Reflecting on “Technoscience and Expressionism” by @FractalOntology
by Sebastian Benthall
I’ve come across Joseph Weissman’s (@FractalOntology) “Technoscience and Expressionism” and am grateful for it, as its filled me in on a philosophical position that I missed the first time around, accelerationism. I’m not a Deleuzian and prefer my analytic texts to plod, so I can’t say I understood all of the essay. On the other hand, I gather the angle of this kind of philosophizing is intentionally psychotherapeutic and hence serves and artistic/literary function rather than one that explicitly guides praxis.
I am curious about the essay because I would like to see a thorough analysis of the political possibilities for the 21st century that gets past 20th century tropes. The passions of journalistic and intellectual debate have an atavistic tendency due to a lack of imagination that I would like to avoid in my own life and work.
Accelerationism looks new. It was pronounced in a manifesto, which is a good start.
Here is a quote from it:
Democracy cannot be defined simply by its means — not via voting, discussion, or general assemblies. Real democracy must be defined by its goal — collective self-mastery. This is a project which must align politics with the legacy of the Enlightenment, to the extent that it is only through harnessing our ability to understand ourselves and our world better (our social, technical, economic, psychological world) that we can come to rule ourselves. We need to posit a collectively controlled legitimate vertical authority in addition to distributed horizontal forms of sociality, to avoid becoming the slaves of either a tyrannical totalitarian centralism or a capricious emergent order beyond our control. The command of The Plan must be married to the improvised order of The Network.
Hell yeah, the Enlightenment! Sign me up!
The manifesto calls for an end to the left’s emphasis on local action, transparency, and direct democracy. Rather, it calls for a muscular hegemonic left that fully employs and deploys “technoscience”.
It is good to be able to name this political tendency and distinguish it from other left tendencies. It is also good to distinguish it from “right accelerationism”, which Weissman identifies with billionaires who want to create exurb communities.
A left-accelerationist impulse is today playing out dramatically against a right-accelerationist one. And the right-accelerationists are about as dangerous as you may imagine. With silicon valley VCs, and libertarian technologists more generally reading Nick Land on geopolitical fragmentation, the reception or at least receptivity to hard-right accelerants seems problematically open (and the recent $2M campaign proposing the segmentation of California into six microstates seems to provide some evidence for this.) Billionaires consuming hard-right accelerationist materials arguing for hyper-secessionism undoubtedly amounts to a critically dangerous situation. I suspect that the right-accelerationist materials, perspectives, affect, energy expresses a similar shadow, if it is not partly what is catalyzing the resurgence of micro-fascisms elsewhere (and macro ones as well — perhaps most significant to my mind here is the overlap of right-acceleration with white nationalism, and more generally what is deplorably and disingenuously called “race realism” — and is of course simply racism; consider Marine le Pen’s fascist front, which recently won 25% of the seats in the French parliament, UKIP’s resurgence in Great Britain; while we may not hear accelerationist allegiances and watchwords explicitly, the political implications and continuity is at the very least somewhat unsettling…)
There is an unfortunate conflation of several different points of view here. It is too easy to associate racism, wealth, and libertarianism as these are the nightmares of the left’s political imagination. If ideological writing is therapeutic, a way of articulating ones dreams, then this is entirely appropriate with a caveat. The caveat being that every nightmare is a creation of ones own psychology more so than a reflection of the real world.
The same elisions are made by Sam Frank in his recent article thematizing Silicon Valley libertarianism, friendly artificial intelligence research, and contemporary rationalism as a self-help technique. There are interesting organizational ties between these institutions that are validly worth investigating but it would be lazy to collapse vast swathes of the intellectual spectrum into binaries.
In March 2013 I wrote about the Bay Area Rationalists:
There is a good story here, somewhere. If I were a journalist, I would get in on this and publish something about it, just because there is such a great opportunity for sensationalist exploitation.
I would like to say “I called it”–Sam Frank has recently written just such a sensationalist, exploitative piece in Harper’s Magazine. It is thoroughly enjoyable and I wouldn’t say it’s inaccurate. But I don’t think this is the best way to get to know these people. A better one is to attend a CFAR workshop. It used to be that you could avoid the fee with a promise to volunteer, but that there was a money-back guarantee which extended to ones promise to volunteer. If that’s still the case, then one can essentially attend for free.
