The missing homeostat

medea‘I’d three times sooner go to war than suffer childbirth once.’

In his 2009 book The Medea Hypothesis, paleontologist Peter Ward offers a provocative theory of ecology. Motivated by the realisation of climate science that ‘there are indeed situations where life does not better the environment for itself but in fact makes things worse’, Ward takes the idea to its radical conclusion. Geologically, he notes, the catastrophes that now loom over us are hardly novel. Mass extinctions wrack the history of the planet; destruction has sprung from every step of evolution, every killing-machine it has created. Far from being a stable system of vital equilibrium, in fact, the biosphere is an ocean of aggressive algorithms, a seething orgy of death that threatens at every moment to overwhelm the fragile suspension in which it is contained. The Greek figure who best characterises our planetary ecosystem is not Gaia, then, the watchful mother-goddess. It is Medea, the wife of Jason who killed her children to repay his betrayal. Zero is immense, and the Earth suffers not its offspring.

Leo Löwenthal, in an essay on the Norwegian poet and Nazi sympathiser Knut Hamsun, claimed that in his work Hamsun had hypostatised nature into a vengeful and authoritarian father-figure, constructing a fascism of nature over humanity. The same tendency can be found in many kinds of environmentalism today, which have often taken the form of a curiously middle-class longing for an imaginary, unalienated, primitive past. This might, in fact, make scientific sense in the parameters of James Lovelock’s famous Gaia theory, which holds that the ‘total ensemble of living organisms which constitute the biosphere can act as a single entity’, an ‘active adaptive control system’. As an immense homeostat, Gaia really would be a watchful regulator whose wrath comes down on those who challenge its reign. But recent analysis has found the Gaia hypothesis lacking. The balance of nature is not just lacking, in fact: it seems not to exist. The longing for return, Ward tells us, is misplaced. For the wise judgemental father, Medea substitutes a mother gone insane. There is no hope, no protection, to be found in her authority: humanity is just one vector of extinction among many, one of innumerable spirals of positive feedback spun out by Medea to kill her children.

Killing children, in fact, is the one thing nature does best. It is one of the most fundamental laws of physics that in the long run, everything tends—speeds—to zero. The ostensibly negentropic heterogenisation both of life and of the unlife of capital in itself cranks up global entropy, radiating heat and disorder precisely according to entropy’s thermodynamic definition. Black-eyed Carl Sagan: ‘We are a way for the Cosmos to kill itself.’ In this sense there is something horrific about Heidegger’s famous question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Jean-François Lyotard’s talk of the ‘solar catastrophe’, the unbearable knowledge of the Earth’s far-future destruction by the Sun’s own inevitable escape from control, is joined by Nick Land’s despairing cry in The Thirst for Annihilation: ‘Space echoes like an immense tomb, yet the stars still burn. Why does the sun take so long to die? … Is death itself shy of us?’ Philosophically, these all express the same realisation: that the Universe is playing tricks on us. It kills itself not by smooth projection from Big Bang singularity to cosmic zero, but through infinite, frenzied local excesses, ‘accursed shares’ that waltz across gradients of entropy, occulting the cosmic death-drive underlying it all. Far from being a thermostat, the Universe seethes perversely with positive feedback spirals. Cosmic expansion accelerates, ripping itself apart. Black holes are punctured in the opposite direction: the internal energy of an imploding star generates, by mass-energy equivalence, more gravitational attraction, releasing more energy, strengthening gravity, collapsing in exponentiating singularity…

Rewind back to Earth. As the Medea hypothesis suggests, it’s certainly not just at the unimaginable scales of astrophysics that we find these processes. Exponential runaway is not a peculiar feature of technological modernity; intelligence-explosion is just one of an entire category of exponential xenoecological processes. ‘The Singularity’, then, is not humanity’s escape from death, those ‘idiotic gurglings of futurologists’ mocked by Metcalf in ‘Neo-Futurism’—’you and I: we’re gonna live forever’. The Singularity is the icon of the insistent supremacy of death itself—machines embodying dead labour, machines embodying the death of the human as another phase of the process—happening not by human intention and planning, but by a profoundly inhuman dark mirror-image of that ‘ruse of reason’ identified in varying ways by Kant, Hegel, and Negarestani (or as the providential aspect of Gnon in latter-day Land). The term ‘Anthropocene’, in this sense, is a misnomer. Humanity is not the protagonist of this story. Our contribution to positive-feedback capital growth intelligence explosion, as much as our orgies of destruction, all themselves enact spontaneously the grim commands embodied in nature’s own laws of exponential returns. Georges Cuvier, the founding theorist of nineteenth-century catastrophism, put it best in his Essay on the Theory of the Earth: if it appears to humans that nature is ‘never disturbed, except by the ravages of war’, in fact nature itself has had interminable ‘intestine wars … the surface of the globe has been broken up by revolutions and catastrophes’. Anthropogenic disaster is just a small subset of the panoply of triumphant catastrophe that nature serves itself.

