Unconditional Acceleration and the Question of Praxis: Some Preliminary Thoughts

akira-explosion1

One of the major points of contention concerning unconditional accelerationism (henceforth U/ACC) is a perceived slight or rejection of any ‘positive’ form of political activity or organizing. The complaint can be summed up with the single phrase “U/ACC lacks praxis”. In the common leftist deployment of the phrase, this is exactly correct. Moreover, we could go as far to say that U/ACC rejects praxis, even that it is anti-praxis – yet, at the same time, this is not so straightforward. If we step back take praxis in its most broad sense – the higher form of acting in the world – then U/ACC is hardly anti-praxis; it simply asks that the limits and the inevitable dissolution of things be acknowledged (there is no contradiction between posing this alongside the Xenofeminist mantra “if nature is unjust, change nature”). No, U/ACC manifests an anti-praxis line when a very specific sort is proposed, that is, the political-territorial subordination and navigation of the forces in motion by a mass subject – the politics of striation. For this reason, perhaps it is best to view U/ACC not as anti-praxis, but as anti-collective means of intervention.

The rejection of collective intervention does not, in the first instant, derive from a normative political claim, though it can (and should up to a certain degree, in my opinion). Instead, U/ACC calls attention to the manner through which collective forms of intervention and political stabilization, be they of the left or the the right, are rendered impossible in the long-run through overarching tendencies and forces. Thus, while left-accelerationism (L/ACC) and right-accelerationism (R/ACC) seek to recompose or reterritorialize Leviathan in accordance with each of their own political theologies, U/ACC charts a course outwards: the structures of Oedipus, the Cathedral, Leviathan, what have you, will be ripped apart and decimated by forces rushing up from within and around the system, which in turn mobilize the entirety of the system towards its own dissolution point. Unlike L/ACC and R/ACC, U/ACC is not at the bottom a political theory; it is one of mobilizing materialism.

Consider the classic Marxian formula: M – C – M’. This is, of course, a simple pathway of capital, beginning with money (M), which is translated into the commodity (C) to be sold on the market. If successful sold, the commodity is translated into a greater amount of money than at the beginning (M’) – and it is at this point that the process restarts. M – C – M’ – C…. on and on and on. If this is the ‘general formula of capital’, as Marx describes it, then it is also the general formula of modernity itself. This, in turn, clues us into the abstract force, glimpsed through diagrammation, which can lurks behind modernity rendered as historical totality: positive feedback. M – C – M’, the process looping for what appears as eternity, forever pushing itself to higher and higher heights. The processual relations of capital appear here as far from any sort of homeostasis.

Positive feedback not only marks the evolution of a given system, or a generalized forward direction. It is also indicative of dissolution, of breaking apart, of past forms being undermined and propelled towards catastrophe. While for many the catastrophe might appear as something like communism, Marx as early as the Communist Manifesto was enraptured by the image of capitalist modernity as unfolding through creative destruction. As Marshall Berman describes, Marx’s depiction of “all that is solid melting into air” is a vision of these processes rendered “luminous, incandescent; brilliant images succeed and blend into one another; we are hurtled along with a reckless momentum, a breathless intensity.”i From here it is only a small leap to Lyotard’s depiction in Libidinal Economy of Marx slowly going mad, seduced by the delirious circuitries of exchange of capitalism and committing himself to “microscopic analysis of the aberrations of capitalism… no longer able to detach himself from it.”ii It begins with a general formula, a singular positive feedback code, and compounds itself endlessly, its circuitries deepening and widening, expanding and contracting, an array of falls and upward-propelling factors.

The positive-feedback processes does not end in the modular pathways of the transmutation between money, commodity, and labor. It radiates out across the entirety of social, cultural, political, even ecology strata (it is for this reason that we can describe capitalism as a historical era, even if all these elements were in play long before capitalism itself). The widening of commodity production over here generates trade networks, churning up market expansion over there. Rapid technological development diffusing through a given industry pushes prices down, bringing more into the cycles of production and thus consumption – and technological development radiates into newer, faster, more adaptive technologies. Technocommercialism begins to shake culture, society, and polity, forcing them into fragmentation and new forms. Firm structures and deeply-held beliefs buckle and break under the movement of people, money, and goods. All these forces lock into momentum with one another and act as force multipliers, each looping through the other, pushing it forward, faster, moving the entirety of the system towards… something – and it is this something that control systems, of either the left or the right, would be forced (and will always fail) to contend with.

