On the old saw, “Islam isn’t a race”

One strange feature of the online atheist movement is that while all religions are bad, Islam is consistently presented as the very worst — so that Richard Dawkins, for instance, can wonder aloud whether atheists should support Christian missionaries in Africa to combat the spread of Islam. Many people have suggested that this anti-Islam sentiment is racist, and the response is always that Islam isn’t a race and hence being opposed to Islam can’t be racism.

Let’s unpack that. For these thinkers, Islam is obviously a bad and destructive system of thought. Yet billions of people spend their whole lives trying to live according to these stupid teachings, generation after generation. What’s worse, in the modern world, they have ready access to knowledge about the superior system of secular modernity, but they persist in embracing a crappy religion. At a certain point, you have to wonder if there is simply something wrong with such people, right? Perhaps their reasoning capacities are hampered in some way. Indeed, one begins to wonder, could it perhaps be something … inborn?

Obviously atheists won’t embrace the extrapolation I’ve just made, but it’s ultimately the only conclusion — if Islam is a terrible thing, and if people continue to embrace it despite knowing about a superior alternative, there must be something wrong with those people’s reasoning capacity that doesn’t allow it to reach the high level of white people’s.

A really robust belief in the powers of human reason, of course, would take us in the opposite direction: if all human beings have basically equal reasoning capacity, and if billions upon billions of people have found Islam to be plausible and appealling, then there must be something good about Islam. Yet people who self-identify with “reason” never draw that conclusion, because the “party of reason” always turns out to be an elite who knows better than everyone else and deserves to be in charge. And when you ask why not everyone is willing to submit to the leadership of the “party of reason,” you begin to suspect that maybe there’s something wrong with their reasoning capacity, maybe on a biological level, etc., etc.

Basically, declaring oneself to be on the avant-garde of “reason” is always going to lead to racism if you take it to its logical conclusion. Thankfully for the mental health of the “party of reason,” however, their self-regard and in-group loyalty keep them from following the dictates of reason on this matter, because it would make it seem like maybe their empty gesture at a contentless “reason” had accidentally made them into bad people.

100 thoughts on “On the old saw, “Islam isn’t a race”

  1. ‘there must be something wrong with those people’s reasoning capacity that doesn’t allow it to reach the high level of white people’s’ – You don’t take this conclusion seriously do you?

  2. Ah that’s a relief, sorry i’m not that acquainted with some of the concepts you’ve mentioned in your post so I found it a little hard to fully comprehend but on re-reading I get the basic gist of your point. But even the concept that reason will always lead to racist conclusion is in itself a little shaky to me because you’re using highly subjective metrics of personal success/quality, then theres always sifting the effect of environment from predisposed tendencies, or even if they are at all separable.

  3. “if all human beings have basically equal reasoning capacity, and if billions upon billions of people have found Islam to be plausible and appealing, then there must be something good about Islam.”

    That would only follow if human reasoning capacity were both equally distributed AND a highly effective filter for false or injurious beliefs. Otherwise, we would expect dangerous and injurious beliefs to become established easily for historically and geographically contingent reasons that in no way reflect on native reasoning powers in the affected communities. Similarly, the fact that some communities acquire truer or less injurious beliefs would not reflect on their innate capacities either. So the suggestion that criticizing traditional belief systems implies a racist denigration of the believers is just a calumny, I’m afraid.

  4. Having read this, the Accelerationist would say: yes, agreed, but you see it is precisely a normative account of reason that is required in order for you to criticize this Islamophobic perversion of reason. If you make an account of reason secondary to the antagonism named by race or colonialism, then you have actually abandoned the emancipatory essence of reason.

    (As one accelerationist put it, you have allowed the critical perspective bound to the history of race and coloniality to colonize the space of reason / emancipation.)

  5. And presumably the Muslims who are blinded by that contingent history of oppression are not as good at filtering out contingency from reason, hence not as reasonable, I wonder what’s wrong with them, etc.

