A Matter of Style: Further Notes on Commie Shit

When I suggested in a previous post that Vincent Garton’s original anti-praxis position “resonates with more positions than many are willing to generously conceded — a more hubristic brand of environmentalism, for one”, I had Gary Snyder in mind, specifically the following anecdote from Jim Dodge’s forward to The Gary Snyder Reader:

After a full day of scholarly panels and speakers on various aspects of the poem [Mountains and Rivers Without End], Gary concluded the day’s discussion with some general responses and comments, then took a few questions from the audience. The last came from a young man who wanted to know what Gary had meant by the paradoxical statement that ends the seminal Four Changes: “Knowing that nothing need be done is the place from which we begin to move.” Gary replied — and here I’m working from memory — that Nature bats last, is eminently capable of caring for herself against destructive human foolishness, and no doubt will remain long after our demise. Nature doesn’t need us to save her.

I could feel the audience sag, then bristle. Someone called out, “Then why work to stop the destruction?”

Gary grinned hugely, leaned slightly forward, and replied without a quiver of hesitation, “Because it is a matter of character.” Then, with an absolutely wild glitter of delight in his eyes, added, “And it’s a matter of style.”

TL;DR? This, tbh — but about capital.

Below, a few more thoughts on the minor drama that that same post inaugurated on Twitter…



Capitalism ends in heat death. That is something that all “accelerationists” can surely agree on. That the right-accelerationist crowd suggest that we can’t have different responses to that statement (intellectually, practically, politically) seems to undermine their position that we should just kick back and welcome the Singularity. If it doesn’t matter, why do you care?

The retort to this is predictable: We don’t care; it’s just annoying that you do Stop complicating my worldview and let me go back to reading Atlas Shrugged in peace…

@Insurrealist tagged @cyborg_nomade in the resulting thread, supposedly to undermine the argument made in my previous post about anti-praxis, but I found myself broadly in agreement with @cyborg_nomade’s response:

… acceleration is something for capital to do. accelerationism is basically measuring that and staying out of the way (which can be hard because, you know, monkey business) [1]

that said, I think my view differs considerably from @xenogothic’s (about as much as Land’s differed from Fisher’s). the thing I can agree with is that antipraxis isn’t “do nothing” – but rather do what you want, i.e., follow desire. [2]

“Staying out of the way” is, again, open to interpretation. No desire to tinker with capitalism here. (Might we make a case for “non-reformist reforms” being a kind of antipraxis?) Plus, following a desire for postcapitalism — no matter how seemingly contradictory; contradictions don’t stop anything else from appearing in this system — is surely one vector of travel. It’s for that reason that I replied:

No disagreement here at least, but the so-called pretzel logic is necessary if we’re going to address the fact that to “follow desire” is a non-argument in a system that monopolises desire so effectively. [1]

In those terms, “anti-praxis” does just feel like another way of saying “do nothing” but, for me at least and following Deleuze more closely than is perhaps fashionable in acc twitter discourse, I think there is (or should be) more to it than that. [2]

@cyborg_nomade responded to this by suggesting that it is also a question of whether you think capitalism’s monopolisation of desire is a bad thing — I think maybe yes — and this similarly raises questions around agency (ours and capitalism’s), which further complicates things a bit…

All of this is addressed, to some extent, in the previous two posts on anti-praxis and The Social Dilemma. Regarding social media, we can see how it is ever more difficult to ascertain if we really want what we say we want. It similarly demonstrates how capitalist agency constantly undermines what we think should be done. In this sense, questions of desire and agency — ours and capitalism’s — cannot be disentangled. That is why these questions should be at the centre of accelerationist discourse. Responding with “Do nothing” is still an answer to the question being asked; I don’t think it is an answer that negates the relevance of the question. The point is, perhaps, that it is far from the only answer available. In fact, it’s a pretty old and consistently challenged one within the early accelerationist blogosphere, as the post on anti-praxis hoped to highlight. This sort of disagreement is old, not new.

With that in mind, you have to wonder how the old r/acc crowd aren’t exhausted by now. They are very easily triggered by any attempt to decentre Nick Land from an accelerationist genealogy — emphasis on decentre rather than ahistorically remove. @ParallaxOptics, for instance, was disproportionately upset that I placed the beginning of accelerationism after most of its twentieth-century influences. Whilst paying heed to Vincent Garton’s warnings about unearthing the genealogy of accelerationism, I don’t see where the controversy is in deciding to straw a line between the word’s first usage and all that came before and influenced it. It is simply true that Benjamin Noys, in christening “accelerationism”, wasn’t talking about Land — in the context of the blogosphere, he was talking about Alex Williams. If that somehow decentres Land from the narrative, it does so pretty harmlessly.

