In the Accelerationist Manifesto currently circulating, we find the following passage:
We believe it must also include recovering the dreams which transfixed many from the middle of the Nineteenth Century until the dawn of the neoliberal era, of the quest of Homo Sapiens towards expansion beyond the limitations of the earth and our immediate bodily forms. These visions are today viewed as relics of a more innocent moment. Yet they both diagnose the staggering lack of imagination in our own time, and offer the promise of a future that is affectively invigorating, as well as intellectually energising. After all, it is only a post-capitalist society, made possible by an accelerationist politics, which will ever be capable of delivering on the promissory note of the mid-Twentieth Century’s space programmes, to shift beyond a world of minimal technical upgrades towards all-encompassing change. Towards a time of collective self-mastery, and the properly alien future that entails and enables. Towards a completion of the Enlightenment project of self-criticism and self– mastery, rather than its elimination.
One of the things that disturbs me about the rhetoric of “posthumanism” or “inhumanism” as a political strategy (rather than something like Laruelle’s non-standard humanism, which I am inclined to prefer) is a certain stunning lack of consciousness about the forms in which such a kind of post- or in-human politics (and subjectivity) is already here. If we look around us, “post-corporeal,” even “post-affective” forms of subjectivity, grounded on the “completion” of the Enlightenment project of “self-criticism” and “self-mastery,” are far from missing. These forms may be parodies or perverse dark precursors of what accelerationists are really looking for, but in that case there is much more conceptual work to do. (For those with the patience to read this long post to the bitter end, you’ll see that what follows is not meant as a cavalier dismissal of accelerationist impulses but an invitation to just that conceptual work).
Last weekend the New York Times Sunday Review had an article that was particularly telling on this front. The author, Jennifer M. Silva, spent two years (2008-2010) interviewing young people (19-28 year olds, women and men), about their economic and relationship prospects. Besides the facts widely reported on, that prospects for young people world wide (not just in the USA) are increasingly grim, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the report, for me, was the absolutely psychotic level of “self-criticism” and “self-mastery” aspired to by these young people. They nearly universally blamed themselves for what was happening. One young man described staring himself in the mirror, examining each of his failures, each of his shortcomings, every day. It’s not capitalism, it’s not class warfare, it’s not empire and biopwer that are the problems, it’s just me. I’m the cause of all this suffering and misery.
One of the major problems of the political left, at least in the USA, has always been how to combat the American individualist spirit and motivate modes of collective consciousness. Silva ends her article with a timid plea for something like mutual recognition, for the recognition that we are in this together, that we are all suffering. But she does put an interesting, developmental-psychological twist on the argument, pointing out that perhaps the new threshold for “adulthood” at this conjuncture is precisely that point beyond which one can finally afford to trust others and form meaningful long-term relationships. For she found, in her research, that almost every young person she interviewed said that they simply could not afford the risk involved in intertwining their lives with another person—obviously this affects marriage rates and childbirths, but more broadly and probably much more importantly this self-enforced isolationism is precisely what the neoliberal order needs in order to obscure the injustice of the maintenance of unpayable debts.
This is, of course, the zenith of neoliberal hypocrisy and the essence of its killing machine agenda of biopolitical holocaust. As David Graeber has shown, an unpayable debt is simply the perversion of a promise. Graeber points out that although a loan, in legal terms, is a contract whose risk is mutual—since not only the borrower but even more so the lender stands to gain from the introduction of credit—the liability in contemporary neoliberal capital is borne almost entirely by the party who needs the credit, and depends upon it so much that it is almost makes an oxymoron of calling a loan a “free contractual agreement.” (Graeber notes that historically, the law was much more often on the side of the borrower rather than the lender, since during the time that the loan is unpaid, one is effectively enslaved to the one to whom one “freely contracted” oneself). But “going into debt” simply means “being the subject of an investment.” Why should the financial powers that choose to make such investments not bear most of the responsibility for the contingencies that will inevitably arise, forcing the need for the renegotiation of social agreements in the face of changing circumstances (so-called “economic downturns”)? How and by what insane logic do individual borrowers, particularly students, become saddled not only with legal but with moral and even religious responsibility for the situation of the entire economy?
Since Max Weber we have recognized that capitalism is stapled together, link by cruel link, with the iron (and ironies) of a maniacal Calvinist vision of “the world” not as a place of contingency, change, and development, but a static, eternally predetermined field of winners and losers (the saved and the damned) within which one must nevertheless, paradoxically, “prove” oneself as belonging to the saved (even though such effort is pointless, given that all is predetermined by divine election). One can almost hear this form of fetishistic disavowal (first identified by Marx and replayed by Žižek) sounding off within our hopelessly isolated individual heads: I know it’s not really my fault, I know it’s this rigged, unjust, hopelessly compromised class structure of exclusion and exploitation that is ruining my life systematically, but nevertheless I believe that it’s all my fault—I could have gotten slightly better grades, I could have played one more sport, I could have done one more internship, hell, I could be just a little bit more good looking . . . yeah, that’s definitely my fault, too.
The most pernicious aspect of this ideology of individual responsibility is of course that it prevents the formation of class consciousness, of shared recognition of suffering and plight that might galvanize resistance, rebellion, and revolt against the powers that be, and ground the energy necessary for the epic struggle to create new institutions (faced by every generation, and not just the current one). But to return to the issue of maturity, the author has an interesting way of putting the problem that stands the whole idea of human maturity and “humanity” in an unusual light, a light that illuminates some of my own misgivings about the accelerationist vogue.
We might think that nothing could be more “mature,” “adult,” “responsible,” “reliable,” “dependable,” “trustworthy,” “dignified,” even “heroic” about the cavalier attitude of American 20-somethings who blame only themselves for their lack of opportunities, meaningful long-term relationships, and hopes for the future. But the assumption of individual responsibility for one’s fate, one’s destiny, the fulfillment or denial of one’s hopes and dreams is not maturity. It is a black hole of despair created by the evisceration and evacuation of social life as that life is increasingly undermined by debt, and by the moral isolation the logic of debt perpetuates.
Which brings me to my doubts that the progressive politics we need is grounded in our ability to complete the project of escape from the human body and from planet earth through a completely realized, “Promethean” form of self-mastery and self-critique. It seems to me that this has always already been the project of capital itself, and already of empire, and of course above all of neoliberal biopolitical strategy. I realize that the accelerationist claim is that neoliberalism only pretends but does not actually complete the necessary modern project of emancipation through technological self-mastery. But I am haunted by the fact that we can hear all too easily the mantra of self-mastery and self-critique in the inner voice of the young men and women blaming themselves, as they search for mastery through the technique of self-hatred, instead of investigating the various ways in which what was promised them by society, by those who have invested in them—by parents, by institutions at all levels, by capitalism itself—has been systematically denied them.