Yaneer Bar-Yam, founder and head researcher of the New England Complex Systems Institute, describes the bulk of human civilization as capable of being characterized, first and foremost, as a “control hierarchy”, in which (at the ideal level, at least) “all communication, and thus coordination of activities, must occur through the hierarchy.”iii Workplace dynamics must be routed through management, just as military affairs pivot on the chain of command. Nations deploy presidents and prime ministers, and businesses bring on CEOs. In spaces where control hierarchies prevail, the controller not only serves to properly manage and direct the channels of communication for coordination (thus presaging directly the concerns of first-order cybernetics); it also plays the role of forging that sense of continuity, the inscription of organic wholeness on the myriad of parts.

Yet it is not so straightforward as simple control hierarchies. Through the passage of time, the prevailing organizational dynamics have shifted not only at the immediate, everyday level (say, on the factory production line or in the corporate boardroom), but at the civilizational level as well. Hunter-gatherer societies often organized in clusters based on direct hierarchy, while the passage from early civilization to the industrial revolution(s) saw this hierarchy move from wider chain-of-command systems to be dynamic entanglements. With each passing iteration, the status of the hierarchical formation itself declines as the relations tend towards the network, or even post-network, formations. This is precisely because, Bar-Yam notes, of a rise in the ‘complexity profile’ being shaped within civilization. As the nonlinear processes driven by cascading positive feedback intensify and rise, organization itself becomes more complex, more heterogeneous, more multiplicitious, and less congenial to control systems. Rising complexity, in the end, trashes the orderly nature of organic wholeness.

The L/ACC critic might stop here and decry the construction of a strawman. “Of course we aren’t for firm hierarchy,” they are probably saying. “We’re interested in flexible forms, in hybridity and multiplicity.” They might add, as their neo-communist cousins are oft to do, that they even reject planning as traditionally conceived: “we support decentralized planning”. Allow me to respond to these oppositions quickly: flexible control, modular hierarchy, and decentralized planning all fall victim to the same forward rush of rising complexity as their more formalized and concrete kin.

Control systems always rely on a high degree of legibility, the ability to observe a given territory (physical or otherwise) down to its minutia and classify and categorize the elements within it in order to properly enable generalized management and specific intervention.iv Any and all forms of planning require legibility and the capability to tabulate and command every potential variable – yet this becomes its very Achilles’ heel. Consider Andrew Pickering’s description of the conclusions gleamed by the cybernetician Ross Ashby’s research into homeostats: “The only route to stabilisation is to cut down variety – to reduce the number of configurations an assemblage can take on, by reducing the number of participants and the multiplicity of their interconnections.”v The reason that this is immediately is because the control system, regardless of its inflexibility or flexibility or how centralized or decentralized its planning is, operates in a manner akin to that of the homeostat: the movement of a spectrum of variables in play towards a zone of equilibrium in order to promote generalized stability through the system. Pickering at length:

Ashby was interested in the length of time it would take combinations of homeostats to achieve collective equilibrium. He thought of them as models of the brain, so the question for him was whether one could build a brain that would adapt to the world in a reasonable length of time. Both calculations and his machines showed that four fully interconnected homeostats, each capable of taking on twenty-five different inner states, could come into equilibrium in a couple of seconds. But if one extrapolated that an assemblage of one hundred fully interconnected homeostats the combinatories were such that chance on an equilibrium arrangement would entail search-times orders of magnitudes greater than the age of the universe. Even if 99 of them found a way to settle down, chances are that the 100th would set them spinning again.

This is the point to focus on. It takes time to run through homeostat-like processes of reconfiguration, putting possibilities to others who are doing the same back, proposing and counter-posing, vetoing and counter-vetoing. And the length of time it takes to stabilise such an arrangement increases astronomically with the number of participants and the density of their connections, meaning the number of others with which entities interacts directly. Finding stability can easily become a practical impossibility.vi

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.

In the end this scenario does not seem very likely. Multitudes of positive feedback processes have long since become deeply entrenched, and the system as a whole is undeniably veering far from order. The lingering populisms have rebooted themselves merely as a cynical effort to stave off the dissolution, and from certain angles are more symptomatic than truly reactionary. The complexity profile is rising and will continue, and as it does the capability for collective intervention will become all but impossible. From the perspective of sites of collective intervention both existing (nations, corporations, etc.) and envisioned (variants of post-capitalist planning), these runaway processes cannot but look like entropic decay. From the perspective of power, perhaps the forces rushing upwards are not to be visualized as all that is solid melting into air, but the crushing of all that is stable and standing into disparate granules.

