Shoggoth – Wikimedia Commons
Accelerationism – An Introduction
“‘accelerationism’ is the idea that the only way out is through.” – Steven Shaviro
There have been myriad musings on Accelerationism spreading like a virus across the press, blogosphere and message boards as of late and this post is yet another manifestation of said virus. As topics such as ‘the Singularity’, Automation, Blockchains and AI grow ever more prominent in the press, the yearning for a philosophical explanation or religious understanding to this technomic explosion grow louder.
The Guardian’s journalist Andy Beckett has penned a comprehensive introduction to Accelerationism including background on some of the progenitors of the movement, such as Warwick University’s Cultural Cybernetic Research Unit (Ccru). Beckett’s expansive text also covers perhaps its most important and controversial figure – Nick Land. It’s certainly a worthy starting point for the uninitiated. It’s the entrance to the rabbit hole if you will.
For those looking for a deeper dive you could do worst than review Meta-Nomad’s Nick Land, CCRU, Accelerationism and Neoreaction – An Overview & Guide. This article covers all the various flavors of Accelerationism with quotes straight from their constituents.
Complementary to writings in the press and blogs, books such as Writings – Ccru 1997 – 2003 and #Accelerate have done a fine job of bringing together many of the field’s important passages. In addition to compilations, contemporary writings by former and now sadly deceased Ccru member Mark Fisher and still very much alive Critical Theorist Benjamin Noys (the originator of the term Accelerationism as we understand it today) have delved into the subject further. Through their work they have attempted to chart its history – warts and all.
These texts have often tackled Left (Lx) and Right (Rx) Accelerationism which broadly speaking aligns with their respective sides of the political spectrum. The text #Accelerate in particular compiles texts from not just both sides of this divide but from across time including the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries.
Further still a number of articles have touched upon the politically agnostic thoughts of some of Accelerationism’s philosophers – Unconditional Accelertionism (Ux) – as you will see it labeled.
The hyperstitional collection of ideas/individuals/groups we shall call ‘Grey Hat’ Accelerationist (deriving its name from InfoSec terminology) is an emergent body and the coalescing of a path between the early Rx of Land and Ccru and the more recent Lx of Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams and #AltWoke. Arguably it is the melding of antithetical sides, rejecting that which doesn’t work empirically and philosophically and forging something a fresh from this fire.
Where as the Hegelian approach adopted by traditional movements would be action and reaction synthesizing a new path where one side eventually wins (Left or Right, Good or Evil, Capitalism or Communism), GHx is Deleuzian in its approach (as indeed both Rx and Lx are). It’s a diffuse action refusing to engage head on with either side, whilst absorbing these wider movements eídein into each members gnosis. Or as Ken Baumann puts it:
For Nietzsche, Deleuze, and myself, direct engagement is a mistake. Diffuse or indirect engagement is preferable. Diagonal rather than horizontal or vertical attack. Non-Euclidean game plans. Rhizome rather than root, molecular rather than molar, dynamic rather than static: reroute the flow of power toward new creative constructions.
If Ux rejects both sides of the political spectrum, GHx instead synthesizes them.
Seeking some of the outcomes posited by Lx and the utopian ideals of a Kurzweilian Singularity, it is a position that cannot shy away from its Landian influence. Although arguably some of its emergent members aren’t aware of this influence. However it will stand in opposition to the Neo-Reaction movement, which it will view as a poor Alt-Right interpretation of the arguments around exponential technological evolution.
Nor does the kernel of this annealing Grey Hat Accelerationism (GHx) movement appear to accept the tomes of the great postmodernist philosophers wholesale in their opposition to Modernism (or anything else for that matter).
Rather it displays an oscillation between Modernist and Postmodernist ideas. In the former case this Modernist strain of thought includes concepts such as rational thinking, technological progress and an objective purpose to life. In the later that ‘the self’ is influenced by social constructs, battles are won on Baumann’s diagonal and language is both fluid and messy.
In this regard GHx will likely be considered metamodernist and largely have its roots in contemporary transhumanist (H+) and internet Futurology culture. A plethora of subreddits and blogs floating in the digital ether are exactly the type of breeding ground where we see this mode of thought emerging.
Humanity Plus Logo – Wikimedia Commons
It is therefore important to examine both sides of the Accelerationist coin and parallel movements in order to garner a better idea of how GHx is forming, its telos and some of its exoteric and esoteric influences
Left Accelerationism – Lx
“Full automation is a utopian demand that aims to reduce necessary labour as much as possible.” – Nick Srnicek
The beginnings of contemporary Lx movement can be found around 2009 and really materialized in 2013 with Nick Srnicek (a friend of deceased Ccru member Mark Fisher) and Alex Williams’ #Accelerate Manifesto for Acclerationist politics.
The manifesto was written in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. This period for many shone a new light on how financial institutions, debt and FinTech operates in conjunction with Western governments and regulators. From bank bail outs to bankers bonuses for many Left-wing writers the time was ripe for suggesting a new approach. During this period we saw the Occupy movement (2011) rise to fame (and failure) which was very much a product of our technological zeitgeist.
It was in this world that Srnicek and Williams explored the concept of adapting Accelerationism. The byproduct was a three part treatise spelling out the framework for a Left Accelerationist (Lx) movement.
Following this Srnicek and Williams published their title Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work which proposes a future beyond late stage capitalism. The blog This Disorder of Things does a good job of analyzing its contents concluding with the comment:
Post-capitalism (or better, communism – to use another word that is absent from this book) today has only a science fictional status. It’s a hidden potentiality that somehow still manages – just barely – to haunt the neoliberal endless present. Our rulers have been unable to exorcise this potential completely; but thus far we have been equally unable to endow it with any sort of substantiality or persistence. Inventing the Future looks beyond this impasse, to extrapolate (as all good science fiction does) a future that might actually be livable. This is its virtue and its importance.