I see the ideology of individualism run amok in its most extreme form, each and every semester I continue to work in the increasingly corrupt and compromised institutions of higher education. In my own continuing desperate scramble for a decent living (yes, it’s my fault, too, I’ve only published one book with a major university press, have only one currently in the works, am only translating one major French philosopher, have only 16 peer-reviewed essays in academic journals, have only developed just under 25 different courses in 7 years at 5 different institutions in three different states while endlessly interviewing for hopelessly competitive tenure-track positions while co-parenting a 5 year old—mea culpa, I am so inadequate I can hardly stand myself) I have seen both ends of the post-human student spectrum, the zombies and the vampires. The individualism of my ultra-elite liberal arts college students in Main Line Philadelphia is vampiric—well-dressed, mannered, slow, subtle consumption of all energy sources on the way to the eternal life of class privilege, even in the name of social-welfare oriented NGO leadership. That of my lower- and working-class community-college transfer students at a mid-level state school in South Jersey is the individualism of the zombie: desperate, malnourished, harried, unstable, under-resourced, unprepared, precarious, disposable. If what I have to teach my students can be compared to flesh and blood, then while the zombies devour my brain only to immediately forget (i.e. digest, because they are so hungry, so malnourished to begin with), the vampires simply keep a tiny cut open from which each day they extract another drop, sniff at it, occasionally taste, then systematically disregard most of what I have to offer. After all, they don’t really need me, since as soon as they graduate into their debt-free heaven of entitled do-goodsterism, the zombies will provide all the blood the vampires will ever need to survive.
My students, it seems to me, are inhuman, all-too-inhuman. Beyond the obvious rhetorical dangers of Prometheanism (and beyond the fact that there really is nothing new here—the details of the accelerationist program seem to dovetail quite nicely with a familiar Habermasian ideal of communicative rationality with a sadistic-scientistic twist), my own problem with an accelerationist politics, at least as stated in the manifesto, have more to do with a substantive disagreement about the real stakes and promise of a fully unleashed or “weaponized” scientific outlook as the ground of a desirable future, particularly where that outlook or “rationality” is grounded on the premise and promise of “abductive experimentation” within given fields or structures amenable to probabilistic reasoning (i.e. prediction in keeping with the law of large numbers, whereby prediction becomes increasingly accurate if samples are large enough).
Instead we propose that the problems besetting our planet and our species oblige us to refurbish mastery in a newly complex guise; whilst we cannot predict the precise result of our actions, we can determine probabilistically likely ranges of outcomes. What must be coupled to such complex systems analysis is a new form of action: improvisatory and capable of executing a design through a practice which works with the contingencies it discovers only in the course of its acting, in a politics of geosocial artistry and cunning rationality. A form of abductive experimentation that seeks the best means to act in a complex world.
But at this point in the manifesto, I can hear sampling from Reza Nagarestani’s work, whose “inhumanist rationalism” I personally find fascinating and more complex than the manifesto makes it out to be. Some recent Nagarestani:
“In fact, once we unbind the scope of the rationalism project and terminalize the transcendental asymptocity of knowledge, we realize that the ambition of rationalism is to sever the purported alliance between reason and human and to accelerate the dislocating and renegotiating power of the modern system of knowledge by which the human is humiliated at each and every turn” (Reza Nagarestani, http://blog.urbanomic.com/cyclon/)
Nagarestani objects to a “computationalist” model of modern reason, one that would fetishize the cyborgian program in the way that Nick Land’s work does. And yet, even though Nagarestani seems to want to leave open a space for contingency within continuity, the price paid for rationality is still humanity. Why this tradeoff? What is it that we apparently need, so desperately, to humiliate in order to progress? And who or what is left after this humiliation, or rather, who or what is humiliated (and yet also somehow strangely exalted, or at least transmuted) in this process?
Lately I have been deeply impressed by the work of Henri Atlan, who is thinking about the possibility of the reproduction of human life by human beings, and the implications of potential control over that most significant of contingencies, at least for human beings—the contingency of births.
In practice, these contingencies of existence [all sources of humiliation for knowledge] can be handled in two ways: one, deeper, in which random events are transformed into singularities that bear various meanings, which appear in original an unique constructions that are always being started afresh; the other, superficial and deceptive, in which random events are hemmed in by the law of large numbers in the homogeneity of statistical averages. This makes it possible to control and master randomness by replacing it with a statistical calculation, but only on condition of wiping away all differences and eliminating every individuality. Here chance is not eliminated, but congealed into a homogeneous random whole in which causal relations are collective and all individuals are interchangeable, like molecules in statistical thermodynamics; any uniqueness is excluded, along with any spontaneity and any novelty. Opposed to this death by dilution in the ineffable multiplicity of chaos is death by the rigidity of imposed order, directed by the predetermined collective name and exclusive meaning. (The Sparks of Randomness: Vol. 1, Spermatic Knowledge, 56)
It is not entirely clear to me that the “humiliation” Nagarestani invites us to court should be neatly opposed to spontaneity, uniqueness, and novelty; he seems to be trying to develop a quite complex theory of how such irreducibly local traits are asymptotically coordinated in some general, universal space. I am not entirely sure, that is, that Nagarestani’s position is all that far from Atlan’s, in the end. And unlike Brassier and Brandom, Nagarestani also seems to realize that maturity and “Enlightenment” are not to be found in systems of total control and the sadistic- violent imposition of epistemic norms, upon fields of probability (i.e. “compression”). The future we want is not one of increasing control over chance, change, and contingency. What is needed, rather, is an entirely different relationship to contingency, and to chance, as such, one that is neither marked by fear and self-deception (neoliberalism) nor fascinated by dreams of total control, dominance, and escape from the peculiarities of flesh, blood, and earth (facile accelerationism). Atlan sets the stakes of this problem in a very clear way:
The desacralization of chance was completed in the seventeenth century, with the advent of rational mechanics and the principle of sufficient reason, which for all practical purposes reduced Aristotle’s four causes to one: the efficient cause. No event can take place unless it has an efficient cause, and knowledge of the cause suffices to explain it. This idea has been diversified since then; the cause maybe replaced by a set of causes or, especially, by a causal law whose generality and abstraction are greater than the effect it produces and explains. Nevertheless, the mechanical explanation no longer invokes the final causes in nature that formerly gave meaning to events. Since the eighteenth century, such final causes have found asylum—temporarily, and only for the idealist heirs of Leibniz and Kant—in the attributes of the human soul and in the suprasensible universe of moral law and freedom. Today, randomness is no longer merely the lack of a purpose that would provide meaning. This is because in our world, determined by physical laws in which final causes no longer have a place, every natural event that is not produced by human art and planning lacks an end and purpose. The only conceivable end is the formal one of maximum or minimum, in mathematical physics; but this is just another way of expressing mechanical causality. Modern randomness refers to what is produced without a cause that is known, or even knowable, and whose isolated incidence accordingly cannot be predicted. The only possible prediction of such events—and even it is not always available—is statistical forecast, which no longer relates to the occurrence of single events but only to the set of events we construct by adopting a perspective that makes them indistinguishable from one another.
Underlying this method is the law of large numbers. Much ink has been spilled in the attempts to give this empirical law a theoretical basis, from Pascal and Leibniz through the statistical interpretations of quantum physics. According to this law, if a random phenomenon—for example, casting lots, where the outcome cannot be predicted because we do not have adequate knowledge of all the causes that produce it—is repeated many times, we can predict the results as an average value for all these repetitions. The more times we cast lots, the more precise the predicted average; or, to put it a different way, the closer to certainty is our knowledge of the result for all of these many events taken together.