  6. Of course i don’t agree with that argument (to put it mildly).

    But just to say that reason is (for Accelerationism) definitonally emancipatory, hence there is no historical performance of reason that could disqualify reason’s emancipatory force. On the contrary, insistence on such historical performance is (for Accelerationism) the very problem for which reason is the solution.

    Or, to push the point further, your focus on in-group dynamics, etc., will be appreciated as pointing to an important problem … whose solution requires a space of reason.

  7. David — What if I said that positing “reason” as a political criterion will necessarily always lead to racist conclusions? I feel like the historical evidence of the association is indisputable, going all the way back to the breeding programs in Plato’s Republic.

  8. If everyone will indulge me for a second: one of my favorite parts of the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” where the crew is transported to a parallel universe populated by evil versions of themselves, is that Spock’s “logic” allows him to go along with the evil empire just as easily as he goes along with the high ideals of the Federation. I don’t know how much intention we should attribute to the writers here, because presumably they just wanted to make sure they used Spock in some way, but I thought it was a good revelation of how empty “logic” or “reason” as such is in itself (something they later follow up in the Enterprise-era Vulcans, who are “logically” militaristic, etc.).

  9. Adam, I was just pointing out that your argument for the goodness of Islam is invalid unless you introduce a suppressed premise to the effect that basic human reasoning prowess is both equally distributed & a highly effective critical filter. I don’t see any reason to believe this. We’re prone to all sorts of cognitive biases – e.g. status quo bias, arguments from tradition that undermine our capacity to weed out injurious beliefs. The capacity for critical thinking is equally distributed insofar as most people have an similar capacity to acquire it. So there’s nothing racist in allowing that some cultures might have acquired better tools than others.

    By the same token, it’s not emancipatory or egalitarian to assume that all cultures should be due equal respect (Nazi culture, anyone ?). It just constructs the “other” as defined by their culture or race in ways that exclude them from our conversations. If I’m right, we’re all equally flat footed and liable to be wrong, but we may have a chance of sifting good from bad motivations if we’re prepared to collectively interrogate them. So we can criticize others if we’re prepared to be criticized in turn. Dialogue does not presuppose a prior position of superiority.

  10. There are white Muslims. And your argument apllies equally well to those who condemn Scientology as a “bad and destructive system of thought.” Are they racist too?

  11. The “it’s not racism” line is basically just another instance of the fetishization of “racism” as the Big Bad which cannot be spoken (or levelled as an accusation), right? Like, ok, the technically correct term for your bigotry might be something else; what have you won, here?

  12. I read “Mirror, Mirror” differently: evil-universe-Spock, perhaps uniquely in the evil universe, is able to be persuaded that a non-evil ethos is preferable, on the grounds that the practice of such an ethos accords more closely with the demands of logic as such. Everybody else is evil because they just go with the flow; evil-universe-Spock is evil because he has not yet seen that non-evil, which he must necessarily prefer, is a practicable alternative to evil. Once the demonstration has been made, we can know with certainty that evil-universe-Spock will act in such a way as to try to make his universe less evil, and will do so out of a conviction that it is the rational thing to do.

    The reason why evil-universe-Spock cannot reason his way out of evil is not that reason will not of itself prefer non-evil, but that it will not consider alternatives that appear to be generally impracticable. His rational commitment to non-evil is secured by new information about how it is possible for human beings (in particular) to behave, and this information has to be brought in from a position radically outside of the context in which he operates – literally a different universe.

    I therefore take it that the lesson of “Mirror, Mirror” is that Spock-like rationality is exceptionally alert to the appearance of the Good, and will draw the consequences of any such appearance with total consistency, to the point of self-sacrifice if needs be (“the needs of the many…”, etc.). It is not however capable of divining the Good all by itself, since reason cannot (and cannot reasonably be expected to) generate information about the world ex nihilo. On the other hand, neither is anything else: certainly there is no spontaneous stirring of finer sentiment among any of evil-universe-Spock’s fellow evil-Enterprise-crewmates, no compassionate impulse that, arising from the depths of their animality, causes them to imagine and try to put into practice a different way of being.

