Introduction to #Accelerate
Armen Avanessian, Robin Mackay
Acceterationism is a political heresy: the insistence that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, or critique, nor to await its demise at the hands of its own contradictions, but to accelerate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies. The term was introduced into political theory to designate a certain nihilistic alignment of philosophical thought with the exesses of capitalist culture (or anticulture), embodied in w ritings that sought an immanence with this process of alienation. The uneasy status of this impulse, between subversion and acquiescence, between realist analysis and poetic exacerbation, has made accelerationism a fiercely-contested theoretical stance. ^fdefad
Acceterationism seeks to side with the emancipatory dynamic that broke the chains of feudalism and ushered in the constantly ramifying range of practical possibilities characteristic of modernity. The focus of much accelerationist thinking is the examination of the supposedly intrinsic link between these transformative forces and the axiomatics of exchange value and capital accumulation that format contemporary planetary society.
Despair seems to be the dominant sentiment of the contemporary Left, whose crisis perversely mimics its foe, consoling itself either with the minor pleasures of shrill denunciation, mediatised protest and ludic disruptions, or with the scarcely credible notion that maintaining a grim ‘critical’ vigilance on the total subsumption of human life under capital, from the safehouse of theory, or from within contemporary art’s self-congratulatory fog of ‘indeterminacy’, constitutes resistance. Hegemonic neoliberalism claims there is no alternative, and established Left political thinking, careful to desist from Enlightenment ‘grand narratives’, wary of any truck with a technological infrastructure tainted by capital, and allergic to an entire civilizational heritage that it lumps together and discards as ‘instrumental thinking’, patently fails to offer the alternative it insists must be possible, except in the form of counterfactual histories and all-too-local interventions into a decentred, globally-integrated system that is at best indifferent to them
[A]ny pragmatic criteria for the identification and selection of elements of this system that might be effective in a concrete transition to another life beyond the iniquities and impediments of capital.
The term has been adopted to name a convergent group of new theoretical enterprises that aim to conceptualise the future outside of traditional critiques and regressive, decelerative or restorative ‘solutions’. In the wake of the new philosophical realisms of recent years, they do so through a recusal of the rhetoric of human finitude in favour of a renewed Prometheanism and rationalism, an affirmation that the increasing immanence of the social and technical is irreversible and indeed desirable, and a commitment to developing new understandings of the complexity this brings to contemporary politics.
But it also indicates that a revisionary process is underway—one of refining, selecting, modifying and consolidating earlier tendencies, rebooting accelerationism as an evolving theoretical program, but simultaneously reclaiming it as an untimely provocation, an irritant that returns implacably from the future to bedevil the official sanctioned discourse of institutional politics and political theory. This book therefore aims to participate in the writing of a philosophical counterhistory, the construction of a genealogy of accelerationism (not the only possible one—other texts could have been included, other stories will be told), at the same time producing accelerationism ‘itself’ as a fictional or hyperstitional anticipation of intelligence to come.
The first section features late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century thinkers who, confronted with the rapid emergence of an integrated globalised industrial complex and the usurpation of inherited value-systems by exchange value, attempted to understand the precise nature of the relation between technical edifice and economic system, and speculated as to their potential future consequences for human society and culture.
Here Marx documents the momentous shift between the worker’s use of tools as prosthetic organs to amplify and augment human cognitive and physical abilities (labour power), and machine production properly speaking, dating the latter to the emergence of an integrated ‘automatic system of machines’ wherein knowledge and control of nature leveraged as industrial process supplant direct means of labour. Within this system, the worker increasingly becomes a prosthesis: rather than the worker animating the machine, the machine animates the worker, making him a part of its ‘mighty organism’, a ‘conscious organ’ subject to its virtuosity or ‘alien power’.
If technology is bound up with the capitalist decanting of primitive and feudal man into a new mode of social being, then a speculation on what machines will become is also a speculation on what the human is and might be.
Butler's vision, a panmachinism that will later be inspirational for Deleuze and Guattari, refuses any special natural or originary privilege to human labour.
Refusing such machinic fatalism, Nicolai Fedorov's utopian vision reserves within a ‘cosmist’ vision of expansion a Promethean role for man, whose scientific prowess he sees as capable of introducing purposefulness into an otherwise indifferent and hostile nature.
It is only by reaching beyond their given habitat, according to Fedorov, that humans can fulfill their collective destiny, rallying to a ‘common task’.
