I heard on the grapevine there was some very cursed accelerationist chat on the latest episode of Parallax Views — specifically some chat about U/Acc — and, against all better judgement, I decided to check it out.
It was disappointing but not all that surprising to hear the usual misconceptions and not a lot else. I’d really love to hear what people’s sources are for a lot of this stuff. I don’t mind that people don’t like U/Acc writing or ideas or whatever — to each their own — but it is irritating when people trot out the same straw men again and again, as if these are things which aren’t addressed in the earliest U/Acc (and more broadly accelerationist) writings already.
It seems like someone who hasn’t read anything makes a comment and then that comment is parroted by other people who haven’t read anything either. It feels like a bizarre psyop implemented by people who just don’t know any better. The blind leading the blind. It’s boring. It’d be great to have a better class of opponent.
This happens a lot, obviously, but I take particular umbrage with this instance because JG Michael and Michael James have been around for some time. Heck, they’ve been hanging around these parts longer than I have, probably. They’re well-known interlocutors. So what’s the excuse? Have they inadvertently betrayed their own laziness? Their own superficial readings? As fellow chroniclers of a lot of online debates, I’m really struggling to understand how this episode is peppered with so many basic errors. It’s embarrassing.
That said, I have no intention of writing some waste-of-time point-by-point deconstruction of anything here — I’ll be keeping this short — but it does feel like these things haven’t been reiterated in a while. And since the weird takes from nowhere continue to proliferate ad nauseum, it can’t hurt if we all take a minute to revise the basics, right?
So, without further ado…
In the written intro to the episode, podcast host JG Michael points to our little corner of the internet and describes us as “the meme-loving denizens of U/Acc ‘Cave Twitter’ who advocate for accelerating capitalism to it’s endpoint regardless of it’s outcome.” You hear this all the time but I don’t know when anyone has ever said this?
I mean, okay, it’s The Guardian‘s view of accelerationism… But everyone knows that article is utterly reductive and flawed… right? Are we really using that as our theoretical touchstone here?
It’s the summary that has been thrown at accelerationism — no matter the substrate — for over a decade but who knows how it has managed to stick in the minds of so many supposedly educated people.
Mark Fisher said it most clearly in his essay “Postcapitalist Desire” back in 2014. This is — and always has been — Accelerationism 101:
Capitalism is a necessarily failed escape from feudalism, which, instead of destroying encastement, reconstitutes social stratification in the class structure. It is only given this model that Deleuze and Guattari’s call to “accelerate the process” makes sense. It does not mean accelerating any or everything in capitalism willy-nilly, in the hope that capitalism will thereby collapse. Rather, it means accelerating the processes of destratification that capitalism cannot but obstruct.
In this sense, U/Acc isn’t a new mutation. It’s the original idea brought back to the fore after the woeful distractions of its left and right divergences — which led to its explicit dumbing down and dilution rather than being understood simply as “capitalist” and “anti-capitalist” variants. If U/Acc attempts to separate itself from these discussions, that’s only to shift focus to the further work done to exacerbate and rigorise the ‘Philosophy of Time’ elements that were buried in the writings of the Ccru and glossed over far too quickly by the subsequent L/R discussions.
The further critique explored on PV, particularly by Michael James, is that U/Acc supposedly rejects agency and instead believes in capitalism as a theological entity to be worshipped, as if its all a big Cthulhu Club LARP. This, again, is common and the result of people seeing the dramatised and poeticised experiments with Accelerationist ideas and taking them to be all too literal, failing to understand the distinct merits of (but nonetheless close relationship between) poetics and philosophy. (This has been discussed in orbit of the work of JG Ballard and Simon Sellars on this blog here.)
This is to say: yes, various accelerationist texts have used the style and language of occulted knowledges and theological beliefs, precisely to lampoon and refer to those (effectively hyperstitional) properties of human civilisation and thought when faced with something that we don’t (and, perhaps, can’t) fully understand.