– This Disorder of Things, Accelerationism without Accelerationsim
This extrapolation beyond the current mode of thinking, living and economic system charged with a technological energy is a core feature of Lx and indeed Srnicek and Williams writings.
In addition to these two notable characters there is another important figure in the field of Accelerationism – Benjamin Noys. Known by many Accelerationists as the author of Malign Velocities he has provided commentary on contemporary capitalism and the technological changes within it. Noys who is perhaps one of Nick Land’s greatest logomachizing partners on the subject of Accelerationism, summarizes Lx succinctly as:
Left accelerationism, instead, aims at a post-capitalist future. The image is not of a ‘purified’ capitalism per se, but a socialism or communism that will make full use of productive forces.
– Benjamin Noys
We can say that in essence Lx is a top-down technocratic movement wedded to a traditional Left-wing push for a world beyond capitalism. It aims to appropriate the exponential change that modern capitalism and technology have brought us. It attempts to harness these properties and develop a post-capitalist world.
Where traditional Marxist approaches have failed Lx hopes to achieve.
In the wider Internet the movement has found a home in blogs, message boards, sites, the #AltWoke manifesto and Twitter. Often incorrectly it is accused of wishing to speed up capitalism to usher in its collapse and force revolt. This charge is countered in the #AltWoke manifesto:
Accelerationism doesn’t propose letting capitalism expand and erode to such a degree that its corrosive contradictions become so unbearable that the oppressed and working classes have no choice but to revolt. #Alt-Woke doesn’t and wouldn’t espouse such a simplistic and foolish framework, either
– #AltWoke manifesto
Left-Accelerationism (which we could refer to as “White Hat” to keep with the hacking nomenclature and Fisher’s early writings on White Magic) however was always doomed by its own paradoxes according to its critics.
Ostensibly Marxist in outlook with a heavy dose of Deleuze and Guatarri, Lx cannot escape the seed both Ccru and Nick Land planted and from which it sprouted.
We agree with Nick Land’s diagnosis of late capitalism. It is an entropic AI, a systemic feedback loop wholly incompatible with the welfare of human beings.
– #AltWoke companion
As a result effectively there exists a contemporary Left-wing movement whose philosopher king is now accused of being a Right-wing demagogue who has validated the horseshoe theory. This isn’t lost on elements of the Lx movement however who attack the nihilistic stances of Land:
The nihilism exhibited by Nick Land and his NRx acolytes looks anemic from where we’re standing. NRx/Right Accelerationism is nihilism for cowards.
– #AltWoke companion
Land having absorbed Marxist and postmodernist influences into his own writings, laid the ground-work for the core of Accelerationism as we would know it in the new millennium.
Without him and the Ccru it is likely as an intellectual tradition it wouldn’t exist in its current form. In fact the situation could simply be an ideological war waged between a “blind idiot god neoliberalism” (centrist Neo-Liberal Kurzweilianism with a heavy dose of T. L. Friedman’s globalism thrown into the mix) versus some form of populist movement(s) and the usual Left and Right wing parties watching helplessly from the side lines.
In addition to this conundrum regarding Lx’s origin a question exists around just who on the Left is supporting the concept of a fully-automated society? The blogger Jehu suggests the call for full automation isn’t being supported by the hungry masses – or any class for that matter:
This is a second contradiction in Srnicek and Williams argument. Society seems to be moving inexorably toward complete automation, despite the fact no class in society wants complete automation
– Jehu, The Poverty of Left Accelerationism: A review of Srnicek and Williams, “Inventing the Future
In the face of this criticism it is worth remembering the following. The very group the Left has claimed to represent are predicted to see their livelihoods crushed by the Soggoth like advance of automation. In turn the Lx movement is very likely to be accused of embracing this creation of the Elder Things.
Further to observations about their relationship to the wider postmodern movement many could argue Left Accelerationism’s associations need to be loosened and its views broadened to include the Modern.
This is a direction Srnicek and Williams seem to have headed in whether consciously or not at least in regard to the ‘Modern’. Edmund Berger’s piece on the plane beyond postmodernism draws this link between said school of thought, technology and Left Accelerationism:
It validates Nick Srnicek and Alex William’s insistence on the need for a left-wing “politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.
– Edmund Berger
Perhaps then the logical next step for Lx is to move into a metamodern direction, or for those who break away from Lx to do so? Huffington Post writer Seth Abramson captured the underlying essence of the relation between the Internet and metamodernism, which is obviously applicable to Lx:
Radios, and even the early years of technological industrialization, emphasized distance in a way that was unmistakable. The Internet, by comparison, is a strange mix of distance and closeness, detachment and immediacy — our sense of ourselves and strangers’ varying senses of us — that postmodernism doesn’t really seem to describe well.
– Seth Abramson, Huffington Post
In addition to postmodernism, members of the Lx movement also seem to be critiquing its association with other elements of the modern Left. The #AltWoke manifesto being an example of this. Looking at Lx’s relationship to other dominant Left-wing platforms it attacks the ‘identity-politics’ that have become a lightening rod of late.
Identity politics became an albatross, however. Both the moderate and radical were too eager to evangelize oppressed identities. There was no room for discussion, no place for debate. Call outs, clap backs, and other reality tv patois replaced dialectics.
