Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Forwards/Backwards

I've been toying with a conceptual dichotomy for a while. It's probably not tremendously original, but it's helping me clarify my thinking a little. And hopefully writing about it here will allow me to polish my ideas further. I'd advise anyone unfamiliar with accelerationism to read my previous post on it before continuing (though it's worth mentioning that my understanding of accelerationism in general and its leftwards current in particular has developed since the writing of that piece).

I propose anti-modernism be viewed as having two potential directions. One I'd like to call 'accelerationist' if that hadn't already been coined, so we might perhaps call it the impulse to go beyond, or 'beyonder'. That is, responding to the various deficiencies and pathologies of modernity with a desire to push ahead, to traverse modernity and seek something beyond it. In other words: 'the way out is through.'

I call the other direction 'reversalist'. Modernity is an aberration, a mistake. One cannot be expected to find a way out by going 'through' it any more than one would expect to cure cancer by letting it 'sort itself out'. The only option is to excise the tumour. As such, one must seek to return to how things were before the aberration. This may be framed as a need to 'rediscover' the eternal truths of morality and the social order. 'The way out is to go back.'

I am not saying these definitions are absolute. I am just throwing out some thoughts that I have had for public inspection and criticism. The act of writing them down, in and of itself, helps me shape and understand them.

Anyway...

I find these definitions useful as they cut across the left/right dichotomy. One can argue that the right has a greater tendency towards the reversalist than the beyonder orientation, but one can find many on the left who seek a 'return' of some kind. The left-reversalist position generally finds modernity synonymous with capital itself, an alienating (and alien) force that destroyed the 'genuine authenticity' of the organic community of pre-modernity, even if that community existed in the context of its own set of injustices, i.e. feudal hierarchy, women regarded essentially as property and so on. Disdain for technology is also often common. Jaques Camatte's primitivism is an example of this. Such an attitude is common in environmentalism in its more radical incarnation, often suffused with nostalgia and, I'd argue, a naive understanding of life in pre-modernity. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, with its desire to rectify the great error that is humanity and return the biosphere to a pre-human state, may be described as either the absolute apotheosis of this position, or its moment of purest self-parody, depending on one's generosity.

The right-reversalist position may also contain an element of anti-capitalism, although generally in favour of some form of integralism or national socialism (though not necessarily National Socialism per se) over egalitarian, communal socialism. 'Rediscovery' or a 'homecoming' of some kind is generally the spirit of this position. Rediscovery of tradition, in either the weak or strong, capitalised sense of the word (Burke vs Evola and Guénon), restoration of legitimate authority (often monarchical), resurrection of the nation or race as a whole. Glorification of the past, especially a past characterised with imperial splendour, and a desire to return to it is key. It may not be a desire to return to 'how things were' simply because of their status as things passed. Rather, if Traditionalism is at the core of this tendency, the past is held up as an example of societies that were ordered according to values and principles considered eternal and perennial. The past is a thing to be returned to simply because it was ordered correctly, before the great error of modernity.

The beyonder current is well manifested in left-utopianism (anyone else remember that?). Pushing forward through this 'stage' in history, past capitalism into socialism and communism. Often, 20th Century communism displayed simply an outright rejection of the contemporary in favour of pursuing the future, or would attempt to outdo capitalism at its own game in terms of economic growth and prosperity. Left-accelerationism, to which I merrily confess the deepest of sympathies, is the most exciting manifestation of this position that I'm presently aware of. It possesses both a striking awareness of the problems of modern life with an impulse to rectify them which, I argue, is ultimately far more grounded in reality than the standard, insurrectionist response is. In seeking to turn modernity's successes against its failures, and to go beyond them into something altogether new, it captures the spirit of the beyonder impulse quite perfectly.

Much the same can be said of right-accelerationism, which we might as well call 'anarcho-techno-capitalism', though it lacks the sheen of utopianism. It identifies different problems with modernity than its leftwards twin does, but it still holds that the solution to the deficiencies of the contemporary is to go forwards rather than backwards. It is not a position that can be accused of nostalgia, as it draws upon what is useful from both the past and the present, the only worthwhile measure being its helpfulness. If it is 'Traditionalist' it is only in the loosest sense, the 'eternal law' being merely the laws of nature, its 'mysticism' being that of the Cthulhu Cult, rather than anything with regal grandeur.

Fascism was, arguably, a manifestation of this impulse as well, presenting itself as a force of renewal, both radically modernising the nation and restoring it to its past glory. The Futurists in Italy, with their paeans to technology, violence and velocity, and deep disdain for nostalgia and old things, and found themselves bedfellows with the Fascists. Nazism similarly presented itself as hostile towards the reactionary as well as the progressive. Something similar may be said of the Conservative Revolutionary Movement more generally, but that is pushing the boundaries of my knowledge.

A more problematic case is the Russian cosmists. Federov sought the past via way of the future. The powers of science and technology resurrecting the dead, unifying the world under the legitimate authority of the Tsar, the Church Fathers and Biblical Patriarchs, bringing the old prophets back to guide us more properly than we can guide ourselves. He sought an escape from modernity to the past via way of the future; less a revolution than a restoration. This might thus perhaps be called a reversalist position but here we see the boundaries becoming blurred to the point of non-existence.

Finally, where to place Neoreaction? Right-accelerationism has found its home there, arguably synonymous with 'techno-commercialism'. But NRx is a sufficiently broad church to resist easy definitions along the axis I propose. Certainly Moldbug seeks a reversal of modernity, though again via way of the future, with his image of a patchwork of for-profit run corporate city states relying on drones and sovereignty protected with encryption (though elsewhere I understand he lends his support to traditional forms of despotism and even monarchy). And the strain of NRx that was, at least formerly as I've no idea where he disappeared to, identifiable with Michael Annissimov was of a distinctly reversalist tone, as are the 'Heroic Reactionaries', that I understand. I actually wrote something about this particular tension in NRx a while ago, though the Reactosphere never had the big split I expected it to. Indeed, if anything it's become disappointingly quiet, but I digress.

I suggest using a beyonder/reversalist axis simply to add another layer of definition to our understanding of politics and ideology. If anything it can help us identify peculiar parallels between left and right we might not expect to see. Anyway, none of this has been thought out in much detail, so I invite the reader to comment on any inaccuracies, inconsistencies or stupidities in this piece.

3 comments:

  1. this is a really interesting take, and one that's crystallized a lot of things i've been mulling lately. i'm pretty new to your blog but i really enjoy it.

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  2. oh, and i'd love to see your opinion on williams/srnicek's 'inventing the future' if you've read it!

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    1. It will be on my next 'to read' list!

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