Further to this is an investigation of the limits of a philosophical humanism when talking about climate change politics, the very things that James says he’s all about.
I quoted Vincent Garton on this in a post published just yesterday. In one of the initial texts which birthed U/Acc into the blogosphere, Vince writes in his essay “Unconditional Accelerationism as Anti-Praxis“:
The problem has been muddied by its own continual posing in humanist terms, which have provoked a refusal to understand the enormity of the issues at stake. From this perspective of humanism, thought is assimilated entirely to the objective of negotiating the problems that are held to confront humanity. Philosophically, it is concerned with epistemological understanding founded implicitly or not on the centrality of a coherent human subject; critically, it reduces the world to the relations of power practiced by humans towards humans; politically, it immerses itself in defining and putting into motion a better human society. Thought is rendered finally as a series of technical questions that constitute the tactical mapping of a topography whose ultimate form is placed beyond dispute.
This insistent backwater parochialism has eclipsed the intellectually interesting content of accelerationism. In colloquial usage on the left, for instance, ‘accelerationism’ has come to denote merely the idea that the situation of humanity must get worse before it gets better. At the heart of this definition lies the insistent, obsessional humanist question, ‘What is to be done?’, the fundamental question of praxis. The answer is rendered: ‘We must make things worse, so that they get better.’ This uninteresting idea has provoked an avalanche of furious critique of a commensurate intellectual scale. It is the doctrine, we are told, of ‘a dim child, trapped in a train about to crash, pretending he’s the driver’. Quite right, yet the critics protest too much: this is a feeling that has been characteristic of modern radicalism for centuries.
Frankly, I think it says it all how far below this point James’ ideas are when you consider how he has gone on a podcast and introduced his own blog as being built out of an “exhaustion with the theoretical limits of philosophy” and then all he does is demonstrate the limits of his comprehension, as if to say “If I can’t think it, no one can”, betraying the identitarian foundations of a politics he likes to pretend are far more radical.
In truth, it is an individualism that dresses itself up as a humanism. Through and through, his thoughts are always a factor of 10 below the scale he thinks he’s addressing. It’s the ingrown logic of a coveted individualist who LARPs being all about collective action. (In the next few minutes of the podcast, without a lick of irony, U/Acc is accused of being an “anhedonic mindset” but please show me anything more depressing than James’ logic.)
Likewise, the points made about U/Acc wanting to decimate the “human subject” — where is this coming from? The human subject, as we currently understand it, is riven through with the conservative logics of capitalism. It’s the argument of capitalist realism. The human subject is limited by present state infrastructures. It’s the argument of and a further challenge to Foucault’s biopolitics, more than anything.
But James instead goes on about how “there are still people who make decisions”.
Yes, there are. Well done. But anyone who’s powerful enough to make decisions about the future of our planet is a capitalist. They are most likely a capitalist subject par excellence. And so the beast eats its tale. Which comes first? Or, better yet: what ends first? Capitalism or the capitalist? James’ argument is, well, when the world ends and we all die out, they’ll both be gone…
The man’s a genius. Please, tell us again how wanting to radicalise and find exits from present infrastructures and subjectivities whilst we still can is depressive and all about giving up.
(Sidenote: @mutual_ayyde makes the point that it’s not just about capitalists: “modern complexity means that any intentional change period is difficult”. I agree: This is “more to challenge the point made in the podcast but any intentional change being difficult is why u/acc splits with both L and R wishful thinking.”)
My favourite line of this segment must go to James, again. It’s a doozy.
People don’t see a way out, right? It’s almost a giving up. It’s almost like a depression that’s set in. It’s like, “Okay, if we can’t be human, or if we can’t find a way out of this system, let’s just be complicit with becoming something new.”
Michael James’ Twitter has been a frequent source of tradical logic in recent months and here it is encapsulated beautifully. The depressive complicity of becoming something new.
