Ideology and Real(ism)

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“Isn’t the emphasis on the systemic character of capitalism what separates Marx’s analysis from moralizing socialism?) The idea that the misleadingly-named ‘ruling class’ do anything more than manage and adminster Capital is an idle fantasy. Capitalists can decide on which groups are exploited, but they cannot legislate away exploitation itself. (How long would a CEO with such ambitions last?) It is not exculpatory but simply realistic to acknowledge that Capital, not capitalists, runs the show. However, realism about capitalism is not the same as Capitalist Realism. Neo-liberalism is defined not by the idea that Capital is a remorseless machine but by the claim that there is no viable alternative to its rule.” – Mark Fisher, Left Hyperstition 2: Be Unrealistic, Change What’s Possible

One of the repeated accusations that arose in the great /Acc wars of 2017 was that the understanding of capital that was being posited—as something operated at a higher level than everyday life, political management, and even ideological fixation—was itself an unfortunate expression of capitalist ideology, one tantamount to the infamous Thatcherite slogan that there is indeed no alternative to its strange, infernal logic. Seen from this point of view, the so-called accelerationist take on capital (a jargon-laced analytic stance I’ve personally progressively moved away from, opting for a return to a more ‘classically’ Marxist approach—something that nonetheless was a great influence on acceleration, particularly in the ‘U’ variety) is conflated with Fisher’s ‘capitalist realism’. This, in turn, produce a solution by way of inverting the accelerationist counterpoint: if accelerationist theory is garbage-can ideology, and the accelerationist theory suggests that capital is a self-moving substance unto itself, then the ‘revolutionary path’—or whatever equivalent to this one may pose—is to configure capital as something always already subordinated to human intentionality. Political capacity is thus restored.

The problem with this picture, at least from a Marxist—as well as an accelerationist—ground, is where the ideological configuration is positioned. It has to be asked what form of capitalist ideology promotes capital as an inhuman force that ensnares the proletariat and bourgeoisie alike in its logic, robbing them of their agency and pushing them towards alien ends? In the great spectrum of political economy and liberal polity, the answer simply is none. Capitalist ideology promotes capitalism not only as an ism (we should be avoiding this term as much as possible and opt instead for either addressing capital directly or by reference to the capitalist mode of production), but more specifically as a humanism. The material class relations that constitute the proletariat and bourgeoisie are eliminated for the ideal of a flexible atomized subject who stands free from the weight of history; the vital dialectical image of the capitalist mode of production containing both progressive and regressive elements that will eventually come to a historical loggerhead is smeared into obscurity by a vibrant image of non-historical progress (non-historical because the relations and mechanisms unique to the bourgeois epoch are presented as transhistorical, coupled to a sense of progress that finds capital first and foremost agential empowerment).

The breakage of the liberal ideology into left and right wings (relatively speaking, of course) never manages to undermine this core of capitalist-humanism, and only turns it around under the differing filters of positive and negative freedoms. Even under virulent neoliberalism does it persist: nowhere in the pages of libertarian journals and the halls of Beltway think-tanks does the image of alien capital gain traction. The Adam Smith Institute doesn’t promote the entrepreneur of the self as some sort of Snidely Whiplash conspiratorial shenanigan; it promotes it because it earnestly believes what it preaches.

In his ideological critique, Marx was taking to task the capitalist-humanism of the ‘classical liberals’ (a retroactively-assembled, ideological formation if there ever was one!); this is why we get the picture, so curious at first blush, of a book bearing the subtitle of A Critique of Political Economy that presents capital as functioning like the Hegelian geist by its fourth chapter. Capital as inhuman force, as a historical machine that takes a hold of the bourgeoisie and proletariat as if by possession—to reach towards this is to pierce the ideological veil to find the tracing of something swirling below it. Hence Fisher’s point in the quote that opened this post: capitalist realism is a reflection of the ideological fantasy of the neoliberal phase of capitalist development and is wholly distinct from the sort of picture drawn by the accelerationists—which is really an elaboration and restaging of the analysis offered by Marx. Thus to flip the script and return capital to something under the sway of human intentionality, and more specifically under the command of the powerful capitalist, is to avoid the Real by staying within the foundational assumptions of capitalist realism.

