SUPERCOVERSATIONS DAY 58: MOHAMMAD SALEMY RESPONDS TO AARON SCHUSTER ,“YOU CAN'T ASK EVERYONE TO BEHAVE ETHICALLY JUST LIKE THAT”
Acceleration & its Discontents
Image courtesy of Berkeley Anarchist Study Grou
If one takes the publication of MAP (Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics) as the watershed for the introduction of the new promethean politics, it becomes astonishing how the mainstream account of accelerationism continues to miss the mark on both the form and content of the straightforward propositions put forth by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. It also doesn’t help that commentators of accelerationism, mostly a group of smart and highly educated people, for any reason other than protecting their own academic turf or intellectual popularity, continue to misunderstand and, therefore, misrepresent these new sets of ideas. Their often Marxist/leftist brand of anti Accelerationist rhetoric usually combines a number of the following arguments:
Accelerationism abandons historical materialism and dialectics and instead embraces system theory and technology, which results in a return to positivism and empiricism in both political economy and sociology.
Accelerationism is about the veneration of sheer speed, and in a way nothing but a reappearance of futurism. Accelerationists are impatient to destroy the old order without considering the kind of Benjaminian warning from his Theses on the Philosophy of History.
Accelerationism is forever indebted to the Deleuze/Nick Land spectrum of accelerating capitalism either nihilistically toward a total collapse, or constructively towards a pure libertarian form of global capitalism.
The Feminist/postcolonial critique, which states that Accelerationism is essentially a white boy club caught in the process of masking itself as a new universalist political movement.
Accelerationism is a form of white-collar reformism, or a fresh coat of paint on welfare state, social democracy. It tries to offer technological and design solutions for essentially political and economic problems for which there can only be revolutionary hope.
What is wrong with these often repeated criticisms is that they measure Accelerationism with a historical stick inherited from the 20th century. They miss its philosophical basis rooted in the way a group of thinkers, defined under the umbrella term of speculative realism, broke with dominant philosophical norms in the past decade and paved the way for the development of what by now should be properly called Left Accelerationism (#LA).
Let’s not forget that even though Srnicek and Williams come from a speculative realist (SR) background, (Nick was one of the founders of the Speculative Heresy blog and Alex contributed to his own philosophical blog titled Splintering Bone Ashes) they had no problems, after the 2008 economic crisis, with shifting their interest from a purely philosophical one to political economy as the result of the insufficiency of the Left’s response to it. These failed attempts on the Left included the Arab spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the new student movements around the world. These examples were unable to properly articulate a new generalized, universal, and practical politics for the conditions of the 21st century by valorizing contingent and local action as the only avenue for instigating political change.
You may note that the #Accelerate Manifesto, both in form and content, is also indicative of the limited utility philosophy might have in a crisis situation like that of 2008 and on, hence, the need for a full-fledged turn away from speculative philosophy towards proper political economy. However, it is important to also note that this political turn was filtered mostly through SR: on the positive side, because of their shared emphasis on materiality and the place of technology; and on the negative, through SR’s spectacular failure in offering a new epistemology and the accelerationist demand for one. And yet, SR does offer a way out of Continental theory loops, via the works of Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani, mostly through their defense of the idea of Enlightenment and reason or what later was called neorationalism.
The accusation that SR is apolitical is unfair and really baseless, not because Brassier and Negarestani directly address political matters directly – because they usually don’t – but rather, because their work has obvious political implications that are ramified through the development of accelerationist thought. In particular, their brand of realism offers a new way of thinking about the political that is not overdetermined and, therefore, limited by: Western anarcho-Marxist cynicism towards government institutions and social planning, the dominant discursive politics of poststructuralism, or the Latourian hegemonic hyper-relativism that insists everything is a network.
More specifically, Brassier was never interested in the mysticism or even nihilist side of the SR. Through his work he pushed the arguments of nihilism over their limit and in the process found ways to synthesize Laruelle’s rigorous materialist immanence with Meillasoux’s speculative materialism, recombining them with his new found interest in Wilfred Sellars’s concepts of the scientific & manifest image.
In contrast, Negarestani’s work is the meeting place for speculation and Charles Sanders Peirce, particularly due to the author’s re-deterministic approach to both the past and future. In a kind of reverse historical materialism with an idealist bent, the notion of the local stands for what we normally call the material and the global for ideal. This approach, in a way, represents the abandonment of the phenomenological binary of time and space, focusing instead on how insides and outsides are constituted through the movement and navigation of thought or cognitive resources of the collective general intellect.
Lastly, another shade of speculative related accelerationism emerges from Suhail Malik’s work on political economy and finance via his interest in the works of Jonathan Nitzan & Shimshon Bichler (http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/). Much of this work results in his massive essay for Collapse Vol. VIII titled “The Ontology of Finance,” in which he argues that acceleration should abandon Marxist notions of labour and production and utilize finance as a constructive technology towards a post capitalist future.
This is why attacking Accelerationism without tending to its philosophical roots not only creates confusion, but further delays a truly critical engagement with promethean politics at the theoretical and practical levels.
As someone affiliated with Accelerationsim through my curatorial practice, I would like to offer a few insights (and perhaps critiques) in order to judge this intellectual movement from within its ranks, and to provide constructive insights on how to move forward from here:
Accelerationists need to stop abandoning social media to their adversaries and directly battle their opponents on a daily basis through various means. Ignoring adversities not only delays the popularization of these ideas, but shows how modern system theory is not compatible with Dialectics and is unable to positively account for negative feedback loops. The result of the accelerationists’ resignation to conflict is the formation of an insider clique through retreating from public social media to private social media. This sets up walls which prevent the formation of political alliances and coalitions with those who may only partially support the accelrationist agenda.
Another way of refusing to take the battle to the adversaries is an unfortunate retreat to Marxism and the embracement of at least some aspects of the labour theory of value, in opposition to newer theories of political economy. The anthropological necessities like obtaining tenure positions after years of hard studying, might be the reason why Marx is having a new come back in acclerationist circle. New research into Marxism might still be fruitful, but it should not be pursued for the sake of not offending powerful Marxists in the academia.
We ought to stop avoiding a direct approach to real politics and only talk esoterically about that which is only accessible by the already-initiated. Epistemology is not politics in and of itself. Science and knowledge are both politically unaligned. This is why they have often ben utilized by the powerful towards maintaining and expanding their power bases. Emancipatory politics can only expand through its application to its philosophical sources.
We ought to not abandon the term accelerationism and rebrand under something less offensive to the Marxist / poststructuralist / Latourian / neoliberal alliance which controls our Humanities academic departments, if not also museums and major galleries around the world. The desire to do so stems from a naïve form of optimism which mistakes deep political and philosophical resentment towards the accelerationist project with a dislike of its identity-surface. I suspect that these ideas would have provoked similar reactions regardless of what they were called.
We ought to setup new institutions or liaise with the existing ones that not only talk about accelerationism but practice it. If we continue to compete with the rest of the sharks for available positions on the margins of academia instead of working collectively to create new institutions, we might end up being accelerationism’s worse enemy by self-recuperating into what we oppose.