In other words, thanks to the law of large numbers, our lack of knowledge of the causes of a phenomenon or an individual event is replaced by knowledge of the mean of a set of phenomena that are supposed to be identical. Statistics and the computation of probabilities constitute a powerful method for taming and controlling chance, but their fundamental hypothesis is that all events or all individuals that make up a set of random phenomena can be taken as mutually indistinguishable. This is why the most spectacular applications of this law are in statistical thermodynamics, where we can postulate almost infinite collections of identical molecules. But similar results can be obtained for human mass behavior, such as visitors to a public place, public transport, traffic, opinion polls, and so on. This is possible, of course, only if we take a large number of individuals into account. The causes of individual actions are multiple and unknown to the observer-statistician; but, as with molecules, the mean behavior of the whole is known with great precision. In the human case, each individual knows—or thinks she knows—the causes of her actions and even thinks she decides freely, perhaps after deliberation. Nevertheless, the behavior of the group is determined, inasmuch as it obeys a statistical law that describes and makes it possible to predict it.
Some have seen this as a possible solution to the theological problem of human freedom in a world that is subject to the determinism of an omnipotent and omniscient God. Unfortunately, rather than offering a solution it actually does away with the problem, because it requires we treat human beings as if they were molecules in a thermodynamic system. Alternatively, it is merely one way—and probably the simplest—of denying the reality of free will, leaving only our subjective illusion of it as individuals. (291)
Atlan himself does not believe in the ultimate reality of human free will (he is a rigorous Spinozist on this point), but he does believe that the ultimate “meaning” of human life is irrevocably endangered by any fantasy of control over contingency. With certain Talmudists, he believes that randomness is an inherent, irreducible part of infinite substance (i.e. God, or Nature), and thus that adequate knowledge is always “of” (or “from,” Laruelle might say) chance and contingency rather than any process by which chance is “compressed” or controlled by the banishment of uncertainty from knowledge. The dream of the accelerationists, like the futurists before them and, unfortunately, like the scientologists among us still, is a dream of having life entirely on our own terms, of having a future that is entirely a human construction, amenable to entirely human intentions with entirely foreseeable outcomes (even if these are rendered probabilistically).
As Atlan realizes, this would mean, at the limit, the ability to construct or reconstruct ourselves (the project that Atlan believes, as a geneticist, we are very close to achieving). But, drawing on the Talmudic and kabbalistic meditations on the possibility of the Golem—the artificial creation of a human or humanoid by a human being—Atlan warns that there is a condition for the successful creation of humanity by human beings, or successful co-creation with God (or, if you enjoy the atheistic-mystical terms of Nagarestani, the total humiliation of humanity by cosmic reality). The condition of this success, or achievement of absolute knowledge, is that it cannot pretend to eliminate chance. If the world human beings manage to create, including the human beings we may be able to create by wholly artificial means, eliminates novelty, spontaneity, and uniqueness—that is to say, eliminates chance, contingency, and unforseeability—we will have in the last instance destroyed rather than created, since we will have once again removed ourselves from the cosmic drama (i.e., the infinite substance) rather than conjoined ourselves to deeper participation with it.
Paradoxically, it seems to me that to the extent that accelerationism is post-corporeal and post-terrestrial, it is nevertheless hyper-humanist, in precisely the Enlightenment sense of the human as a rational subject whose desire and will can be atomically considered, understood, evaluated, predicted, and controlled, like a molecule in a thermodynamic system (even if that subjectivity is now seen as “distributed” or “aggregated” over a network function). The more that humans seem to have control over their lives, the more life becomes inhuman, transforming each of us into automata—into the very ontological impress (impresarios?) of the random molecules that ground the probabilistic epistemological framework.
Atlan notes that automata is one of Aristotle’s words for chance. Despite the fact that the meaning of “automated” or “robotic” is precisely of something pre-programmed and mechanical rather than subject to random fluctuations or chance impulse, what binds the modern robot to the ancient, Aristotelian automaton is that what is at stake is action without meaning, action, that is, without a “final cause.” All action, from a modern epistemic point of view, is the action of automata whose “purposes” can only be determined as “aggregates” or “means,” and never as individually caused or motivated. This view has direct and disastrous political consequences, because it epistemically validates the treatment of individual human beings as components of aggregates, aggregates whose tendencies, statistically mediated, are alone real, and whose values can be thus measured and judged without regard for individual human potential, individual suffering, individually unforeseeable novelty and spontaneity.
So as far as I can see, there is no real “future” in this psedo-futurism of inhumanism, which seems a thinly-veiled and understandably outraged protest against the radical precariousness of the present. (It seems to me, however, that Nagarestani’s work hovers between a usage of “inhumanist” rhetoric and radically humanist substance, in the spirit if not the letter of C.S. Peirce’s universalism). The desire to escape the body and the earth is the desire to escape the precarious contingency of life. But when it comes to funding, it is not the science-fictional agencies of future auto-alienating gnosis that require capital. What requires our time, attention, and devotion (that is to say, what requires capital, or the real essence of post-capital) is precariousness itself, the clear and present presence of chance, change, and contingency that ineluctably marks corporeal and terrestrial life.
Let me conclude with this, then. The desire for total control is a desire for death. In some ways the scions of financial capital are in this way (they know not what they do) one degree wiser than the accelerationists, for at least they remember (at least in secret) that they are lying when they claim to be able to predict market behavior and forecast market futures. For as the Austrian school of economics never tires of reminding us, unless there were radical uncertainty (not just imperfect information) in markets, there would be no market, since there would be then no arbitrage—that is, no asymmetry between the positions of different market actors, and thus no differences in prices and ultimately no economic “movement.” Perfectly predictable markets are not desirable, simply because they are not markets. So it is true that the financial “oracles” are failing to succeed at the accelerationist program of systemic control over human life, all the while pretending to have rendered that life more or less predictable for the purposes of investment (helped by the unwitting social sciences, as Foucault never tired of showing us, since they with their statistical aggregations have helped to created the collective abstractions of normalcy that we are now expected to conform to as individuals). While the accelerationist dreams of a future in which no one is satisfied because everyone is equally subject to the finally unburdened caprice (or cleverness, cunning metis) of a finally disembodied mind—one free to have become fully identical to and thus disappear into chance itself—the economist at least knows that “a throw of the dice cannot abolish chance”: all is not sheer possibility, there must be at least one actuality—that of the observer (if not the poet), the position of Absolute Wealth, even if that position reduces, post-apocalyptically, to One/Zero. (Robert Jackson gave an inspiring paper last summer in Liverpool on computationalism that seemed to confirm my intuition that computationalism cannot be sheerly inferential (if-then), and must always presume some concrete actual starting point, which introduces irreducible contingency and undecidability into even the most arid, abstract, “inhuman” mode of “reasoning,” that of computation. See here for Jackson’s own response to Nagarestani’s position).
But the Absolute Zero of accelerationist subjectivity only has appeal in contrast with the hypocritical relation to chance of the Falsified Unity of the Economist-In-One. What is needed is not the merely apparent mastery of chance by total identification with it dreamt of by the accelerationist in his adolescent paranoia cum cyborgian fantasy. What is needed is the much more difficult relationship to chance that has been the perennial human struggle, perhaps the defining struggle of a non-standard humanism, in the last instance, since chance itself “in itself” if we could say, is the the unforeseeable, the unpredicted, and indeed the longed for, that we must commune with, short of exhaustion and the ever-seductive abyss of death. In the book I’m working on now, I am experimenting with using the generic framework of divination, with its histories, legends, lore, material assemblages and logical paradoxes, for comprehending how human beings have and continue to form the habit and practice of welcoming and evoking chance as the beginning of non-standard wisdom, avoiding the Scylla of disavowed control (pseudo-scientific economics) and the Carybdis of self-immolating despair (pseudo-religious accelerationism) as not only knowledge but in the last instance survival.