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As far back as The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek had already deepened and advanced this line of inquiry, fundamentally problematizing both sides of the debate along the way. He convincingly points out that the structure of Marx’s account of commodity fetishism contains a kind of doubled illusion, a two-layered process that encompasses the ideological side of capitalism and the non-human logic of commodities. He writes:

…the illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what people are doing. What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic inversion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but they are still doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called ideological fantasy. (29-30)

The twisting structure of Zizek’s argument here is that while commodity fetishism makes the relationship between people appear as commodities whilst imbuing commodities with the appearance life-like power, it is in actuality being overlooked. The logic of the commodity, while beginning as illusion, comes to operate on a real, material level in the sense that it imparts itself as the universal mediator of social relations. What’s more is that this can be mapped to a process of historical passage that is itself reflected in a shift in Marx’s own theory of abstraction, or what Alberto Toscano calls a “break with a generic, humanist, or anthropological concept of abstraction” for a “notion of real abstraction—abstraction not as mere mask, fantasy or diversion, but as a force operative in the world”. This first theory, Toscano argues, is inherited from Feuerbach and carries from him the assumption of “the genus ‘humanity'”. Abstractions of all sorts—political and religious, but particularly (for Marx) economic—are but “fictitious hypostases of [this] positive, underlying generic essence that is not itself prey to historical or logic becoming”. The second, however, provides an understanding of abstraction that undermines this humanist portrait:

The crucial theoretical revolution would then be the one that passes from this fundamentally intellectualist notion of abstraction—which presumes liberation as a ‘recovery’ of the presupposed genus (putting Man where God, qua distorted humanity, had once stood)—to a vision of abstraction that, rather than depicting it as a structure of illusion, recognizes it as a social, historical, and ‘transindividual’ phenomenon… Society is above all a relation: the role of these univocal simple abstractions—such as value, labor, private property—in the formation of the concrete must be carefully gauged so that they do not mutate back into those powerless and separate, not to mention mystifying, intellectual abstractions that had occupied the earlier theory of ideology. But these abstractions are not mental categories that ideally precede the concrete; they are real abstractions that are truly caught up in the social whole, the social relation.

Toscano later offers the radical conclusion posed by Alfred Sohn-Rethel: real abstraction does not only emerge from a thought becoming a thing—it is also “a relation, or even a thing, which then becomes a thought”. Read back onto Zizek, a portrait is drawn in which the illusion ceases to be illusion but becomes operative, the very thing that structures society by serving as the force that mediates it (if society is a relation, or more properly series or networks of relations, then it indeed will intrinsically maintain some form of mediation—what Sohn-Rethel called the “social synthesis”). Such is the obscured nature of capital (and not to mention to one of the very reasons why capital operates above and beyond the agency of the capitalist or politician)

What then of capitalism as ideology? It should be clear that it not only serves to protect the capitalist mode of production in either conscious or unconscious registers, but to in fact obscure this deeper structure of capitalist reality. The realism, in other words, is the illusion; the thing that appears as illusion is itself closer to an actual realism. Faced with some a dynamic obscuring and domino-effect of reversals it is clear that by taking flight to an understanding of capital as something subjected a priori to human intentionality or command serves only to reinforce the ideological frontier.

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ACC vs DEC

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Modernity is in trouble. That’s the line, at least that is emerging from a particular sector of the twitterverse. It’s not a new line, of course: it’s the common call of the environmentalist movement writ large. What makes these new voices significant, however, is that their position is not only cybernetic, but transcendental. To declare oneself a decelerationist – and this applies to both those who seek a decelerationist praxis (as in, annihilating industrial civilization) or see deceleration as a given (leaving room only for mitigation and reaction when the SHTF) – is the engendering of an inverted mirror of the accelerationist. Whereas acceleration is the diagram of modernity, understood as the tragic loop of techno-capital undergoing amplificatory self-excitation, decelerationism throws the unconditional back upon the body of the earth, rife with its own loops and pressure points.

Between each there is a glimpse of a future political terrain to be caught. As anticipated with remarkable foresight by FM-2030, this terrain will be battleground where the “upwing” and the “downwing” collide. The latter looks to the earth, and thus would be like the extensive articulation of deceleration in the realm of politics, with the former being that of acceleration, gazing skyward. To those returning to the earth, the color green, and to those taking flight, black:

FM-2030 was an inveterate up-winger whose vitrified corpse awaits resurrection at the Arizona cryonics mecca, Alcor. However, even as the ecology movement was gathering steam, FM-2030 failed to see that the down-wing tendency could generate at least as much passion as his own political faith. Nowadays, down-wingers proudly self-identify as ‘Greens’. As for the up-wingers, they have begun to be colour-coded as ‘Blacks’ — and not simply because of their 1980s dress sense. The phrase ‘Black Sky Thinking’ was coined in a 2004 study by the centre-left UK think-thank Demos, and over the past decade it has increasingly been used to refer to schemes to make the whole inky expanse of the universe fit for human habitation.

