedral-capitalist realist-style governing protocols around the world through a model of capture that relies on keeping elite power balanced between multiple competitive fractions – not to mention the analysis offered by Peter Turchin on the relationship between elite overproduction and political fragmentation. But best to leave these thoughts for another post!

Some excellent recent posts that are swimming in similar waters:

Xenobuddhism: Non-Oriented Accelerationism

Xenogoth: Nationalist Realism

Demons and Disjunction (Patchwork and Capitalist Realism)

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A great new post series is in the works by Xenogoth, pushing out from the reflections on state decay to The Gothic Secession of Yorkshire. Reprising the fallout of early posts on the topic, they write:

Following my previous post on patchwork, ‘State Decay’, which tentatively introduced the idea and explored why it is something that the Left should take more seriously, I was repeatedly challenged over the legitimacy of patchwork being anything more than “science fiction”.

The difficulty in addressing this is, of course, that theories of patchwork are inherently speculative, but if we are to jettison the use of our imaginations when addressing the future, what point is there to thinking (about it) at all?

To me, this line of criticism felt like a blatant instantiation of the Left’s consistent inability to dig itself out of the “capitalist realist” fallacy that Mark Fisher so famously described in his book of (roughly) the same name.

This is a really cool way of thinking about it, and raises interesting questions with regard to certain retroprogressive elements in leftism, i.e. because there appears to be no alternative, and in response the Left only looks backwards. There’s always tools and forgotten histories and whatnot in the past to be found that can be resurrected, but if this comes at the expense of thinking-through future-oriented trendlines then the backwards face only serves to reinforce the initial condition of capitalist realism.

Either way, this made me think about the brief appearance of capitalist realism in Flatline Constructs, which is still occupying a major spot of my headspace. It occurs in a lengthy conversation about Freud on the double and Baudrillard’s response in Symbolic Exchange and Death (maybe the connection is further enforced in my mind by the fact that this conversation takes place to unpack the Uncanny, and which Xenogoth sees as something active in the concept of patchwork itself – “Patchwork is, in this way, for me, an eerie politic.”):

The destruction of the double goes hand in hand with the production of the (Christian) soul (the ultimate achievement of the “spiritualist” project), the rise of “psychological and psychoanalytic interpretation” as the authorized forms of capitalist realism bring an end to “the primitive double”. “Shadow, specter, reflection, image”, the primitive double haunts post-monotheistic, psychoanalytic culture, which appropriates it as a “crude prefiguration of the soul”. Yet “soul and consciousness have everything to do with a principle of the subject’s unification, and nothing to do with the primitive double. On the contrary, the historical advent of the ‘soul’ puts an end to the proliferating exchange with spirits and doubles which, as a direct consequence, gives rise to another figure of the double, wending its way beneath the surfaces of western reason.” This – modern, western – double is inextricably connected with alienation; it is the double as lost part of the self, “a fantastic ectoplasm, an archaic resurgence issuing from guilt and the depths of the unconscious.”

These reflections, addressing psychoanalytic consolidation of the unitary self and matters of spirit and soul, might seem to be at an immense distance from the conversations concerning patchwork – which is, ostensibly, a theory of metapolitics, belonging to a different set of scales. But is Fisher not right in saying that, as fantastical as it seems, this line of inquiry plunges us into the depths of capitalist realism’s functions? In the destruction of the primitive double, the wild chains of proliferating difference are cut off; one no longer enters into transit and trade with figures on the outside, but turns inwards to operate under the sway of predetermined sets of options that are each flush with a particular unifying logic. The double begins in multiplicity and ends unified and coded.

Baudrillard, like Deleuze, was a shrewd reader of Klossowski, and the influence radiates through the conversation about the double. Klossowski approached the concept through the simulacrum, which for Klossowski appears in European culture under the figure of the demon so feared by those of the Church. Baudrillard, by way of Fisher: Freud’s psychological flattening of the double “is what kills off the proliferation of doubles and spirits, consigning them once to the spectral, embryonic corridors of unconscious folklore, like the ancient gods that Christianity vertefeult, that is, transformed into demons.” For Klossowski, the Church had killed the ancient gods, but only to resurrect them as the demonic pantheon that their own holy order was tasked with holding at bay – a swarming apocalypse warded off by the Katechon. This, however, had unintended consequences: the demons did not annihilate the tracings of paganistic delirium, of mad communion with spirits, contagion and possession – the very presence of the demon was a portal between the unitary, sanctified world and the repressed Outside.

If Baudrillard finds Freud and the Church carrying out the same function, it’s because what is being repressed in this cycle (destruction of the old gods → their resurrection as demons → warding off the demonic) are impulses, which correspond precisely to what Nietzsche called the “vast confusion of contradictory drives” that are contained within ourselves. For Klossowski, they are primordial and noncommunicable intensities, just as in Deleuze’s own philosophy. The impulses ‘flicker’ through differential sequences, giving rise to to the phantasm – the self produced through synthesis and that is blind to the impulses that uphold it. Insofar as we can describe capitalist realism through these terms, it is a mode of suppressing the interplay of impulses in order to stabilize a particular phantasm in place – what Klossowski would describe as the production of series of stereotypes.