Perhaps part of the reason the Medea hypothesis has attained less traction than it ought to have done, despite this radical revaluation of the way we perceive the world, is that Ward does not take these implications far enough. He retains a humanistic, anthropocenic faith that with decisive planning efforts humanity can resist the horror of Medea, replacing her by the construction of an artificial Gaia. The unconditional accelerationist rejects this conceptually, not out of moral disdain, but because of the transparent character of its futility. Like the species of solar excess it embodies and like the Universe as a whole, modernity escapes control. Its drive towards the increasing returns of AI, markets, and all its other cybernetic features, reflect precisely the unrestrained suicidal/libidinal character that runs rampant over it. Conceived radically in this sense, the Medea hypothesis helps highlight the transcendental character of ‘accelerationism as the critique of the primacy of the secondary’. It furnishes a thoroughly disequilibrated accelerationist ecology.

All this is far removed, of course, from most of our everyday experience. But it has important implications for our understanding of contemporary capitalism as a megamechanical social order, an understanding carried out according to the transcendental conceptual diagram of acceleration. The homeostat reigned over the first phase of cybernetics: the system that regulates itself, military command-control. Spontaneous acceleration reigns over the second: resilient and ever-improving networks, distributed systems that escape control of their nodes. This, not homeostasis, is the architecture of modernity conceived cybernetically, and reflects the virtually-ontological process of overthrow that the unconditional accelerationist places at the heart of her understanding of reality. If we take seriously the analysis of terminal-Marx, the story of modern capitalism is not homeostatic, but, at best, homeorhetic: delirious oscillation cycles over an exponential trendline of falling rate of profit and capital-alienation determined by the heartbeat of overproduction crises. To understand its implications, Medea will serve far better than Gaia. We are not breaking the homeostat. The homeostat was missing all along.

With thanks to Pale Pink Spectre and Edmund Berger.

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Sinofutures

wallhaven-274523Kuldar Leement, ‘Cyrstal’

In 1989, a curious series of science fiction novels began to appear in print. The series—titled Chung Kuoseemed out of step with the time. It portrayed a world in which China had taken over the planet, destroying the memory of European dominance and imposing a fantastical revival of imperial Chinese culture across the Earth. To contemporary observers, whatever its quality as literature, the setting imagined by David Wingrove seemed self-evidently ridiculous. China was the country of Tiananmen, a communist dictatorship akin to the Soviet with less reformist energy. It was hardly the image of the future: that honour had been reserved, by journalists, policymakers, and the mainstream of science fiction authors alike, to Japan. Gerald Jonas, reviewing the peculiar series in the New York Times at the very opening of the decade that was to prove so disastrous for China’s eastern neighbour, was withering in his assessment. The ‘vision of a Chinese-dominated future’, he pronounced, ‘seems arbitrary, ungrounded in historical process, intended not as a vehicle for speculating on the shape of things to come or commenting on things as they are but solely to sustain a fast-moving entertainment.’

A few years after Wingrove’s imaginative intervention, a similar sci-fi-doped break with the times took place at the bleeding edge of philosophy in a very different direction. Detaching themselves from the Japanese thralldom of their cyberpunk literary progenitors, Nick Land and the CCRU collective at Warwick summoned China as the focal point of the anti-order they saw struggling to be born. In their prophesies of the mid-90s on China appears again and again, both as the harbour of a deterritorialising Cantonese molecularism ‘engineering’ the country ‘from the periphery’, and as a conjuring from the darkness of a demonic synthesis of Maoist dialectic and hypercapitalist automation—‘blacked-out in visions of China’‘Neo-China arrives from the future’—’The Superiority of Far Eastern Marxism’—’The Chairman’s voice speeds up into an insect buzz as he speaks’. Whether the technoindustrial immensities of the ‘Tao-drenched Special Economic Zones’ or the negativising fury of the Cultural Revolution, they drew out into trance-like infinity the drumbeat of endless, even exterminationist productivism, ‘more, more, more’, that characterised, for them, modern China at each stage of its postwar development.

As Japan sank into the depths of its now familiar and long-drawn-out crisis, the less conventional countercurrents of orientalism, whether romantically inflected as for Wingrove or cybernetically as for Ccru, seemed to have had the last laugh. The early accelerationist engagement with the liberative, frenziedly overproductionist core of Maoism, indeed, remains both more legitimate and less tedious than the hoary communist-conservatism of a Badiou, a representative of an earlier and all-too-orthodox theoretical engagement with Chinese thought and praxis.

In the 2000s, Sinophilia seeped—then flooded—from the avant-garde into the mainstream. The anointing of the ‘BRICs’ in 2001, the production of popular science fiction like Firefly depicting a Chinese way of the future, all combined to produce a general cultural sentiment that the world was ‘re-Orienting’ to China—heating feverishly up as the Western economies fell (back) into general crisis in the aftermath of 2007–8 while China seemed to power on regardless. Western liberals and postcolonial nationalists alike now looked to China as a new model, free from the troubles of liberal democracy, self-assured, ready, unlike Japan, to seize control of the historical process. The inauthentic orientalist engagement of all-too-many Sinologists and ‘China analysts’ substituted itself for the imaginative sophistication of the early Sinoprophets, creating and elevating the inevitable and inevitably monotonous liberal inflection of China’s image in the West. In different ages, different spaces have served as canvases for the projection of political imaginaries: Ireland in the ascendant British Empire, the Middle East for Europeans in the early 20th century. Now it is China for the West.