24 thoughts on “Inhuman Already? Zombies, Vampires, and the Accelerationist Moment”
Thanks for this, Joshua. I’ve just started reading The Sparks of Randomness and am glad to read your thoughts on it. I affirm most of what you’re getting at here. I will say, though, that I’m a little wary of Nagarestani’s invitation to “court” humiliation (as you put it here). I don’t think we need to “court” it. Humiliation will always find us. We only have to recognize it, notice its presence, and the impact it makes on our pride. Once, I think, we take note of those marks we are either “humiliated” (defeated by the humiliation), or humbled by it. I’m inclined to be predictably dogmatic here and hold up the condition of being humbled as a kind of spiritual aim. On some level, I think, our reaction to humiliation is a choice. But I think it’s also still crucial to have a functional pride—a kind of defense structure, or armor, to shield our contingency or fragility against the inevitable onslaught of humiliation. Not a pride that’s inflated, or aspirationally impenetrable. But one that can resist some of the impact of humiliation so that we are (if only closer to theory) not reduced to some kind of pure state of fragility or precarity. I think, on some level, something like pride can be read as a form of control over contingency. Though I don’t think it has to be a fantasy of total control. And I think religious discourses are loaded with injunctions to break pride open, or to lose it entirely, because it almost inevitably tends to lure us into fantasies that look more like total control. So I recognize that it’s problematic, but I still think defense structures like these are important.
In the accelerationist call for a “refurbished mastery”, I see (as it seems to me that you are pointing out) a response to conditions of extreme precarity. And I dislike the way that refurbished masteries and couplings with complex systems theories just seem macho and cold. I find it a rather ugly fantasy, quite frankly. So, yes, it seems to me like a misguided backlash against conditions of extreme precarity. But I wonder at the effectiveness of dousing this kind of response with more attention to sheer precarity. I wonder if there isn’t a way to still appreciate attempts to build types of defense structures, albeit without losing sight of their fragility?
It seems that the accelerationism you present here is rather a straw man. I’ll just point out two important issues:-
1. Nick and Alex are quite clear in their manifesto that they’re talking about *collective* self-mastery, and so the whole association with individualism and the neoliberal tendency to individualise should just be thrown straight out. It has nothing to do with what they’re talking about, no matter what other unpalatable connotations you might find in the notion of ‘mastery’.
2. How does the imperative to understand and control the contingencies of the world, which is a normative principle, imply the elision of contingency from the world? Your chief charge against the accelerationist here seems to be that they don’t understand contingency, but you make this charge on the back of their claims about how we should relate to contingency, not with regard to any account of its nature. I think most people interested in accelerationism would deny that the complete eradication of contingency is possible, and thus that an understanding of it, and healthy respect for it, is of the utmost importance, while simultaneously holding that we should nevertheless aim to overcome it. The alternative seems to be to wallow in the ineffability of the contingent, which seems by far the more mystical attitude.
So we just scale up the neoliberal subject to a collective entity? Awesome! [/sarcasm]
Josh, your words on the whole strike all the right notes!
Let me accelerate my answer: For starters, we had strikingly similar responses to the Accelerationist Manifesto. I mean that it is a quite surprising one at that, considering I followed up with a post on Negarestani’s work which reads to the same tune as yours, so it is quite enjoyable to see you engage with both at the same time. Moreover, your reading of Cyclonopedia in the vein of Piercean universalism is also quite aligned with my own recent reading of Fernando Zalamea (whose work on Pierce you would enjoy significantly, and perhaps his more well-known work sheaf theory if you wish to pretend “mastering” mathematics for a few hundred pages) which also took place immediately after the original Manifesto was published. Not to mention, of course, our shared recourse to Jewish mysticism throughout. I wonder how it is that these three or four general neighborhoods of thought are so tied, such that you and I both draw inspiration for them. I swear we are in cahoots, for better or worse. Or, you have been reading my posts behind my back as I write!
Now as for the theme of “humility” hiding somewhere in your response, I tried tracing it through as a positive concept on its own terms — unfortunately to no immediate avail. This is, I think, a serious task raised by your vision laid out here in only a couple thousand words. I’d like to hear your thoughts: How do we properly work humility into our action, into our words? What role ought humility play? Can you sense, for instance, the veiled arrogance of the whole mise-en-scene of my first paragraph? Can you perhaps articulate it peacefully? It is as though the guiding rule of the paragraph reads “…you are saying exactly what I said, only I said it first (and therefore better)”. And where’s the harm in me simply saying that?, some might protest. Which is the humble response? Admittedly, this first paragraph was an act of deliberate and self-congratulatory posturing on my behalf in large part to be able to pose this question of humility to you seen in a new light. Yours is certainly a good post, a great one even. I mean, what else could I say to a friend like you?
In the end, it is important that we develop a language for this kind of subtlety in our “conceptual operations” and general angle of approach, even and especially if it is ultimately a performative one. As such, I feel obliged to trouble you with the prospect of developing a “post-critique” mentality, e.g. to develop what this kind of humility looks without cutting with our words. I am posing these questions to you, tough as they may be, because it is my understanding that the accelerationists are not typically going to be so prone to integrate “humility” into their overarching practice — it seems to be akin to a looming shadow. Where is the humble One? If we choose to begin this effort, it seems we are (of course) in some sense indebted to a variant of the Laruellean idea of “stance”. Which are humble stances? Must we bow our heads? How do we pray, again? I seem to have forgotten. Generalizing from this particular stance — from this (my) first boastful in-stance — can we also graciously identify violences already working in the set-up other given arenas, be they conceptual or otherwise? For example, do you ever get angry in your dealings with others? Can we instead speak a bit more constructively in the moment, without quickly resorting to what seems to be the default mode of “critique”?
I am given pause to think again about the possibility of enacting non-violence along this line of flight, this time in connection with a view into humility. Non-violence does not seem to be the kind of thing you can accelerate, for its focus is much too humble and long-term. I believe this is a task you in particular are more than capable of meeting with utmost grace and sincerity. Best wishes to you and your loved ones, & congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far. Yours,
Pretty sure it’s not a straw man. Point 1.) Whether the self-mastery is collective or otherwise, the worry here lies in the sheer self-tautology of it all. By all means, the intentions are ambitious, yet I remain unconvinced that the project will do anything but languish into a state of affairs whereby, modes of action are excluded on the grounds for not giving ‘appropriate reasons’ (precisely insofar as the configurations of meaning have already been dictated and decided by the tautology of reasons).
Point 2.) Ramey isn’t saying that Accelerationism misunderstands contingency, nor fails to account for it – rather, how can Accelerationism justify its importance, whilst at the same time, seek to overcome it with reason alone? Don’t present a forced choice, by stating that the alternative must only lurch in a mystical variant of transcendence, when that isn’t the case. Why not accept fallibility as a feature of a largely banal, mediocre finite species, whose achievement isn’t cognitive self-awareness, but just wanton destruction, on the basis that it cannot *not* avoid complexity?
I’ve some sympathy with your position. New (post-Landian) accelerationism is a kind of Marxist transhumanism and thus a kind of humanism. Unlike you, perhaps, I do not see this as a political or ethical problem; but a metaphysical one. Self-mastery is an incoherent ideal; a life which precludes the worst is not really a life at all.