For Veblen it is not the proletariat but the technical class, the scientists and engineers, who ultimately promise to be the locus of revolutionary agency.
Significant also is Veblen’s refusal to conceive ‘culture’ narrowly in an ameliorative role, offering compensation for the ‘social problems’ triggered by the reshaping of individuals and social relations in accordance with the automatism and standardization of the machine system: instead he insists that this process be understood as a radical transformation of human culture, and one that will outlive its occasional cause.
[T]he human conceived not as an eternal given, fated to suffer the vicissitudes of nature, but as a historical being whose relation to nature (including its own), increasingly mediated through technical means, is mutable and in motion.
Galvanized by the still uncomprehended events of May ’68 and driven to a wholesale rejection of the stagnant cataracts of orthodox party politics, these thinkers of the ‘Marx-Freud synthesis’ suggest that emancipation from capitalism be sought not through the dialectic, but by way of the polymorphous perversion set free by the capitalist machine itself.
It is at this point that the credo of accelerationism is for the first time openly formulated—most explicitly by Gilles Lipovetsky: ‘“[R]evolutionary actions” are not those which aim to overthrow the system of Capital, which has never ceased to be revolutionary, but those which complete its rhythm in all its radicality, that is to say actions which accelerate the metamorphic process of bodies’.
Marx claims that capital blocks its own ‘self-realization’ process, the way in which its ‘revolutionary’ unconditional development of production promises eventually to subvert capitalist relations of production. Capital is thus at once a revolutionary force (as evidenced by its destruction of all previous social formations) and a barrier, a limited form or mere transitional moment on the way to this force’s ultimate triumph in another mode of social relation.
[R]ather than the productive forces of humans having been developed by capital to the point that they exceed its relations of production, productive forces (including human labour power) now exist only for capital and not for humans.Capital can and has become truly independent of human will, and any opportunity for an intervention that would develop its newly-reformatted sociotechnological beings into communist subjects is definitively lost.
Camatte concludes: no contradiction, therefore no dialectic. ‘On this we agree: the human being is dead’: more exactly, the human being has been transformed by capital into a passive machine part, no longer possessed of any ‘irreducible element’ that would allow it to revolt against capital.
The entire historical product of capitalism is to be condemned; indeed we must reject production itself as a basis for the analysis of social relations. Revolutionary thought for Camatte, therefore, urges a refusal of Marx’s valorization of productivism, and counsels absolute retreat—we can only ‘leave this world’ (Camatte’s work was thus a strong influence on anarcho-primitivist trends in political thought).
Anything but an accelerationist, then, Camatte nevertheless sets the scene for accelerationism by describing this extreme predicament: Faced with real subsumption, is there any alternative to pointless piecemeal reformism apart from total secession? Can the relation between revolutionary force, human agency, and capitalism be thought differently? Where does alienation end and domestication begin?
Is growth in productive force necessarily convertible into a socialized wealth?
Still in search of a revolutionary thought, however, and despite his own analysis, he also commits himself to a faith in some underlying human essence that may yet resist, and that may be realised in an ‘elsewhere’ of capital—a position underlying many radical political alternatives imagined today. In contrast, accelerationism, making a different analysis of the ambivalent forces at work in capital, will insist on the continuing dynamism and transformation of the human wrought by the unleashing of productive forces, arguing that it is possible to align with their revolutionary force but against domestication, and indeed that the only way ‘out’ is to plunge further in.
Gilles Deleuze + Félix Guattari
Gilles Deleuze + Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus developed precisely the ambivalences noted by Camatte, modelling capitalism as a movement at once revolutionary—decoding and deterritorializing—and constantly reterritorializing and indifferently reinstalling old codes as ‘neoarchaic’ simulations of culture to contain the fluxes it releases.
Rather than contradictions precipitating collapse, on the contrary, ongoing crises remain an immanent source of capitalist productivity, and this also implies the production of ever new axioms capable of digesting any arising contradictions.
How can living labour be dismembered, how can the body be fragmented by capitalism’s exchangeable value-form, if bodies are already fragments and if the will to unity is just one perversion among others? Thus he proposes an energetics that not only voluntarily risks anarchic irrationalism, but issues in a scandalous advocacy of the industrial proletariat’s enjoyment of their machinic dissection at the hands of capital. Lyotard dares us to ‘admit it…’: the deracinating affect of capitalism, also, is a source of jouissance, a mobilization of desire.