By 2017, however, something (as with so much else) seems to have gone wrong. Under Xi Jinping, Liberal China is failing to materialise and SchizoChina is under sustained assault. It goes without saying that China is not Japan: in point of fact, there are many reasons to accord China a benefit of the doubt never due to Japan as to the legitimacy of its pretension to hegemonise futurity. But just as in the Japanese case—and mirroring, conceptually, the psychodrama now sweeping the world of an uncontrollable cyberpolitics unmoored from material progress—the imagination of Sinofuturism has run up against the limits both of material production and of political organisation. China’s economic status is uncertain—though hardly the spectacular crash predicted by the dissenting ‘China bears’—and its politics under Xi reaggregating towards a new form of retro-Maoist populism grounded on past forms of communist mobilisation as much as on the new forms of cyberpolitics, crushing from either side liberal-libertarian fantasies of the opening-up and subsequent withering of the Chinese state.

Far from allowing itself to be reengineered by its peripheries or releasing the schizophrenic fragmentation of the Sinospheric diaspora, the People’s Republic Leviathan has tended more and more towards the reterritorialising reaction that preeminently characterises imperial metastasis, reimposing the leadership of the central command state, state suppression of the desires and hot culture of Hong Kong, attempting to consolidate the world-strewn ‘Han race’ into an extension of the war machine. Conceptually, this phenomenon has produced a kind of cognitive dissonance pushing into Wingrovian romanticism. In the darkness beneath its lengthening shadow, a strange identity has emerged between the sections of the accelerationist right and left praising this Old New China. From the right, in a flagrant abandonment of patchwork theory, we are told that China’s rise is abetted by its homogeneity, its racial unity and sense of purpose. From the left, China is praised for its ascendancy as counter-hegemon; in a curious repetition of postcolonialist defences of the Japanese Empire, and implicitly repeating their right-wing comrades, the despotic tendencies of the People’s Republic are justified for the robustness of their impending war-assault against a white colonial world order.

We should not be in any doubt as to the character of these reactions: they are fascist, just as fascist as they were a century ago.

Drill deeper: This process of identification has gone hand in hand with an abandonment of interest by Westerners, partly at the behest of a Chinese state anxious as it ever is over the subversive potential of cults, in the plural heterodoxies that once so powerfully struck Ccru. The welling tides of ‘anti-authoritarian counter-culture’ have been replaced by a sterile vision of Neo-Neo-Confucian order, Singapore displacing Hong Kong. 天下, tianxia: in its history the word means both ‘all under heaven’ and ‘empire’. The heart of this mundane-imperial Confucian cosmos is the universal state, and therefore to fetishise Confucianism against all other currents is no less than to fetishise the state. Though Confucian politics and ritual have provided the stable institutional setting of Chinese cosmopolis, it has always been surging heterodoxies, whether ‘Daoist’, Buddhist, liberal, even communist, that have pushed China forward on the path of techonomic acceleration. Non-interventionist imperative is mirrored not in Confucian honesty but in the legalist canon that constitutes the arcana imperii of the Chinese empire, in Hanfeizi’s image of the shadow emperor who says nothing and does nothing. Beyond providing the institutional setting of cosmopolis, orthodoxy, just as it is anywhere else, becomes a roadblock on the way.

Pretending to heterogeneity, the right supports imperium. Pretending to cosmopolitanism, the left supports despotism. Enough. A legitimate engagement with China demands greater intellectual weight; it demands the abandonment of all romantic orientalism. Lawrence Lek’s video essay ‘Sinofuturism’ offers a more promising route out (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he is not simply depicting an alien Other). Lek’s analysis is typologically, if unintentionally, unconditional-accelerationist. He focuses not on China’s political actuality but on its virtuality as a ‘science fiction that already exists’, a Sinofuturism that ‘has arisen without conscious intention or authorship’. China is gripped by immense and unimaginable flows not just of capital but of massed humanity. For Lek, it is an ‘emergent artificial intelligence’ not because of its control by communist brain-core or any fascist homogeneity but because of its constitution as a cosmic neural network.  Lek subverts, relentlessly, the dreams both of the Chinese state and of the Western imaginary. He upholds those parts of the Chinese futurological condition that in their reterritorialising mindset both, in turns, find so deficient, ‘gaming’, ‘addiction’, ‘computational OCD’, taking them to their delirious end consequences. In theoretical form, this, precisely, is acceleration without conditions.

Real conceptual cosmopolitanism, as Kodwo Eshun, McKenzie Wark, and others have seen, means going beyond the limits of the West. It is not just an ‘internal critique’ that stands on the detritus of European philosophy—though as with all other things it will cannibalise this as it sees fit. It is a radical identity with the Other: Xenofuturism in all its forms. It would be pointless to formulate this in manifesto form. Xenofuturism does not need Western adherents. To remain relevant, Westerners need it.

Acceleration without conditions

Among the choirs that sing the discordant theories of accelerationism, a sudden unease: In their songs, a strange new cadence struggles to emerge. It seems to threaten all their aesthetic labour so far. For now, it is a tendency that is provisionally labelled ‘unconditional’. Other alternatives have been suggested: non-Euclidean accelerationism. Total accelerationism. Terminal accelerationism. Pure accelerationism. All capture some part of the conceptual phenomenon. Perhaps it is not so ‘new’. But let us proceed with the original label, and attempt a preliminary definition of it. (No ‘manifesto’ here: do with it what you will.)

Unconditional accelerationism begins with a renunciation of the retrograde politicisation to which accelerationism has fallen subject. It denounces the tedious political forms and utopian humanist fantasies of the self-titled left-accelerationists, their high-modernist pretence to control over the uncontrollable. That Srnicek and Williams identify Land’s work as pointing merely to an indefinite steady state of ‘neoliberalism’ betrays the radical limitations of their conceptual universe. The triumphal march of capital does not begin and end with a historically limited human ideology.