As the political binary of left and right collapse into noise and nonsense (understood in the most unproductive sense), green and black stand to be serious contenders for their replacement – implying, by extension, a host of strange mixtures and hybrids, third positions, odd ghosts, and diagonalizations, but we’re running far ahead of ourselves…

The tragic loop of acceleration is that of positive feedback. This image is convergent with the thesis of John Michael Greer, Arch-Druid and decelerationist avant la lettre: civilization, particularly in its industrial phase, unfolds through phases of explosive positive feedback, thrusting creative forces to ever-higher heights. Yet this comes at an immense cost: for Greer, positive feedback is ultimately aberrant in nature. It breaks with the higher order feedback process that dominates nature and lends to it the capacity for auto-correction – that is, negative feedback, the return to homeostasis. Stripping themselves of the ability to correct their runaway trajectories, civilizations become suicide machines. The skyward flight becomes a terrifying fall back to the earth, culminating in green pastures littered with burning wreckage.

Greer’s bloody war between positive and negative feedback is thus a rigorous cybernetic account for cyclical theories of history. Read through the lenses of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, one could even say that Greer’s history is a theater where repetition of the same carries out its staccato dance; after all, it is under the repetition of the same that the abstract cycle is carried out, always bringing a system back to its initial condition. A society or civilization will always be born into the world, grow, engage creatively with nature, peak, curdle with corruption, stagnate, and collapse. Trace this pattern upwards beyond individual civilizations, to the swath of human civilization understood as a whole, or up even higher, to the great movement of nature itself, or the movement of the cosmos, and you’ll arrive at the position of Greer. There’s no better way to articulate the horizon of the decelerationist thesis.

On one hand, the conflict becomes one of competing motors governing development in itself: is it the knowing homeostat with gently violent negative feedback pressure, or is the homeostat missing, with the heat of cyberpositive runaway taking precedence (there is no easy answer to this question yet, but it is worth noting that both ultimately end in doom)? On the other hand, however, things get a little murky. If deceleration is raised under the specter of the cycle, this would imply that acceleration is that of the straight line. For Kant (and Deleuze as well), time is ultimately the straight line that cuts through everything that is. It is cold, uncaring, empty and open-ended development in its most abstracted sense, the permanent revolution that composes the stretch of the infinite itself. But this isn’t the time of acceleration itself. Following Land, acceleration must be thought of as unfolding within the straight line of time, but in the form of the spiral: the diagonalization between the straight line and the cycle, the uncompensated and the compensatory mechanism, attached to the running of “innovation and tradition together as Siamese twins” across its masked surface.

If acceleration is the accurate diagram of modernity, the cycle is already present. The future terrain stays the same, but color shades subtly adjust themselves. The burning question at the heart of it all – what is modernity doing? – can be answered as thus: critique. The posing of solutions to problems. If capitalism works by breaking down, by learning to learning, it is because modernity advances itself through encounters with problems that must either be solved or routed-around. The ecological pressure cooker bearing down on global civilization is the articulation of an immense problem, one that is indeed perhaps unsolvable. The cry to assault modernity on account of this problem is a forceful posing of the problem from the interior of modernity itself, the early spasms of a coming transformation.

The future, at least in the West, looks grim. Whatever molar shake-ups that took place in 2016 and 2017 are fading, the sheer weirdness of the time being slowly but surely recoded back into a neoconservative status quo. The bourgeoisie remain stupified, the political class broken, the great underclass masses go through the rotations. Yet will this not change, by very want of impending ecological devastation? As the noose tightens, the political articulation of deceleration will only proliferate. The existential risk of conflict will hang like a storm cloud as the black and the green draw respective lines – but this rain could very well be nourishing fluids for modernity. This is not to say that the dialectical parring is what saves modernity for itself, or that on side will necessarily win against the other. Instead, such a conflict would be learning, modernity itself working through to an other side that we cannot, by necessity, know in advance.

Understood as elements tangled in auto-critique and production, black and green are both trapped right from the start. It is in the rising from this to the level of the loops that the future of civilization will be made, or will be broken.