However, I think it is important not to muddle up transhumanism with posthumanism here; or, again, conflate what I call speculative posthumanism with “critical posthumanism” (the deconstruction or critique of humanism as an ethical and epistemic foundation).
Almost all discussions of posthumanism conflate speculative posthumanism – which a metaphysical thesis about the possibility of nonhuman successors to humans – with transhumanism. Transhumanism is an ethical thesis about the desirability of using technology to improve the human lot and project human values beyond Earth. Posthumanism is not a political strategy; it is a possibility claim. Becoming posthuman may or may not involve leaving the body. It might just involve variant form of embodiment or the creation of synthetic life forms . . or some technogenetic process we cannot envisage as yet. So given the dated non-existence of posthumans, we cannot critically evaluate the posthuman state. We would need to make, encounter or become posthumans to do that.
See my essay “The Disconnection Thesis” for further details.. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-32560-1_14.
The impossibility of critique is obviously a critical problem since posthumans might result from some iteration of our technical practice (Capitalist or non-capitalist – I don’t see much difference here given our existential commitment to technical modernity). But to grapple with this problem we have to relinquish any foundational commitment to humanism, whether to ideals or solidarity or autonomy. Neither can be presupposed since we have no way of knowing whether posthumans will be persons or subjects and no way of deciding who counts as a member of the solidary “we” in advance of a human-posthuman disconnection. The result is a kind of speculative technological anarchism, but I cannot see any other way through the impasse at this point.
My own personal gripe is why this is leftist or Marxist? I could almost accept accelerationism *if* it admitted that it is a neoliberal project (from the subject to the collective as Adam notes). There are further smaller problems: 1. the sheer difficulty of the influences involved in people such as Reza (see especially the mathematics involved) and 2. the hyper-masculinity of the project (this is evident in the makeup of the group, but also in the style).
Accelerationists, Decelerationists (cf Stengers on Slow Science), and Divinationists (cf Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli on synchronicity): does the hermeneutics of contingency require a techno-scientific optimism? Or does Deleuze’s notion of meaningful contingency (called by him “becoming”, or better “double becoming”) represent what Kenneth White called a “surnihilist” path of thought that gives science its due but not its primacy? cf: http://storify.com/TerenceBlake/contingency-vs-synchronicity-can-chance-be-part-of
Well, let’s have another crack at this then. I still think this is a straw man, for precisely the reasons already addressed, but I’ll try to elaborate a bit in response to some of the comments.
1. Adam: Quite simply, no. The problem with bandying around the word ‘neoliberalism’ here, and the associated ‘neoliberal subject’, is that it’s all too poorly defined to function as anything other than a vague rebuke. Let’s articulate two important features of neoliberalism that are both parts of its explicit account of subjectivity (as codified by neoclassical economics and rational choice theory), and which are to some extent internalised by those who endorse it and those who are otherwise affected by its ideological hegemony: 1) methodological individualism, both in an explanatory register and in a normative register, and 2) rational instrumentalism, again, both in an explanatory and a normative register. I’ve written more about this here: http://deontologistics.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/ideology-and-subjectivity/ (though its slightly out of date).
To what extent is the accelerationist view of subjectivity so entertainingly caricatured here behold to either of these features? Well, it’s not methodologically individualist that’s for sure. Both it’s explanatory project (e.g., the attempt to rethink the foundations of economics) and its normative project (e.g., collective self-mastery) are attempts to rigorously think through the consequences of methodological collectivism.
That leaves the question of instrumentalism. This seems to be the more substantial criticism, as, so the thought goes, even if you scale up to collective subjectivity it still looks like collective self-mastery is nothing more than god old fashioned RCT-style preference-maximisation. However, this is also wrong, because although this idea of self-mastery certainly stems from a form of rationalism, it’s a form of rationalism that attempts to understand how reason extends beyond simple forms of instrumental reasoning. This is my own speciality, and where I find Brandom’s dual critiques of RCT (i. that it presupposes a semantics it doesn’t provide, and ii. that it’s neo-humean account of practical inference in enthymetic terms is inadequate) especially enlightening. I could add that this actually ties into a way of interpreting Heidegger’s account of enframing, but I suspect this is not the place.
The crucial point is that understanding this means accepting that both the appropriation of the term ‘rationality’ by economics in the 20th century, and the seeming acceptance of this appropriation by anti-rationalist critics of economism, are deeply flawed, and that this can only be genuinely understood on the basis of a detailed account of the structure of reason. This should be sufficient to distinguish these accelerationist ideas from the core conceits of neoliberalism, but I suspect that people will continue to associate them nevertheless, if only because they find this task onerous.
2. Robert: I think your use of the word ‘tautology’ is highly misleading here, precisely because you’re misunderstanding the account of rationality just mentioned. Tautologies only make sense in the context of formal inference, but the whole basis of the inferentialist program (which we all seem sympathetic to some extent, albeit it with numerous different influences and variations) is distinguishing a notion of material inference from that of formal inference. This ties into the emphasis on non-monotonic reasoning as distinct from monotonic reasoning that I’ve adopted from Brandom, and abductive experimental reasoning over deductive reasoning that others have adopted from Reza. The ideal of knowledge that is aimed at by the procedures of rational revision implicit in the game of giving and asking for reasons has nothing to do with tautologies, which can only ever exist in formal systems articulated out of the logical vocabularies whose role within the game is to make explicit what is implicit in the material inferential connections that constitute the content of our concepts, so that these concepts can then be revised in accordance with the deliverances of experience. As I’ve said to you before, it really isn’t clear that the radical epistemic conclusions you seem to draw from Godel’s insights about provability (and hence computability) have any traction when it comes to empirical reasoning as opposed to mathematical reasoning. They’re substantially different, and the former (non-monotonic) only looks to have constitutive inadequacies if you try to fit in into the narrow categories of the latter (monotonic). This point being understood then:-
1) Why wouldn’t we want to adjudicate action on the basis of ‘appropriate reasons’? The only reason I can think of is that there might be some mode of oppression implicit in the power relations governing who determines what counts as ‘appropriate’. But this sort of ‘who decides?’ issue is bullshit, not because there can’t be such forms of oppression, but because they are explicitly not constitutive of the practice of giving and asking for reasons for action. They are rather pathologies of this practice, and can only be exorcised on the basis of articulating *better* reasons. I don’t think it’s controversial to claim that we ought to act (both individually and collectively) on the basis of the best reasons we can muster.
2) To be honest, I’m not sure I get the double negative in your last sentence, but I’ll do my best to answer. It still seems to me that Josh’s criticism is some variant of the claim that accelerationism doesn’t understand contingency properly, and the same seems to apply for yours. This is implicit in your claim that accelerationism thinks it can overcome contingency by ‘reason alone’, and this in turn seems to point back to your concept of ‘reason alone’ as fundamentally tautological. The idea is to grapple with contingency by aiming to understand it through an ongoing and interactive abductive process through which we revise our understanding of the world on the basis of action and observation, in a manner that is fully compatible with its complex and stochastic dynamics. This neither thinks that such contingency can be entirely eliminated, nor that the process of understanding it is infallible (indeed, fallibilism is epistemologically built in to the notion of revision here). The point is simply to convert apparent necessities into things that are potentially controllable (e.g., our earth bound existence) and to predict and cope with the inevitable contingencies of the universe (e.g., extrinsic planetary extinction events) through understanding and experiment to the best of our ability.