As Deleuze and Guattari assert, ‘nothing ever died of contradictions’, and the only thing that will kill capitalism is its own ‘excess’ and the ‘unserviceability’ loosed by it, an excess of wandering desire over the regulating mechanisms of antiproduction.
Eschewing critique, then, here writing forms a pact with the demon energy liberated by Kapital that liquidates all inheritance and solidity, staking everything on the unknown future it is unlocking.
Although capitalism may appear to depend upon powers of antiproduction which police it and ensure the minimal stability necessary for the extraction of profit, in fact these ‘guard-dogs’ are obstacles to the core tendency of capital qua ‘precipitate experimentation’ in the ‘recombination of bodies’—and this latter tendency is the side that must be taken by emancipatory discourse and practice.
Resisting the ‘Marxist reflex’ to critique ‘capitalist power’, Lipovetsky states that there is no such thing, but only and always a multiplicity of powers, which in fact restrain capital’s advance. He thus repeats Lyotard’s call for chaos and permanent revolution: there is no way to prevent new alien recombinations settling back into new forms of power; we must match and exceed capital’s inhuman speeds, ‘keep moving’ in ‘a permanent and accelerated metamorphic errancy’.
For Deleuze and Guattari, more basic to an analysis of capitalism than human labour power is the way in which capitalism mobilizes time itself through the function of credit. Lipovetsky confirms that the supposed ‘contradictions’ of capital are a question of configurations of time, and accordingly his accelerationism pits capital’s essentially destabilizing temporal looping of the present through the future against all stabilising reinstantiations of the past.
As Nick Land will write, there is ‘no real option between a cybernetics of theory and a theory of cybernetics’: The subject of theory can no longer affect to stand outside the process it describes: it is integrated as an immanent machine part in an open ended experimentation that is inextricable from capital’s continuous scrambling of its own limits—which operates via the reprocessing of the actual through its virtual futures, dissolving all bulwarks that would preserve the past. In hooking itself up to this haywire time-machine, theory seeks to cast off its own inert obstacles.
Beyond Fedorov’s arguably shortsighted dismissal of the aesthetic response to the world as a squandering of energy that could be directed into the technological achievement of real transcendence, Firestone insists that the separation of these two modes of ‘realizing the conceivable in the possible’ is an artefact of the same constraints as class barriers and sex dualism. She envisages an ‘anticultural’ revolution that would fuse them, arguing that ‘the body of scientific discovery (the new productive modes) must finally outgrow the empirical (capitalistic) mode of using them’. In Firestone’s call for this cultural revolution the question is no longer, as in Fedorov, that of replacing imaginary transcendence with a practical project of transcendence, but of erasing the separation between imaginary vision and practical action.
[T]he Promethean potentiality of the human, evidenced in ‘the accumulation of skills for controlling the environment, technology’ is hobbled by the obstruction of the dialogue between aesthetic and scientific modes of thinking. With industry, science and technology subsumed into commerce and exchange value, the question of other, aesthetic values becomes a matter of a compensatory ‘outside’ of the market, a retreat into private (and marketized) pleasures.
[N]ovelist J.G. Ballard echoes Firestone’s call for a merging of artistic and technological modes, advocating the role of science fiction not only as ‘the only possible realism in an increasingly artificialized society’, but as an ingredient in its acceleration. SF dissolves fear into excited anticipation, implicitly preparing readers for a ‘life radically different from their own’. Accepting that ‘the future is a better guide to the present than the past’, SF is not involved in the elaboration of the meaning of the present, but instead participates in the construction of the future through its speculative recombination: the only meaning it registers is the as yet uncomprehended ‘significance of the gleam on an automobile instrument panel’. Like Firestone, Ballard cheerfully jettisons the genius cult of the individual artist and high culture, instead imagining the future of SF along the lines of an unceremonious integration of fiction into global industry and communications that is already underway.
Ballard’s world <…> is echoed in the cut-up text ‘Desirevolution’ where Lyotard refuses to cede the dream-work of ’68 to institutional politics and Party shysters, countering its inevitable recuperation through an acceleration of the cut-up reality of the spectacle, an accelerated collage of ‘fragments of alienation’ launching one last salvo against political and aesthetic representation.
