The Kurz Gradient

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I recently came across a translation of a debate, held in 2012, between a handful of excellent Marxian economists and theorists—Michael Heinrich, Robert Kurz, Thomas Ebermann and Joseph Voegel. Of particular interest (to me, at least) is the dispute that occurs between Heinrich and Kurz over the current phase of capitalist development and its implications for potential future trajectories (or lack thereof). Generally I find Kurz’s project to be more fascinating and relevant than Heinrich’s, but in this case it was clear that the latter bested the former. For Kurz, the capitalist mode of development is currently in a terminal phase, with catastrophic collapse being the existential threat that is rapidly become an actuality. To put it simply: with the end of Fordism, a structural decoupling of finance capital from the physical conditions of production (from investments in infrastructure and productive forms to the circulation of non-financial instrument commodities) occurred, engendering a situation in which a ballooning mass of wealth is produced without recourse to labor and the production of value. While the detachment of financial from industrial production is a recurrent factor in the cyclical development of the capitalist system (signalling, as Arrighi and other world-systems theorists have shown, the interchange between ‘systemic cycles of accumulation’, which plays out in the transfer of power between global hegemons), for Kurz this simply cannot occur at the present stage. Even China, ostensibly the next great zone of productive growth—not to mention the country likely to serve as the next ‘capitol of capital’—is not free from this, having resorted to building ghost cities and the like to keep GDP afloat. He continues:

Something is happening now at the level of “normal” capitalist reproduction on a large scale that previously only happened in wartime economies: direct financing through the money presses. Up ’til now, that has not been transformed into real demand at a large scale; rather, it has merely absorbed bad loans. But that solves nothing. They’re still there. If the economic cycle dips, then the states and the world economy have no other option than to finance real demand by turning on the presses. That is the inflationary potential. In Great Britain, there’s already five percent inflation. In the eurozone and the USA three percent, in China six percent. The politicians will probably regard inflation policies as the lesser evil. But that would devalue money, the end in itself.

For Heinrich, however, this gloomy outlook is less than warranted:

I think you’re too oriented towards Fordism and post-war Wirtschaftswunder capitalism. And you correctly say there’s no starting point for something like that occuring again the near future – a long the lines of: “we have a structural crisis, but soon everything will take off again, like in the 50s and 60s.” I agree with you up to that point.

But then you draw the conclusion: if there is no possibility for something like that occuring, then capitalism is about to collapse. But Fordism and the “economic miracle” of the fifties and sixties were not the peak of capitalism, but rather an exceptional situation historically, the economic and political preconditions of which can be exactly stated. Accumulation will continue to proceed, even if bumpily. Even if all these financial claims are devalued, that doesn’t destroy a single factory. Maybe this or that enterprise will go bankrupt, but then it will be bought cheaply by a competitor and will continue to produce. With regard to your argument that production processes are set in motion that owe their existence to deficit flows, I can only say: so what? Then some creditor will go bankrupt. That doesn’t mean that everything will collapse.

Heinrich, alluding to the massive acceleration of industrial production and wealth in the Pacific and Southeast Asian regions of the globe, points out that capitalism is expanding. For Kurz, however, this growth, if it is occurring at all, is at best untenable and erected upon exceedingly shaky foundations:

But on what foundation? And here we come back to the deficit flows: on what foundation has Chinese economic growth occurred? Solely upon the basis of the Pacific deficit flow; without this, there would have been no industrialization of China. That means, it has feet of clay.

to which Heinrich offers the following fatal blow, which ends the debate (or at the part of the debate that has been translated into English and published):

But that’s always the case. That is in fact the same old, same old. How were the railroads constructed in the 19th Century? On the basis of an enormous credit and stock market swindle. With your argumentation, the collapse of capitalism would have already had to have come at the end of the 19th Century, since enormous infrastructure projects only came about on the basis of deficit flows. Immense processes of redistribution occurred. Small savers lost their savings, because they bought railroad shares at the wrong time. So there were enormous losses, but ultimately capitalism was pushed along by the deficit flows of the 19th Century. It seems to me that something very similar is happening right now in China.