(A brief detour: it is perhaps here, in secular institutions repeating repression and molding of impulses, that we reach a perhaps more constructive vision of what neoreaction has designated the Cathedral. With CCRU’s writings in mind, we can think of the demonic impulses in relation to the Lemurian insurgency that the Architectonic Order of the Eschaton, the Human Security System, wages war with across time – and as Land writes in Dark Techno-Commercialism, “the Cathedral culminates in the Human Security System, outmatched and defeated from the Outside”. To put the concepts of the Cathedral and capitalist realism together might produce some interesting offspring.)

Deleuze writes in The Logic of Sense:

The order of God includes the following elements: the identity of God as the ultimate foundation; the identity of the world as the ambient environment; the identity of the person as a well-founded agency; the identity of bodies as the base; and finally, the identity of language as the power of denoting everything else. But this order of God is constructed against another order, and this order subsists in God and weakens him little by little.

This weakening of God reaches critical mass in Klossowski’s novel The Baphoment, which depicts the Templar Order tending to, under the guidance of God, the spirits of the dead. Released from their bodies in death, these spirits must be prevented from slipping into obscene mixtures in preparation for the eventual Resurrection – but a rebellion against the divine order takes place, heralded by Saint Theresa. The eventuality of divine Resurrection is shattered as spirits escape more and more, entering into strange arrangements, multiple spirits in one body, free to engage in acts deemed profane and perverse by the holy order.

This marks, Deleuze writes, “the death of God, the destruction of the world, the dissolution of the person, the disintegration of bodies, and the shifting function of language now only expressed in intensities.” A point-by-point opposition to the order of God: the order of the Anti-Christ, analogous exactly to the warded-off demonic world and the zone of the repressed primitive double. Or, to bring it back up to the top, something beyond capitalist realism.

What does this have to do with patchwork?

In The Logic of Sense and Anti-Oedipus, Klossowski’s counterposing of the order of God and the order of the Anti-Christ informs a transformation of Kant’s arguments on the disjunctive syllogism. Kant takes the syllogism to its limit: at the ceiling of the ideal, this is the function of God, as the very ground of the ability to reason. The judgment of God that Artaud wished to have done with: the logic of either/or, this not that, not A therefore B, etc. “God is here, at least provisionally”, says Deleuze in the Logic of Sense, “deprived of his traditional claims.” He now “has a humble task, namely, to enact disjunctions”. God is thus weaker in the Kantian schema, but in the end becomes the determining factor by serving as the master of the disjunctive syllogism.

Deleuze sounds the trumpets for Klossowski and his demonic army of impulses, spirits and intensities: “it is not God but rather the Antichrist who is the master of the disjunctive syllogism. This is because the anti-God determines the passage of each thing through all of its possible predicates. God, as the Being of beings, is replaced by the Baphomet, the ‘prince of all modifications,’ and himself modification of all modifications.” Or, to put it in the more understandable (!!) language of Anti-Oedipus: the disjunctive is a synthesis of which there are two uses, a positive use and a negative use. The negative use of the disjunctive synthesis is the order of God, based on a limitation and exclusion. You are either this or that, lest catastrophe befall you. Oedipal coding, to which is opposed the positive use, reigned over by the Antichrist, a “schizophrenic God [who] has so little to do with the god of religion, even though they are related to the same syllogism”. There is no longer simply “either/or”; it has passed to “either… or… or… or…”, potentially ad infinitum.

If we situate ourselves on a transcendent sofa in the anarchic outside and peek in it becomes apparent that this follows the perverse logic of patchwork: capitalist realism, the Human Security System, what have you, manifests the negative use of the disjunctive synthesis, while patchwork – stripped down to its most basic core, which is a meta-systemic multiplication of systems through fragmentation and division, exhibits the attributes of the positive use. This system, or this system, or… or… or… or… The commonalities are reinforced by the identification of the disjunctive synthesis operating upon the socius, that is, the body without organs relative to macroscale historico-political systems. The negative use of the disjunctive organizes a unitary body atop the socius, enforcing a judgment of God – but the positive use would entail a break-up of this unitary body, the slippage of the organs into different arrangements and mutant hybrids.

Things get even more uncanny when we consider the Marxist core to Anti-Oedipus: that capital is the force that goes to work on the socius, breaking apart the negative use of the disjunctive imposed by the despotic state and pushing things towards cosmic schizophrenia – the instantiation of the positive use in the form of an immense, frightening singularity.

Cue Metcalf:

Short of theology and fascism, brain core capitalism is already virtually extinct. Crippled Archangel of Meat Cull Europa withers into grey dust on Terra Nova. Insect swarms arrive like fate – nth dimension intrusion across the spinal thresholds of the socius – passing memeplexed revolution sequences through the germ plasm of evolutionary vehicles. Becoming metallic. Becoming swarm. Unnatural participation as elan vital bootstrapping imperceptible colonization of Nu-Earth into virtual operativity.