– #AltWoke Manifesto
This train of thought continues throughout the Manifesto demanding a reformist approach. An attempted move into a new direction however has not come without its problems. The #AltWoke and larger Lx movement is unfortunately caught in a self defined feedback loop – by pinning the colors of the Left to its chest it has also bound itself to the culture, ideas and fortunes of said political grouping.
This has been lost on Nick Land. When tackling the subject of Accelerationism in Jacobite magazine he had the following to say at first about capital:
In this germinal accelerationist matrix, there is no distinction to be made between the destruction of capitalism and its intensification. The auto-destruction of capitalism is what capitalism is. “Creative destruction” is the whole of it, beside only its retardations, partial compensations, or inhibitions.
Capital revolutionizes itself more thoroughly than any extrinsic ‘revolution’ possibly could.
– Nick Land, A QUICK-AND-DIRTY INTRODUCTION TO ACCELERATIONISM
And then secondly Lx’s relationship to it, specifically citing Srnicek and Williams work:
In 2013, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams sought to resolve this intolerable – even ‘schizophrenic’ – ambivalence in their ‘Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,’ which aimed to precipitate a specifically anti-capitalist ‘Left-accelerationism’, clearly demarcated over against its abominably pro-capitalist ‘Right-accelerationist’ shadow. This project – predictably – was more successful at re-animating the accelerationist question than at ideologically purifying it in any sustainable way. It was only by introducing a wholly artificial distinction between capitalism and modernistic technological acceleration that their boundary lines could be drawn at all.
– Nick Land
As a result Left-Accelerationism has largely be dismissed by the Right as yet more pie-in-the-sky Marxism and critiqued by some of their fellow travelers as utopian fully automated luxury communism. Or as Land and Rx proponents would have it, just simply off-base drawing artificial boundaries to justify its existence.
It is thus this paradox and the failure of Left-Accelerationism to coalesce into anything material so far that lead to Syffr’s Requiem for Left-Accelerationism. This decline has been catalyzed further as the inevitable attacks from elsewhere on the Left started due to its association with Land.
The collaborations of Lx proponents such as those at the New Centre with this controversial figure were bound to draw the ire of others on the Left, especially when we consider Land’s move into the world of Neo-Reaction (NRx) and its racist associations.
The question now largely rests with if the #AltWoke movement or similar Lx threads will form into something broader influencing the wider Left and beyond.
Or will they simple fade away?
Right Accelerationism – Rx
“Matter signals to its lost voyagers, telling them that their quest is vain, and that their homeland already lies in ashes behind them.” – Nick Land
We could have started by surveying the Accelerationist scene by tackling the Rx movement first . However it seemed more fitting to start with Left-Acceleratonists due to the number of accessible ‘mainstreamish’ books published (as mentioned above) before tackling the beast to the right.
Before digging into Rx with gusto we must first address the topic of Nick Land. He’s been referenced throughout this piece so far and of course is a cornerstone of the subject.
In brief, Land was a philosopher in Continental Philosophy at the University of Warwick from 1987 to 1998. It was during this time the Ccru was created by Sadie Plant a fellow Philosopher who had joined the university’s philosophy department. The Ccru “Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit” was anointed with its infamous tagline:
does not, has not, and will never exist
If you have ever wondered where this came from it’s due to the fact the thanks to academic wrangling and Plant leaving Warwick University, Ccru in any official capacity did not exist.
After a number of collaborations between Land and Plant including the Virtual Futures conference, Plant left Warwick University as noted. At this point Land took over the gaggle of individuals that made up the “non-existent” Ccru. After moving out of the University to the nearby town of Leamington Spa, they continued until the early 2000’s the research that would form the darkly unsettling undercurrent of Accelerationism.
At this point the group drifted apart with many of its members going on to work in academia. Land appears to have packed his bags for Neo-China.
Many of the links provided in this piece such as the Guardian article provide a richer chronology for those interested, they are well worth reading if only for understanding the historical curiosity of how we reached this point.
The Right Acceleration movement is arguably therefore a migration of Ccru’s work into a Right-wing political direction lead by Land. Once again we can turn to Noys for an explanation:
In terms of the subject of accelerationism, as I have hinted, right accelerationism has a straightforward answer: capitalism
– Benjamin Noys
Where as some early Ccru members went on to create/align themselves with the Lx movement, Land did no such thing. In the 21st Century he has become a leading figure along with Mencius Moldbug in the idea of a Neo-Reactionary movement (NRx). Wholly capitalistic in nature it rejects the ideas of the Enlightenment and Liberal democracy creating a political wrapper for the onward thrust of Rx.
Land and Moldbug’s writings have found a cadre of fellow travelers, some within Silicon Valley others within the press, the White House and wider blogosphere who have used their work to chart a somewhat darker path for humanity.
Broadly speaking NRx envisions itself as follows:
– A rejection of sociological universalism, and a preference for particularism.
– An acceptance of human biodiversity.
– An acceptance of Darwinian evolution, shunning egalitarian political correctness both from the left and from the Trotskyite right.
– On religion, if not agnostic or atheistic, then a preference for ancestral neopaganism or a form of Christianity that is ethnocentric and particularist.
– An acceptance of science and futurism as a means to improve at least some peoples’ lives while not rejecting one’s ancestral folkways (i.e. archeofuturism). And a recognition that ‘progress’ will be available only to some, and not the entire human population.
– A rejection of The Cathedral (or whatever other names it goes by, such as Universalism or Political Correctness).
– The recognition that there is no single best political order. As Aristotle notes in the Politics, some ethnies are better suited for monarchy; others, for aristocracy; others, for a limited form of politea.
– Skepticism about mass Third World immigration and the realization that human populations are not fungible but unique.