    “Mirror, Mirror” is also, of course, yet-another-Prime-Directive-violation-story, since non-Evil Kirk, merely by existing non-evilly in the evil universe, is acting as an agent of quasi-divine moral revelation, radically disrupting the moral parameters of the world he has invaded.

  13. I think we can all accept that some people have racist beliefs about ethnic minorities – for example, that jews are wily and money grabbing. This claim does not imply that “jew” refers to a race; merely that some people believe it does. The claim that Islam is not a race in this sense does not entail that anything else is.

  14. Ah, yes, you’re right: the revelation is received according to two registers, the other being that of distinctly human emotional intuition. Trek wouldn’t be Trek if it let Spock have it all.

  15. What Evil-Nick Land’s excuse may be, I cannot say. But then he’s not exactly a rationalist, either – more a Bataillian, at bottom.

  16. Adam, it’s more niche. Sort of like they have their own language the way we might in continental philosophy. Baffling at first, but then it begins to make sense. It’s very jargony! Dominic, I think he still mostly adheres to a complexity theory with a heady dash of Bataille negentropy.

  17. Whatever Bataillians are into, they’re always ultimately in it for badness. Personally I think there are better things to get into for badness than “race realism” and PUA evo-psych, but it takes all sorts I suppose.

    Taking seriously for a moment the thrust of Adam’s argument, I think there’s a real task for left-accelerationist rationalists to separate ourselves clearly from Dawkins/New Atheism, the neo-reactionaries and the Less Wrong crowd – not only morally/politically, but also in terms of what we conceive rationality to be. It’s irritating to have to do this, because from where I’m standing the distinctions look perfectly clear, but the reality is that it’s just too damn convenient for our polemical opponents to blur and elide them; it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect them to be able to help themselves. (We’ve all done it; we’ve all had it done to us. The only thing one learns from such episodes is that it’s futile to appeal to anyone’s better nature). Our only hope here is to try make it *less* convenient – to try to make anyone who tries to do this look as foolish to their more alert peers as they do to us.

    A first, trivially obvious point of distinction is this: as a matter of verifiable fact, left-accelerationists are not currently massively involved in, and have never really been very strongly drawn towards, New Atheist-style polemics against “religion”. That people are religious is not, to a first approximation, a problem for us. It is certainly not, as it is for Dawkins, *the* problem. Reza Negarestani’s heretical intensification of rationalist and anti-humanist themes within Islamic thought is certainly part of the mix of what “we” think, in a way that one cannot readily imagine it being for anyone involved with the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason And Science. Now this may be just because we like to think we’re more sophisticated than those middlebrow jerks, but it is so nevertheless. (And we have taken *some pains* to be more sophisticated than those middlebrow jerks, which is no doubt why deliberately confusing us with them works so effectively as a button-pushing tactic. “But, really, aren’t you just the same as those middlebrow jerks? Only with added pretension and delusions of grandeur?” Who could resist defending themselves against such calumny?)

    What I understand formal reasoning to involve is *so* far removed from what goes on in my own head most of the time that I can hardly think less of my fellow human beings for not devoting their every waking moment to it. Like every other human being who has ever lived, I do most of my decision-making and opinion-forming by applying a rag-bag of rules-of-thumb I’ve acquired from the most dubious of sources (parents, peer groups, television); what’s more, much of what I “believe” – in the sense that it forms part of my rag-bag of applicable heuristics – and practice is to a greater or lesser degree involved with *objectively harmful* social patterns, either passively permitting or actively promoting their reproduction. This is true of every ethos that has ever existed, because no civilisation has yet managed to generate an ethos that was free of harmful consequences or innocent of involvement in the great harms of class struggle. The claim that formal reasoning has something important to do with emancipation is not, and must not be allowed to become, a claim on behalf of any such ethos. In this sense, there cannot and should not be a “party of reason”, under whose banner one would of course expect to find the usual collection of mannerisms and opinions held by their proponents to be blessed by rationality itself.