It is immediately apparent from the opening of Nick Land’s ‘Circuitries’ that a darkness has descended over the festive atmosphere of desiring-production envisaged by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard and Lipovetsky. At the dawn of the emergence of the global digital technology network, these thinkers, rediscovering and reinterpreting the work of the latter, develop it into an antihumanist anastrophism. ^62e215
Their texts relish its most violent and dark implications, and espouse radical alienation as the only escape from a human inheritance that amounts to imprisonment in a biodespotic security compound to which only capital has the access code. [W]hile postmodernism can do no more than mourn this miscognition, accelerationism now gleefully explores what is escaping from human civilization, viewing modernity as an ‘anastrophic’ collapse into the future, as outlined in Sadie Plant + Nick Land’s ‘Cyberpositive’.
Sadie Plant + Nick Land
Precisely that, particularly in popular culture in the UK, a certain relish for the ‘inconceivable alienations’ outputted by the monstrous machine-organism built by capital had emerged—along with a manifest disinterest in being ‘saved’ from it by intellectuals or politicians, Marxist or otherwise.
Iain Hamilton Grant
The dystopian strains of darkside and jungle intensified alienation by sampling and looping the disturbing invocations of SF movie narratives; accordingly the cyberculture authors side not with the human but with the Terminator, the cyborg prosecuting a future war on the battleground of now, travelling back in time to eliminate human resistance to the rise of the machines; with Terminator II’s future hyperfluid commercium figured as a ‘mimetic polyalloy’ capable of camouflaging itself as any object in order to infiltrate the present; and against the Bladerunner, ally of Old Bearded Prosecutor Marx, agent of biodespotic defense, charged with preventing the authentic, the human, from irreversible contamination (machinic incest), tasked with securing the ’retention of [the fictitious figure of] natural humanity’ or organic labour.
Rediscovering Lipovetsky’s repetitious production of interiority and identity on the libidinal surface in the figure of a ‘negative cybernetics’ dedicated to ‘command and control’, cyberculture counters it with a ‘positive cybernetics’ embodied in the runaway circuits of modernity, in which ‘time itself is looped’ and the only command is that of the feverishly churning virtual futurity of capital as it disassembles the past and rewrites the present. Against an ‘immunopolitics’ that insists on continually reinscribing the prophylactic boundary between human and its technological other in a futile attempt to shore up the ‘Human Security System’, it scans the darkest vistas of earlier machinic deliriums, echoing Butler in anticipating the end of ‘the human dominion of terrestrial culture’, welcoming the fatal inevitability of a looming nonhuman intelligence: Terminator’s Skynet, Marx’s fantastic ‘virtuous soul’ refigured as a malign global AI <…>.
This jungle war fought between immunopolitics and cyborg insurgency, evacuating the stage of politics, realises within theory the literal welding of the punk No with the looped-up machinic positivity of the cyber—‘No demands. No hint of strategy. No logic. No hopes. No end…No community. No dialectics. No plans for an alternative state’ (CCRU)—in a deliberate culmination of the most ‘evil’ tendencies of accelerationism.
While distancing itself from mere technological optimism, contemporary accelerationism retains an antipathy, a disgust even, for retreatist solutions, and an ambitious interest in reshaping and repurposing (rather than refusing) the technologies that are the historical product of capitalism.
Broadly speaking, today the anarchistic tendencies of ‘French Theory’ are tempered by a concern with the appropriation of sociotechnological infrastructure and the design of post-capitalist economic platforms, and the antihumanism of the cyberculture era is transformed, through its synthesis with the Promethean humanism found in the likes of Marx and Fedorov, into a rationalist inhumanism.
Once again this apparent rupture can be understood through consideration of the intervening period, which had seen the wholesale digestion by the capitalist spectacle of the yearning for extra-capitalistic spaces, from ‘creativity’ to ethical consumerism to political horizontalism, all of which capitalism had cheerfully supplied. In a strange reversal of cyberculture’s prognostications, technology and the new modes of monetization now inseparable from it ushered in a banal resocialisation process, a reinstalling of the most confining and identitarian ‘neo-archaisms’ of the human operating system.
Even as they do the integrative work of Skynet, the very brand names of this ascendent regime—iPod, Myspace, Facebook—ridicule cyberculture’s aspiration to vicariously participate in a dehumanising adventure: instead, we (indistinguishably) work for and consume it as a new breed of autospectacularized all-too-human being.