– A realization that liberty is incompatible with democracy, and that democracy leads to mediocrity.
A more comprehensive list can be located here at the reactionary Occam’s Razor blog from which the above was sampled. For those on the Left, Centrists and the Center-Right it makes grim reading.
In regards to the second point on religion something interesting has taken place. Land has been a promoter of the idea of GNON .
Gnon is no less than reality, whatever else is believed. Whatever is suspended now, without delay, is Gnon. Whatever cannot be decided yet, even as reality happens, is Gnon. If there is a God, Gnon nicknames him. If not, Gnon designates whatever the ‘not’ is. Gnon is the Vast Abrupt, and the crossing. Gnon is the Great Propeller.
This concept has attempted to bridge the theological divide between traditionalist religious types in the NRx and Secular Atheists. And within the Alt-Right there have certainly been religious undertones just as there have with some who foresee a singularity cumulating in an Omega point.
As we saw during the run up to US elections in 2016 and even beyond this, aspects of the Alt-Right and NRx adopted a belief in what can be described as Technomancy or as some call it “Meme-magick”.
Nothing emphasized this merging of online culture, the Alt-Right and Meme-Magick more than the Kek/Pepe meme-cult that appeared in the run up to the US election.
This idea of melding the semiotics of magic and technology isn’t new. Erik Davis wrote a comprehensive account of this during the 1990’s in his book Techgnosis – Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. Also alluded to elsewhere in this piece, Mark Fisher of the Ccru touched upon this subject of Magick. In fact throughout the Ccru’s collected writings we see Lovecraftian symbolism and hints of hermeticism.
And how can we forget they relocated to Leamington Spa once home to Aleister Crowley.
Science is always discovering odd scraps of magical wisdom and making a tremendous fuss about its cleverness.
– Aleister Crowley
Can Rx however be separated from NRx, the Alt-Right and fellow travelers? Conceptually yes. Accepting the Rx position does not automatically make the individual a Neo-Reactionary. It does create a fork in the road however with Land.
The Rx (let’s call it Black Hat) movement however outside of NRx has faired no better than Lx as of late due to this cannibalization by the Alt-Right. Land’s original ideas and that of Right-Accelerationism at large are now trapped in a movement that results in paradox due to its constituencies. Those who agree with the premise of Rx outside of the NRx movement seem to be nowhere to be found, or have turned else where (perhaps to Ux).
So what is at the root of this paradox? On the one had we have the pro-Accelerationists who follow his Neo-Reactionary (NRx) Dark Enlightenment. On the other, the larger Alt-Right with elements who wish to slow the ravages of capitalism down through protectionism, populism and nationalism.
This has played out on the national stage in the United States with some figures whom back President Trump pushing for a technological revolution, off-shore Libertarian communities and such, whilst others arguing to reopen coal mines and and restrict free trade.
Land himself has even acknowledged this situation:
As a consequence of its essential populism, the Alt-Right is inclined to anti-capitalism, ethno-socialism, grievance politics, and progressive statism. Its interest in geopolitical fragmentation (or Patchwork production) is somewhere between hopelessly distracted and positively hostile. Beside its — admittedly highly entertaining — potential for collapse catalysis, there’s no reason at all for the techno-commercial wing of NRx to have the slightest sympathy for it. Space for tactical cooperation, within the strategic framework of pan-secessionism, certainly exists, but that could equally be said of full-on Maoists with a willingness to break things up.
– Nick Land
Quite why Land moved in the NRx direction is interesting and something worthy of further research. There has been some speculation perhaps unfairly that it was a byproduct of his mental breakdown. To quote Robin Mackay:
Let’s get this out of the way: In any normative, clinical, or social sense of the word, very simply, Land did ‘go mad.’
Although Land may argue his NRx lurch rightward is a logical outcome from his lifelong philosophical positions especially having distanced himself from some of the amphetamine ‘inspired’ work after leaving Warwick.
So we’re now back at those horseshoe accusations again….
And here in lies the problem for many. His early works with the Ccru were certainly insightful. As linked above Andrew Hickey says:
Land is basically the Dave Sim of philosophy — someone who did good work, and then had some sort of severe breakdown which he incorporated into his later work, including some horrific political views
– Andrew Hickey – Not A Review of Neoreaction A Basilisk
However the Dark Enlightenment manifesto has roundly been condemned outside the Alt-Right. Land in response to some of the charges leveled at him appears to have distanced himself from the Alt-Right label. In the same article quoted previously he responds:
This blog, I’m guessing predictably, takes a count me out position. Neoreaction, as I understand it, predicted the emergence of the Alt-Right as an inevitable outcome of Cathedral over-reach, and didn’t remotely like what it saw. Kick a dog enough and you end up with a bad-tempered dog. Acknowledging the fact doesn’t mean you support kicking dogs — or bad-tempered dogs. Maybe you’d be happy to see the dog-kicker get bitten (me too). That, however, is as far as it goes.
– Nick Land
However he still comes under a lot of criticism for this move into NRx not least because of its anti-democratic stance and views on race and Human Bio-Diversity (HBD).
This Catch-22 in the Alt-Right opens up an interesting question however. If capitalism is an all encompassing chthonic force as many would have us believe, then the Alt-Right cannot possibly “win” long-term? Any populist movement that attempts to slow the accelerating speed of technology will surely be crushed.
Cthulhu – Wikicommons
If some of the technologies touted as being “just around the corner” really do start to manifest, especially in the area of life extension it’s impossible to see how any government or movement can possibly block their progress globally. Especially an isolationist one.
