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Step 67: Accelerationism & Futurism

Accelerationism & Futurism

A convoluted romp from 1909 to 2008: the Italian futurism war machine and speed worship into the Accelerationists cyber-dream of progress through technology beyond the limits of capital.

One pesky problem: humanity, with its slow flesh and bothersome morals, is slowing us down.

Note: there are references to earlier podcasts on the 1-dimensional man and artificial negativity as well as our previous podcast on Cybernetics


Malign Velocities” by Benjamin Noys

0:00 Intro _ the Gods of Technology (Deus ex Machina)

3:56 Part 1: some context _ the capitalist trap, double binds, and looking for an escape

11:27 Part 2: some history _ from industrialization to deregulation to cyberspace

17:41 Part 3: the futurists _ 1909 manifesto, praise machines and war, but scorn for women

23:33 Part 4: the accelerationists _ the 2008 crash, bailout, and no foreseeable changes, humans slow down tech progress, breaking the machine and the implications

29:54 Outro _ next episode on “Malign Velocities” by Benjamin Noys


Step 67: Accelerationism & Futurism

Intro: the gods of tech

In the beginning, there was a man. He was lonely, so he made a machine.  (yes, of course, we all know he made a woman from his rib, but she was too powerful to control, so he just hung out in the garage pouting and tinkering on inanimate objects.)  After the first machine whenever a problem needed solving he would make a bigger, better, faster machine. Until eventually we have [[deus ex machina]]. 

The term comes from The Gods in Greek Theater, who would literally be craned into place or lifted through a trap door, they were “machined” onto the stage. And ever since, when we are introduced to an insurmountable problem, a quagmire from which there is no happy end, the machines go to work and save us by introducing a God. (this is also something men probably dreamed up while pouting in the garage.)

Referencing Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”  we can see that behind the scenes, while staging and paying lip service to the old gods, the new gods -those of techno rationalism and money- are pulling the strings, winding the digital cranks:
“Yes, of course, we believe in Jesus, but techno-progress will save us.”

Technology holds up our gods, and allows our beliefs. 
And thus we end up serving technology in disguise. 

[[Vilem Flusser]] argues that tech uses us under the deception of us using it. We are the servant, fooled into thinking we are the master. [[Andrew Feenberg]] says we have forgotten to insist that technology be aligned with human values, so we end up with machine values. 

That is to say, “if you are not programming yourself, you are being programmed.” The pervasive ubiquity of tech prompts us to speak of ourselves in the linguistic subroutines of technology, which means we are already captured or enthralled.

 And with that dramatic, apocryphal intro, today let’s talk a little about the ultimate contradiction: building machines to save humans, which end up enslaving humans. As we speed towards our own destruction, relying more and more on the machines to save us that enslave us, we should consider embracing our impending non-human future. 

Step 67: Accelerationism & Futurism

 Part 1: some context 

Not to stall us out too much (and long-time listeners/readers jump ahead to Part 2) but let’s recap real quick what’s in store by mapping out what came before: in the last podcast, we covered some cybernetic systems theory (that is self-regulating systems, such as a thermostat in your house). 

We mentioned some [[Deleuze and Guattari]] and [[Mark Fisher]], but you also had [[Baudrillard]] and [[Georges Bataille]] active in this period. [[Baudrillard]], who we covered in step 38, was more interested in simulations than economies of desire, saying we have already been liberated and now enact meaningless scripted performances of revolution or victory, because we don’t know what else to do. 

This sounds similar to Paul Piccone and his [[artificialnegativity]], step 64, which took [[Herbert Marcuse]] theory of the [[one-dimensional man]], step 63, and said it’s all too late, we have all been captured by capitalism, swallowed by the totalizing slime of consumerism and the management state. 

While a Buddhist may be able to sit in the Slime and recognize it as an illusion, most of us succumb, being slowly, painfully digested under the acidic pressure of doublebinds, double blackmails, and contradictions. 

This persistent pressure crushes creativity, sovereignty, and autonomy while poking, prodding, and manipulating us through the attention economy. Anxiety and helplessness mount as we work Bullshit Jobs, that is jobs that are irrelevant, from which we see no escape. 

While it is definitely not the salt mines for white-collar workers, it is a life of drudgery and TPS reports, petty mid-level management bureaucracy, and hassle. All are palatably over-sweetened by saccharine shallow comforts such as ergonomic keyboards and 15-minute group yoga.  The movie Office Space rings too true: We all pray to be hit by a truck, collect the insurance, and design our “jump to conclusions” matt. 

