Humiliations

Yesterday’s post triggered the first hellthread of 2020. Did you miss it? Do you wish you had?

It was a hellthread dripping with irony. Last year was dominated by too many posts written here declaring that “speed up capitalism until it breaks itself” is not and never has been the accelerationist argument. (Some good came out of doggedly defending this position, so I won’t be too harsh on myself.) Similarly, yesterday’s hellthread emerged from a small group arguing that what I was pointing to as a potential antecedent to the thinking of the 2010s Dark Enlightenment absolutely was not no way get the hell out of here.

The adamance of their position was really quite telling. As was suggested yesterday, the kneejerk tendency to reject any and all things that were not born of and are not exclusive to your ideas is something best left in 2019… It is not a good look.

Rather than undermining their arguments, however, my main intention was to point out the irony that this earlier use of the phrase goes some way to articulating a contemporary rightist pathology. (@ne0agent1c was really upset that this and proceeded to do a lot of Banepoasting.)

Vince dropped by at some point to seize authority over the incoming destruction and — speak of the devil… — it was one of Vince’s old posts that I had in mind at that moment. Vince once wrote that:

To trace the genealogy of accelerationism is thus fraught with problems. On the most superficial level, accelerationism has existed for about a decade. At its unspoken core, it is impossibly ancient. Different focuses will yield wildly divergent results.

We might say the same of the Dark Enlightenment — which is already adjacent to accelerationism, of course. Vince continues:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is best not to think of accelerationism, in the first instance, as a set of ideas at all. Land has described what he terms ‘libidinal materialism’ as more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines. Accelerationism is not identical with libidinal materialism, but the same observation seems abundantly to apply to it. With the appropriate historical sensibility, modulations of accelerationism soon well up in widely divergent contexts, all over the world, advancing along the storm-front of industrial capitalism. It emerges as a sensation of the acceleration characteristic of modernity itself, expressed in different ways by Marx, Hirato, Baudrillard, and plenty others. The drive to posit this expression in specifically philosophical form is perhaps peculiarly influenced by Western tradition. The sensation itself is not.

Again, the same can be said for the Dark Enlightenment, although, at present, it has done very well for itself in keeping its ideas cloistered within an in-group — one of the benefits of being a sub-ideology within a broader movement. It seems evident now that it has taken its inoculation against historiographic complexity for granted.

Ironically, this wasn’t even my agenda yesterday. I’ve just been reading a lot of Freud lately and the phrase “Dark Enlightenment” kept coming up again and again. At some point I stopped chuckling to myself about it and decided to take this coincidence all too seriously. Call it an exercise in “coincidence intensification” if you want.

It seems that intensification was not well weathered.


Towards the end of the hellthread, Uri jumped in with a few tweets that were sympathetic to the opposition — and understandably so: he’s better versed in that part of the Landian blogosphere than anyone else I know. He pointed out that I wasn’t addressing any of the specific details found within Land’s essay — although I don’t see why I’d need to — or the work of others and, also, I forgot the Great Humiliator who is of the most importance to the contemporary Dark Enlightenment movement — Darwin.

Forgetting Darwin was an oversight on my part but he still fits into the argument being posited. Darwinism, in its various modes, is so often deployed by figures on the right to embolden and affirm natural selection as “the survival of the fittest”. (“The rich are rich because they’re the best of us.”) But Darwinism as natural selection is, of course, far more chaotic and it was this that the Dark Enlightenment sought to introduce into this conservative conversations. (As Uri put it: “A lot of the Dark Enlightenment is ‘there’s too little death.'”) However, for the Dark Enlightenment, this survival-of-the-fittest process is not fuelled by capitalist ambition (alone) but by drives that are far more occulted. The links proposed in yesterday’s post speak precisely to this shared interest in what is occulted in our knowledge of ourselves. The Freudian death drive is individualistic but nonetheless scales up to society as a whole. We might argue that Darwinism calls this same tendency something like “cosmic entropy”.

Uri, eventually seeing what I was getting at, started to join the dots and brought up a few posts from Outside In that demonstrate this in interesting ways. One particularly segment that I found interesting was the following from Land’s post “On Chaos”:

The question Outside in would pose to NRx is not ‘how can we suppress chaos?’ but rather ‘how can we learn to tolerate chaos at a far higher intensity?’

This is an ethical response — in its wilful collectivity — that I absolutely agree with. It is possible for a leftist reassessment of the Dark Enlightenment’s sentiments to reach the same conclusion. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary that the left does so. It is undeniably true that the left at present is woefully ill-equipped to tolerate chaos at its present levels of intensity, never mind any future ones.