Contra any gamble for collectively scalable politics of bootstrapping and navigation, Bar-Yam suggests that in the face of mounting complexity, organizational design is forced to tend towards “progressively smaller branching ratios (fewer individuals supervised by a single individual)”.vii As mutational development speeds up and legibility fades, size becomes a liability. James Scott has shown that detachment of large managerial forces from the chaotic ‘on-the-ground’ environs is a recipe for disaster. Similarly, Kevin Carson has illustrated the way that the Hayekian knowledge problem (which posits that in complex, evolutionary systems, knowledge distributes in a way that undermines any attempt at planning) not only applies to state-centric command economies, but to the organizational black box of the modern corporation.viiiAs such problems intensify, any possibility for navigation falls downward, to smaller and more dynamic firms, greater marketization (technocommercialism begetting technocommercialism), and ultimately individual actors themselves.

It is at this point where one might happen on something that looks like U/ACC praxis. If one’s goal is the dissolution of the state and/or rule by multinational monopoly capitalism, then why recourse to the very systems and mechanisms that seek to stabilize these forms and shore them up against the forces that undermine them? This question is at the core of Deleuze and Guattari’s insight in the ‘accelerationist fragment’ that to “withdraw from the world market”, as opposed to going deeper into the throes of it, is a “curious revival of the fascist ‘economic solution’”.ix The intellectual complicity of the broad left with this ‘economic solution’ is also why Nick Land – in a moment of incredible anti-fascist theorizing – charged that

re-Hegelianized western Marxism degenerates from the critique of political economy into a state-sympathizing monotheology of economics, siding with fascism against deregulation. The left subsidies into conservatism, asphyxiating its vestigial capacity for hot speculative mutation in the morass of a cold depressive guilt-culture.x

To accelerate the process, and to throw oneself into those flows, leaves behind the (already impossible) specter of collective intervention. This grander anti-praxis opens, in turn, the space for examining forms of praxis that break from the baggage of the past. We could count agorism and exit as forms impeccable to furthering the process, and cypherpoliticsxi and related configurations arise on the far end of the development, as the arc bends towards molecularization of economic and social relations. It is in these horizons that conversation and application must unfold.

No more reterritorializing reactions. No more retroprogressivism.

iMarshall Berman All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity Penguin Books, 1988, pg. 91

iiJean-Francois Lyotard Libidinal Economy Athlone Press, 1993, pg. 97

iiiYaneer Bar-Yam “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile” New England Complex Systems Institute http://www.necsi.edu/research/multiscale/EOLSSComplexityRising.pdf pg. 9

ivOn legibility, see James C. Scott Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed Yale University Press, 1999

vAndrew Pickering “Islands of Stability: Engaging Emergence from Cellular Automata to the Occupy Movement” University of Exeter, 2013, pg. 10 https://www.academia.edu/20618708/Islands_of_Stability_Engaging_Emergence_from_Cellular_Automata_to_the_Occupy_Movement

viIbid, pg. 6

viiBar Yam “Complexity Rising” pg.

viiiSee Kevin Carson Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective BookCurge, 2008, pgs. 205-223

ixGilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1983 pg. 239

xNick Land “Meltdown” Swarm 1 http://www.ccru.net/swarm1/1_melt.htm

xiUnion of Researchers for a Collective Commons “Cypherpolitical Enterprises: Programmatic Assessments” P2P Foundation, March 15th, 2017 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/cypherpolitical-enterprises-programmatic-assessments/2017/03/15

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7 Responses to Unconditional Acceleration and the Question of Praxis: Some Preliminary Thoughts

  1. dmf says:

    good stuff, in my own usual way I tend to get stuck on what we can actually do here and now.
    for folks who don’t know of Andy here’s a bit of his stylings:
    https://syntheticzero.net/2014/02/03/andrew-pickering-engaging-emergence-from-cellular-automata-to-the-occupy-movement/

  2. Reblogged this on The Cyclonograph and commented:
    Edmund Berger unpacks the prescriptive theory of unconditional accelerationism via Yaneer Bar-Yam: “The complexity profile is rising and will continue, and as it does the capability for collective intervention will become all but impossible.”

  3. Pingback: Balancing the Unbalancing – Thus Spoke Myself

  4. Rohme says:

    AN ECOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

    1) If an asteroid hit Earth, that would be the end of Acceleration.

    2) For that reason, Acceleration is not ‘Unconditional.’

    3) Acceleration is conditional on an environment being able to support Acceleration.

    From there, one can draw logical conclusions on what politics ought to issue from such a line of thought.

    In U/AA, one finds Judeo-Christian eschatology/soteriology, which only asks of one their belief, and to put Faith above the Law, for one to have salvation in the nonexistence or the after life.

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