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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Gyres

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

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

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

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

Cue Amy Ireland, in The Poememenon:

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

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

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