But this is relevant here because it constitutes an obscured bridge between Land’s position and Fisher’s position — two figures always central to accelerationist discourse, and generally assumed to be the central pillars around which right- and left-accelerationisms revolve respectively. I previously thought this too but, having looking back through all the deleted blog posts, I don’t think it’s a very accurate framing of accelerationism’s initial battlegrounds.

For instance, as @cyborg_nomade adds to the hellthread:

I think the endgame is mostly succumbing to your own whatever (the real edgy part of Land’s position is the inevitability of doing precisely that). you do you. [1]

I believe (from the little I’ve read) that Fisher’s position is exactly towards *not* succumbing, about mastering the beast of instinct and following what’s rational no matter what. [2]

This is broadly accurate but, again, this limited perspective on how accelerationism emerged as a discourse obscures the fact that Fisher’s position was not contrary to Land’s but rather an extension of it. And, again, it wasn’t originally Fisher’s position anyway but rather Alex Williams’s — one which he seemed to convince Fisher to join him in exploring.

I think it is important to go back to that moment. Williams, in what I’d argue is the inaugural accelerationist blogpost — because it was his argument there that Noys first (publicly) described with use of that term — and irrespective of whether he or anyone else agrees with it anymore — puts forth a fundamentally Deleuzo-Guattarian, Lyotardian but also Landian position: “what is necessary is to think the in-itself of capitalism outside of any correlation to the human.” However, Williams complicates this with references to the Speculative Realism blogosphere, and particularly Alain Badiou and Ray Brassier. If accelerationism was anything in its first instance, then, it was “post-Landian”. It was dealing with his Nineties claims in the context of 2000s political philosophy. I’m fairly certain saying that won’t hurt Land’s feelings… After all, he was there on the periphery when it happened before taking more of an active role in the conversation, and even absorbing a number of Williams’ critiques into his own writing (much like capitalism itself likes to do).

Still, Williams’s initial provocations remain open to exploration. What he seemed to want to do was create a new foundation for working with the paradoxes of Landian / Badiouian thought. (An odd pair perhaps but both, in their own ways, have had dialogues with Lyotard.) As he put it on his blog: “Outside either a vitalist ethology of ‘natural’ auto-self-maximisation, or some kind of Marxist-Hegelian dialectical drive towards the elimination of contradiction in the same, how might we be able to ground … an inhumanising desubjectivation …?”

That’s an interesting question that has not yet been sufficiently answered.

Whether Williams and Srnicek will be happy to hear it or not, unearthing this from the web archive has resulted in some interesting discussions in private channels lately and I’m excited to see what fruit this bears in other people’s work. In fact, just last night there was a discussion around their essay “On Cunning Automata”, in which the pair’s initial questions come to some interesting conclusions. (It was a huge influence on me in 2017 when working and writing with the @_geopoetics bot.) Aly pulled out the following passage, for example, which shows where a lot of that early accelerationist chat was opening out onto. Unfortunately for some, it remains some of the most interesting application of this theory out there and, no, it doesn’t just come down to a load of “commie shit”:

Post-capitalism would unshackle the cunning automata of metic systems towards a universal accumulative strategy encompassing the entirety of the planetary, and eventually universal, system. Finance already has pretences towards becoming a universal system capable of correctly pricing and rendering interoperable all manner of things. However only the tacit, improvisatory, competitive, and above all cunning nature of technical entities could ever resolve the seemingly intractable problems associated with wide-scale social calculus. The opening up of the contingency of the universal, made possible by navigating beyond the suffocating politico-conceptual space of capital, does not entail the achievement of some ludicrous and properly impossible endpoint of ‘full communism’. A genuinely universal accelerative post-capitalism would be distinct from (and distinctly more interesting than) predictable Marxist utopias, given the necessary and indeed increased alienation of the human from the world in which they exist. This new world is not the end of history, but the beginning of a new and very different universal kind.