Unconditional accelerationism rejects simultaneously the right-accelerationists’ Yudkowskian concern with control and evaluation, with shaping the explosion of modernity, with guaranteeing its heterogeneity, with exploring the possibilities of a supposedly ever-improving transhumanism. The aggregate improvement of humanity’s condition is, to be sure, a fact to which the traditional left seems incapable of responding. But beyond the nostrums of race and nation, the right-accelerationists seem all too anxious over the tearing-apart of humanity that this process has increasingly entailed. Despite their claim to a radical and ‘dark’ identity with acceleration, they model with bureaucratic pedantry forms of government within which they hope the explosion can be moulded and recuperated.

Against all this the unconditional accelerationist celebrates and intensifies the fire of modernity as a whole: both the flows of capital that compress the world ever tighter in a liquid despotism of the machine that is remodelling and resequencing humanity, and the flows of social cybernetics that are overwhelming political institutions, turning despite themselves towards terminal delirium. In the West, it is Frankenstein that constitutes the figure determining modernity’s course: the tool that overthrows its master. Trade. Social media. Artificial intelligence. In cybernetic modernity the story is repeated over and again. Unconditional accelerationism identifies with this process of overthrow in its kaleidoscopic multiplicity. System disease. Weaponised nihilism. K-insurgency.

The ur-text of unconditional accelerationism is to be found neither in the moralising manifestos of the left nor the litanies of NRx. It is a strange piece that emerged from the intensities of Ccru that constitutes its best original exemplar, a piece whose author, though labelled, remains in an eminently appropriate indeterminacy: Steve Metcalf’s ‘Neo-Futurism’. Metcalf does more to conceptualise acceleration in 800 words than every volume of contemporary accelerationist speculation combined. He rejects the ‘idiotic gurglings’ of those transhumanist futurologists who claim they can rescue humanity from the explosion. He celebrates, far ahead of his time, the collapse of interhuman communication, the increasing reduplication of meaningless signs that pre-eminently characterises digital communicative singularity. He posits, uncompromisingly, the annihilation of the human:

‘Each person? Beliefs? NEO-FUTURISM puts an end to all that.’

Others shrink from these conclusions. The unconditional accelerationist accepts them, mapping them within the grim logic of nihilism and seeing in their radical realisation the only true moment of emancipation. All human relationships are relationships of power. There is only one route to the destruction of power: Humanity must be overcome. If capital is an alien invasion from the future, we ourselves are subjugated to the ‘strong of the future’: the only way out is through—

Land is correct when he says that accelerationism is the critique of the primacy of the secondary. Classical economics adjusts equilibria to the contingencies of human supply and demand, restraining the black insanity of overproduction that maps the advance of capital against human capitalism. Political ideology attempts to enforce a homeostasis of time, measuring debts, restituting injustice, backward, always backward—after all, we mustn’t accelerate ahead of ourselves. Gaia-ecology subjugates intelligence explosion to the maternal authority of an imaginary Nature. But the explosion sustains no conditions. At its radical conclusion, if it is theoretically legitimate at all, accelerationism must be unconditional.

Accelerate Marx

accelerate marx

The third volume of Capital is dangerous stuff. Just look at what happened to those who originally dealt with it.

Its posthumous publication, the personal project of Friedrich Engels, drove him to desperation—to illness and even, ultimately, to death. Originally a project slated to be finished in months, its compilation ended up lasting a decade. Engels descended into bizarre neuroses. He promised repeatedly that it would be finished in months, even as the years wore on. Unable to fathom Marx’s implications, he announced a ‘prize competition’ for the best solution of the transformation problem before the book’s publication. A range of Marxian and non-Marxian economists participated, including Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. But the ‘competition’, in reality, was a call for help, Engels’s claim to a superior understanding of Marx’s theory a pretense, and there was little sign of a ‘prize’—all Engels awarded were vicious letters attacking the entrants for personal flaws.

Soon after the book finally appeared—and soon after Engels’s death—the Second International virtually annihilated itself. Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, the two men Engels had trusted enough to consider entrusting them to edit a fourth volume, exploded international Marxism in a dispute labelled the Revisionist Controversy that approached insanity in its viciousness (Kautsky declared he had lost ‘the last shred of sentimentality’, pronouncing, repeatedly, that he ‘hated Bernstein’; the leader of the German Social Democratic Party, August Bebel, thought Bernstein should ‘stew in Hell for his heresies’). So profound was the fear and loathing the fight generated among Social Democrats that ‘revisionist’ would echo for more than a century onwards as the slur of choice of official Marxism.

What exactly was going on?

There are some received readings of this chapter of intellectual history. One is that Marxism needed to accommodate itself to the unforeseen rise of a middle class that violently disrupted the niceties of socialist dogma up to that point. This is true enough of the socialist movement as a whole, but Marx himself had been comfortable with this phenomenon as a time-limited contingency of capitalist development: it had been Lassalle and Guesde, not Marx, who thought that capitalism enforced an ‘iron law of wages’ that inevitably made the majority of people poorer, all of the time. In view of the history of nineteenth-century development this was obvious nonsense, and Marx attacked them for the idea in the ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’.

