Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis

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If the public articulation of unconditional accelerationism has slowed in recent months, the reception and controversy it has occasioned have not. The silence, of course, is superficial. The storm above is bloated; soon, the sea-green sky will break, and the air will be filled with transmissions from the vastness beyond. It is best to explain the situation before it is too late.

What is unconditional accelerationism?—What, in any case, is accelerationism?

Nick Land has offered an excellent answer to this question in his ‘Quick-and-Dirty Introduction’, but from the U/ACC perspective much more remains to be said. The problem has been muddied by its own continual posing in humanist terms, which have provoked a refusal to understand the enormity of the issues at stake. From this perspective of humanism, thought is assimilated entirely to the objective of negotiating the problems that are held to confront humanity. Philosophically, it is concerned with epistemological understanding founded implicitly or not on the centrality of a coherent human subject; critically, it reduces the world to the relations of power practiced by humans towards humans; politically, it immerses itself in defining and putting into motion a better human society. Thought is rendered finally as a series of technical questions that constitute the tactical mapping of a topography whose ultimate form is placed beyond dispute.

This insistent backwater parochialism has eclipsed the intellectually interesting content of accelerationism. In colloquial usage on the left, for instance, ‘accelerationism’ has come to denote merely the idea that the situation of humanity must get worse before it gets better. At the heart of this definition lies the insistent, obsessional humanist question, ‘What is to be done?’, the fundamental question of praxis. The answer is rendered: ‘We must make things worse, so that they get better.’ This uninteresting idea has provoked an avalanche of furious critique of a commensurate intellectual scale. It is the doctrine, we are told, of ‘a dim child, trapped in a train about to crash, pretending he’s the driver’. Quite right, yet the critics protest too much: this is a feeling that has been characteristic of modern radicalism for centuries. Fourier’s prophecies of impending catastrophe shade into the Leninist theory of the intensification of contradictions, on and on up to the present day. A hundred years ago this idea was called catastrophism, and if it is a sickness, it is a sickness that is far more powerful and pervasive than most casual dismissals of the idea would have us believe.

If this is not the accelerationist response, of course, a clamour immediately arises for the real answer. A number of options are duly presented. For Srnicek and Williams and other managerialists, the worsening is cut out of the picture: things will get better if only we establish a practical political hegemony that can make it so. This, apparently, is the real content of accelerationism: an opposition to the diffuse localisms that regress from the hard work of great politics into ‘spaces of resistance’ and fantasies of escape. In this response, of course, the humanist obsession reaches a totalising climax: the human capacity to reshape the world is utterly unbound; the promised land lies not beyond but immediately ahead.

The unconditional accelerationist dismisses the question. On its very terms, human agency has already been elevated to become the guide and measure of the world, and this, conceptually, is intolerable. It is precisely against this view that accelerationism defines itself as ‘antihuman(ist)’, and against the fundamental question of praxis that it offers ‘antipraxis’. This can hardly mean ‘Do nothing’, of course: that would mean not just to return to the fundamental question of praxis, but to offer perhaps the most numbly tedious answer of all. The unconditional accelerationist, instead, referring to the colossal horrors presented to the human agent all the way from the processes of capital accumulation and social complexification to the underlying structure, or seeming absence of structure, of reality itself, points to the basic unimportance of unidirectional human agency. We ‘hurl defiance to the stars’, but in their silence—when we see them at all—the stars return only crushing contempt. To the question ‘What is to be done?’, then, she can legitimately answer only, ‘Do what thou wilt’—and ‘Let go.’