The larger Dark Enlightenment movement sees the future essentially run by CEO lead city-states. To many these sound like they resemble some type of bleak Blade Runner or Shadowrun-esque dystopia. This of course is a direct threat to those on the Alt-Right who see Ethno-nation states returning to some pastoral “golden age”.
Whilst Land suggests the larger Alt-right and NRx movement have common cause on the splintering of states, massive technological shocks to human civilization that fundamentally change the question of “what we are” will rip such a weak coalition asunder (if a failing Republican administration doesn’t finish doing it first).
To summarize in the case of the Alt-Right from an Rx position it surely stands then that a return to some form of mercantilism or closed protectionist-capitalist system will ultimately fail, and which ever nation state embraces this will be left a loser. This isn’t accelerating anything, it’s an attempt at jamming the brake on.
Edmund Berger hits upon this in his discussion of Unconditional Accelerationism:
To properly operate in the real, some sort of sociopolitical island of stability, L/ACC or R/ACC praxis would be contingent upon the expunging of variables upon variables to push the complexity profile downwards, to make it more manageable (which is something that R/ACC tends to admit more than L/ACC). But to do this would not only mean restricting flows of people, goods, and money, as the populists of the left and right both are rushing over one another to do. It would also require roadblocks thrown up in the path of technological development, and the suppressing of the capability of making and using tools to operate in the world. The promotion of a collective cognitive project would, ironically, be forced to suppress cognitive activity on the molecular scale.
– Edmund Berger
And we can see an attempt at throwing up some of Berger’s afore mentioned roadblocks coming to pass. It now seems that the classic Neo-Conservatives, Religious Right, Neo-Liberals and final trappings of the non-Accelerationst Alt-Right have pushed out the NRx sympathetic brigade in the US political world.
With Steve Bannon’s recent departure from the White House, and the stasis of the technology advice council, NRx and their fellow traveler’s political ties have largely been severed from the seat at the heart of US power. It’s doubtful even Elon Musk who certainly isn’t a member of the NRx wing will have much influence on the situation. All this is before we even get to the subject of Net Neutrality.
Within the Alt-Right, some of those whom would be attracted to the NRx concepts have also been put off by the doom and gloom of Moldbug and Land.
As a result in response to the Dark Enlightenment has been the incarnation of some of its concepts as the Grey Enlightenment.
However a close reading of this theory shows it to be nothing short of a Dark En-‘lite’-enment. Essentially a call for much of the status-quo but with chopping off the bits of the Liberal-Democratic systems its supporters opposed. Ultimately it is nothing more than a watered down version of Land’s NRx bathed in the type of language typically found in the online Libertarian movement.
The fact that it was formed shows that within the coalition of the Alt-Right there has been schisms over Land and Moldbug’s work. In fact it is another example of the entropic nature of the Alt-Right and the difficulty some have with coming to terms with the Rx kernel of NRx.
As we’ve seen both Left and Right have their flavor of Accelerationism but what of those who have no strong philosophical or political opinion either way?
Kurzweil and the Singularity
Around the time the Ccru was really getting going, in the US a parallel view of accelerating change was being developed by entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil.
Many readers will be familiar with Kurzweil so we will keep this summary short. Kurzweil’s (a serial entrepreneur and now employed by Google) central thesis is that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace eventually we can no longer predict what will come next. Coupled with the idea of self improving AI this point is called the singularity – a term borrowed from physics.
Kurzweil published these ideas initially in the book The Age of Spiritual Machines and followed up on it in the 2000’s with his more famous tome – The Singularity is Near.
It would be an understatement to suggest that Kurzweil’s work has had a huge impact in Silicon valley. Its influence gave birth to Singularity University, an institution located by NASA’s AMES Research Center. Singularity University (SU) bills itself as:
Singularity University is a global community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.
– Singularity University
With courses geared towards topics such as Exponential Finance and Exponential Manufacturing it acts as an intellectual hub for those interested in Kurzweil and his peers ideas.
Unlike Lx and NRx the ‘core’ of the singularity movement if we can use such a term has largely been apolitical in nature with questions around technology at its heart. This is rather than the political governance of nation states or how this should take shape in a singularity driven world. Many have accused it of being a form of techno-religion with Kurzweil as their prophet – a rapture of the Nerds is a common refrain. The #AltWoke manifesto even comes out explicitly against ‘the cult of Kurzweil’
AltWoke is not the cult of Kurzweil.
– #AltWoke manifesto
The apolitical nature (or weak nod to an ephemeral Liberalism lurking in the corner of the Cathedral) within the singularitarians can be seen in Kurzweil’s interview with Fortune magazine:
The power and influence of governments is decreasing because of the tremendous power of social networks and economic trends. There’s some problem in the pension funds in Spain, and the whole world feels it. I think these kinds of trends affect us much more than the decisions made in Washington and other capitals. That’s not to say they’re not important, but they actually have no impact on the basic trends I’m talking about. Things that happened in the 20th century like World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the Great Depression had no effect on these very smooth trajectories for technology.
– Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil largely downplays the influence of governments going forward and says nothing of how they should be structured or any philosophical impacts. It’s not surprising in fact therefore that many Libertarians with their small government stance have thus been drawn towards his technological prophecies.
In this video he does speak to the need for a social security net and largely sees Left and Right moving in a common direction on this subject regardless of difference on the details. This isn’t unique as the idea of a UBI has take hold amongst many of Silicon Valley’s titans (and Lx ) as a solution to the economic dislocation many will face.
However the overriding theme of his talk (and others) is that technology will solve the world’s problems for us. Something the ‘cult of Kurzweil’ has been criticized for in the past.