Part of the problem with Heinrich’s treatment of Marx is that he swamps the various tendencies or laws that Marx poses into states of indeterminacy, most importantly that of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In a 2013 essay for Monthly Review on the topic of crisis theory, he argued because Marx determined that countervailing factors would push re-inflate the ratio of constant capital to variable—and thus reverse, however temporarily, the falling rate of profit—the so-called law could not be treated as a law as such. This should be no surprise, even to theorists who accept the existence of the falling rate of profit (and I am, of course, including myself in this category); after all, there is a clear distinction to be had between laws and tendencies. For Heinrich, however, the ultimate conclusions that this tendency ultimately calls forth is an erroneous proposition: insofar as the tendency exists, it always stands to be beaten back (for a roundtable discussion on Heinrich’s interpretation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and crisis theory more general—as well as a response by Heinrich—see here). It is this opposition that stands at the root of Heinrich’s critique of Kurz in the above: if the objective tendencies do not exist, then the claims we base upon them fall away.

Kurz, on the other hand, remains committed to the theory of objective tendencies, and further offers an analysis of capitalism unfolding in stages. Fordism was one such stage, and what came after (post-Fordism or however else one might describe it) is another; these are splayed out across the oscillations of the rate of profit. The other benefit that Kurz has over Heinrich is the careful attention paid to the industrial basis that underpins growth and which serves as the attractor for investment capital. When speaking of the contemporary, he noted the distinction the high industrial capitalism of Fordism and the more contemporary regime organized around “micro-electronic” commodities and systems, and the way in which this shift (which corresponds precisely to the subsumption of Fordist capitalism by post-Fordism) has triggered not only a quantitative, but qualitative transformation in the nature of production.

In a 2010 interview on the topic of crisis theory, Kurz elaborated on how this epochal shift plugged into the greater arrangement of tendencies and counter-tendencies identified by Marx:

…productivity never increases value, but always diminishes it, as Marx demonstrated in the first volume of Capital. Anyone who claims the contrary confuses the social level with the level of the economy of each entrepreneur, or the totality of capital with individual capital. The individual capital that first increases its own productivity in isolation from its competitors achieves an advantage over its competition. It can offer its individual products at a cheaper price, and thus succeeds in selling more commodities and, precisely for that very reason, realizes for itself a greater part of the social mass of value. What appears from the point of view of the economy of the individual entrepreneur as growing profits and therefore as a growing “creation of value” leads socially, however, to the diminution of value, and indeed to the detriment of the other individual capitals. If the productivity gains are generalized, the innovating individual capital loses its advantage over the competition. This by no means, however, represents a return to zero or to a previous starting point. To the contrary, the increased productivity now becomes the new general standard. An hour of labor, as the basic unit of abstract labor, is always the same, since it cannot by any means have different “levels”. The new, higher standard of productivity, however, causes fewer of these always-equal hours of abstract labor to be necessary for an increasing mass of products. If capital is devalued and destroyed in the crisis, the already-attained level of productivity nevertheless remains, because it is inscribed in the totality of knowledge and know-how. We have to be clear about this: capitalism cannot go back from the level of microelectronics to the level of the steam engine. A new increase of value is becoming ever more difficult in the face of increasingly higher levels of productivity and, consequently, with an always diminishing substance of abstract labor. In the past, the constant reduction of value was only relative. With the increase of the standards of productivity, the individual product can represent ever less abstract labor and, therefore, ever less value.

Elsewhere, he suggests that part of the ongoing crisis arises from the contradiction between the actual possibilities latent in micro-electronics and the capitalist context in which they are being deployed: “[m]icroelectronic productive forces… have made a high potential of productivity utilizable on a small scale, but also remains imprisoned within the categories of commercial rationality”. This corresponds precisely to the what Postone and others have identified as the primary contradiction of capitalism—the increasing capacity for the producing immense volumes of material wealth and the simultaneous collapse of value imparted to the individual units that make up this mass.