    What there can and should be is a research programme, and – a necessary evil, this – an apologetics for that research programme. The apologetics is necessary because people will keep telling us that the positions whose ramifications we wish to investigate are condemned in advance – historically, structurally, both in essence and by accident. They will do this at least in part because the actual ramifications of some of those positions undermine their own deeply-held values and commitments. We have to be prepared to show that there are values and commitments worth holding that are compatible with our positions: we can’t just retreat into the study of homotopy type theory and abandon the polemical field to people who are comfortable asserting that attaching any kind of political value to that sort of stuff is just, y’know, kinda *racist*. We need to become good at not just telling them to fuck off when they do that, but telling them *why* they can fuck off. So, you know, watch this space.

  18. Thanks Dominic, I think you speak for pretty much all of us in the left-acc. camp.

    Adam, the suppressed premise in your argument that, somehow, Islamic culture has been less generative of emancipatory, rationalist vectors than Christian culture, is indeed deeply problematic. Like any culture, it has elements that we want to see “accelerated” and others we’d rather see fade away. Treating it as a monolithic block seems like a bad orientalist habit. This objection to left-acc reminds me of the accusations of machoism and misogyny that have been floating around — accusations that perpetuate, blindly, rather than oppose the bigottry they mention. (They work on the assumption that reason is white, male, christian-secular, etc. before they impute these biases to their opponents,.)

    Reza would definitely be the guy to talk to on this score, since he’s the most thoroughly versed off the accelerationists in the Islamic tradition of thought.

    Regarding your counter-univetsalist and traditionalist sympathies, you might find much common ground with the neoreactionaries, & I’m happy to see one of their representatives here.

  19. Thank, Dominic. I think you speak for more or less all of the left-accelerationists, here.

    Adam, if we measure the seriousness with which a philosopher takes a charge by the care and rigour they put into prosecuting it, then it seems you have a disturbingly flippant attitude towards “racism”.

    I’m also troubled by your insistence on approaching Islamic culture as a monolithic block, which your imaginary “rationalist” would have to either condemn or endorse. You know this is not the case, and you *should* know that Islamic culture has been a tremendous historical generator of rationalist and emancipatory vectors. Like any culture — and western, secular-christian culture is no exception! — it also carries a lot with it that is oppressive (Islamic states in the last several decades have a poor track record so far as the oppression of women is concerned, for example). One of accelerationism’s fundamental gestures is that cultures are not seamless fabrics, and that the patient and difficult work of abstraction and disentanglement is worthwhile. This is why we sometimes talk about reclaiming “modernity” or something called “transmodernity”, because we don’t think we need to throw out the baby with the bathwater in every case. This is certainly the case with Islam as well. I’m no historian, and so I’d need to do a bit of research before I can say any of this with detail or iron-clad certainty, but I think it’s unlikely that we would have even *seen* modernity if Islam’s influence didn’t rescue Europe from the Dark Ages — by transmitting the Greek philosophical tradition, breakthroughs in arithmetic, the groundwork for secular society, etc.

    There is something disturbingly orientalist in the way you’re using Islam here, which reminds me of the quietly misogynistic undertones we found in those accusations of “machoism” or “misogyny” that have been directed at accelerationism — the latter were problematic insofar as they tacitly fell back on the idea that rationality, technology, universality, normative antinaturalism, etc. were something that women couldn’t possibly have an interest in (we’re presumably more engrossed in things like nature, emotions, paintings of vaginas, etc.). This tacit bigotry is something that women and feminists involved in accelerationism have been fighting against for a while now. Likewise, there seems to be an implicit contempt for Islamic culture in your accusations above. Why on earth would you suppose we consider it to be a less rational culture than what we get with, say, the Christian legacy? It’s also a gesture that makes accelerationists coming from Islamic cultures invisible, much in the same way the well-intentioned but tacitly-sexit accusations of “machoism” made women in accelerationism invisible. There are at least a few, the most notable of which is certainly Reza Negarestani, as Dominic mentions.

