Incomplete thoughts about accelerationism: A project to overcome capitalism or a bunch of white-male-rich boys seeking to get profit and control the world?
(update: later expanded and refined to be used in a conference paper: https://luciano.fluxo.art.br/accelerating-sharing-economy-ubers-dysfunctional-discourse-of-technological-disruption/)
The “#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics” portraits a dramatic scenario of the current crisis. Williams and Srnicek (2013) argues that future has been canceled and the world as we know will collapse in breakdown of the planetary climatic system: “Terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves, offers the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars” (para 2).
This is a result not so much of the pressing neoliberal project put in practice by right-wing governmental and corporate power, but also due to the paralysis of what remains of the left and the inability to “generate new ideas and modes of organisation necessary to transform our societies to confront and resolve the coming annihilations” (para 3). Though it seems exaggerated to dismiss attempts of neo-socialists regimes, particularly from South America, to advance an alternative political agenda that confront some of the problems caused by neoliberal project (e.g., politic of transparency, accessibility to natural resources and infrastructure, worker’s and lower income’s protection, etc.), they are not sufficient to change the courses of structural reforms forced by financial capital. Williams and Srnicek are also too dismissive with recent emerged libertarian movements (e.g., Occupy and Arab Spring), criticizing their narrow political ideological vision of direct democracy: they expend too much time on self-valorisation over strategic efficacy “as if to oppose the abstract violence of globalised capital with the flimsy and ephemeral “authenticity” of communal immediacy” (para 5).
Williams and Srnicek (2013) point out that any action to build alternative social/democratic spaces are fated to fail (e.g., Keynesianism), and due to the lack of any other alternative, accelerationism is the only option to the political left to drive societies to overcome capitalism. According to Benjamin Noys (Galloway & Noys, 2014), accelerationism is “the engagement and reworking of forces of abstraction and reason to punch through the limits of an inertial and stagnant capitalism” (para 4). These forces of abstraction were once, in early 1970, thought to be the capitalist production process itself, but the current state of capitalism (neoliberal) undermine the promised acceleration.
Any progress made within capitalism will be constrained by the framework of surplus value, resulting in simplifications of reality to mere statistical measures that are feedback as a strategy for economic growth. What Williams and Srnicek are arguing is that as neoliberalism progress, any form of cognitive inventiveness is capture to be used to reduce costs of productions and increase profit, only to be discarded after. Thus, for Williams and Snick capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration, as much as an agent of speed: pushing and constraining the limits of inequality instead of disrupting it.
Though Noys believes this revival interest in acceleration is connected to the current capitalist crisis (especially after the crash in 2008) and politic of austerity, other reasons may have helped the emergence of such theoretical model to be adopted especially within the digital technology industry. In fact, Alexander Galloway points out that the intellectual current seems to be forking in two distinct directions: technophilic network affirmationism (to embrace “things as they are”), and the those that practice contestation and rupture of current status quo.
Benjamin Noys argues that accelerationism imagines the future as a sort of communist technological utopia that somehow will overcome (or improve?) capitalist barbarism. The problem for Noys is how we might get there: how it is going to “attempt to decommodify the world, as well as to break with other forms of state power and other forms of oppression and violence” (np). Williams and Srnicek (2013) manifesto, on the other hand, admits to “preserve the gains of late capitalism while going further than its value system, governance structures, and mass pathologies will allow” (para 14), which means that any liberation abstract labour must occur within the evolution of capitalism itself. That is, capitalism has to “react to and block the political potentiality of post-Fordist labor” (Negri, 2014), in order to advance its promised future.
The current form of accelerationism seeks in cognitive techno-science labour the answer to overcome stagnant capitalism. There is a clear statement toward the use of technology, science, and logic to improve means of production which a clear claim cognitive labor must be set free (Negri, 2014). That is, it is thought as a transitional period that in its neoliberalism form aims to liberate “the forces of creative destruction, setting free ever-accelerating technological and social innovations” (Williams & Srnicek, 2013, para 7). The dominant intellectual vision of accelerationism (formalized by the philosopher Nick Land) sees this transition towards unparalleled technological singularity: “human can eventually be discarded as a mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilisations” (para 8).
For Williams and Srnicek (2013) the problem with current state of capitalism is that it constrains the productive forces of technology, or at least, direct them towards needlessly narrow ends (e.g., copyright and patent systems). Thus, instead of disruptive inventions and revolutionary technology, “we exist in a time where the only thing which develops is marginally better consumer gadgetry. Relentless iterations of the same basic product sustain marginal consumer demand at the expense of human acceleration” (para 16).