Kurzweil and Transcendent Man want to evangelize that technology will help human beings rise above the limitations of their biology and become something literally more divine. Yet Kurzweil comes across as naively uninterested in the philosophical and practical implications of that possibility—not unaware of them, but blithely optimistic that the problems will work out.
– John Rennie
This of course is not unique to Kurzweil, those not heavily politically aligned tend to see technology as a solution to their problems while ignoring larger political impacts. Thus one gets the feeling that many whom seek a singularity think the problem of politics/governance will just sort itself out long term.
How long this view is sustainable is debatable however. There is now a very real prospect of self-driving vehicles and other cutting edge technology having a colossal impact on employment figures which in turn will become a political battlefield. And the political opponents who rise up during this period to seize government will attempt to marshal followers.
In addition to the unstable political outlook the subject of an AGI being a massive risk to the future of humanity has been raised by many prominent individuals from Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking. They along with many Accelerationists don’t seem to share the default optimism that Kurzweil laces his comments with:
Sometimes people talk about conflict between humans and machines, and you can see that in a lot of science fiction. But the machines we’re creating are not some invasion from Mars. We create these tools to expand our own reach.
– Ray Kurzweil
Maybe not from Mars but it’s not uncommon on the topic of Accelerationism to see writings such as the following by Steven Shaviro quoting Nick Land:
By the 1990s, Nick Land ecstatically anticipates the dissolution of humanity, as the result of “an invasion from the future” by the “cyberpositively escalating technovirus” of finance capital
– Steve Shaviro quoting Nick Land. Accelerationism without Accelerationism
But what of Kurzweil’s UBI championing contemporaries in Silicon Valley? We know some have warned of the dangers of AI.
Tim Urban over at Waitbywhy.com has penned a very in-depth article on Elon Musk’s Neuralink and his vision of human kind’s future. This being essentially merging with AI through what he has nicknamed “the wizard hat” Brain Machine Interface (BMI).
It would seem from his interviews with Elon Musk he believes Musk’s stance is that the only way to counter the existential threat of AI as mentioned above … is to become it.
That’s why, in a future world made up of AI and everyone else, he thinks we have only one good option:
To be AI.
– Tim Urban – Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future
The push to merge with AI hasn’t of course gone without criticism. In a SingularityHub post by Edd Gent titled: Scientists Call Out Ethical Concerns for the Future of Neurotechnology Gent reports on 27 experts in fields ranging from Machine Learning to Ethics who have warned of areas of concern around AI+BMI, including:
privacy and consent, agency and identity, augmentation, and bias
– Edd Gent
And it’s not just Silicon Valley or Machine Learning experts. Philosophers such as David Chalmers have cast a Philosophical eye over the subject matter.
What happens when machines become more intelligent than humans?
– David Chalmers – The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis
Of course many of Nick Land or Hugo De Garis fellow travelers would argue this AI colossus is inevitable and we either merge or become extinct. Politics is thus little more than a flat tire to Accelerationism.
So outside of Rx/NRx and Lx we see techno-optimism, we see fear but we see little in the way of a political angle. Either through disinterest or a belief that governments are just becoming less important this surely means by proxy that politics becomes less relevant with it.
And this leads us to another group of Accelerationists who find themselves on neither the Right or Left. The Unconditional Acclerationists (Ux) whom unlike their Kurzwelian neighbors take the slightly more pessimistic view of a Transhuman escape route. It could be seen as an apolitical philosophical angle to the fears of Musk and others wedded to the concepts Land formed in the 1990’s.
Unconditional Accelerationism – Ux Antipraxis.
Unconditional accelerationism begins with a renunciation of the retrograde politicisation to which accelerationism has fallen subject – Vincent Garton
If Lx and Rx provide a politico-economic construct around the concept of Accelerationism what of those who reject this constraint?
This abandoning of any political ideology associated with Accelerationism has been anointed with the moniker Unconditional Acceleratonism by blogger Vincent Garton. In fact we could say that from the Left wing understanding of the term, Ux is lacking praxis – a perspective shared not just by Garton but also Edmund Berger.
Garton points out other terms have been used to describe this non-socio-political-aligned understanding. However he traces the roots of this purer form of Accelerationist thought back to the Ccru itself. Specifically Steve Metcalf’s Neo-Futurism piece. The following except from that text gives us a flavor of Metcalf’s thoughts:
Beyond the authoritarian mania of modernist econometric planning, and the nihilistic, self-referential third cycle damnation of the ultramodern NOW, NEO-FUTURISM tracks a double process: – (i) where the operational political, economic, and sociological codes of universalized humanity contract – to the point where, condemned to endlessly circulate in an interminable statistical survey, they finally collapse into a black hole where meaningless signs reduplicate themselves. This is the secondary process. The humanities in flames. (ii) The primary process: where the abstract, generic value of human intelligence migrates beyond the madreporic core of an organism regulated by the negative feedback of theses archaic codes – becoming increasingly artificial and synthetic at intense speeds, converging on a future in which it has already been rewired. Here the “medium is the message”: a viral mechanism acclerating the replication of more of itself. Runaway capitalism; anarchic, “headless” self-organization. Invasion from the future.
– Steve Metcalf
If Metcalf has captured the essence of Accelerationism in its unconditional form it is that Accelerationism (at least as a mechanism of observation) is a looking glass to the fate of mankind.
Through this term we see the future as essentially an implosion following the technomical explosion. After the big bang, the big contraction. The true singularity, a one dimensional point of huge mass in an infinitely small space where all physics’ laws are rendered null and void. Perhaps the final outcome of an intelligence spread like matter throughout the universe which collapses in on itself via a Big Crunch and divides itself by zero.