    If you’re honestly interested in this matter, the person to talk to would definitely be Reza. Of the left-acc crowd, he’s the one who’s most thoroughly versed in Islam and the Islamic intellectual tradition.

  20. I cannot for the life of me figure out where you would get the idea that I think Islam is less generative of emancipatory possibilities from my post — unless you’re making the elementary error of attributing positions to me personally when I’m summarizing them in order to reject them. In that case, reread and it will be clear that the “superiority” of the West is the position of the hypothetical New Atheist Islamophobe, not my own position.

  21. For background, I’m going to be teaching a course on Islamic thought, and it is in fact my ongoing study of Islam (which necessarily means coming up against Western Orientalism) that prompted this post. I nowhere claim Islam is a monolithic thing that must be accepted or rejected as a whole — I say, “there must be something good about Islam.” Not that Islam is good tout court, not that there’s nothing worth criticizing, but that there’s something good about it.

    The more I ponder your comment, the more astounding is your transparent bad faith.

  22. An argument to the effect that rationalists, due to their basic commitments and values, cannot see Islamic cultures as anything other than benighted, and that valuing rationality as such *must* lead to devaluing Islam (and sliding inexorably into the Sarlacc pit of Western-supremacist racism), doesn’t work unless it one accepts the implication that Islamic cultures do in fact lack the characteristics and potentialities that rationalists would presumably value. You may say “but they don’t in fact lack those characteristics and potentialities, and it’s racist to think that they do”, but if that is the case then in order for the rationalist to devalue Islam (because they see it as lacking those characteristics, etc) they must *already* be viewing Islam through a racist lens; which means that it no longer makes sense to see their valuing of rationality as such as *generating* their racism.

    With respect to Dawkins et al, I think it makes perfect sense to assert that they are *already* racist, and focalising their racism through a framework of putatively rationalist values. They accept an orientalist caricature of Islam, and devalue it accordingly, relative to that framework. With respect to us left-accelerationists, I would say that the charge of racism – modulo the global fact that all white people are already fucking racist, yadda yadda – remains to be brought with any specificity or plausibility. Can you do better than hand-waving here? Do you consider it worth your time to even try?

  23. Well, then, what on earth prompted you to suppose that WE think Islam is a monlithically BAD THING? You’ve got Dawkins on the ropes, sure, and I say to let him have it, but why would you accuse accelerationism of anti-Islamism?

    It’s true that you don’t attribute this belief to us directly, but rather say that it’s the inescapable logical consequence of our commitment to rationality as an emancipatory force. So the inference seems to be something like:

    1. Acc. is committed to rationality being an emancipatory force
    2. Acc is opposed to whatever obstructs emancipatory forces

    [this could be more nuanced — like many others, I see obstacles and resistances as essentially linked to emancipation and rationality, in a sort of Sartrean/Bachelardian spirit, but in any case]

    3. Therefore, Acc. is opposed to Islam.

    This is where your more explicit semi-argument picks up: If Islam is opposed to rationality, and therefore to human emancipation, then it must be somehow anti-rational, but why would huge swaths of the population be anti-rational? Well, racism, etc. Even this part of the argument is a wet paper bag, as some of the commentators above have pointed out, but I’m trying to focus on the first, implicit part and reject it: Islam has been a tremendous historical force of rationality and emancipation. Not pure, of course, because nothing is, but certainly more fruitful for reason than, say, “continental theology”.