Actually, you know what, I take that back. That’s perfect. That’s exactly what U/Acc is. In fact, it’s an Accelerationism laid out in precisely the same terms as Fisher, previously quoted — “accelerating the processes of destratification that capitalism cannot but obstruct.” It’s a complicity with capitalism’s self-destructive tendencies, the exacerbating of our desires for the new — which capitalism encourages materialistically — short-circuited towards a new system beyond itself. Because that’s the trick, right? Capitalism already contains its own demise. Playing chicken with its own redundancy is how it keeps its edge. U/Acc recognises this and says, “What can we do for ourselves that encourages it a little bit further over the edge?” We can’t give it the final push but we can sure throw our weight behind its own momentum. This is what it means to “accelerate the process”.
Ultimately, that’s how accelerationism has always seen us transitioning out. (“Transitioning” being something of a double entendre here, of course, with the beautiful shitposting of U/Acc’s transgender community persistently striking the cloistered limits of the real anhedonic logic of a cisgendered realism in stark relief — oh, the fragility of the (truly) complicit trad.)
Furthermore, as Fisher once said, capitalism can’t be voted out. It takes a libidinal usurping — a change of mind; a fundamental change of the subject hardwired into maintaining the status quo — to change the system. Politics alone won’t change anything…
Same with climate change, right, Michael?
In Capitalist Realism, remember, Fisher demands a new collective subject, which does not exist but has long been promised. Michael James seems to argue for this himself elsewhere, but repeatedly betrays a squeamishness as to its real implications. It’s all hot air and bitterness and tweeting about not caring about twitter. The holier-than-thou piety of a deluded egoist, hiding under the very nihilism he denounces in others.
Oh, and please forgive U/Acc for heading for the exits and having fun with the most radical subjects that popular culture has to offer. They are the seeds for a new realism, after all.
That Parallax Views segment is just a load of waffle between two people who evidently don’t have a clue what they’re on about.
Update: I see Max Castle has taken on many of the same issues with the podcast on Twitter:
One of the more difficult things about staking a position and defending it against criticism is the way interlocutors feint stupidity as a defense for a particular bad point. 
For example, look at a recent episode of @ViewsParallax with Michael James (@brightabyss). The host, J.G. Michael, asked James about accelerationism and we got the sort of criticism one has come to expect. 
The host’s criticism was especially galaxy brain level stuff: “Accelerationists love the Blade Runner aesthetic but if there aren’t humans, you can’t have Blade Runner.” I’m going to treat this ‘critique’ with more seriousness than it deserves. 
Accelerationism is NOT an aesthetic theory nor does it have a favored aesthetic. It is a theory of Capital. Cyberpunk/BR is a way to imagine a DIY response to obstacles in the flow of capital. It is not the official aesthetic ACC. 
That all being said, “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.” 
How can this point be so consistently missed? Obvious BA will come back with some sort of point about idol worshipping Marx, but shit the guy got Capital. Maybe the Marxists should pay attention. 
BA’s critique is only slightly better. Here they are:
(1) Accelerationism makes him have the bad feels.
(2) Corporation and CEOs make decisions.
(3) He doesn’t see accelerationists living the accelerationist life. 
So, in order:
(1) Who cares if you get the feels? Why must we assume that a theory of Capital must also include a political plan? This is not assumed of any other theory and points to a clear misunderstanding of the purposes of thought. 
(2) Yes, humans make decisions but the point is that these decisions are driven by a logic existing at a higher level. This logic is not the product of simple CEO desires but is the mechanism that drives their desires. 
(3) What part of beyond individual control is BA struggling with? 
On the point about “accelerationists not living the accelerationist life”, I’ll point — once again — to my old post on this: “U/ACC … argues that what is open to ‘us’ is perhaps only the possibility of, as Deleuze writes in Logic of Sense, a ‘becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us’.”
Reader: he never did post it. You can, however, now read my U/Acc Primer which is filled with lots more evidence proving MJ is clueless. Is that a further tantrum? Or is it an attempt to actually inform people instead of parroting under-researched misgivings? You decide.