Stripping away the political baggage of Rx and Lx also in practice strips away the Dyson structures that orbit it. Accelerationism is thus reduced to its inhuman roots, the other, the outside, the supernova, the embodiment of capital invading from the future. A Lovecraftian horror.
…outside the ordered universe, that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.
– H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Garton in his article Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis touches upon the unimportance of the human agent that embodies this Ux epiphany:
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.
– Vincent Garton
It is here the parting with the singularitarians can be found. Garton summarizes this divergence with one of Metcalf’s stances in a single sentence:
He rejects the ‘idiotic gurglings’ of those transhumanist futurologists who claim they can rescue humanity from the explosion.
– Vincent Garton
Ultimately the Ux approach is to reject the collective assertion that Accelerationism can be controlled as said control is impossible. The system is uncontrollable due to its state of entropy and multiple feedback loops that feed said state.
So why bother with politics? It’s an attempt to humanize an inhuman process that cares nothing for petty tribal alignments.
However what of those who do wish to recouple some form of politics to Accelerationism? Those who wish to synthesize Lx and Rx? The lantern guiding those who wish to follow through the dark?
A group who dream a course exists that harnesses Ux and nudges it in certain directions, like pinball flippers?
We are now entering the territory of hyperstition.
GHx – speculation, theory-fiction, hyperstition?
Hyperstitions by their very existence as ideas function causally to bring about their own reality – Nick Land
It could be now, it could have been last month or it might not have happened yet.
From the fragments of the past, present and future we can begin to piece together the components that will form the building blocks of a hyperstitional Grey Accelerationism.
And what is hyperstition? In the words of Delphi Carstens:
Functioning as magical sigils or engineering diagrams hyperstitions are ideas that, once ‘downloaded’ into the cultural mainframe, engender apocalyptic positive feedback cycles
– Delphi Carstens
In response to the NRx movement it is not surprising that those who believe Lx and the Left in general have too much baggage but are opposed to the Alt-Right associations of Rx and its dystopian vision will look for a middle road. An approach that peers into the gaping abyss of Ux and seek a parachute? Surely it exists?
Unlike the broadly apolitical centrist ground the emergent GHx movement is a return to embracing and making sense of the philosophical and political currents that underpin society.
Goddess Maat – Wikimedia
Simon O’Sullivan in his 2014 piece The Missing Subject of Accelerationism suggests shades of grey exist between the Lx and Rx movements. In particular O’Sullivan highlights the work of Reza Negarestani the Landian influenced writer of the Accelerationist inspired theory-fiction Cyclonopedia.
But things are more complex than this, and there are grey zones between these two poles. Zones which are also to do with the place of the human subject or, indeed, with what the human might become within an accelerationist agenda. Reza Negarestani, for example, calls for attention to be given to an inhuman impulse that is nevertheless ‘within’ the human, when the former names the commitment to an on-going experimental but also rational process – of conceptual navigation – and the latter names the fetters on this (the ‘folk’ (everyday and common-sensical) sense of a human self – or ‘myth of the given’ – that can limit this other adventure insofar as it relies on pre-existing categories and definitions).
– Simon O’Sullivan
In contrast to Negarestani’s pedigree many of those who will fall into what we can term the GHx movement may/will have been only dimly aware of Ccru and Land’s earlier writings as was covered previously. Their gateway to accelerating returns being from Kurzweil, Singularity University, Hugo de Garis and other such sources.
However as the exponential explosion in technology marches on in the face of a fragmented West and rising East the questions around the philosophical origins and direction of Accelerationism will surely be amplified.
How can we navigate the future? What if it becomes a torrent of change, deterritorializing everything it touches and mechanistically grinding society into silicon sausage meat?
Many of these new adherents plumbing the depths of Accelerationism’s canon in search of an answer are likely to stumble onto the works of Old Nick. Rather than recoil and dismiss due to his political associations this corpus will likely been seen as a sign-post for how things can go very wrong for humanity when unchecked.
Some will ask – is checking even possible? Where do we go from here? As a result GHx won’t be caught carrying the baggage of the Left and will have no qualms about engaging with Land. That doesn’t mean they will agree with him though.
This new Accelerationist orientation will largely accept the possibility of the eradication of the human species and society in its current form that many on the Rx side and elsewhere see.
The possibility of humanity being chewed up and spat out by an all encompassing AGI won’t be viewed as fiction. Society will accept that if AGI is possible it is inevitable and better we get there first than “the other guy”.
And this belief won’t be paranoia. A nightmarish situation is already beginning to play out on YouTube. When some bizarre, emergent, macabre, video generating algorithms drag themselves out from the depths of the digital world who can blame them?
Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.
– James Bridle
And when said AI is driving human actors to mimic it in the pursuit of profit, we ask the same question as James Bridle:
This is content production in the age of algorithmic discovery — even if you’re a human, you have to end up impersonating the machine.
– James Bridle
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde “Life imitates Algos, far more than Algos imitate Life”.
And it does/has/will not end with AI.
The vision of competing city states, secessionism and the breakup of transnational entities that the NRx and fellow travelers promotes risks becoming a reality. Not least because in embryonic form it has begun to happen through nationalistic backlashes and plans for collapse.
Perhaps there is more than a grain of truth to Adam Curtis criticism of the hyper-normalized simulacrum type world we inhabit and how it feeds this collapse.
Amongst GHx adherents however we can expect to see a push back against this state of affairs with calls for transnational political blocks whilst advocating for sovereignty and power to be distributed at the lowest levels possible. Devolution versus Revolution. Cede versus Secede.