At the same time as these social neo-archaisms lock in, the depredations of capital pose an existential risk to humanity, while finance capital itself is in crisis, unable to bank on the future yet continuing to colonise it through instruments whose operations far outstrip human cognition.
As Plant and Land had asked: ‘To what could we wish to return?’ The intensification of sociotechnological integration has gone hand in hand with a negative theology of an outside of capital; as Fisher remarks, the escapist nostalgia for a precapitalist world that mars political protest is also embedded in popular culture’s simulations of the past. The accelerationist dystopia of Terminator has been replaced by the primitivist yearnings of Avatar.
Fisher therefore states that, in so far as we seek egress from the immiseration of capitalist realism, ‘we are all accelerationists’; and yet, he challenges, ‘accelerationism has never happened’ as a real political force.
A renewed accelerationism, then, would have to work through the fact that the energumen capital stirred up by Lyotard and co. ultimately delivered what Fisher has famously called ‘capitalist realism’. And that, if one were to maintain the accelerationist gambit à la cyberculture at this point, it would simply amount to taking up arms for capitalist realism itself, rebuffing the complaint that capitalism did not deliver as sheer miserablism <…> and retracting the promises of jouissance and ‘inconceivable alienations’ as narcissistic demands that have no place in an inhuman process <…> —a dilemma that opens up a wider debate regarding the relation between aesthetic enjoyment and theoretical purchase in earlier accelerationism.
Alex Williams + Nick Srnicek
In provocation of the contemporary Left’s often endemic technological illiteracy, Srnicek and Williams insist on the necessity of precise cognitive mapping, and thus epistemic acceleration, for any progressive political theory and action today. With full confidence that alternatives are thinkable, they state the obvious, namely that neoliberal capitalism is not just unfair or unjust as a system, but is no longer a guarantor of dynamism or progress.
[C]losely affiliated to the rationalist wing of current speculative philosophy, they adopt the topos of ‘folk psychology’ for their polemic against a folk politics, opposing a politics based on inherited and intuitively ready-to-hand categories with an accelerationist politics that conceives its program on the basis of ‘a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology’ that outstrips such categories.
<…> Antonio Negri’s response is critical of what he calls the ‘technological determinism’ of the Manifesto.
[Yet] clearly it is not enough to valorize the ‘real’ human force of labour over the perversions of technocapital or to attempt to recover it: if ‘the surplus added in production is derived primarily from socially productive cooperation’, as Negri says, and if it must be admitted that this cooperation is technically mediated, then the project of reappropriation cannot circumvent the necessity to deal with the specific ‘material and technical qualities’ that characterise this fixed capital today.
With Negri’s response, the first of several contributions by Italian authors linked to ‘post-operaismo’ who address precisely this point, we are dealing with a tradition that is already heretical to official Marxism. Both in theory and in political practice the ‘operaismo’ (workerism) of the 1960s and 70s was opposed to official party politics and its focus on the state. Operaism’s molecular politics, focused on concrete activities in factories, is also the background for recent (post-operaistic) investigations of immaterial labour and biopower.
Not only has this horizontalism (as MAP indicates) been an ineffective paradigm for political intervention, it also significantly misrepresents the mode of operation of ‘network technology’ in general. For the latter’s technological and subjectivizing power (as substantially anticipated in Veblen) resides in the progressive and hierarchical ‘locking in’ of standardized hardware and software protocols each of which cannot be understood as means to a particular end, but rather present an open set of possibilities.
Tiziana Terranova suggests a reappropriation of this logic in the form of a ‘red stack’ bringing together the types of autonomous electronic currencies that are currently emerging outside the bounds of nation-state or corporate governance, social media technology, and the ‘bio-hypermedia’ that is thriving in the interference zone between digital and bodily identities. This vision of a digital infrastructure of the common enacts MAP’s shift from abstract political theory (‘this is not a utopia’) to an experimental collaboration with design, engineering, and programming so as to activate the latent potential of these technologies in the direction of another socius.
In ‘finally grasp[ing] the shift from the hegemony of material labour to the hegemony of immaterial labour’ (Negri), a particular focus is the increased importance of the algorithm as the general machine regime in the information economy <…>.
As has been widely discussed, the rise of the algorithm runs parallel to the visible absorption into the integrated machine system of human cognitive and affective capacities, which are also now (in Marx’s words) ‘set in motion by an automaton’—or rather a global swarm of abstract automata.