Kurz’s model of the contemporary epoch is thus one characterized by a dual-faced crisis. On the one hand, there is the situation, the one anticipated by Marx, in which the capitalist mode of production is shaken apart by its own feverish drive to maximizing mechanical efficiency, bringing into play waves of overproduction and crisis. On the other hand, however, is this question of financialization, in which a tension between the direction of technological development (towards miniaturization) and the infrastructure of the world-capitalist system (still largely framed by that of the Fordist era) gives rise a situation in which the primary means of accumulation. M-C-M’ is short-circuited into M-M’—

As global finance evacuates the territory and begins to exchange, by itself, in an orbital, virtual dimension the city is abolished as a commercial centre.

—and the whole system begins to swing out of joint with itself. With anything short of a revolution that not only anti-political, but also anti-economic, Kurz sees an apocalypse (albeit one that unfolds in slow-motion) rising up on our horizon:

A collapse would mean that everything that can no longer actually be financed will be brought to a standstill. And we’re already experiencing that, but up ’til now the shock has been absorbed. Now, if in the dimension reached thus far a crash occurs, then things will come to a standstill in the real sphere of reproduction. Starting with the state sectors of infrastructure, healthcare, education all the way to industrial production and private services, everything.

And thus we return to Heinrich’s critique of Kurz, but with a bit more clarity. When it comes to the question of China, Heinrich is undoubtedly correct: the financial flows fueling the country’s industrial growth replicates a pattern that stretches back across the past five hundred. As alluded to earlier, Arrighi’s model of ‘systemic cycles of accumulation’ is instructive here. For Arrighi, these cycles are something like the M-C-M’ loop blown up to a macro-scale level and used to explain the transition of between hegemonic powers. By cleaving M-C and C-M into two very distinct but unified phases, he poses two phases to the cycle: the first, corresponding to M-C, is the industrial mobilization of industrial mobilization and the circulation of physical commodities, while the second, C-M, is the detachment of finance capital from this material substrate. There are two paths at this point: the recursion into an auto-amplification of financial growth (via M-M’), or the searching for greater returns elsewhere. Understood as a geopolitical process as much as a techno-industrial one, the first part of the cycle constitutes the acceleration of industrial power attached to a rising hegemonic state, with the second being its peak and ‘autumnal’ (as Braudel might say) phase. At this point, the ‘searching’ character of finance capital begins to engender the new wave of expansion elsewhere, within a new hegemony.

This is, of course, separate from Kurz’s issue, which is the problem of deficit spending—but the issue is exactly that these deficits must be contextualized within this wider shift of trans-territorial supremacy. And indeed, while China has kept certain limits on foreign direct investment (limits which, in the face of the US-China trade war, are slackening), it has been a vital aspect of China’s growth. None of this is to say that the dawning of a ‘Chinese century’ is guaranteed; as Arrighi says, “[a]ll previous hegemonic transitions were characterized by long periods of systemic chaos”, with highly variable outcomes—but at this stage, it seems highly likely (particularly as evidenced by the simmering tensions radiating from the United States, which itself in undeniable decline).

Setting this aside, another issue arises when considering Kurz’s argument and how it aligns with that of Marx. The entire line tracking into the increasing efficiency of ‘microelectronic’ production follows along the structure of the argument concerning the rising organic composition of capital—with one key exception. Kurz’s outlook was, at the end of the day, stagnationist, if not catastrophist (though by acknowledging the increasing efficiency of technology it cannot be classed as a decadence theory in the mode of the I.C.C., among others). For Marx, this was not the case. It was accelerative, compressive, and dynamic, with the modes of retrogradation—manifesting as overproduction—being annihilated by sharp, repetitive and increasing crises. The picture that is being offered here instead, where everything things shutdown one by one, does not correspond to this diagram, and likewise, neither does this vision of industrial disjointedness (which resembles more than anything the structure of historical development offered by Lewis Mumford and its more recent resurrection by Kevin Carson, of which much more will be said soon enough). If there is validity to this vision of stagnation, then we must consider a capitalism that, in the West at least, no longer corresponds to that tendential structure offered by Marx in Capital. It would mean that something else is going on.