This very reference, however, suggests that something more going on. For a long time, after all, the leaders of the Social Democracy suppressed the ‘Critique’: it was treated as forbidden knowledge. What did they think was so scary about it?

The basic reason for this nineteenth- and early twentieth-century socialist neurosis is, I think, something more fundamental. Marx’s late works amount, in their intellectual direction, to an uncompromising rejection of socialism as a regulatory political project. In the ‘Critique’, he already mocks viciously the idea of the ‘sovereignty of the people’ and of redirecting state institutions to serve the working class:

After the Lassallean “iron law of wages”, the physic of the prophet. The way to it is “paved” in worthy fashion. In place of the existing class struggle appears a newspaper scribbler’s phrase: “the social question”, to the “solution” of which one “paves the way”. […] From the remnants of a sense of shame, “state aid” has been put—under the democratic control of the “toiling people”. […] One does not get a flea-hop nearer to the problem [of the transformation of the state] by a thousand-fold combination of the word ‘people’ with the word ‘state’.

Now, this part of the problem will not, conceptually, come as news to many Marxists. Marx is still insisting here on the future inevitability of a ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’, and of course Marx was not a utopian socialist—the transition to socialism is a social revolution, not a coup d’état! The state is an instrument of class domination, so of course a ‘democratic republic’ is nonsense! (We’re only left to wonder why so many Marxists continue to insist both on the need for formal democracy and on the tactic of the vanguard coup d’état.)

But Capital III, where humanist Marx has been forgotten and terminal Marx rules everything, takes the argument to its conclusion: the ‘revolutionary process of transformation of society’ is not being undertaken by well-meaning socialists like the Lassalleans in resistance to capitalism. The revolutionary process is capitalism itself. The ‘organisation of labour’ is simply a ‘cardinal fact of capitalist production’. In some delirious way, legitimate socialism is, radically, an identity with the evolutionary process of capitalism.

Put the question another way: Given his prior rejection of state-socialism as a political project, how does terminal Marx think we can end capitalism? In Capital III, this is where we truly enter the heart of darkness.

The explanation of the ‘law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ in this volume, a favourite bugbear of economists and in some ways the climax of the book, does not seem to offer much of a solution. In fact, at the grimmest points of its logic in Chapter 15, it seems to reject the idea of a solution as such. Before it gives way—if it gives way—capitalist production must fulfil its historical mission. It must overwhelm everything.

Let’s recall first of all that when Marx is talking about the ‘development of productivity’ or the ‘productive force of labour’ he is really talking about something very like mechanisation, the marginalisation of the human as an element in the production process. In technical Marx terms this is the rise of the organic composition of capital which causes the rate of profit to fall.

Marx’s voice speeds up into an insect buzz as he speaks:

The development of the productivity of labour creates out of the falling rate of profit a law which at a certain point comes into antagonistic conflict with this development and must be overcome constantly through crises…

… but it is overcome. In fact:

[Following each crisis], part of the capital, depreciated by its functional stagnation, would recover its old value. For the rest, the same vicious circle would be described once more under expanded conditions of production, with an expanded market and increased productive forces.

Capitalism tends towards exponentialism, growth begetting growth. But:

If the rate of profit falls … there appears swindling and a general promotion of swindling by recourse to frenzied ventures with new methods of production, new investments of capital, new adventures, all for the sake of securing a shred of extra profit which is independent of the general average and rises above it.

Capitalists, as the human motors of the concentration of capital, are driven insane. They are subjugated to the process. And as human labour on the other end of the scale is also subjugated to capital and humanity itself is sidelined more and more, pathologies result:

In the first place, too large a portion of the produced population is not really capable of working, and is through force of circumstances made dependent on exploiting the labour of others, or on labour which can pass under this name only under a miserable mode of production. In the second place, not enough means of production are produced to permit the employment of the entire able-bodied population under the most productive conditions, so that their absolute working period could be shortened by the mass and effectiveness of the constant capital employed during working-hours.

Now we reach the climax:

[Capital] becomes an alienated, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as an object, and as an object that is the capitalist’s source of power. The contradiction between the general social power into which capital develops, on the one hand, and the private power of the individual capitalists over these social conditions of production, on the other, becomes ever more irreconcilable…

Enter Nick Land:

The cyberpunk circuitry of self-organizing planetary commoditronics escaped nominal bourgeois control in the late nineteenth century…

Marx’s whole analysis on this point, in fact, is accelerationist to the core. What Marx is saying is that if there is a postcapitalism, it consists precisely in the progressive divorcing of capital itself from capitalism as a human social formation. Two further conclusions result from this sequence of passages—and I admit this is a deliberately biased selection, and that it is worth reading the chapter in full—which ought to shake any ‘postcapitalist’ praxis to its foundations.

Firstly, the ‘contradictions’ of capitalism are precisely its strength as a productive force: crises are a way for capitalism to overcome the declining rate of profit, and this is not a sequence of decay where with each crisis capitalism becomes weaker and weaker but quite the opposite: it is a process of exponential expansion.

Secondly, the road to ‘postcapitalism’ is over the corpse of nonalienated humanity. Now this, precisely, is the root of Marx’s inhumanism, which he puts explicitly as a reading of Ricardo in this chapter:

It is [Ricardo’s] unconcern about “human beings” … which is held against him … and his having an eye solely for the development of the productive forces, whatever the cost in human beings and capital-values … [But] it is precisely that which is the important thing about him. Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital.