Another way to engage this community intellectually, which I would encourage the left accelerationists to do because it’s interesting, is to start participating on LessWrong. For some reason this community is not subject to ideological raids like so many other community platforms. I think it could stand for an influx of Deleuze.
Ultimately the left/right divide comes down to a question of distribution of resources and/or surplus. Left accelerationist tactics appear from here to be a more viable way of seizing resources than direct democracy. However, the question is whether accelerationist tactics inevitably result in inequalities that create control structures of the kind originally objected to. In other words, this may simply be politics as usual and nothing radical at all.
So there’s an intersection between these considerations (accelerationist vs. … decelerationism? Capital accumulation vs. capital redistribution?) and the question of decentralization of decision-making process (is that the managerialism vs. multistakeholderism divide?) whose logic is unclear to me. I want to know which affinities are necessary and which are merely contingent.
Yes, the conflation of all the various flashpoints of reactionary resurgence is doubtless over-hasty! I am tempted to object that the hyper-secessionism of silicon valley is refracted through global finance. The dark money that surges around reactionary causes seems to my mind sufficient to outline at least a global and virtual politics with accelerationist “bindings”. At any rate every reactionary evental suppression is also an outbreak, an outlet for a subterranean and futurist flows, opening points of contact with microfascist intensities and perhaps even more infernal planes still wherever it surges up — in the country, the city, the system of judges… Regardless of its scale or location there is this strange allegiance to inhuman forces, a virtual alliance with pure machine dynamics, subservience to future intelligences and displacement into an abstract plane of domination. This is really the hard kernel of rightist accelerationism to my mind; it is not after all that reactionaries are simply retrogressive — that they abandon the interstice between social changes and technical celerities, but would rather modulate and channel the revolutionary potentials unleashed back into minimal recodings of the state, racial power structures, submission to a monstrous stratification and total social ordering.
I think I see what you mean about the refraction of secessionism through global finance. This is just capital accumulation through normal mechanisms, no? Investment in innovation, capturing of surplus value, investment in the conditions of imperialist spread of capitalism, over and over.
Acceleration is a symptom of this because technical celerity is one of the many kinds of capital in play.
It is always possible to formulate an abstract lens through which the complexity of reality is filtered into human and inhuman allegiances. Only by identifying specific mechanisms and differentiating components can one discover whether the infernal dynamics are illusory or are sociotechnically embodied. If the demons have bodies, understanding their anatomy is essential to proper vivisection and other interventions.
I would like to understand better your vision of left accelerationism in contrast with right accelerationism. If left accelerationism is not a subservience to a future intelligence and total social ordering, what is it instead?
Well, much too quickly — in both cases technology is perceived as a vector for transformation; and there is some contemplation about what future intelligences might be capable of; if not the chilling certainty that future intelligences will have to be reckoned with. There is certainly a jocular inhumanity to both positions that I think is at least partially intended to be disruptive, in the way surrealism and futurism were. Art and design movements getting captured up in political and economic movements — this is one of the strange short-circuits I have been trying to isolate here. But leftists, for the most part, are in favor of thinking affirming life — that is, finding or inventing a way to reach the unstratified. This is sort of what I’m trying to gesture to in the end of the paper — that thinking is the means by which labor can discover the forces that will give it an essence, a future. And we risk, if we can’t decouple technology from dictatorship, devaluing thought itself. After all capitalism is recklessly accelerating its simulational capacities. This is to my mind the sense of what left acclerationism really sets out to do at least in the MAP, to provide the organized left with a “mirror” of financial capital’s ability to simulate and “predict” the future (econometrically, politically, etc.) One potential worry I can think of here is that this is already somewhat utopian, or at least post-revolutionary — doesn’t a large part of financial capitalisms’ ability to predict its own behavior come from the secrecy of its control? And so constructing our own simulations demands at least some political-economic power; but how much can really come until we’ve combatted and dominated capitalism at the global scale? what left-accel signifies most importantly I think — is that we need socialist information technology (and in particular modular simulational engines that transit between disciplines).