    And yes, when I said that you seemed to have a monolithic and condescending view of Islam, I said it with a grain of salt, and assumed that you *do*, in fact, know a hell of a lot more about the history of Islam, and the history of religion in general, than I do. But that’s why your post seemed so bizarre. Because how could anyone with even a passing understanding of the history of religion, science and philosophy (to pick just one thread) imagine Islam to be an irrational block? Since we’ve never given you any reason to impute such a belief to us, I figured that it could only have made its way into your post by the back door of “common sense”, which is why I accused you of (probably accidental) Orientalism. Maybe this is unfair, since I’m sure you also do a great deal to combat Orientalism in your day job, and kudos for that. But the sentiment was there, and it sure as hell didn’t come from us.

  24. Nowhere do I argue or even say that rationalists as such “cannot see Islamic cultures as anything other than benighted,” nor “that valuing rationality as such *must* lead to devaluing Islam.” Do you not remember the part where I said that a really robust faith in human reason would entail looking for what is plausible and compelling about Islam, on the assumption that it must exist if human beings (hence reasonable beings) adhere to it?

  25. It might be useful to begin from the premise that nobody here actively embraces, or is more than contingently and accidentally beholden to, an Orientalist caricature of Islam. Given that, why would we – *as rationalists* – be drawn by our specific values and commitments to devalue Islam as such? Must what goes for Dawkins necessarily also go for us?

  26. There is slippage in my argument, yes. In my comment where I say, “Yes, I’m thinking of Accelerationism,” I was thinking of the general dynamic of the “party of reason,” not the specific case of Islam. That was not clear, and that’s my fault.

  27. I’m saying, broadly, that any sect that identifies as the party of “reason” as such is bound to slip into some form of racism, because lo and behold, you’re a minority avant garde and not everyone agrees your reasonable ideas should carry the day! I wonder what’s wrong with them!

    Kudos to you for avoiding Islamophobia, but your position still leaves you perilously susceptible to a racist slippery slope.

  28. So here I would have to say that this criticism is globally applicable to any “party of X”, where X is considered to be a) universally good for people, and b) carried forwards pre-eminently by the party itself, which acts as a vanguard in the promulgation of that good. You don’t in fact have an argument against rationalism here; you have an argument against vanguard parties.

  29. Basically, I think that it makes no sense to set up “reason” as a master signifier. It always implicitly creates an in-group/out-group dynamic, which is perverse given that all human beings as such are reasonable and have an interest in reason. Indeed, the only times people claim to be “anti-reason” is when they’re opposing some narrow, reified concept of reason belonging to a self-selecting elite or school of thought. This is especially dangerous in the case of a political ideology committed to rationalism, because then the claim isn’t just that the rational people are better in some abstract way, but that they should be in charge. You act like we’re just making up the colonialist or racist connections, but as I’ve said a couple times before, literally the first thought experiment on “rule by the reasonable” (Plato) included an explicit racial hierarchy. I’m arguing that that’s not an unfortunate accident that you can avoid because you know better now. It’s intrinsic to the internal dynamic of a “rationalist” politics.

  30. Wait, looks like we cross-posted again. I was thanking you for the candor you showed in writing, “There is slippage in my argument, yes. In my comment where I say, “Yes, I’m thinking of Accelerationism,” I was thinking of the general dynamic of the “party of reason,” not the specific case of Islam. That was not clear, and that’s my fault.”

    It seems like you’re back to your original point, though: “any sect that identifies as the party of “reason” as such is bound to slip into some form of racism”. If the crux here isn’t “rationalism” per se, but arrogant vanguardist party dynamics and the anti-populism that goes with it, well, that’s a start for clarifying things, but I don’t think “reason” is to blame here. Arrogant vanguardism is.

    But even an arrogant vanguard can think that 99% of the population is made up of gullible fools without coming to racist conclusions. I’m not endorsing arrogant vanguardism here, but even here it looks like you’re playing fast and loose. What would make an arrogant vanguard see some particular *racially individuatable* swath of humanity as more benighted than others? Or is “reason” again the ingredient that turns the arrogant vanguard racist? And if it is, you’re on your way back to the orientalist quagmire.