The current state of file sharing, and perhaps any sort of sharing in the cyber/cipher space, can be seen as a positive feedback loop and can be used to illustrate this point. Fleshier (2010) almost describe it as cat and mouse game: mutual escalation of competing technologies, players and communities; and of legislation and its object, of the appropriate and legal practices and uses of technologies, produces its own mutational field in the composition how file sharing, and the digital sphere as a whole, is organized. It undoubtedly results in excess of what had previously been legislated against, making even harder now to locate and cease copyright infringements. The “escalationism” of cipher spaces and copyright legislation described by Fleshier (2010) can be seen more as a (non-desirable) symptom of accelerationism: “while acceleration might be thought of as a means to an end (or even an end in itself), escalations are rarely sought for and usually thought of as culminating in some kind of ‘war’” (para 22).
As accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces, they argue that instead of destroying neoliberalism, we should reappropriate its platforms toward common ends: “the existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism” (para 18). Nonetheless, an implicit problem is raised: what the common is and who defines it?
Accelerationists often use nihilist discourses to stress the need to reinvent norms out of an “inhumanism” that can recreate and take the human beyond itself. Noys argues that this could be a reflex of an extreme pessimism post-war view of the world, such as depicted by Adorno and Horkheimer in “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” (1944). Though this view of capitalism as completely dominant is, of course, social determined by capital itself. In this case, accelerationists not only seem to accept contemporary technological and cultural forms, but also aims to pass through it without realizing how they are shaped by capitalism (a discourse probably produced on the track of the investment on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines in conjunction with high sum of venture capital to funding start-up technology companies in the Silicon Valley in the last few decades).
Whereas the discourse gravitates on technological evolutions, Williams and Srnicek (2013) make reservations about techno-utopianism, which believes that technology will automatically overcome social conflict. They argue that technology by itself is not sufficient, and should be bound to social actions: changes in either potentiate and reinforce changes in the other. Though for Negri (2014) this can also suggest too much of political and technological determinism. In fact, Negri points out that accelerationists’ arguments look like teleology: “the relation to singularities and therefore the capacity to understand tendency as virtual (involving singularities), and material determination (that pushes tendency forward) as a power of subjectivization, appears to me to be underestimated” (p. 7). The problem is that accelerationism became a form asceticism that fantasies with immersion of and total integration between capitalism, machines, and humans: “while these fantasies register our experience of the pains of labor and the threats of unemployment, they also transform them into the dream of ecstatic enjoyment – jouissance” (Galloway & Noys, 2014).
In any case, for Williams and Srnicek (2013) technology is the instrument of change, and the left should learn, use, and take advantage of every technological and scientific advance made possible by capitalist society (e.g., social network analysis, agent-based modelling, big data analytics, and non- equilibrium economic models). These tools became necessary cognitive mediators for understanding complex systems like the modern economy. While many of these current tools can be seen biased towards capitalist social relations, it does not mean that they cannot be reprogrammed and reformatted for post-capitalist ends. For Negri (2014) this is a somewhat optimistic view, not very useful, and perhaps dismissive, for the critique of the complex relations of human-machine. The ultimate goal is to “develop sociotechnical hegemony: both in the sphere of ideas, and in the sphere of material platforms: platforms are the infrastructure of global society (para 24). However, Negri (2014) perceives this manifesto less inclined to revive socialist humanism, and more toward developing new positive humanism.
Ultimately, Williams and Srnicek (2013) suggest that the left should go beyond direct action and create dynamic strategies that adapt according to the context. For them, “the habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success” (para 26), simply because the other side will quickly adapt to it. While this is a useful strategy, Williams and Srnicek blame the overwhelming focus on democracy- as-process. In their view, open, inclusiveness, and horizontal organization are ineffective; “secrecy, verticality, and exclusion all have their place as well in effective political action (though not, of course, an exclusive one)” (para 27). The logic is that the definition of democracy should include its goals — collective self-mastery — together with is its means — voting, discussion, and assembly.
This is clear overstated and perhaps excessive, “considering the current movements that oppose (albeit with neither alternatives nor proper tools) financial capital and its institutional materializations” (Negri, 2014). Williams and Srnicek (2013) suggest the need for an ecology of organizations, representing plural forces, that feedback from each other as a way to maintain a balance. However, it is not clear in Williams and Srnicek how and in what level the relationship between technical composition and political agents should be established.
Fleischer, R. (2010). Pirate politics: from accelerationism to escalationism? Retrieved from http://copyriot.se/2010/01/13/pirate-politics-from-accelerationism-to-escalationism/
Galloway, A., & Noys, B. (2014). Crash and Burn: Debating Accelerationism. Retrieved from http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/crash-and-burn-debating-accelerationism/
Negri, A. (2014). Reflections on the “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics.” Retrieved from http://www.e-flux.com/journal/reflections-on-the-“manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics”/
Williams, A., & Srnicek, N. (2013). #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/