3. David: This will really just be treading old ground in the debate between us, but I think it worthwhile to note that I explicitly reject your possibility claim, not because I reject the possibility of many of the aberrant forms of life you postulate, but simply because I reject that there’s any useful sense in which they’re ‘successors’ to humanity. The virtue of transhumanism consists in its willingness to think through what such successorship consists in, and well, I think the only real candidate is the sort of rational autonomy you insist posthumans could so easily shrug off. This doesn’t mean transhumans wouldn’t be radically different, just that there are limits to relevant differences.
4. John C: I think the question of how this is a leftist project should be addressed by my points about methodological collectivism in response to Adam. There’s very little that’s common to the left as a whole, but some sort of collectivism is about the closest you get. The accelerationist project is collectivist through and through. As for the smaller problems, 1) Sorry it’s difficult, but well, that’s just the way it is. Some of this might be about difficulties of expression, but largely its about the difficulty of the subject matter, and there’s just no getting around that; 2) I’m really not sure how to respond to the whole masculinity thing anymore, as it seems I’m damned if I do (e.g., by talking about female influences, female interlocutors, or arguing that appeals to ‘rationality’ aren’t inherently masculine), and damned if I don’t (i.e., by just ignoring potential worries and carrying on). The best I can do is point you to the thoughts I put down about it elsewhere: http://accelerationism.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/some-friendly-questions/
Lots of important points to address here, in all the comments so far. Working backwards from latest to earliest:
1. Terence–You would probably guess that I hope what I will ultimately try to say about divination will dovetail with Deleuze’s conception of meaningful contingency. One of my primary inspirations for my current project comes from Deleuze’s stunning remarks about divination in Logic of Sense, where he affirms a stoic ethics grounded in divination (p.143). I look forward to checking out your link on this topic. Obviously I will have to deal with Jung’s interpretation of divination in terms of synchronicity. Despite the fatuousness of the depth psychology stemming from Jung I think he has some real insights, especially in his introduction to the I Ching when he shows that what divination “reads” are not causal relations (subject to probabilistic laws) but synchronicities as singular indexicals.
2. Agree with John C (and echoing Beatrice) that the masculinity of the accelerationist vogue is deeply problematic. I have yet to hear from a feminine accelerationist voice, if any are out there. It seems, at some level, that the entire ontology is a vision of cosmos as a self-immolated, emaciated, self-castrated or simply sexless male body that has sublimated its castration anxieties into a fantasy of world domination through abstract mastery of incorporeal formalisms. I have to admit, however, that I find this vision extremely poignant, because it is symptomatic of the particular way in which the neoliberal dominum is distorting and humiliating masculine subjectivity as much as it is oppressing feminine subjectivity (granting, if it really must be said, again, that individual men, women, and transgendered persons will manifest–hopefully–an unforseeable range of masculine or feminine dimensions).
3. David, I look forward to reading your piece. If I understand Atlan so far (danger of announcing what I’m thinking about before I’ve finished thinking about it), it seems your own position is very close to his (and I think at this point to mine). Atlan advocates for the paradoxical position that technical modernity should (because it can–note the ought/is collapse a la Spinoza) develop the science and technology to produce “golems” (i.e. humanoid or non-humanoid life forms, “posthuman” life forms, etc.), but on condition that humanity not master/think it has mastered randomness in so doing. The dark lesson of Talmudic and kabbalistic lore (at least on Atlan’s reading) seem to be that no one, not even the righteous prophet Jeremiah, has been able to create a golem without thereby destroying the condition of further creation itself, i.e. without having eliminated the contingency that is, sub specie aeternitatis, necessary. Thus even Jeremiah, the righteous prophet, decided to un-make the golem he had managed to create.
4. This brings up a point that David and deontologistics touch on, which is the “danger” or “error” of collapsing normative/ethical and descriptive/metaphysical registers here in a discussion of contingency. The problem, at least as Atlan puts it, is that at least for the Talmud and kabbalah, dealing with the vicissitudes of contingency amounts to dealing with the limitations of “knowledge” both in the sense of conceptual knowledge and knowledge of life–that is, “biblical” knowledge, knowledge of the flesh, knowledge of and through sex (and by extension the reproduction of life through sex, which passes through the “opaque” flesh, the “chance” meeting of sexual partners, the random chance of insemination, etc.). While control over the reproduction of life without the uncertainties of insemination is near at hand, and while Atlan rejoices over the possibility of the total liberation of women from the toil and oppressive “labor” they have been systematically burdened with, he remains allied to the wisdom tradition that insists on the fact that unless this summit of human power over life is also the summit of human righteousness, nothing but catastrophe (Babel and/or the Flood) can follow. Because God “goes at random” with humanity, not only “tolerating” contingency as part of reality, but preferring to creating good out of evil, insofar as humanity becomes divine–in modern, secular terms, achieves perfect “knowledge”–it must also, necessarily “go at random,” precisely in order to be like God. If we in any sense think contingency is reducible or subject to control or mastery (i.e. elimination via probabilistic abstraction from singularity) we will have invited our own obliteration (which not surprisingly often seems to be the fantasy, here). David’s emphasis on not knowing what posthumans will be like, and thus not knowing how to ground an “ethics” of transhumanism, seems to fit perfectly well with Atlan’s view here, whether or not his usage of the Talmudic and kabbalistic wisdom resonates. Atlan himself is an atheist/Spinozist but finds the wisdom tradition indispensable, because the tradition shows that even if the human mind (or some other mind, presumably) were able to perfectly render its designs, what to do at that point would still be radically unclear–unless, of course, we manage to create automata that are nevertheless programmed to adapt to unforseeable contingencies. But of course, in that case, we will have in fact created beings like ourselves, and we will still have exactly the same evaluative problems (problems of meaning, etc.) we have now.
5. I don’t have much to add to Robert’s succinct remarks in response to deontologistics, other than to restate his point slightly. It seems to me that if anything, it is some dream of absolute rationalism that is doing the groveling act, here, while simultaneously insisting on the transcendence of reason as a point of view from which to look down in condescension on the contingencies of cosmic existence with a “healthy respect.” But at any rate, there is in fact a choice to be made about evaluation, but it can’t be “derived” from some neutral account of the “nature” of contingency, given that contingency, unforseeability, and randomness are what we are talking about when we are talking about the limits of accounts of the nature of anything, per se. When it comes to the evaluation of the meaning and import of chance and random events, we can only respond to contingency as contingency, which means evaluating differently each time. This does not prevent science. It makes science pragmatic and descriptive (a la Latour). My position is not to grovel or even be perpetually humiliated by contingency (coming to Beatrice and inthesaltmine, next), but to look at the persistence of practices of divination, which are extremely archaic, widespread, and intractable in human culture, as a way of thinking about the meta-pragmatics of contingency. Atlan spends a lot of time dealing with the ambivalence in the Talmud and kabbalah over divination, because on the one hand it is something forbidden, disgraceful, demonic to search for auguries and auspices, but on the other and YHWH commands the people to use it. The situation becomes even more complex when you start to investigate different evaluations of divination in other religious traditions. And it seems to me that the more “scientific” modernity becomes, the further we seem to get from all divine oracular modes of knowledge, the more almost every decision we make on the basis of probability is, at some level, an act of divination. For divination is simply a material and tradition-bound means of relating a relatively fixed set of possibilities (arcana, hexagrams, etc.) to an unbounded set of contingencies. The problem, for Atlan, as well as for me, is simply the way in which the priestcraft of instrumental rationality, culminating in the sacrificial rites of neoliberal biopower, is not the effect of some “trace” of religiosity, but is simply the hideous religiosity of our willingness to sacrifice anything we cannot control (i.e. predict, i.e. subordinate to the law of large numbers).