Unlike heavy metal machines, algorithms do not themselves embody a value, but rather are valuable in so far as they allow value to be extracted from social interaction: the real fixed capital today, as Negri suggests, is the value produced through intensive technically coordinated cooperation, producing a ‘surplus beyond the sum’ of its parts (the ‘network externalities’ which economists agree are the source of value in a ‘connected economy’).
[The] invocation of the open-source movement is a powerful reminder that there are indeed other motivating value systems that may provide the ‘libidinizing impulse’ that Fisher calls for in the search for alternative constructions <…>.
[C]omputation driven by material organization cannot be regarded as simply entering into a dynamic immanence with the ‘intelligence of matter’. Rather, these algorithmic operations have their own logic, and open up an artificial space of functions, a ‘second nature’. For Parisi these developments in design figure the more general movement toward systems whose accelerated and extended search and evaluation capabilities (for example in ‘big data’ applications) suggest a profound shift within the conception of computation itself.
It is often claimed that through such advanced methods accelerated technocapital invests the entire field of material nature, completely beyond the human field of perception. Such a strict dichotomy, Parisi argues, loses sight of the reality of abstraction in the order of algorithmic reason itself, moving too quickly from the Laplacean universe of mechanism governed by absolute laws to a vitalist universe of emergent materiality. Instead, as Parisi argues, the action of algorithms opens up a space of speculative reason as a Whiteheadian ‘adventure of ideas’ in which the counter-agency of reason is present as a motor for experimentation and the extraction of novelty.
Reza Negarestani addresses a related dichotomy to the one Parisi critiques, which he sees as lying behind contemporary political defeatism and inertia—namely, the choice between either equating rationality with a discredited and malign notion of absolute mastery, or abandoning all claim for the special status of human sapience and rationality.
In their place Negarestani proposes an ‘inhumanism’ that emerges once the question of what it means to be human is correctly posed, ‘in the context of uses and practices’.
What is specific to the human is its access to the symbolic and sociotechnological means to participate in the construction and revision of norms; the task of exploring what ‘we’ are is <…> an ongoing labour whose iterative loops of concept and action yield ‘non-monotonic’ outcomes. Far from involving a voluntaristic impulse to ‘freedom’, this labour entails the navigation of a constraining field of collateral commitments and ramifications, through which the human responds to the demands of an agency (reason) which has no interest in preserving the initial self-image of the human, but whose unforeseeable ramifications are unfolded through the human—‘a future that writes its own past’ in so far as one views present commitments from the perspective of their future ramifications, yielding each time a new understanding of past actions.
Acceleration takes place when and in so far as the human repeatedly affirms its commitment to being impersonally piloted, not by capital, but by a program which demands that it cede control to collective revision, and which draws it towards an inhuman future that will prove to have ‘always’ been the meaning of the human.
In effect, then, Negarestani re-places the infinite will-without-finality within reason rather than capital, and rethinks the inhuman futural feedback process through which it conducts human history not as a thanatropic compulsion but as social participation in the progressive and self-cultivating anastrophism of in/humanity.
Continuing Negarestani’s examination of the pragmatic momentum that drives a continual opening up of new frontiers of action, he finds in the logic of design a way to think this ‘escape’ otherwise than in the form of a creative ‘leap of faith’: as an ‘escapology not an escapism’, a twisted path in which the stabilisation of new invariants provides the basis for new modes of action, and, reciprocally, new modes of action and new instruments for cognition enable new perspectives on where we have come from and where we are going: design is a dense and ramified leveraging of the environment that makes possible the startling clarity of new observables, as well as enabling the transformation of apparently natural constants into manipulable variables required for constructing new worlds.
Drawing out a language of scheming, crafting, and plotting that declares itself quite clearly in the vocabulary surrounding design, but which has been studiously ignored by a design theory rather too keen to ingratiate itself with humanist circles <…>.
Mêtis (Greek notion of cunning intelligence) thus equates to a practice in which, in the absence of complete information, the adoption of hypothetical perspectives enables a transformation of the environment—which in turn provides opportunities for further ruses, seeking to power its advance by craftily harnessing the factors of the environment and its expected behaviours to its own advantage.
Important here is the distinguishing of this ‘platform logic’ from a means-end ‘planning’ model of design. In altering the parameters of the environment in order to create new spaces upon which yet more invention can be brought to bear, cunning intelligence gradually twists free of the conditions in which it finds itself ‘naturally’ ensnared, generating paths to an outside that does not conform to the infinite homothetism of ‘more of the same” <…>.