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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:

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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

Breakaway

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There’s an interesting study of independence referendums that has been published in the British Journal of Political Science, titled “Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums over Time and Space”. The study’s authors – Fernando Mendez and Micha Germann – have found that previous attempts to investigate the phenomenon all-too-frequently muddy the waters something terrible: insufficient definitions on what constitutes a ‘sovereignty referendum’, difficulties in determining when exactly the first referendum of the modern epoch was, etc. To navigate these problems and others, Mendez and Germann take the simplest route: ‘referendum’ becomes defined as “any popular vote on an issue of policy that is organized by the state or at least by a state-like entity, such as the authorities of a de facto state”; while ‘sovereignty’ is rendered as “the right to make authoritative political decisions within a territorial unit”. The sovereignty referendum is “a direct popular vote on a reallocation of sovereignty between at least two territorial centres”. This establishes two (primary) forms of political logic: integrative tendencies, which sees the multiple political actors shift their loyalties into a new system with a higher order principle of jurisdiction (prime example being the unification of Europe under the auspices of the EU); and disintegrative ones that move in the precisely opposite direction. Disintegration entails “the dynamic whereby political actors in one or more subsystems withdraw their loyalties, expectations and political activities from a jurisdictional centre and either focus them on a centre of their own (for example, secession) or on an external centre, such as a cultural motherland.”

What Mendez and Germann end up finding is that the amounts of new sovereignty referendums have steadily increased over time, and have continually broadened their scope. For example, referendums tended to be a primarily Western phenomenon for the two first centuries of their existence, but since World War 2 – that is, time frame encompassing the consolidation of a global economic system and the decolonization process – they have globalized. At the tame time, however (and this is critically important for the ongoing interests of this blog), disintegration has not happened at the expense of integration, which itself has advanced in tandem.

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Figure 6 suggests some distinctive patterns. Until the post-war period, sovereignty referendums tended to follow the integrative logic, with notable spikes at the time of France’s post-revolutionary annexations, the unifications of Italy and Switzerland in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the interwar period redrawing of the European map. Much of the baseline integrative activity is due to the drawn-out process of the formation of the American union. However, after 1945 referendums tended to increasingly follow the logic of disintegration. Essentially, this is due to three partly overlapping processes: (1) the wave of referendums related to decolonization after the Second World War, (2) the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union and (3) the spike of self-determination referendums referred to in our eighth cluster. Although disintegrative activity has increased, integrative activity has far from ceased and has indeed even increased in recent years. This is mainly due to the referendums triggered by European integration. Finally, Figure 6 points to another recent development: the emergence of multi-option referendums with mixed logic post- 1945, mostly related to decolonization.

We have some of our own predictions here on how this will ultimately shake-out, of course.

Hyperwar (#2: Further Thoughts)

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Some follow-up thoughts to yesterday’s post on Hyperwar

In response to the scenario outlined by General John Allen, in which the United State practices restraint by keeping (minimal) human decision-making in the OODA ‘loop’ and China does not, DMF asks an important question: “why wouldn’t China feel constrained”. Why indeed? One response would be that China, as a bold emergent superpower, would feel pressured to development hyperwar capabilities to their fullest extent because it is operating without complete knowledge of what its geopolitical opponents are up to – which is why it seems likely, in my opinion, that the US’s professed restraint would slacken quickly in the scenario that hyperwar technologies are achieved. The nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union didn’t see the stockpiling of incomplete weapons – it saw the continuous development of weapon systems with the hope that simply having these systems would prevent the ultimate, final conflict. Optimizing the means of apocalypse guarantees sovereignty (and shifts the terrain of conflict elsewhere).

This brings to mind two different scenarios that, while opposed, are not necessarily mutually exclusive in long-term thinking – under the precondition that hyperwar capabilities are actually achieved. They are:

1) Hyperwar goes ‘live’, a point at which the question of whether or not the human stays in the OODA ‘loop’ is a moot point due to the rapidly-escalating speed of the conflict. The opposing sides will have no choice but to race to the point where the human is squeezed out – and when this occurs, the scenario speculated about at the end of yesterday’s post becomes a reality. Live hyperwar puts (human) civilization on a fast-track to Doom in the form of a Skynet scenario.