5. For Beatrice and inthesaltmine, my apparent affirmation of humiliation was a tongue-in-cheek concession to accelerationists. You’re right, Beatrice, life is perpetual opportunity for humility, and there is no need to join in with the chorus of self-flagellation in order to commune appropriately with randomness. Maintaining traditions of divination could be seen as a way of maintaining a kind of minimal “pride” such as you advocate, like the way in which we continually clothe, shelter, feed ourselves despite the obvious and constant environmental challenges. But we have also become painfully aware of the costs of trying too hard, too fast, to clothe (sweatshops), shelter (nonsustainable building materials) and feed (industrial food) ourselves. Voila, humility. I am not advocating blind submission to sheer precarity. What I am trying to argue is that attention to contingency has a structure and in the last instance a name: divination. Divination is an itinerant, local, tradition-bound, open-ended, material-formal and generically human practice. It’s not the answer to how to deal with contingency, but it is, somehow, the way we already do it, and may hold clues to what we really mean by “meaning” or “significance,” as such.
There is also a very deep relation, it seems to me, between abduction and divination, which is why Peirce plays a crucial role in my own thinking at this point (as well as Zalamea, and also why I am very taken with Reza’s attempt to integrate Peirce into his own thinking). The problem of abduction is the problem of the motivation of hypotheses in the face of a lack of constraint on reasonable hypotheses. It’s almost a problem of relating the likely to the virtual, rather than the possible to the actual.
One axis of this disagreement has to do with the status of the pathologies of reason: are they corrigible (e.g. through recourse to more and better reasons) or incorrigible (e.g. endemic within the space of reasons, and uneliminatably so)? The main issue seems to be the susceptibility of reason to capture by class interests, which enlist rationality as a means of rationalising dominance. Since all human reasoners inhabit a situation of class domination, this type of capture of reason is not only an external menace affecting reason from without, but a fait accompli which conditions the reasoning of all actually-existing reasoners. The question is then whether it is possible for us to reason our way out of this situation, given that the space of reasons available to us is already “infected” by these conditions. Can reason be effective as a means of ending the condition of class domination which affects it?
A fascinating discussion and commentary, Joshua – many thanks. I will certainly look up Atlan since his position does sound close to my own.
Wanted to leave a few remarks in response to deontologistics’ worthy replies . . . hoping this exchange continues and continues to get richer:
1. The problem is not collectivism vs. individualism. The problem is a statistical-cum-probabilistic view of any collective shape, a view of concept formation (rationality) as a mode of data “compression” that necessarily entails that contingency or uncertainty of any kind is an obstruction or outside for “reason” rather than its very motive or elan. From this point of view, even though there are indeed important differences between instrumental rationality in general and RCT in particular, and I’m sure we all have a lot to learn from Brandom, my question is about what difference this is going to make in the last instance as a general program. However we define “rational,” however rich we make it out to be, it still seems to be opposed by the general accelerationist trend (admittedly I am dealing with the manifesto and to a very limited degree with Reza’s position, which has a lot of experimental richness to it that I’m not addressing) in some Kantian fashion to affect, emotion, embodiment, etc., and I find this trenchant, militant opposition to be deeply problematic, and in the end a rather classical solution to a problem that persists despite the appeal of these classical (Platonic, Kantian) solutions.
2. Action and observation, even taken as fallibile, are not the obviously best ways to begin to encompass the status/significance of unforseeability, ambiguity, and randomness, whether in formal systems or in empirical/inductive contexts. Philip Goodchild’s work in _Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety_ as well as in _Theology of Money_, have shown with utter clarity that there is a problem of a meta-critique of reason (however construed) in terms of the purport and energy that animates reason without being representable, and yet can be understood in terms of different modes of attention and devotion, awareness and identification without any despairing Derrideanisms or Adornian melancholy. Modes of piety as modes of attention, aspects of devotion, focal awarenesses, emotional registers of identification animate reason without being representable on reasons’ terms. That’s at least part of what is at stake here. I understand that there is a gambit that “pure reason” as some kind of cyborg might be able to auto-eclipse this situation, but then I would ask what reason would be good for in that case since there it seems we would have eclipsed the purpose of reason itself.
3. For what it’s worth, I am a huge fan of multiplying the formalisms and representational and diagrammatic modes of rationality, and this is something that I like about Reza’s work. But I also harbor no Kantian illusions about what it would mean to identify with a sheerly abstract power of manipulation, even where everyone in principle could be included in such a project. See the amazing work of Rocco Gangle and Gianluca Caterina at the Center for Diagrammatic and Computational Philosophy for formalism to the highest power that needs no weaponization to make itself of service. http://www.diagrammaticphilosophy.com/
Thanks Josh, sorry if my previous comments came off a bit brusque. They weren’t intended as such. It’s good to be able to have these sorts of dialogue, and I hope they will continue and continue to get richer too. On your specific points:-
1. If collectivism/individualism isn’t the problem, then we do have to discount the association between accelerationism and the individualising neoliberal form of self-cultivation you initially suggested it supports, unless you’ve got another reason for thinking it holds. There’s two other points you make here, which I’ll turn into subpoints for convenience:-
a) I think the problem I have with your claims about reason is I that just don’t see the necessary entailment you point to here, insofar as I’m perfectly happy to understand uncertainty as a constitutive feature of what drives the process of rational revision through which our commitments and the concepts that constitute their content are articulated (see section 4 of this post for an overview of the process, if you’re interested: http://deontologistics.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/what-are-concepts/). I’m even quite sympathetic to Brandom’s idea (derived from Hegel: http://www.pitt.edu/~brandom/hegel/downloads/1SKPCRH41703a.doc) that there are always implicit contradictions bound up in our commitments that drive this process forward through the imperative to make them explicit and discharge them. This particular semantic point gets additional support from the ideas about the constitutive inability of discrete incompatibility relations to completely articulate the fine-grained modal features of a metaphysically continuous world that Deleuze expresses in D&R and that Reza has taken up from a slightly different direction. All these ideas indicate that the process of rational revision of our understanding of the world is inherently indefinite, even if we can study the invariant features of the procedure that is thereby followed indefinitely. In short, I don’t think there’s any reason to think that the sort of picture of reason that I (and others) endorse treats contingency (in either its epistemic modal guise as uncertainty or its alethic modal guise as counterfactual variance) as something extrinsic and unthematised. This might be entailed by some interpretations of the nature of reason in general, or probabilistic reasoning more specifically, but we’d contest those interpretations.