“Just remember. If you hang in there long enough, good things can happen in this world. I mean, look at me.”

Office Space

In Alice in Wonderland fashion, the response to not playing the game is for the Red Queen to yell “off with your head.” But of course, playing the game makes you schizophrenic as well, that is a split set of selves brought about by capitalism, or “schizo-capitalism“: One part of you behaves (normalizes) while the other self frantically scrambles to follow the lines of flight towards escape. 

In other words, you are simultaneously colonized as you deterritorialize and fragment yourself. 

Very smart people say we can’t deterritorialize without it being reterritorialized again… that is the maddening loop. Your efforts to do so, your rebellion, feed the machine and perfect the cybernetic system’s negative feedback loops. Insidiously, our anxiety feeds capitalism, it is after all energy. We either normalize to the sociopathy required and serve sans-morals as a mercenary automaton, OR we rebel and our negative energies empower and program the system with alternate forms of capture, adjustment, and colonization. 

Are we trapped? As Margaret Thatcher said about neoliberal capitalism: “there is no alternative.” And Mark Fisher used Fredric Jameson‘s line: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” 

So, yes, that’s right, I have driven the podcast into a frightful trap… The road has run out, and the apocalypse is our escape. 

But what if, there was a way out? A way to avoid the totally free-market libertarian dream: the might-is-right hellscape of Mad Maxx land? What if we can leap over the barren apocalypse into the future? 

We might end up in the realm of Cyberpunk. Not only the historical sci-fi genre, but the new animated series on Netflix offers a disturbing vision. This new cybernetic reality won’t pretend to be the attenuated democratic socialism we have, and utopic communism will be a joke. It will be a new path, unfettered, unlimited by all these nation/state restrictions, and cut free from the antiquated sympathy for the soul. 

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads… ” 

Doc, Back to the Future

We are entering cyberspace, or the Matrix, or oasis, metaverse, or whatever. Any of them, all of them. Throw some Aeon Flux, William Gibson, and Snowcrash in there too, cause it’s cool. 

Today we are talking about the Accelerationists: When you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, or undo the reliance on technology, the human becomes the bottleneck in progress. Our slow flesh and cumbersome morality are the very things preventing capitalism from collapsing on itself. Get rid of that, and we can crash the system. 

When there is no alternative, the only way out is through! Who knew our problem is our restraint? We must speed up and accelerate this cybernetic capitalist machine until the pressure builds and we can invoke a rupture. Let’s go so fast that we break the wheels off the machine! All it requires is to strip away our flimsy humanity and evolve into the hard metallic phallus. Oh, yeah, Jeff Bezos, you got it right, dicks in outer space is the way to go! Hard bodies and wired minds. Let’s go Altered Carbon, digitized consciousness, wetware, and mutable identities: this is “the desert of the real,” and you must lose yourself to free yourself. 

Step 67: Accelerationism & Futurism

part 2: the futurists

Let’s start out considering how we got here, super condensed fashion, cause it’s gotta be fast right?

Increasing industrialization plus the capital to grow it altered the way that labor works, which altered society.  Marx criticized the system and the automation and alienation of labor and process which leading to the alienation of man from himself and others. Communism was supposed to be great, a community, but Russia’s version of communism was really hard industrialism that sacrificed and chewed through the laborers to grow the state into a war machine. 

Umberto Boccioni, Futurist painter/sculptor

Around this period we had Italian fascism rise up as well, and within those ranks were the Italian Futurists, or dynamists: the movement was called [[Futurism]]. Check these guys out when you get a chance, and try not to confuse them with modern-day futurists, like [[Ray Kurzweil]] who want to put electrodes in their brains or butts.

The 1909 manifesto of futurism (because everyone needs a manifesto though no one can be bothered to slow down and read it) it praises speed and violence. 

4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace. 

or this line 9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman. 

that’s right: destruction is good, women is bad. 

10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice. 

Obviously, the Italian Futurists were a bunch of misogynist tech fetishists who glorified the war machine. They really glorified speed and newness, and this seems to be one of the first groups that really advocated for integrating man with the machine as much as possible, because the machines were outstripping man, displacing him, and this new God of gears and destruction demands obeisance.