Ultimately this escapology, Singleton insists, requires an abduction of ourselves by perspectives that relativize our spontaneous phenomenal grasp of the environment.
Whence the antipathy toward any project of remaking the world, the hostility to the normative claim that not only ought things to be different but that they ought to be made different?
Examining Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s critique of human enhancement, Brassier shows how the inflation of human difference into ontological difference necessitates the same transcendental policing that [[#Iain Hamilton Grant]] explores in his reading of Bladerunner: what is given—the inherited image of the human and human society assumed as transcendental bond—shall by no means be made or indeed remade.
As Brassier remarks, since the conception of what a human can be and should tolerate is demonstrably historical, it is only possible to understand this invocation of a proper balance or limit as a theological sentiment.
This reservation of an unconceptualisable transcendence beyond the limits of manipulation devolves into a farcical discourse on the ‘reasonableness’ of the suffering inflicted by nature’s indifference to the human—a suffering, subjection, and finitude which is understood to provide a precious resource of meaning for human life.
Like Negarestani, Brassier holds that the essential project here is one of integrating a descriptive account of the objective (not transcendental) constitution of rational subjectivation with an advocacy of the rational subject’s accession to self-mastery.
Against Williams and Srnicek, for whom ‘capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration’, and Negarestani, for whom the space of reasons is the future source from which intelligence assembles itself, Land argues that the complex positive feedback instantiated in market pricing mechanisms is the only possible referent for acceleration.
[T]he very question What do we want—the very conception of a conditional accelerationism and the concomitant assertion that ‘planning is necessary’, about which MAP and Negri agree, in order to instrumentalise knowledge into action—for Land amounts to nothing but a call for a compensatory movement to counteract acceleration. For him it is the state and politics per se that constitute constraints, not ‘capital’, and therefore the claim that ‘capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology’ is senseless.
Land’s ‘right accelerationism’ appears here as an inverted counterpart to the communitarian retreat in the face of real subsumption: like the latter, it accepts that the historical genesis of technology in capitalism precludes the latter from any role in a postcapitalist future.
If at its most radical accelerationism claims, in Camatte’s words, that ‘there can be a revolution that is not for the human’ and draws the consequences of this, <…> one can accept that ‘the means of production are going for a revolution on their own’.
This reappearance of accelerationism in its form as a foil for the Left (even left-accelerationism), with Land still fulfilling his role as ‘the kind of antagonist that the left needs’ (Fisher) <…>.
<…> the question of incentives and of an alternative feedback loop to that of capitalization will be central <…>.
It also does not pass unnoticed by Reed that the MAP’s rhetoric is rather modest in comparison to earlier accelerationism’s enthusiastic invocations and exhortations (‘maximum slogan density’).
The conspicuous fact that, shunned by the mainstream of both the ‘continental philosophy’ and cultural studies disciplines which it hybridized, the Cyberculture material had more subterranean influence on musicians, artists and fiction writers than on traditional forms of political theory or action, indicates how its stance proved more appropriable as an aesthetic than effective as a political force.
Reed accordingly takes MAP to task in its failure to minister to the positive ‘production of desire’, limiting itself to diagnostics and prognostics too vague to immediately impel participation. She rightly raises the question of the power of belief and of motivation: Whatever happened to jouissance?
In addition, as Reed notes, Accelerationism, <…> involves taking a long view on history that traditional politics is unable to encompass in its ‘procedures…based on finitude, and the timescale of the individual human’; <…> Therefore a part of the anthropological transformation at stake here involves the appropriation and development of a conceptual and affective apparatus that allows human perception and action some kind of purchase upon this ‘Promethean scale’—new science-fictional practices, if not necessarily in literary form, and once again Firestone’s ‘merging of the aesthetic with the technological culture’.
Return to or Departure from Marx?
Undoubtedly the absorption of the worker into the burgeoning machine organism more clearly than ever reduces the worker to a tool of capital. And yet, crucially, Marx makes it clear that these two forms of subsumption—under capital, and into a technical system of production—are neither identical nor inseparable in principle.
Man no longer has a direct connection to production, but one that is mediated by a ramified, accumulated objective social apparatus constructed through the communication, technological embodiment, replication and enhancement of knowledge and skills—what Marx calls the ‘elevation of direct labour into social labour’ wherein ‘general social knowledge […] become[s] a direct force of production’. Once again, however, this estrangement is not identical with alienation through capital; nor is the former, considered apart from the strictures of the latter, necessarily a deplorable consequence.