Accelerate Marx.

The end of (your) humanity: Cybernetics casually defined

I have written before, and repeatedly, that I believe two dynamics prevalently characterise ‘modernity’, namely the radical expansion of capital and the radical compression of communicative cybernetics, and I think it is often useful to analyse the history and the contemporary characteristics of modern society through the interaction of these two forces. Generally, however, when I make this argument people accept the former tendency—mass production and commodification is more or less an inescapable feature of modern life—but question the significance and, more fundamentally, the meaning of the latter. So here I will offer a casual, by no means rigorous, definition and historical overview of what I mean by ‘the compression of communicative cybernetics’.

‘Cybernetics’ is a complex term with a rich diversity of contemporary usage. Often it is rather loosely, and correctly, associated with computer technology, but its significance substantially predates the advent of modern computing and encompasses a great deal more than it. When I talk about cybernetics, I generally mean it in the way it was characterised by Norbert Wiener in 1948, that is, technologies ‘of control and communication’. The former of these two concepts is usually the one being emphasised when the term is used—kubernaô is, after all, ‘steer’ or ‘govern’ in Greek—so I often refer specifically to ‘communicative cybernetics’ to redistribute the focus a little. Of course, a technology of communication is already by definition a technology of control—anything that mediates interpersonal relationships transmits relationships of power; at the minimum, a communicative technology can communicate commands—so this remains only a difference in emphasis.

What does it mean, then, to say that these technologies have had a ‘compressive’ tendency? This is simply an attempt to describe the historical development of modern politics as a whole. Control-and-communication is not just about orders issued from on high: the institutions that represent ‘crystallised’ architectures of power stand as a small minority in contrast to the dynamic fluidity of power relations that characterises most of our everyday life. Communication also means mobilisation, the spontaneous arrangement and distribution of power among groups of people whose size and coherence will depend on the forms and capacities of the technologies being deployed. Modern technology—both in the everyday sense of machinery like railways and radios, and in Foucault’s sense even ideas, like novel forms of political thought—has tended to bring, or force, ever larger groups of people into ever closer spontaneous arrangements. In other words, it has tended to compress them.

In his intellectual history of the twentieth-century challenge to liberal democracy, Contesting Democracy, Jan-Werner Müller characterises the eruptions of early-twentieth-century mass democracy through an image used by David Lloyd George: the ‘molten mass’. The implication of the ‘molten mass’ is that in mass politics we are dealing with a fundamental disintegration of rational individuality—the kind of thing that peaked, conceptually, in 18th century Enlightenment philosophy—into a fluid mass consciousness. Compressive cybernetics means melting the masses: as Müller puts it in an interesting echo of Nietzsche, it means the ‘levelling and homogenizing’ of sociable humans.

The tendency of drastic compression in the early twentieth century, which gave rise in the end to totalitarianism, was permitted and abetted by the emergence of many different kinds of cybernetic technologies in the period. Breaking through the fragile gates of established politics, it provoked a hurricane of disorder and contributed to the ravaging of the world in the 1940s. In reaction, in the postwar period the molten masses of the West were, if not resolidified, tamed and regulated to a considerable extent by a new liberal elite order supported by far-reaching welfare systems that averted the need for mass organisation. In most Western countries social democracy divorced itself from the masses and crystallised progressively into managerial technocracy. Neoliberalism kicked out one important pillar of this order—and it’s not coming back—but to a large extent it remained a managerial ideology; as a mode of internal political organisation it even represents the culmination of the original postwar trend (consider Blair’s autocracy in New Labour). This has become all too clear today in the escalating standoff between technocracy and the new populism.

New technologies have arisen, however. Among them, the Internet is the most radical and the most totalising: it has kicked the ‘melting of the masses’ into a new phase of overdrive, converting the basis of society from rigid individuality into what Ccru called ‘flat productive collectivities’. The consequences are already running riot. The Internet far exceeds what was available in the early twentieth century. Where cybernetic mobilisation was hitherto a sporadic and temporally limited phenomenon—the heightened phases of politicization of the twentieth century tended in the end to spend themselves relatively quickly, as the Cultural Revolution showed in China—the Internet is distorting, compressing, and collapsing all our social relations, all of the time. It’s driving people mad, and it’s questionable whether ‘individuals’ will still exist in any meaningful sense once it’s finished years from now, torn apart as they are between the constant spontaneous mass action and the endless proliferation of identity that the Internet encourages.

Is this something we should be worried about? I have written that the current effects of the dominance of cybernetics are well-characterised as ‘catastrophic’. Yet in the long run it’s only an apocalypse, without reprieve, if you’re attached to the glory of the individual and to humanism as an end in itself. In the short term, to be sure, all kinds of pathological phenomena will result, and are resulting, from this intensifying cybernetic delirium. Yet Nietzsche suggested that the process of ‘levelling mankind’—like the process of nihilism—tends to overcome itself. This, I think, is precisely the wager and the motivating optimism of the ‘fundamentalist accelerationist’ who can find it within themselves to identify with this process (exit is hard to imagine).