3 thoughts on “A Matter of Style: Further Notes on Commie Shit

  1. Here is a thought. Accelerationism seems to have initially been a response to the reactionary nature of capitalist realism or whatever one wants to call this hegemonic force that holds sway over politics, economics, society, and imagination. But the thing is that the reactionary mind, according to Corey Robin, can assimilate anything and everything. The moment you think you have a hold of it, it has shape-shifted again.

    So, the prediction will be that the powerful and influential will increasingly absorb accelerationist rhetoric and narratives. Meanwhile, those most infected by the reactionary mind virus will increasingly identify as accelerationists and manipulate it to their own ends. It is similar to how reactionaries stole labels like libertarianism and human biodiversity, both of which originated on the political left, the latter specifically in response to reactionary race realists.

    Worse still, no one is immune to the reactionary. It has a way of sneaking up on us. As you’ve suggested elsewhere, even if we escaped this society and sought to build a new one, we’d likely bring the disease with us and recreate the social conditions it requires. It’s a parasite that takes control of our brains to alter our behavior to promote its reproduction. That is to say it’s ‘desire’ becomes wedded to our own, such that we lose all ability to differentiate.

    There is an idiot savant genius about the reactionary. It can mimic in amazing ways, but it can’t create anything new. This makes it a demiurgic force, a false god whose only power is manipulation of what already exists or what was created by others. It tries to force the mind into a closed loop, where nothing new and surprising can emerge.

    This absorption of all around it is to make itself all-inclusive, as a need for control (and William S. Burroughs argued that control is controlled by its need to control). The alt-accelerationsts are reactionaries, in that they want to gain control of the frame of debate and keep it simple: “Stop complicating my worldview and let me go back to reading Atlas Shrugged in peace…” The problem is reality is always complicated.

    I’m suggesting that we should brace ourselves. This debate on accelerationism will intentionally be dragged through the mud, until few remember what it was about in the first place. Eventually, the dominant accelerationist thinkers will obscure its past and rebuild it for entirely other purposes. It is nearly impossible to stay a step ahead of the reactionary, since everything you do they will quickly claim or obscure. Mark Fisher, in Capitalist Realism, basically describes this reactionary mind when explaining the essence of capitalism:

    “When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and re-defined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

    Here are a couple of posts about this reactionary impulse to Borg-like assimilate everything in its path, which gives the reactionary a Trickster quality as it can take on many forms:
    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/the-many-stolen-labels-of-the-reactionary-mind/
    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2018/08/08/reactionary-revolutionaries-faceless-men-and-god-in-the-gutter/

    1. Another thing is that I tend toward a larger context. It’s explained in the second link above about reactionary revolutionaries. The reactionary mind is often portrayed as counter-revolutionary. The typical narrative is that it didn’t exist until after the early modern revolutionary era. This is the claim made by Mark Lilla. But it is obvious that there were reactionary counter-revolutionaries who co-opted these revolutions while they were still happening. Both the Federalists and Jacobins were largely reactionaries, especially as Corey Robin uses the term.

      I’d take it many steps back further. The first examples of the reactionary mind are clearly seen two millennia earlier in the Axial Age. Socrates and his friends who attempted a coup d’etat were reactionaries. Plato, in his dystopian fantasies of an authoritarian ‘republic’, was even more strongly a reactionary. So, even though capitalism is a type of reaction, the reactionary mind didn’t originate in capitalism any more than it did in revolution. The reactionary mind is built into the post-bicameral consciousness of interiority and rigid egoic boundaries. It’s part of a broader cultural worldview and civilizational project.

      This a key insight. It demonstrates that we are dealing with something far more fundamental within the human psyche, not merely a socioeconomic system or political structure. The transformative forces of modernity unleashed the reactionary mind and brought it to this point of culmination. That is why accelerationist thinking has developed now. For much of history, the reactionary mind was constrained by what was carried over from the previous civilizational project of the bicameral mind. The past centuries have destroyed most of those remaining traces. The bicameral mind remains part of the human psyche as what Jaynes called the general bicameral paradigm, but it has been more fully obscured. Maybe in a sense that is all the reactionary mind is.

      Anyway, the basic point is that we might miss what is most important if we focus too much on capitalism alone. Instead, we should consider what preceded it and created the conditions that made it possible. The question might not be so much about why capitalism is reactionary but why there is a reactionary impulse at all. We could eliminate capitalism and the reactionary mind would still likely take new form. Stalinism and Maoism, for example, were obvious examples of reaction. We need to step back and realize that capitalism, though our present focus of concern, is only one small part of a more pervasive pattern.

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