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

Mixed Bag

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Xenogoth has a great new post up in his ongoing examination of p-work: “Patchwork Pub Chat”. It concerns a bar room conversation with a city planner, and the conceptual diagonal of high connectivity/low integration. Ultimately, the city planner – while expressing sentiments close to the secessionist drive – finds this schema to be “too corporate”. Regardless, this is exactly the kind of conversation that should be had, right where the graph paper meets the jungle of concrete, metal, wires, and governing protocols. This brings to mind Jacobite’s recent article on the major trends in “innovative governance”, which splits the terrain into two camps (each with their own subdivisions): the heterodox and the mainstream. While this blog sits squarely in the heterodox camp – the vantage point of acceleration cannot but problematize the goings-on in the mainstream – it is nonetheless the mainstream that will bear the fruits of these alien signals (or at least in the short term).

Xenogoth makes a great point, referencing Fernando Mendez and Micha Germann’s exciting study of sovereignty referendums, which had found that while secessionist politics are steadily rising, this has not yet wounded the drive towards political integration. He writes:

It seems obvious to me now, nationally and internationally, that there is a conflict over which future will win out — unified or patchwork. Desires for both seem internalised by many.

Couldn’t agree more! The argument that I would want to pose is that something like patchwork is ultimately inevitable – maybe not codified as strongly as many adherents would hope (indeed, it stands to ask: besides geopolitical fracture and sovereign stabilization, will we not see increased non-linear conflict in the course of x-risk democratization?) – but multiplying poles of power at the expense of the integrated politico-economic bloc. This was the argument of my old “Unconditional Acceleration and the Question of Praxis” piece (ayy, published just one year and a few days ago). The gambit was to cross the temporal swirl of acceleration (technomic spiraling towards a singularity point) with a broadening of the Hayekian knowledge problem by way of Kevin Carson’s critique of contemporary organizational dynamics and Yaneer Bar-Yam’s analysis of the impact of complexification on organization on the scale of civilizational history. If one has the time, I strongly recommend the uh first 350 pages of Carson’s 600+ page tome Organization Theory (pdf warning); if not, definitely give Bar-Yam’s “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, A Complexity Profile” a go. The conclusion of Bar-Yam’s work points, in my opinion, to the ultimate failure of larger systems of political integration, and why political organization will be routed down to smaller and smaller units:

…A schematic history of human civilization reflects a growing complexity of the collective behavior of human organizations. The internal structure of organizations changed from the large branching ratio hierarchies of ancient civilizations, through decreasing branching ratios of massive hierarchical bureaucracies, to hybrid systems where lateral connections appear to be more important than the hierarchy. As the importance of lateral interactions increases, the boundaries between subsystems become porous. The increasing collective complexity also is manifest in the increasing specialization and diversity of professions. Among the possible future organizational structures are fully networked systems where hierarchical structures are unimportant.

 

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If we take the motor of complexification to be accelerating technomic feedback, then we arrive at a formulation that high connectivity may very well be what induces low integration. Rejoice, distributists! Small really is better – but not necessarily for the reasons you may think or want (putting this here as a reminder to finally write up “The Cybernetic Subsidiarity Principle”).

At the same time, however, Land’s argument that cyberpositive excitation is historically compensated by explosion-dampening forces must be taken seriously. “Self-organizing compensatory apparatuses — or negative feedback assemblies — develop erratically. They search for equilibrium through a typical behavior labeled ‘hunting’ — over-shooting adjustments and re-adjustments that produce distinctive wave-like patterns, ensuring the suppression of runaway dynamics, but producing volatility.” Read politically, this is the persistence of integration attempting to, as Deleuze and Guattari might say, ward off the flow that seek to escape or route around their blockages.

So, for a time at least, a mixed playing field seems likely, which will certainly induce volatility (and thus friction, and from there more complexity). I recently listened to a talk by Benjamin Bratton, titled “Processing Sovereignty”, that deals with this very problem. Anticipating that the entire geopolitical worldsphere will be rewritten according to the often imperceptible rules of the Stack, he argues that there is a two-fold process has begun: one in which ‘software consumes sovereignty’, and a reverse in which ‘software is consumed by sovereignty’. This has implications on patchworked paths into the future, which he notes by directly addressing the neocameralist variant:

New sovereign territories, I want to sort of underscore, are also drawn in parallel domains to the state but can be imagined as configured as diffuse and discontiguous incorporations from there, in each of which of ways that would redefine and reposition how we would locate this problem of emplacement. That it, that’s it’s not only the Cloud platform absorbs and redraws the functions of the state according to their more gossamer topologies. The production of new territories occurs as much if not more so by how much states absorb the functions of the Cloud and become Cloud platforms. So instead of thinking of new spaces as something developed in opposition to the state, which is then understood as a kind of fixed model, a landlocked entity against which liquid flows may swim, we need to see that states are also producing new territories and perhaps in some ways more important ones for, good or bad, the state itself is actually respatialized as a Stack.