b) The claim that the rationalism involved in the new strain of accelerationism emphasises reason at the expense of affect/emotion/embodiment is quite a common objection, and it has a grain of truth to it, but it’s important to separate out this grain of truth from the exaggerations that tend to accompany it. There most definitely is a subordination of emotion to reason, but this does not amount to a “trenchant, militant opposition” to emotion even if some of the rhetoric may come off that way at times. The strong opposition is not to emotion, but to the valorisation of feeling as an alternative to the supposedly dogmatic/oppressive dictates of reason. It’s a sort of counter-militancy in response to a certain irrationalist militancy that is quite prevalent nowadays. What does this mean for the relation between reason and emotion if they are not opposed then? Well, my particular take on these issues is that emotions are embodied forms of information processing that influence the ways we respond to our environments, modulating our motivations to act in certain ways (I expand on this a little in section 5 here: http://deontologistics.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/comments-on-capitalist-realism-part-1/). This influence is often largely positive, i.e., emotions can be really very good at what they do, and they can do it in ways that would be impossible to achieve through explicit reasoning on a case by case basis. However, I also think that emotions can malfunction, not simply in the sense that someone’s emotional responses can be abnormal (as there’s nothing wrong with that), but in the sense that someone’s emotional responses can be radically sub-optimal. The question is how one then understands such optimality? Well, the only way to do so is to compare the implicit motivations provided by our emotional responses with explicit reasons for action (which are sometimes derived from the former, insofar as emotions can provide reasons). At this point, someone will no doubt point out that reasoning sometimes goes awry, so what’s the difference? Well, the difference is that reason qua ideal procedure (rather than actual processing mechanism) is reflexively self-critical: it enables us to articulate the reasons *why* we were wrong in drawing certain conclusions, rather than simply confronting us with incompatible motivations. There’s a lot more that could be said here, but it suffices for now to say that this critical asymmetry is the crux of the relationship between reason and emotion as far as we’re concerned. There’s further things that could be said about embodiment, but I’d refer you to something else I’ve written for those particular implications of this picture (http://deontologistics.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/freedom-renewed/). Hopefully someone will write something on Firestone and accelerationism at some point too.
2. I’m going to counter your proposal by suggesting that action and observation, as codified in experimental methodologies, are precisely the obvious ways to begin circumscribing the sorts of contingency you’re addressing. This isn’t to say they’re the right ways, but I think it’s safe to say they are prima facie the place to start, and so the onus is on the challenger to explain their inadequacy and articulate a sufficient alternative. I still don’t think you’ve done that, though others will doubtless disagree with me here. I just have no idea what I’m missing out on by not invoking practices of divination. Beyond this point, I haven’t read Goodchild’s work, though the Theology of Money has been on my list for a while (oh, the list…). But I take it that the point is that there are affective attitudes and related forms of motivation underlying the practice of reasoning (both individually and collectively) and that the fact that these are presupposed by the practice means that they thereby can’t be accounted for within it? If so, I’d endorse the premise but reject the conclusion drawn from it. Reasoning is embodied insofar as it is a practical activity, and as such it requires those who embody/enact it to have motivational mechanisms appropriately configured to cause them to perform it. There is no ‘pure reason’ in the sense of a process of reason shorn of such motivational mechanisms, even if it is entirely possible that the way they were embodied could be radically different (e.g., AIs, Aliens, Transhumans, etc.). The question is: why should this preclude us from reasoning about these mechanisms? Why must the genetic conditions that make representation possible be themselves unrepresentable? It is certainly the case that they are often *in fact* not represented or considered, and that this leads to unnoticed biases and other forms of distortion, but this doesn’t mean that *in principle* they cannot be. Moreover, the extent to which reconfiguring these mechanisms, or altering the conditions on the basis of which reason is embodied would thereby undermine the very purpose of reason very much depends upon what you take this purpose to be. I think that, insofar as it can be said to have a purpose, it is the enhancement of Freedom, or, to put it another way, Beauty, and I think that this is not only compatible with radically transforming ourselves, but that it might indeed motivate us to do so (all else being equal). This is the basis of the connection between accelerationist rationalism and transhumanism.
3. Thanks for the link, this diagrammatic stuff does look interesting. I suppose I can summarise the disagreement between us by challenging the idea that we wish to identify with a “sheerly abstract power of manipulation”. I think a lot of the disagreements between us rest on this question of the relation between the abstract and the concrete. The fact that we rationalists are concerned with explicitly abstract ideals such as Reason, Freedom, and Justice is often taken to show that we have elided the concrete dimensions of human life, be it the embodied/social dimensions of human thought, the networks of power relations through which human freedom is inevitably constrained, or the political institutions through which social justice is inevitably perverted. My response to this is that it rests on a false dichotomy between the abstract and the concrete. Abstract ideals can be manifest within concrete practices, and indeed, they can’t properly be understood without explaining how they are so manifest. The attempt to motivate action on the basis of these ideals thus demands a tarrying with the concrete, both in the form of the conditions of our own embodiment and the features of the world around us. This is the essence of the idea of self-mastery that many have objected to, but it can be articulated without using that word. It is just what Foucault calls self-construction, and it has individual and collective dimensions that are inevitably intertwined together.
Thanks for all these links. It’s definitely time for me to get a sense of the details of your own position before this polemic can make progress. Most of my substantive reservations about an “accelerated” usage of reason need further grounding before I could leverage a full (and hopefully constructive) critique. My sense, at this point, is that there would need to be a great deal of clarification about what exactly is meant by “reason” and “rationality,” and in what context (especially since there does seem to be an uncanny resonance between instrumental reason, utility calculus, and transhuman “optimization” — you are clearly trying to distinguish these and that’s something I encourage you and the movement to continue to do), and then also about how such reason is related to putatively non- or a-rational domains (construed as unrepresentable or otherwise). For me that is really the key, not so much that we can say nothing about the unrepresentable (I am a Deleuzian, after all), but that what we have to look at is the pragmatics, in a very broad sense, of how various modes of a cryptic (I prefer the term enigmatic) real, that has affective (to be distinguished from emotional) as well as cognitive registers are relayed, continued, blocked interrupted, recreated, etc. And of course what all this has to do with temporality, in a very radical sense, and one of the key issues for me is how to think the future as a persistence of multiple pasts rather than as radical break. I am in the middle of using “divination” as a meta-pragmatic framework for trying to think through some of these issues, but I don’t expect the book to be in print until the end of next year (although I’ll keep leaking what I am thinking while I’m thinking it through). By the way, if you already knew what you were missing out by not making reference to divination, there’d be no point in my writing the book!
Thanks Josh, it’s been a good exchange. Sorry if I’ve swamped you with links, but the material is sitting out there, even if it isn’t as unified and concise as it could be (to say the least). Again, I’ve got my own Deleuzian metaphyscial commitments here, as I hinted at above, but these seem to diverge from those of most self-identifying Deleuzians (there’s another paper on my blog, but I won’t link it, honest…). As for the point about the pragmatics of temporal understanding, I couldn’t agree more, though I suspect our account of these will be quite radically different (though I’ll wait for the book!). I will indulge myself by providing one more link here, which is to my thoughts on accelerationism and temporality in relation to what I call dialectical minimalism (http://accelerationism.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/some-friendly-questions/). Best of luck with the book!
I too am a “divergent” Deleuzian (is there any other kind?). The notion of “self-identifyng Deleuzian” is a contradiction in terms. Bernard Stiegler declares that he does not identify with anyone or any category, not even with himself, a very Deleuzian remark. The discussion has continued here: http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/notes-towards-a-divinationist-manifesto-noesis-and-becoming-in-deleuze-and-stiegler/.
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