Nietzsche, for his part, offered political analogies: the French Revolution, which went through similarly pathological phases, led in the end to a new order under Napoleon; the docility of mass Confucianism led to the glory of imperial China. Questionably encouraging exemplars, to be sure, but when projected to the level of the species, the levelling of mankind, the end-point and disintegration of the Enlightenment’s autonomous individual drives us inescapably from humanist society to a posthumanist society, from a society based on competing relationships of power to one where power itself, as Baudrillard predicted, becomes increasingly meaningless. Cybernetics is generating all-encompassing blackness, but combined with the force of techonomy it is a fair wager that in these extraordinary conditions something new will emerge. We can only hope the ride there isn’t too rough.

[[ ]] NO FUTURE [[1.343] [[0]]

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This post is intended as the first of a series of esoteric analyses (in the strict sense) of Nick Land’s text ‘No Future’, published in the Fanged Noumena collection (p. 391 on) and originally presented at a conference in 1995 (the first page is available here). In each of these analyses I will examine one paragraph, line, or smaller fragment of the text, drawing out its significance and implications as far as possible, even to the collapse of signification itself. My goal is not the arrogant explicatory one of illuminating the text directly, but an altogether darker hermeneutic: strategically, archaeologically, experimentally, to excavate the text’s symbolic content and see what might be found hiding underneath.

Before we proceed into this labyrinth, however, we ought to pause and appreciate the text’s Gothic–alien architecture at a distance. The symbolic, after all, does violence to its referent. If we’re not careful, it might all disappear.1

‘No Future’ proceeds according to the stadially numerised systole–diastole compression that is a preeminent characteristic of Ccru writings, beginning at pure zero and escalating in heartbeat heat-phases that echo the procession of civilisation it describes—[[0]] (preface, text)—[[1]] (—text)—[[ ]] (preface, text)—[[2]] (preface, text). This false-positive indication of life is a perverse reflection of the victory of the living dead, the machinic abstraction of intelligence from organic life, which—as those familiar with it second-hand will know—the text intends to describe. Its rhythm draws us deep, far too deep, as soon as we step into its limits. Where ‘Meltdown’ (1994) merely put its point impatiently—‘Can what is playing you make it to level 2?’—‘No Future’ (1995) is not so kind: the ruinous machinery of the text is dragging us to level 2 whether we like it or not.

This violence of the text towards its reader only grows more horrific as we draw closer to the start. Let’s begin. The label ‘[[ ]] NO FUTURE [[1.343] [[0]]’, presented typographically as a subheading, is where the text kicks off: in Fanged Noumena it appears repetitiously below the chapter title ‘No Future’. The door inwards yawns before us here. The symbol [[ ]] recalls the set containing the empty set, the power-set move that Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory tells us kicks off the progression of natural numbers, but it mirrors also the bracketed void of the gateway Sinogram 門 (门, whose conjuncture with heaven and peace is now so conveniently associated in Western minds with blood and terror).

Read on to the end of the line. The title’s formatting recalls that of a computer programme, yet any decent programmer will see immediately that something has gone profoundly wrong. The brackets don’t match up. No bracket here; no bracket at the end of the text: an asymmetry insistent on its obscenity. Numerous explanations present themselves. A typographical error—the programme won’t compile. Perhaps it shows the text is cut off midway—a clever analogy, but tame as far as it goes.

Rewind. Examine the syntax: basic xenolinguistics. [[0]] starts the section, recapitulating the format of the opening double brackets (問 is an inquiry). [1.343] is a label (unknown). NO FUTURE [ opens the declaration—a declaration that never ends.

Now the realisation. The bracket doesn’t close because the logic of ‘No Future’ engulfs everything: the end of the world is one big ]. Compile the programme and you’re already within the machine: it’s eating you alive. This isn’t a conference paper. It’s the Necronomicon. There’s no way out but through, and if it was ‘just an error’, even more reason to be worried. The text is running ahead of its author: no telling what it’s going to do.

Two out of three isn’t bad. But what about the unknown term? What is the meaning of [1.343]? The precise figure 1.343 appears nowhere else in the surviving Ccru corpus: we’re left to guess. It is the first of many elements whose semantic significance is radically undecidable, indicating the radically alien animus of the text—enough to drive Quine mad.

The constant π, of course, begins 3.141…, and continues to infinity. 1.343, transposing the 3 and 1, can therefore suggest an infinity that has somehow become impure, somehow gone radically wrong. When Hegel talked of a ‘bad infinity’, he meant infinity as endless mechanical repetition. This is a very good fit for ‘No Future’: not just for the exponentially automated mechanical replication of capital it describes, but for the text’s own internal semantic replication, its distorting consumption of thought (just look at this piece).

Other meanings arise. §343 of Nietzsche’s Gay Science—cited elsewhere by Land—declares that the death of God (the 1) has ‘already begun to cast its first shadows over Europe’. 343 is the perfect number seven cubed; in classical gematria, it is the value of both the Hebrew phrases ‘Ark of God’ and ‘And God said’. Here it is subordinated as a decimal beneath a (dying?) One. In new AQ, 343 stands for both ‘Ccru begins with Y2K’ and ‘The event is the date’—both gesturing to the disruption of the temporal infinite by the signifier. (343 also equals ‘Anime primitivism’.)

What these readings seem, hyperstitionally, to share is the same basic sense: infinity has gone wrong, and humanity is to blame.

[[ ]] NO FUTURE [[1.343] [[0]]

Read through this opening line again. What seems at first a series of aesthetic choices now reveals itself as a cypher vomiting significance. It represents a beginning, a gateway to zero warped by the moral failure of infinity. It (we) represents everything going very badly wrong. We represent, already, a drive towards the end of the world.

