Sunday, 20 September 2015

Accelerationism and Pragmatism

Leafing through #Accelerate: the accelerationist reader for some inspiration for an upcoming talk on the subject, I came across some great imagery in Benedict Singleton's Maximum Jailbreak.

'The association of design and the trap runs deep... Hunting traps are, as Gell writes, 'lethal parodies' of their prey's behaviour. A human would be lucky to catch most other mammals unaided, but this can be redressed by an indirect strategy that makes use of their observed disposition: their inclination to eat certain kinds of food, in the example of bait; or a translation of their attempts to escape into the means of their demise, as in the snare. Understood in these terms, the maker of the trap mobilises and organises an ensemble of forces into new conjunctions...twist[ing] trajectories already at play in the environment in unexpected directions.' [Singleton, Benedict; 'Maximum Jailbreak' in #Accelerate: the accelerationist reader; Urbanonmic, Falmouth, 2014; p. 499]

Now, isn't that just what makes accelerationism interesting? What differentiates it from the standard Leftist critique, and, more importantly, from the pathological dreadfulness of 20th Century experiments in socialism? Look closely at what's being said: the mechanism of the trap functions by redirecting already existing energies and qualities in the prey. The trap can only function if it is designed with the actually existing qualities of the prey in mind: not based on an 'if', but on an 'is'. This is a lesson that needs to be learned by the Left, one of an absolute Realpolitik. The world and humanity are both constituted in particular ways. Human beings have certain characteristics and incentives that need to be recognised and worked with rather than against.

The deeper point Singleton is making here by drawing particular attention to the nature of the trap is one about good design in itself. Good, effective artifice is only that if it is grounded in reality, making use of materials as they really are, making use of the environment as it actually is, building these facts into its design from the moment of its conception.

The typical refrain from the Left is one of wishful thinking, of beginning by saying 'if only we could see through the fiction of nationhood!' or 'if only we could work for the common good rather than only for ourselves!' Ideals are all very well, more than that, useful in fact, but one cannot wish reality away. Any Promethean project that has as its aim post-capitalism, or a sufficiently transformed capitalism to barely resemble the present one, must seek to work with the actually existing energies and forces that shape the world, and with the human incentives that generate them.

You simply cannot dismantle the desiring-machines that produced the world market. What we can at least try to do is redirect their productive flows to different ends.

To consider Moldbug, discussing his theory of world-peace via way of corporate governance: 'So our theory of peace is a little different. It is reactionary rather than progressive, which means that it is designed to work with hominids not as they should be, angels without wings, but as they are: bipedal land apes.' Moldbug is supposing a false dichotomy here: there is nothing inherently reactionary about seeking to improve the world by reference to its actually existent characteristics, rather than idealised ones. This is simply pragmatism.

Accelerationism appeals to me because it seeks to work with these actually existent conditions, and to push them in new directions. Capitalism happened for a reason, because human beings are both competitive and co-operative, both selfish and altruistic. Any political or economic movement that does not seek to work with these qualities, but instead condemns them and tries to engineer them out of us, will arrive at nothing except catastrophe.


  1. Fair point but a rather convoluted metaphor. Do I take it from this that the aim of acceloratism (awful term) is produce the same ends as 'leftists' desire but by other means?

    1. Yes and no. The difference in method plays a huge role for the image of the ends, of course. A short answer would be that, typically, accelerationism seeks to transform capitalism into something new (more 'just', more 'equal', or just much better at what's it's doing so more people can have their preferences met), while the typical approach from the radical Left is to decry capitalism in-and-of-itself as a monstrous force because it's torn up communal organicism, 'authentic' relationships and so on. Accelerationism can be properly differentiated from the piece-meal reformism of social democracy due to the scope of its vision and its genuine desire to break out of the current system, though. The trap metaphor is useful here: accelerationism is laying a trap for capitalism, one that will use and redirect its energies for new ends. Does that help at all?