<…> the question arises of whether, and how, the colossal sophistication, use value, and transformative power of one could be effectively freed of the limitations and iniquities of the other.
Since the ‘new foundation’ created by integrated machine industry is dependent not upon direct labour but upon the application of technique and knowledge, according to Marx it usurps capitalism’s primary foundation of production upon the extortion of surplus labour. Indeed, through it capital ‘works toward its own dissolution’: the total system of production qua complex ramified product of collective social labour tends to counteract the system that produced it.
The vast increase in productivity made possible through the compaction of labour into the machine system, of course, ought also to free up time making it possible for individuals to produce themselves as new subjects. How then to reconcile this emancipatory vision of the sociotechnological process with the fact that the worker increasingly becomes a mere abstraction of activity, acted on by an ‘alien power’ that machinically vivisects its body, ruining its unity and tendentially replacing it (a power which, as Marx also notes, is ‘non-correlated’—that is, the worker finds it impossible to cognitively encompass it)?
The monstrous power of the industrial assemblage is indissociable from the ‘development of the social individual’: General social knowledge is absorbed as a force of production and thus begins to shape society: ‘the conditions of the process of social life itself […] come under the control of the general intellect and [are] transformed in accordance with it’. Labour then only exists as subordinated to the general interlocking social enterprise into which capital introduces it: Capital produces new subjects, and the development of the social individual is inextricable from the development of the system of mechanised capital.
Marx’s contention was that Capitalism’s abstraction of the socius generates an undifferentiated social being that can be subjectivated into the proletariat. That is, a situation where the machinic system remained in place and yet human producers no longer faced these means of production as alienating would necessarily entail a further transformation of the human, since, according to Marx, in the machine system humans face the product of their labour through a ramified and complex network of mediation that is cognitively and practically debilitating and disempowering.
This ‘transformative anthropology’ (Negri) is what every communist or commonist (Negri’s or Terranova’s post-operaismo) programme has to take into account.
[T]he ‘helplessness’ of the worker in the face of social production would have to be resolved through a new social configuration: the worker would still be confronted with this technical edifice and unable to reconcile it with the ‘unity of natural labour’, and yet humans would ‘enter into the direct production process as [a] different subject’, ceasing to suffer from it because they would have attained a collective mastery over the process, the common objectified in the machine system no longer being appropriated by the axiomatic of capital. This participation would thus be a true social project or common task, rather than the endurance of a supposedly natural order of things with which the worker abstractly interfaces through the medium of monetary circulation, the ‘metabolism of capital’, while the capitalist, operating in a completely discontinuous sphere, draws off and accumulates its surplus.”
The extortion of human labour still lies at the basis of capitalist production despite the ‘machinic surplus value’ (Deleuze and Guattari) of fixed capital, since the social axiomatic of capital is disinterested in innovation for itself and is under the necessity to extract surplus value as conveniently as possible, and to maintain a reserve army of labour and free-floating capital.
[N]ew philosophical frameworks suggested by Negarestani, Singleton and Brassier reaffirm Prometheanism [and] advocate not accelerationism in a supposedly known direction, and even less sheer speed, but, as Reed suggests, ‘eccentrication’ and, as Negarestani, Brassier and Singleton emphasise in various ways, navigation within the spaces opened up through a commitment to the future that truly understands itself as such and acknowledges the nature of its own agency.
The cyberculture phase, in extending Lyotard’s own ‘branching-off’ from Deleuze and Guattari, arguably reproduced his failure to reckon with the powers of antiproduction: Deleuze and Guattari drew attention not just to the ‘positive’ schizophrenia of decoding and deterritorialization but to a certain schizophrenic dissociation within the technical or scientific worker himself, who ‘is so absorbed in capital that the reflux of organized, axiomatized stupidity coincides with him’ (‘Dear, I discovered how to clone people at the lab today. Now we can go skiing in Aspen’, as Firestone puts it).
The shift from conceiving intelligence as a quantitatively homogeneous measure of adaptive problem solving to conceiving it as a qualitatively differentiated typology of reasoning capacities is the properly philosophical condition of the shift from the hyperstitional invocation of machinic intelligence of the Cyberculture era to the active design of new systems of collective intelligence proposed by MAP.