Also, I’ll talk a little about this a bit more informally, about the relative continuity of those spaces may span from a kind of hard enclosure within a bounded territorial domain, to transoceanic atmospheric encapsulations, through information securitization and monetization, of course. Now, the argument I would propose and need some more time to draw out – and this is sort of what at least one of the chapters in the next book will do so – is a bit more like Schitt’s Großraum than it is like, for example, the neocameralist patchwork multiplication of Westphalian enclaves, though we see that too with as certain private polities proliferate. So that is to say that what we see instead is not one global Stack, but a mitosis of Stack genera, into a regime of multipolar hemispherical Stacks, in which the sovereign steerage of a state, even if unbounded by Westphalian borders exactly, remains paramount.

On a related note, Stuart Elden has a great essay on the concept of the Großraum: “Reading Schmitt Geopolitically: Nomos, Territory, and Großraum.

Ruin and Freedom (More Thoughts)

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On twitter, Uri tweets:

 

While accelerationist discourse (at least that outside of the explicitly left variety) often seems to skip around the issue of climate change, the overlap of catastrophic ecological transitions with technomic take-off and socio-cultural mutation is enshrined in Plant and Land’s “Cyberpositive”. In this ur-text, global warming, feminization, the growth of drug trade networks, out of control computer systems, and schizo-culture run together as the entangling fall-out of self-organization kicking into overdrive. The end is near and it is hot (both in the sense of temperature and allure):

Replacing the cold war’s phallic stand off is the war on drugs, dissolutio into the jungle, the world’s states united in their terminal self-destructin strategy of prohibition. No more dreams of a nuclear winter. The 1990 begins the China Syndrome of capitalism.

Ice is crystallized speed. It is also Gibson’s name for dataprotection Intruder Countermeasure Electronics. Ice patrols the boundaries, freezes the gates, but the aliens are already amongst us. Convergent input is interpreted by security as intelligent intrusion, as a trap or conspiracy, with everything preprogrammed to connect. Doubting that women belonged to humanity, Burroughs imagined them to be extraterrestrial invaders. Viruses are like this too. Nobody knows where they come from. They always arrive from elsewhere, perhaps even outer space. Humanity is an allergic reaction to vulnerability, but allergy depends upon the health of the immune system: the ice has to work.

Tactics are subtlety, or intelligence. As things become more complex they become more female, but patriarchy prolongs the ice age of mankind. The fatherland is cryogenic, a fantasy of perfect preservation, whose bronze age ancestors are even now thawing out in the Alps, frozen assets under attack. Global warming melts the ice, raises the seas, subverts the glaciers. Computer viruses melt icebergs of data down the screens, burning through the bacterial frost, like Burroughs exploring his junkie cold with LSD.

Trending towards a similar space, through from a totally different beginning position, is Kevin Carson’s Tuckerite market socialism. In a 2013 blog post for the P2P Foundation, Carson took up Greer’s theory of catabolic collapse – which admittedly has more to do with vast resource depletion than just climate change – and twisted it by suggesting that what was being traced was the decay of the old technological superstructures, right as a new technologies and infrastructures burst forth from the ruin (Greer, as one might expect, took issue with the bent of Carson’s argument, which led to a lengthy and productive exchange. Ya’ll can check out the twists and turns here, here, here, and here).

What’s interesting about Carson’s argument is that it exhibits distinct parallels with the apocalyptic vision sketched out by Plant and Land, albeit in a very different register. Just “Cyberpositive” details the escape of self-organizing technomic processes and mutagenic cultural viruses from the restraints imposed by the Human Security System, Carson sees in the emergent economy a “singularity”, the launch of a stigmergic network economy that is much faster and more agile to the top-heavy corporate capitalism that will inevitability fight back against it. As he wrote in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution:

Localized, small-scale economies are the rats nest in the dinosaurs’ nests. The informal and household economy operates more efficiently than the capitalist economy, and can function on the waste byproducts of capitalism. It is resilient and replicates virally. In an environment in which resources for technological development have been almost entirely diverted toward corporate capitalism, it takes technologies that were developed to serve corporate capitalism, adapts them to small-scale construction, and uses them to destroy corporate capitalism… there are two economies competing: their old economy of bureaucracy, high overhead, and enormous capital outlays, and cost-plus markup, and our new economy of agility and low overhead. And in the end… we will bury them.