This is the U/Acc position. “Make yourself worthy of the things that happen to you.” Or, as Land puts it here: “Entropy is toxic, but entropy production is roughly synonymous with intelligence.” The left is not entropically productive. It all too often attempts to suture the egresses in its hard-won worldview rather than prising open the gaps to introduce the new — that is, the new it consistently says it wants. (It has been making more of a go of it recently, admittedly, but cannot withstand the push-back.)

This “new” is obviously not the same “new” that the online Dark Enlightenment was aiming for but the goals are fickle and irrelevant. I’m interested in the ways that what is being responded to, in each instance, is largely the same. Call it Thanatos, Dionysus, the Gothic, anima and animus, Gnon… There is an occulted side to the Enlightenment — then and now — and all sides still resist taking it into account within their politics. The right may affirm it but affirmation and tolerance are not the same as a resistance to or the control of its flows. Land knows this. Few of his acolytes seem to. The Dark Enlightenment, as a political movement, is still susceptible to the occulted side of the machine within which it attempts to act. And that is something that any one who puts themselves in opposition to the right should take heed of. It might present you with an opportunity.

Nyx demonstrated the stakes here most succinctly when she tweeted:

If right-DE is failing to compete in the ideological marketplace, it should be a cause for assessing its apparent lack of fitness. If it isn’t failing and Xeno is just writing a post speculating on the genealogy of DE, you have nothing to fear.

@ne0agent1c and co.’s fury was all too suggestive of which scenario is currently unfolding…

2 thoughts on “Humiliations

  1. Several decades ago a Church of England bishop, John Robinson, published a short book, “Honest to God”, which attempted to popularise the existentialist theology of Paul Tillich and the “religionless Christianity” gestured towards by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The consequences were predictable: he was accused of being an atheist in priest’s clothing, there were calls for him to be defrocked, he made a few appearances on the telly trying to explain that demythologising Christianity needn’t necessarily mean abolishing it, and so on. The “debate” degraded very quickly into an orthodoxy-vs-fashionable-nonsense standoff, and Robinson, really a woolly liberal at heart, ended up resorting to a generalised plea for open-mindedness. One of his interlocutors retorted acidly that a vessel which is open on all sides is incapable of containing anything.

    There are some notions that a “left” which wants to continue to serve the purposes the “left” has previously seen itself as existing to serve should probably exclude from consideration. I think that “social darwinism”, or the general idea that social reproduction ought to be organised along survival-of-the-fittest lines with the key measure of “fitness” being wealth allocation, is probably one of them. It’s not really our schtick to be separating society into the selected and the dysselected, and advocating for a devil-takes-the-hindmost attitude towards the latter. So while I believe that leftist thought must expose itself fully to the universal acid of the “Darwinian humiliation”, I also think it should shut the door fairly firmly in the face of would-be social engineers who want to bring about progress (or “optimisation for intelligence”, say) by running a genetic algorithm across the general human population. We are children of evolution, embedded within an ecological landscape entirely contoured by aeons of Darwinian selection, and that is an anything but inconsequential fact about our material situation, but there are ways of getting from that “is” to an “ought” that are nothing other than ways of ratifying, and intensifying, the ruling idiocies. We have nothing to gain by letting ourselves get tangled up in the niceties of ruling class apologetics.

    And there’s my question, really: what are we being asked to be “open” to? If it’s racist pseudoscience, for example, I think we should decline. I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained by trying to extract the nectars and perfumes from the enemy’s bullshit. I’m really pretty happy to “cede” that territory to them, and maybe target it for the occasional carpet-bombing. Given the extraordinary range of exotic notions one could decide to practice intellectual hospitality towards, why choose as one’s tribunes of the “outside” the most malignant and discredited?

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    1. There is no suggestion here of being open to racist pseudoscience. There’s also no apologetics.

      “So while I believe that leftist thought must expose itself fully to the universal acid of the “Darwinian humiliation”, I also think it should shut the door fairly firmly in the face of would-be social engineers who want to bring about progress (or “optimisation for intelligence”, say) by running a genetic algorithm across the general human population.”

      I agree. That’s the point being made. A good way of doing that is robustly saying no to a right that thinks they have all the figures and the left is detached from reality, as is often the argument made. Not by pointing to things they don’t care about but poking holes in their bubble and showing how they leak in anyway.

      Reframing my argument with more emphasis on the buffer feels more aligned to the handwringing that is well meaning but pointless.

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