They see the future and it is chrome and metal, men in missiles extinguishing themselves for progress. Our soft, slow meat is weak, and for real progress, rapid progress the human is disposable – a sacrifice- to the admirable terror speed and technology. 

Lest you think it is too hypocritical, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti says “Others who are younger and stronger will throw us into the wastebasket, like useless manuscripts. We want it to happen!“

This insanity seems about right for the times: a kind of toxic embrace of power, chest-beating flexing, and a compulsion to play with all your new shiny toys. This movement disappeared or was crushed (or maybe only rechanneled) after the excessive destruction of WWI and on into WWII.

 As history progresses, there is physical rebuilding from the wars and nation-building. In America we have an ab-reaction, an immunological response, a rejection of the normalized power-mongering that creates the waste of the Vietnam war: the 60s and 70’s war machine, a kind of disguised futurism chewing through men and machines under the thinnest pretext, provoked the hippies to announce dropping out and free love… and this influences the creators of the internet with utopian visions. (By the way, they were all government/university employees that made the internet. Free access was a beautiful dream from this time, that has been hijacked today.)

How does this all relate?

Simultaneously, In the 1970’s we start to see that corporations began to shed actual production (the concretely real) for a more deregulated, abstract financialization (speculative trading). Reality was losing money, so we shifted from the real (lowercase) to the Real (uppercase) which is the production of values, not things. 

As reality merges with and leans on abstraction we are also entering the age of digitization with computers. These changes in the 70’s – and the introduction of internet access, coding, music, and deregulated markets expanding wealth into the 90’s – is extended into odd new lands by [[Nick Land]] and the [[CCRU]] _ we can talk more about that later, but what is important to note is the spread of computers reignited the dangerously dormant pleasure of excessive speed. 

And yes, speed and cocaine were likely fueling this jittery momentum of the time, and equally serve as a cautionary tale of these high-finance rocket men burning out and crashing, much like the dot.com bubble: this is our society finding jouissance in futures.

Step 67: Accelerationism & Futurism

part 3: accelerationism 

In 2008, during the recession, watching an economic collapse and the attempted correction leveraging our future with inflation, we saw a “bailing out” of those who caused it while the masses (or proletariat) once again bore the brunt of the elite’s idiocy. And most of us realize this is all just going to keep happening. Nothing will change.

In cybernetic terms this might be considered a failure of “circular causality”, that is taking feedback and correcting, or literally steering the ship by reacting to the rocks ahead.

In our despair, people are looking for solutions. The accelerationists are one of these groups, snagging Benjamin Noy’s more pejorative term “Accelerationism” and re-appropriating it… and how did they claim it? Through a manifesto. 

They say: “The 2008 financial crisis reveals the risks of blindly accepting mathematical models on faith, yet this is a problem of illegitimate authority not of mathematics itself.” 

With this foundation, many of the points they make are compelling:

3. Capitalism has begun to constrain the productive forces of technology, or at least, direct them towards needlessly narrow ends… And rather than a world of space travel, future shock, and revolutionary technological potential, we exist in a time where the only thing which develops is marginally better consumer gadgetry. 

Essentially, capitalism and neoliberalism have repackaged conservative values and are slowing down technological progress, which – to them- is synonymous with human acceleration. 

“But what we are arguing for is not techno-utopianism. Never believe that technology will be sufficient to save us.” – but it is bound up in social relations, and by tech progressing it will overcome social conflict. 

This is a pretty big leap, given how the internet has seemed to fuel divisiveness, but it also helps, so… just keep reading.

They bring up the Cybersyn project in Chile, which is a super cool cybernetic social and economic model that seemed like it had a real chance to be an alternative system of governance and finance until the US (CIA) snuck in and wrecked it.

The manifesto says “The habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success. ‘At least we have done something is the rallying cry of those who privilege self-esteem rather than effective action.” 

Ouch… because forms of refusal may be old, but they still work to reshape the system. Yes, cynically, we may say in the Piccone sense of #artificialnegativity that they only allow the cybernetic system to adapt and better control us, but if the world can be shaped for the better, it is not simply “privileging self-esteem” 

point 13 is “The overwhelming privileging of democracy-as-process needs to be left behind. The fetishization of openness, horizontality, and inclusion of much of today’s ‘radical’ left set the stage for ineffectiveness. Secrecy, verticality, and exclusion all have their place as well in effective political action (though not, of course, an exclusive one).” 

point 21. “We declare that only a Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment is capable of either dealing with global problems or achieving victory over capital” 

They go on to speak of surpassing our constraints, recovering our dreams, moving beyond the bodily form, and maybe you might consider these “relics of a more innocent moment” but that simply points out “the staggering lack of imagination in our own time.” 

and the wrap up is: “The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse… What accelerationism pushes towards is a future that is more modern — an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate. The future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside.” 