We insist, then, that there is no promised land, no socialist Prester John waiting ready and hidden either in the icy winds of human political temporality or in the solar-hot chaos of urban intensity. Far from discouraging the unconditional accelerationist or beckoning her to the grim convent of asceticism, however, the ruins in which this realisation contemptuously leaves us are the terrain of a genuine, even, properly, horrific aesthetic freedom that is liberated from the totality of a one-directional political teleology. ‘Do what thou wilt’, since with human agency displaced, the world will route around our decisions, impressing itself precisely through our glittering fractionation. Taking the smallest steps beyond good and evil, the unconditional accelerationist, more than anyone else, is free at heart to pursue what she thinks is good and right and interesting—but with the ironical realisation that the primary ends that are served are not her own. For the unconditional accelerationist, the fastidious seriousness of the problem-solvers who propose to ‘save humanity’ is absurd in the face of the problems they confront. It can provoke only Olympian laughter. And so, ‘in its colder variants, which are those that win out, [accelerationism] tends to laugh.’

This freedom is what antipraxis means, and this uncompromising conceptual opposition not to the practice, but to the very capacity to regulate the transcendental diagram of acceleration, and the overthrow of normative commandments this provokes, constitutes one form of its unconditionality. And with this, we can hear the murky waters already rushing down the streets.

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14 thoughts on “Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis

  1. Antipraxis is still a praxis. It is the practice of doing nothing strategically
    (or strategically doing nothing) and thus the conscious adoption of reactivity as a general disposition. We end up doing something anyway in response to trans-formations (even if its just ad hoc coping) so the pretense to un-conditioning exposes U\ACC as an exercise (perhaps needed?) in conceptual indulgence.

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    1. Part of the post above (and Berger’s comments on antipraxis previously) is precisely that, though — doing nothing, strategically or not, is not at all implied by antipraxis; quite the opposite, since it radically implies nothing at all about how you should behave, merely the attitude you should adopt to the behaviour. Antipraxis simply attaches to those local responses, which are entirely necessary, the realisation that emergent processes like capital accumulation operate through these local responses at a higher level beyond intentionality. Recognising the impossibility of a plan at a higher order, you can very well decide to follow the plan anyway, outwardly identically, while remaining an unconditional accelerationist — indeed, this pretence is a part of being human.

      (edit: This post over at disquietism is helpful for gesturing towards the importance of pretence — https://disquietism.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/some-disparate-unstructured-thoughts-on-the-feasibility-of-a-non-conceptual-understanding/)

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      1. Thank you for that succinct response Vince, that helped my understand your position immensely.

        So since praxis is unavoidable (because all cognitive attitudes and stances are conditioned by belief and decision) what U/ACC actually advocates is practicing a radically reflexivity with regard to how any particular praxis is devised? Against the “managerialists” U/ACC wants to install an attitude of reactionary ad hoc responsiveness that does not hook itself to conventional tropes?

        I think this is close to what a few of us over at Synthetic Zero for years have been calling post-nihilist praxis. The insight being to develop post-intentional adaptationist responses to the immediate challenges of being embedded and entangled in non-human forces. That is, building in a cognitive and technical appreciation for the limits of intentionality while also being open to cultivating the existential and practical resources for coping with, and yes somewhat directing, large scale forces and tendencies.

        However, what I think is at stake in this discussion here is the idea that we can ever have something like an antipraxis. U/ACC is framed by its assumptions and aims just like any other ideology and set of practices. To assume complete unconditionality seems to me a theological claim that ironically fails to apply within the same potent and important logic that U/ACC is trying to highlight.

        Acceleration follows from distributed and complex processes and materials. And even if we grant that certain tendencies are much larger and more complex than humans can control (which i fully grant), what I find missing in U/ACC (probably due to a focus on corrective emphasis by you folks) is a gesture towards dealing or accepting or cultivating (or improving) human agency and related existential resources.

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      2. Of course, you address this “humanist” concern above in your original post, in a manner I quite enjoyed. But I’m not gesturing toward such humanist concerns for the sake of elevating or propping up the old regime of concerns that would place humanity at the core of all that needs referencing. I welcome the deflation of human arrogance and related theoretical sufficiency. What I’m cautioning is for U/ACC not to let the pendulum swing too far the other way to become complicit (and thus align with) with the tendencies that would lead to the eradication of human agency or its causal role in the mix of forces. There is room for both intentionality/interface and absorption in the evolution of things.

