There was a question asked in the XG Discord about the accelerationist credentials of the US presidential candidates that got me thinking a lot about how our present situation arguably offers up some analogies for what exactly accelerationism is getting at and the sorts of thinking it tries to cut through.
First of all, can we say that Bernie is the left-accelerationist candidate and Trump is the right-accelerationist candidate? Both articulate desires to deterritorialise (or just destabilise?) a broken system but, beyond this, I don’t think this kind of comparison does accelerationism any favours. For instance, what is the difference, in this context, between a left and right accelerationism and a left and right populism? Arguably not a lot, and that’s the main reason why left and right accelerationism have waned in their relevancy in recent years. Through the disarticulating processes of popular discourses, they have become indistinguishable from any other vaguely emancipatory project.
The underlying tendency at play here, as I see it, is one that persistently confuses critiques with the things they are critiquing. The impotent capture of dominant political discourses within the strict boundaries of capitalist politics is the overarching reason as to why Trump and, if not Bernie right now, at least Corbyn over in the UK, has been wholly ineffective at bringing about any systemic change whatsoever. On the one hand, that’s because Trump doesn’t really want the revolution he says he wants, and on the other hand, his lot are also afraid that the rising DemSocs do want theirs.
This impotency does, however, demonstrate the importance of the particular insights of U/Acc.
In the 2020 race for the US presidency, if Trump is the R/Acc candidate and Bernie is the L/Acc candidate, we can provocatively insert the coronavirus as the U/Acc candidate.
“A virus can’t run for president! What magical realist bullshit is this!” Yes, quite. But look at the discussions that coronavirus is instigating. It has skewered perfectly the logical discrepancies between present economic and social thinking.
Will Davies summarised this most succinctly on Twitter the other day when he wrote:
Here we have a virus dismantling capitalist realism with far more efficiency than any of us could manage if we tried. It’s implications also go a lot deeper than this.
It is precisely the sort of situation that has been dramatised by the darkest recesses of our cultural imaginations and it reads like a pulp fiction narrative: a (supposedly) natural mutation, ironically emerging from a marketplace, is obliterating economic logic and rendering other forms of political thinking wholly insufficient. It is a disease mutated by a gap in capitalist infrastructures that may now bring capitalism closer to death than ever. It might also radically transform the makeup of our species on this planet. Taken together, this present crisis requires a radical and accelerated rethink of how we are to weather this storm not as economies but as societies.
The response from within the psyche is “buy, buy, buy”, but the market is wholly indifferent to the panic-buying of bog roll. That is a violence that nonetheless keeps the system moving. It’s not going to break anything but the bones of trampled consumers. Ironically, the real threat seems to be the required self-isolation, reducing production and gutting infrastructure. Here we find the unintentional enforcement of a “general strike” that the left has been hypothetically postulating for years.
What if everyone went on strike? becomes What if everyone had to stay indoors due to a virulent respiratory disease? The results might be the same — and interestingly XF-adjacent as far as the transformative nature of this widespread social alienation is concerned — but the catalyst is, however, still horrifyingly noumenal.
Now, before the backlash enters the comments, none of this should be understood as the misguided gloating of some madness-immune being or as the encouragement of the horror of the coronavirus. Many friends have expressed very real concern for themselves and their loved ones in response to the danger. My Dad, having had a severe bout of pneumonia less than two years ago, would surely be in grave danger if he caught it and, whilst staying with us for the Egress book launch this week, explained how many of his friends, aged 60 to 90, are also particularly vulnerable. The tinnitus-like hum of anxiety lingering at the back of his mind right now is very real. The decimation of his social relations is an all too real possibility.
What has happened as a result of this political fever, however, is a renewed engagement with online discourses and other channels of news. My cynicism regarding the panic and my dismissal of a broader paranoia is, in a sense, a shameful product of London’s particular form of “keep calm and carry on” attitude. Instead, his views, at present, are a mix of solid research with sprinklings of the conspiratorial and this feverishness seems analogous to the endemic itself. It is opening up a new fervency and new spaces for political consciousness to move into. Unlike the fever of Brexit, it is not an enclosing of a national subjectivity but instead an explicit perforation of its membrane by a noumenal threat. To racialise it, as many have done, is obviously mistaken and is as trustworthy a form of logical interconnection as the slump in sales of Corona beer. It is revealing and expending the bottom of a barreled unconscious. Once that’s spent, it’s punching through the bottom into something else.
Here we see the ways that an accelerating crisis is having a radical effect on subjective consciousness. Trump and Bernie have their projects but they are wishful thinking. Their projects cannot keep up with the speed of the spread of the virus, nor can our communicative infrastructures, through which delays in reporting are costing lives. From the silences, a new political imaginary emerges. Accelerationism re-acquires its valency as a form of Ballardian critique where the transformation of the subject by the pressure cooker of a dystopian society produces previously unimagined praxes of fugitivity.
You must do what you can to survive and, by surviving, you might just find yourself in a political position that you never thought you’d reach. Whether that is for the better or for the worse is dependent on how ready and prepared we are to let go of a system that is — now most explicitly — no longer working in our favour.
Update: Ed below the line coming in with some choice words from Gernot Wagner in the comments, illustrating the nature of our “accelerationist trolley problem”, courtesy of the New York Times: “Climate Change Has Lessons for Fighting the Coronavirus”:
“Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University, called the virus ‘climate change on warp speed’.”
“‘We are evolutionarily wired for taking care of the here and now,’ Dr. Weber said. ‘We are bad at these decisions that require planning for the future’. That appears to be true even if the future isn’t so far away.”
“‘It’s costs today and benefits within days and weeks,’ Dr. Wagner said of the needed coronavirus measures. ‘Even though the time scale is compressed, we still apparently can’t figure out what to do’.”