2) Hyperwar capabilities are reached (the human factor is an aside at this point), but the specter of what live hyperwar guarantees foregrounds it as a deterrent. This draws from with Deadliner’s insights on the future necessity of the possibility of “Malevolent AI” (MAI) – that is, AI that “can negatively affect human activities and in the worst case cause the complete obliteration of the human species” – on securing sovereignty in the face of harsh geopolitical competition.

This brings us to two additional, opposing sub-scenarios which tie directly into a hot topic of discussion in the accelerationist and NRx spheres: patchwork and exit._

2A) Hyperwar-as-deterrence ushers in a new global order based on intensified political fragmentation and production of sovereign units.

2B) Hyperwar-as-deterrence curbs the ability for fragmentation of this sort to occur and locks-in the current geopolitical arena and its competitors.

Scenario 2A is the path of X-Risk Democratization, the position staked out by Land and others of the technocommercialist lean. An example of this dynamic already in action is the actions taken by North Korea in developing their nuclear capacities in the face of international opposition. While the specter of war raised its head repeatedly, it has averted (for now, at least) and the regime gained precisely what it set out to do: secure itself, and gain better seats at the negotiating table. This is the consolidation of a sovereign unit, and it is predicated on technologies whose cost and availability seems to fall over time. Thus for Land, x-risk democratization points towards an even greater diffusion of the ability to gain these capabilities right to point where sovereign units are able to multiply and protect themselves.

Nukes would do it. They’re certainly going to be democratized, in the end. There are probably far more remarkable accelerating WMD capabilities, though. In almost every respect (decentralized production capability, development curve, economy, impact …) bioweaponry leaves nukes in the dust. Anyone with a billion dollars, a serious grudge, and a high-end sociopathy profile could enter into a global biowarfare-threat game within a year. Everything could be put together in secret garages. Negotiations could be conducted in secure anonymity. Carving sovereignty out of the game would require only resources, ruthlessness, brilliance, and nerves. Once you can credibly threaten to kill 100,000,000 people all kinds of strategic opportunities are open. The fact no one has tried this yet is mostly down to billionaires being fat and happy. It only takes one Doctor Gno to break the pattern.

Scenario 2B would raise the counterpoint that while yes, techno-economic trends will make ease in securing pre-hyperwar and hyperwar-grade technologies accessible, the current major geopolitical actors already have a leg-up in the already-existing arms race. Simply put: they will get there before others – and if they get there first, that threat can be leveraged against would-be secessionists.

The debate between Scenario 2A and 2B must be left open-ended, as counterpoints and counter-scenarios to each rapidly multiply, especially when measured against time-tables. A conversation this morning about this with Mantis and Schwund dug into some of these issues. A few snippets:

  • Mantis: [in reference to the aforementioned example of North Korea] hyperwar will be much quicker to proliferate imho as the pathways open to it are more numerous. like right now you can keep a country from getting a centrifuge and shut down their nuclear development capacity?
  • Schwund: but isn’t hyperwar capacity in the hands of superpowers so fundamentlly game-changing that smaller nations acquiring similar things isn’t quite as easy as them getting nukes? like, such a smaller nation would have to employ a LOT of supterfuge, after all what it’s trying to trick is no longer a human governemnt but a mechanism that may ‘decide’ to swat it just to reduce risk. like, once one nation has that capacity, it has such an advantage in quick response that a nation that still has to get there, let alone from an inferior position, would be hopelessly outpaced
  • Mantis: that’s a very good point, i was for some reason assuming the kind of lock in we have now, in which a country can covertly develop an arsenal. but of course in hyperwar conditions the second an enemy’s capacity to inflict hyperwar in response increases they would likely be wiped out
  • Schwund: yeah, unless they’re china or russia. tbs, complete global surveillance is hard
  • Mantis: global is for sure, but I assume we will see near-complete surveillance and control lock in to urban development modes and spread from the city out along transit lines