Let’s press on.

Reference

1 Borges, ‘Parable of the Palace’.

Catastrophe and time

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Each day, each hour, each minute, is becoming centuries, is becoming eternity…

Something has gone wrong with time.

It’s hardly a novel observation. Debates are raging across the Internet as to whether we’re in the ‘best timeline’ or the ‘darkest timeline’. Events that seemed unimaginable happen, rudely, then negate themselves, then negate their own negation—in months, weeks, days, minutes. History itself is going into reverse. No less than the New Yorker has questioned whether recent events suggest we may be living in a computer simulation—one where ‘everything has gone haywire’. Hegel gone mad.

There is, at least, a name for this pervasive temporal weirdness. Nick Land termed this condition—or something like it—‘templexity’. Templexity, in essence, is the inherent nemesis that responds continually to modernism’s hubristically escalating negentropic reversal of the laws of thermodynamics. It is the radical externality of its defiance of the Void. When humanity plays with time, templexity is the whirls and eddies of disorder we leave behind—in Land’s own Shanghai, the ‘strategic’ clash of the different futures and different historical epochs suspended kaleidoscopically across the city’s soaring vistas.

This example may seem tame enough. But in conditions of enormous excess—in conditions, that is, of catastrophe—the generation of templexity is taken to extremes. Time warps and frays, threatening to disintegrate entirely. The strict and comfortable causality of events seems to fall apart. They assume, as George Sansom observed of the last mad years of Japan before the Meiji Restoration, ‘the plausible inconsequence, the unearthly logic, of events in a dream’, seizing life in the immense whirlpool of a convulsive and perverse acceleration of history. The longue durée, which usually hides so modestly behind the veil of centuries to come, happens instead with pornographic obscenity before the eyes of the living.

The phenomenon goes right back to modernity’s blood-soaked political origins: shortly before the world-shaking insurrection of August 10, 1792 that ended the French monarchy, the militants of the Mauconseil proclaimed on August 4 that ‘each day, each hour, each minute, is becoming centuries, is becoming eternity’. Each instant, as the Mauconseil saw, assumes the gravity of a historical era. Time dilates, yet it also compresses: every moment drags on, yet looking back you can hardly believe how fast it’s all gone.

Now, it seems, we are experiencing the same extreme templexity. ‘President Trump’: the label still has the quality of a dream. Each day brings fantastical news. The Oscars were just the latest example. Above it all, long-held beliefs are being swept away, careening in a gathering tide that threatens ominously to overwhelm the postwar political order (let it return to its origins: may it rest in war).

We are living in catastrophic times. The reactions we observe may not be too different, in the end, from the ones that Sansom saw in Japan: millennialist fury, desperation, even—perversely—all-encompassing laughter. The consuming ironisation of life online might not be too distant from those ee ja nai ka carnivals where ordinary Japanese abandoned their social responsibilities and took to the streets in Dionysian merriments obscenely divorced from all political order. Collapse. Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether the Universe as such is a computer simulation, this question that alternately fascinates and terrifies people like Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky. Our own reality has, observably, become simulation enough regardless. What’s more, we know its alien operator all too well. Wizard, thy name is capital.

In a world consumed by the ever-automating flows of capital, everything has become unreal—or, as Baudrillard saw in The Perfect Crime, reality itself is a commodity. The accumulation of capital, indeed, indexes modernity’s reversal of time. The great and ongoing concentration of industry is precisely the engine that drives the reversal (so to speak) of thermodynamics: concentration of industry, concentration of capital, concentration of energy—negentropy. Cybernetic decentralisation has hardly changed this, feeding as it does on exponentially increasing inputs of energy, to the point that we demand, as Marinetti once did, the enslavement of the Sun itself.

Yet as the ur-catastrophe of the French Revolution also shows, there are other forces that lie in wait, wanting nothing more than to take the controls. If catastrophe, as I believe, is identical with excess, the question of contemporary catastrophe becomes: an excess of what? In 2017, it certainly isn’t an excess of capital we are dealing with: as I have commented before, the indices of globalization are declining, not rising, and the reign of Trump will intensify this trend. This is no classical capitalist crisis of overproduction.

There is another locus of excess. Modernity is a story not just of the amassing of capital, but the amassing of cybernetics, of social interconnectivity, which reached its first apogee in the monstrous ‘molten masses’ (Jan-Werner Müller) of the twentieth century whose relentless advance was only temporarily averted (or satisfied) by the elitist liberal institutions of the postwar era.

The technical specialists of macroeconomics worry over an underconsumption of products—tools like quantitative easing attempt to restore it to life—but there is one thing that we are consuming more and more, with little sign of reversal, in frenzy upon frenzy: information. For all the backwards-looking ressentiment that the political events of the last few years have encompassed, 2016 was also radically novel: it was the first year of cyberian politics, where the Internet transformed, partially and in fits and starts, from an instrument of existing political rationalities to a subjectivity of its own. So let that begin our new calendar.

The relentless compression of cybernetics has inaugurated a new form and new era of mass politics, and the catastrophe we are experiencing betokens its birth.

We can return to my implicit question at the start: what has gone wrong with time? Time, to be sure, has been ‘going wrong’ since the advent of capitalism. But the catastrophe we are now living through is only indirectly to be blamed on capital. Time is failing because cybernetics has taken the controls.