Step 67: Accelerationism & Futurism

part IV: forward?

I’ll put it bluntly, I find accelerationism alluring. Part of me gets nervous and scared, and another part of me thanks, “hell yeah let’s do something!” ~ that part is the giddy young boy. The Calvin and Hobbes version of me that wants to go adventuring, launching my radio flyer wagon over the gulch just to see if I can break the sound barrier. Nope.

This is the impulse rooted in humanity, which has driven us this far. It is compelling to take action and be a bizarre type of hero, taking first steps into new territory. Even if that’s cyber territory or landing on Mars. 

It seems to be stereotyped as a masculine trait, but I think there is a profound romance in risk and violence, as William James says, and that can be (and often is) upheld by an entire society. 

Perhaps, socio-psychologically people are under pressure, perhaps stripped of purpose and meaning, are fixating on or fetishizing a way out. Action is a way through anxiety by finding and manifesting purpose. These accelerationists, like the futurists, are not averse to pain, because this type of sacrifice sparks the death drive: the compulsion to go so fast, push so hard, that your death (or merging with the machine) becomes a glorious escape, perhaps even a newfound state of peace, perhaps “you” will cease to be. 

There are several critiques of #accelerationism -of course- because while it makes good points it literally calls out for a “less rational world” while still claiming math is to be relied on. 

This is confusing and compelling because of its contradictions: it gives you both. It harkens back to the 1970’s, say yes to math and science, but also open your mind, deconstruct your conservative values and institutions, denigrate the gatekeepers of education and culture, but enjoy the cosmos and LSD science discovered. 

To escape fixed reality is what Benjamin Noys and others, like Alain Badiou, have called “the tendency.” This is to look at the trajectory of reality, to consider the concrete facts, and the empiricist becomes fixated, unable to see a way past what seems imminent and inevitable. This tedium of fixing into place, or reifying things, creates conservative stagnation. 

However, Badiou critiques [[Deleuze and Guattari]] for going too far in the opposite direction, for being too optimistic:: in attempting to escape the logic and realities of capital they abstract fixed reality into processes, into flows and flux, dismantling reality so they might take flight from it. The problem is, capital already abstracted itself and took flight into speculative finance: it became a trans-orbital dispersing fractal idea… truly a process untethered from reality. 

And the D&G disposition implies we too should take flight from our static, singular individual self, we should deterritorialize ourselves and the repressive structures around us in order to escape or smash the machine… but if we untether ourselves as well, are we not aligning ourselves with the path and tactics of capital? Following in it’s wake and thus its influence?

This would be the question to put forward to Accelerationism: will unfettering technology, and dismantling the social and capitalist limitations on it provide us with a better future? Or, similar to the deregulation of markets and capital, will stripping the limits away from technology allow a merging, man-machine integration that will provide- yes a more exciting future- but also a confused and bleaker future? 

Will we move into “Bladerunner” where the cyborgs are “more human than human?” 

Have we romanticized the machine, seeing in it our own loss of humanity while surrounded by humanity? Is finding bonding with a machine easier than each other, and this frictionless love, desire, and devotion to and from tech paves the way to a machinic future?  

This is a bit off-topic but worth considering how we have been culturally shaped to accept the immanent, inevitable future of tech. Some easy examples are The Terminator, where we turn the killer into the loyal protector: the machine’s future scares us, but the machine protects us. Or alienated humans find a compatible life mate in movies like “Her”, which is flipped into tragedy in movies such as “Ex Machina.” 

This brings us back to the beginning: 

Deus ex machina: accelerationism refocusses on the mechanics, the lowercase real of reality, worshipping the cranes and trap doors that hoist our Gods into place. They are pulling back the curtain and shifting the worship to a power that has the potential to save us from ourselves, but it is still not obvious that gritty mechanics will be any better than belief in the divine. 

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Malign Velocities, Benjamin Noys (highly recommended)

Freud, Marx, Bataille, Badiou

Mad Maxx, Back to the Future, Terminator, Ex Machina, Bladerunner, Bladerunner 2049, Office Space

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