It is perhaps to the work of Leopold Kohr some will turn to find a path through the current disintegration. When talking of the existing nation states and their arrangements in the 1970’s Kohr had this to say:
… it would seem that neither a United World nor a United Europe can last for any length of time on the basis of the existing arrangements uniting as they do an indigestible medley of small as well as large states. Organizations of this nature lack the vital internal balance that could give their federal structure more than a passing success. In their present form the various attempted international unions of our day can therefore be held together only by means of an external force such as the threat of aggression. Once this is passed they must either burst, collapse, or be transformed into single-power tyrannies. As free, democratic unions of nations they cannot survive.
– Leopold Kohr
Kohr came at politics and economics from a different angle to the NRx brigade but he seems to have been of a similar train of thought in the belief that the structures of the West are not sustainable.
However he didn’t discount the idea of some kind of federal structure nor democracy itself, realizing that many would wish to form a closer union in Europe for example he had this to say:
For all practical purposes, therefore, international unions must seek, instead of the heavy stable balance of great-power organizations, the fluid mobile balance of multicellular small-state arrangements. The solution of their problems lies in the micro- not in the macro-political field. They must eliminate from their system not the small states but the great powers. This alone will furnish them with the internal mechanism for coping with the daily frictions of social life without the necessity of building up a governmental machine of such proportions that it could not be maintained even if it could be created.
– Leopold Kohr
Kohr seems to propose a solution, one that sits nicely with the concept of a rapidly changing technological environment. What we have here is a balance between the CEO dominated Neo-cameral city states that Land and others talk of and the nationless, open-borders world that many on the Left have supported.
The process of getting to such an arrangement would of course be an interesting one in the face of current challenges.
Many of GHx proponents will be/are the beneficiaries of gentrification in cities such as London and San Francisco. In fact they will be the “winners” in an increasingly fragmented world filled with “losers”. They’ll be stuck in a dichotomy where those they oppose are the very people who pay their very handsome wages.
They’ll support in business those building the technology they wish to see Accelerated but oppose many of them on the political stage. They will very much be in McKenzie Wark’s sense of the word Hackers:
We are the hackers of abstraction. We produce new concepts, new perceptions, new sensations, hacked out of raw data. Whatever code we hack, be it programming language, poetic language, math or music, curves or colourings, we are the abstracters of new worlds. Whether we come to represent ourselves as researchers or authors, artists or biologists, chemists or musicians, philosophers or programmers, each of these subjectivities is but a fragment of a class still becoming, bit by bit, aware of itself as such.
– A Hacker Manifesto, McKenzie Wark
Existent in all the four corners of the globe, mobile and often well traveled as a social group they couldn’t be further away from the Alt-Right on social issues. That doesn’t mean however we can expect them to be rootless in their globe trotting devoid of a link to their heritage. Nor will they be the culture burning Left as mused over by Hanson, Heath and Thornton:
The study of ancient Greek and Latin language and civilization has been immolated in various bonfires lit by any number of modern Savonarolas, the ideologues of the multicultural and postmodern Left who wish to destroy the beauty and brilliance they cannot acknowledge or appreciate.
– Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age, Hanson et al.
Hipsterism emphasizing the local, unique and artistic is certainly a social precursor to the type of world these people will attempt to forge. And it won’t be ironic either.
Metamodernist architectural schools such as New Urbanism and the Urban Village will find a role amongst their ranks. Fusing the old with the new to design and re-design the world around us. The embrace of driverless vehicles, remote working and non-traditional work hours will feedback into urban planning as the call to build the suburbs of old diminishes.
The dérive of Guy Debord and the Situationist International will be at the heart of this new urban world:
Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.
In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.
– Guy Debord
A radical reconfiguration of urban environments will cause friction, especially amongst established, often poor communities in existing cities. Something we have already seen with the tech sector specifically and the complaints of gentrification generally.
What we will experience is an attempt to reconfigure the existing environment in preparation for a phase shift brought on by the threat of climate change and the explosion in multiple technological fields, from quantum computing to AI.
To quote the character Alexander Leek in the Richard Gere movie The Mothman Prophecies:
If there was a car crash ten blocks away, that window washer up there could probably see it. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s God, or even smarter than we are. But from where he’s sitting, he can see a little further down the road.
– The Mothman Prophecies (Movie)
This is a core aspect of GHx. Seeing a little further down the road. Sending a warning and acting before it is too late. Sometimes acting when it is too late and picking up the pieces.
We could say then that GHx will look to harness the power of capitalism to radically redesign the world around us for the future but with a nod to the past. An attempt to direct it to the point where perhaps it renders itself obsolete before it renders us obsolete. Failing that harnessing it for the better of (trans) human kind and not the destruction.
Of course this raises the question of what will happen to humanity itself, a question poised by many as of late?
An embracement of Accelerationism of any side is an admission that an escape velocity from humanity’s biological constraints not only exits but that un-restrained exponential change will send us speeding towards a trans-human state or extinction. The logical end goal? Post-humanity or once again – extinction.
How long this takes depends really on your perspective of the advance the sciences are making. Skeptics will abound but for Accelerationists it’s the only logical outcome short of well you guessed it ….. extinction.
We’ve taken a a brief walk through the library of Accelerationism and noted it tomes and librarians. It’s set the scene for the past, present and future. Finally we stopped at the book labeled GHx. Was it in the fiction section?
On reading the blurb we find GHx is ultimately the meta-modern synthesis of Lx and Rx hoping to guide us to that trans-human future without losing the ‘human’ bit. It knows the path is laden by pitfalls and seeks to become the master of the future not the victim.
It sounds like a book worth reading.
In Part 2. of this series of articles we open the pages of this great work of Theory-Fiction and will pore over its hyperstitional pages.