While agreeing with the overall dynamic being traced here, there are a few quibbles with this picture to be had from an [unconditional] accelerationist ground, but we’ll have to defer those to a future post. What’s of interest here is the idea that there is an intersection between a self-organizing, runaway auto-revolution in the development of technomic forces, and the self-organizing, runaway processes that underpin ecological systems and natural resources. The zone of this intersection is plugged into the question of decay and growth as operational cycles in the context of an uneven, combined, and accelerating world system, which is ensemble that serves as the heart of this blog (see Ruin and Freedom, Anarchy, and Wash Out for more on this particular theme). It’s an edge-of-the-edge kind of zone that hopefully we can explore more fully in the coming weeks and months: after all, those who don’t consider the annihilation of the neo-ancien regime in the technomic spiral’s compression chamber as imminent are likely delusional; likewise, those who don’t see this unfolding against a backdrop of socio-ecological ruination – coastal cities swallowed by angry seas, walls of fire devouring midwestern ‘burgs, super-hot asphalt running like water through empty streets, devastating geopolitical conflicts over resources and trade routes, on and on – have their heads buried in the sand.

This looks like a whole lot of ruin and not much freedom. Indeed, the U/ACC argument has already sought to assign the whole question to the trashcan in advance (hence the imperatives of “let go” and “do what thou wilt”), and on a (very shortened) timescale the duration of human existence implodes. But in the timespace between now and then, the swirling drift of development is what interests us: what trendlines already in play will advance into dominance? How will reactions to the great Lemurian insurgency unfold, and how will the fall-out frame necessary organizational infrastructures?

We can expect a greater proliferation of so-called resilient communities – bottom-up, networked forms of community that emerge despite the activities of top-down power systems (regardless of whether or not those activities are slated to encourage or discourage their growth). As Jon Robb describes, the “core process” of the resilient community is based on three elements that conform closely to Carson’s own analysis:

  • Resilience to rapidly propagating global shocks (an inevitable outcome of a global system that is too large, fast, and complex to control).
  • High productive in their ability to produce everything from food to products to energy (they produce wealth). Networked innovation.
  • Extremely efficient and low cost. This stems from: shorter distances, less energy, less space, less time, less mass, and less information (as in, less management overhead required).

The emergent trends that allow these sorts of ‘micro-level’ processes to kick into overdrive include “everything from high intensity small impact farming to personal fabrication to DIY synthetic biology to global tinkering networks to high efficiency local energy production”. The relationship between these things and the primary process should be clear. As more efficient, network-based, technological-bleeding-edge-type forces, they represent the output of the acephalic, market-driven drive towards optimization – modernity in its thrasher mode. Thus while one might hear the words “resilient community” and mutter f o l k p o l i t i c s under their breath, there is no true distinction between this drift and Leigh Phillips’ defense of modernization, growth, and industrialization as a response to the dread of eco-doom in Austerity Ecology & the Collapse Porn Addicts (at least after the universalist left pretenses have been ejected and some sense of abstract doom is reinstalled).

Into the compression chamber we go…

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While the recent past has seen growth in numbers of and memberships in rightist militias, there now is some early rumblings concerning a “Revolutionary Socialism with American Characteristics” (h/t to Nildicit for the link). There are worse things that could happen than mass militia proliferation – at least as long as their activities bend towards exodus.