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    2. Ashley Yakeley

      The antipraxis is not doing nothing. It’s actively doing stuff — whatever you “want” to do — in the knowledge (or not) that those actions and desires are driven by larger forces, forces that, in many cases, we cannot meaningfully oppose without opposing ourselves.

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      1. Ashley,

        So U/ACC antipraxis is a praxis of intentional indecision with regards to how to respond to forces U/ACC adherents believe are “larger” and so ubiquitous that to not acquiesce to them would be inauthentic? Sounds identical to christian gnosticism in belief of their God. If U/ACC is so utterly about unconditioning then why does it hold certain beliefs about the accumulation and future of capital and the technium as absolute truth? The field of possible action is already conditioned by U/ACC’s strict dependence on their metaphysical framing of it.

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  2. I think you’re right to call out the left accelerationist’s humanism – their project of maximising self-mastery in either subjective or collective terms implies a questionable transcendental model of agency, even when draped in the usual Sellarsian drag. I think the logic of the response is unconditional in the negative sense – in being anthropologically unconstrained or unbound – yet also constructive, since the conditions of response cannot be framed transcendentally but only made.

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    1. Hello David,

      Are all humanistic stances necessarily based on a “transcendental model”? I come from an anthropology background and was exposed to a wide range of models and examples of selfhood and agency that suggest a very different set of possible interface opportunities between humans and nonhumans. The kinds of agency I’m interested in are contingent upon actual assembly and the various materials and intensities involved. That is, humanity is as malleable as it is available to extinction. In a milieu where hyper-connectivity, quantum computing, deep learning, A.I, biotechnology, etc. proliferate what it is (and not “what it means”) to be an embodied agental force is very much up for negotiation and experimentation. Unbound posthumansim, much like unconditioned accelerationism, seems to be yet another form of complicity. What fun is there is that?

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  4. How similar, if at all, is antipraxis to Moldbug’s (NRx) notion of passivism, as a contrast to activism​? I find the notion fascinating, it evades the trap of Marxist miserabelism and the exuberant high modernist managerial fantasies intimated by much of L/Acc. May have to make a short post as a rejoinder to this piece.

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  5. Pingback: Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis – tora.

  6. In reply to another of your posts I have written,

    “Unconditional Acceleration means no preferences. It means the process moves and the body follows. It means getting Taoist. It means wu wei. It means nondoing. It means nonpreference. It is an abstract ethics of acting in accordance with the process. This is an ancient way of thinking. It means nothing.”

    Among these Taoist/Chan/Zen terms is hidden a secret part of the Western tradition. To act in accord with the process is a recalibration of the Stoic mantra that we ought to act in accordance with nature, re-calibrated to drop the preference for their nature-God.

    The catastrophe runs ahead of us and we unfold it. This is no matter what we do. We could get really silly and talk about the Force. That is the Tao after all, the impersonal force that binds all things together in their unfolding, their coming apart. The humanist program is the one defined in opposition to this kind of thoughtless thinking. Wu Wei, action that does not follow from an instrumental reason, reason-less therefore, or, at the very least, open to the play of reasons. In the disquietism post it is phrased as ‘conceptless or acephalic flow.’ Edmund asks us to pay attention to anti-praxis as the ‘limits and the inevitable dissolution of things’ while Levi Bryant talks about antipraxis just as ‘a residue of praxis that comes to transform the nature of praxis, introducing new aims that were not our original aims.’

    To snap back to the question of acting in accordance, this is not an easy game. If my references to Taoism/Chan/Zen mean anything in this context, it is that acting in accordance with the process takes discipline/training. If nothing else the kind of meta-political aesthetics of U/ACC requires a period of adjustment to the reality that praxical projects ‘are rendered impossible in the long-run through overarching tendencies and forces.’

    Given all this, why aren’t L/ACC also U/ACC? The Humanism//Prometheanism maps directly onto hyperstition. The enter project of ItF is predicated on the positing of an hyperstitional modernity. Why does this not constitute a moment of knowingness regarding the techniques and mystiques of pretence?

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