Flipping the script a little bit: there is no time like the present to reread Alejandro de Acosta’s brilliant encounter between the anonymously-penned green anarcho-nihilist text Desert and Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet:

They should be read together; the thought that is possible in that stereoscopic reading is what my or intends. (I mean to gesture towards the passage from one perspective to the other, and perhaps back.) If Desert sets out from the knowability of the world—as the object of science, principally—it has the rare merit of spelling out its increasing unknowability as an object for our political projects, our predictions and plans. Dust of this Planet allows us to push this thought father in an eminently troubling direction, revealing a wilderness more wild than the wild nature invoked by the critics of capitalism and civilization: the unthinkable Planet behind the inhabitable Earth. As we slip in this direction (which is also past the point of distinguishing the voluntary from the involuntary), all our positions, those little compressed bundles of opinion and analysis, practice and experience, crumble—as positions. No doubt many will find this disconcerting. But something of what we tried to do by thinking up, debating, adopting and abandoning, positions, is left—something lives on, survives—maybe just the primal thrust that begins with a question or profound need and collapses in a profession of faith or identity. That would be the path back to the perspective of Desert (now irreparably transformed). What is left, the afterlife of our first outward movements, might be something for each to witness alone, in a solitude far from the gregarious comfort of recognizable positions, of politics. To say nothing of community.

Anarchy (#2: Twitter Talk)

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On Twitter, John Doe’s Carnival of Error writes that it has “become clear any Gnon-centered approach to power must be accompanied by an anarchist ontology in some way.” I certainly agree, though with a slight modification of terminology: any anarchic approach to power must be accompanied by a Gnon-ontology in some way. Gnon, as the Great Propeller, already holds great affinity with the anarchic outside, to point even in which the difference between the two seems nil. The question of power intersects here in two different ways, the nuances and internal connections of which are need of greater elucidation and interrogation. The first intersection is in the context of political power: as an immense struggle unfolding in the great void, the anarchic is the political’s a priori, to which it is permanently wed. The second is in the manifestation(s) of non-political power, which (on the surface, at least) cuts sharply towards the Outside by want of its own logic. It is, then, another mask of the anarchic. Upon each of these the final determination unfolds as the asovereign exception.

Another thread that crossed into similar territory began with on the topic of whether or not civil war is imminent (a topic for a future post!) and ended on the question of whether or not a unipolar global order is an open possibility for the future. From the U/Accist perspective here (or is something like a gamble more proper?), the position that is staked out in this debate is on the supreme unlikelihood technocratic unipolarity. To summarize as briefly as possible: highly centralized, vertical power systems are doomed and their capacities will into squeezed into tinier and tinier blocs – or patches – as the involutionary curve of spiral temporality auto-tightens. This isn’t to say that the existing sovereign units won’t be undergo intensive development and become zones of runaway growth and innovation – quite the opposite! The kicker is that the happenings in such spaces will, along with despatialized counterparts, be conduits for the tightening gyre itself feeding into itself.

Regardless, it’s an excellent thought experiment, and one that demands to be thought-through. The implications for anarchy are clear: if unipolarity was achieved it would be a sovereign operating above all other sovereigns, and the void of anarchy would be squeezed into nonexistence. To pull off this defeat would entail nothing short of the Promethean overcoming of Gnon, ushering in Scott Alexander’s Age of Elua.

A cosmic reign of Elua would be nice; it is, after all, the imaginal zone where the most utopian of socialist currents and libertarian transhumanism bend and connect. At the conceptual summit it comes down to the classic friendly artificial intelligence vs. malevolent artificial intelligence debate. Anything short of that and it is a matter of a planned and perfectly-executed upon convergence upon the smooth, perfect functioning of a system designed to achieve these goals.

Baudrillard’s death knell: “Every system that approaches perfect operativity simultaneously approaches its downfall.” (Symbolic Exchange and Death, 4)

 

Nanospasm (First Wave)

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Marcuse comes closer than most, but when it hits it will be less groovy psychedelic FALC, more Third Impact-esque tangification.

The full force of civilized morality was mobilized against the use of the body as mere object means, instrument of pleasure, instrument of pleasure… With the emergence of a non-repressive reality principle, with the abolition of the surplus-repression necessitated by the performance principle, this process would be reversed… No longer used as a full-time instrument of labor, the body would be resexualized. The regression involved in the spread of the libido would first manifest itself in a reactivation of all erotogenic zones and, consequently, in a resurgence of pregenital polymorphous sexuality and in a decline of genital supremacy .The body in its entirety would become an object of cathexis, a thing to be enjoyed – an instrument of pleasure. This change in the value and scope of libidinal relations would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.

…the process just involves not simply a release but a transformation of the libido: from sexuality constrained under genital supremacy to the eroticization of the entire personality. It is a spread rather than an explosion of libido – a spread over private and societal relations which bridges the gap maintained between them by a repressive reality principle. (Eros and Civilization, 200-202)

Two relevant nuggets from the Twittersphere: 1, 2