  31. Fine, but I think I also have grounds for saying that a “rationalist” vanguard party is particularly dangerous, given that “reason” is widely held to define humanity as such — so that those who do not participate in “reason” can easily be viewed and treated as subhuman.

  32. Dom Fox would say this to the day he died, “With respect to us left-accelerationists, I would say that the charge of racism – modulo the global fact that all white people are already fucking racist, yadda yadda [not the point, or at least not in this form] – remains to be brought with any specificity or plausibility.”

  33. “Any sect…is bound to slip into some form of racism”. Is this true? If it isn’t true, what is it about *rationalist* sects specifically that would make it particularly true of them?

  34. More calmly: A form of elitism based on a constitutive element of humanity as such is implicitly racist, because it implies that not everyone participates equally in humanity. It’s much more intrinsically susceptible to the racist temptation (which again does not mean it’s bound to reproduce the contingent historical formations of Western racism in every detail, lest I once again become the true racist and true Islamophobe) than an avant garde party dedicated to the cause of land reform or marijuana legalization, for instance.

  35. “all human beings as such are reasonable and have an interest in reason” — Yes! This is what we’re saying! We’d add that there are situational factors that can obstruct and distort this basic capacity (drudgery, desperation, fear, systematic gaslighting, Heidegger, etc.), and other political and technological means that can enhance and empower that capacity (liberation from drudgery, peace and leisure, excitement, cybernation, Heidegger, etc.).

    We never once promoted ourselves as the party that “has the answers”! Our anti-elitism is actually one of the points that sets us against NRx, and something I’ve argued about publicly with Land (in that crunchy, compressed, twittery way). We want to do whatever it takes to emancipate intelligence for all, without thinking we’re particularly ingenious ourselves. (I am well aware that, like everyone, I live in stupidity like a fish lives in water.) This is one of our few explicit intersections with Land — the emancipation of intelligence as historical project — but the difference is that we conceive of this project in an essentially collectivist, communist, and rationalist fashion, while Land’s cooking up ways to have a swarm of renegade Mecha-Dubais, some of which would produce techno-utopias, among which some would have a good chance of constructing a (necessarily evil, with respect to humanity, but that’s irrelevant to Land, whose devotion to the liberation of Intelligence is saintly) superintelligent runaway AI. (Impt. to remember this here: NRx is a means to an end for Land, and the end is the same one he was gunning for in the 90s. What’s new is a view of the state as something that retards that emancipatory vector.) So we conceive of emancipation and intelligence quite differently: for us, the emancipation of intelligence MUST be universalist and accessible by all, or it’s a sham. For NRx, there is no commitment to universalism at all. But that’s a whole other story.

  36. Short version: left-accelerationism is not an elitism. Your charges may find some purchase with the right-accelerationist crowd (or NRx, more broadly, of which right-acc is a species, associated with Land/xenosystems), and that could be a very interesting target for critique. I think the AUFS tendency in general would find an interesting adversary in NRx — you are in conflict with them, but from a very different angle than what we see with the left-acc vs. NRx.

  37. Part of the criticism, before it was twisted through a bizarre reading made by the Accelerationist Party that Is Not One (but totally is), is that you can’t just declare yourself universalist and think you’ve gotten there. That you can’t just declare yourself “anti-racist” and a continuation of the Enlightenment project. That there are important and deep contradictions and antagonisms that are not even on your radar. A blindness that is perhaps caused by certain other commitments, but evidenced by the lack of ability to even see the critique for what it is (and it has never been “Accelerationists us the N-word and think black people are biologically less reasonable than Europeans”). That’s the point of the rhetorical phrase, “can the space of reasons be separated from the space of the slave ship?” Not, “Wilfred Sellars was a slaver.” It’s a question of actually doing the work and of questioning if the framework for doing that work is well constructed based on what’s been written so far. My assessment is that it has not, regardless of how many times you make Downfall parody videos or insist that reason is universal (yeah, sure, that’s still not the point, we’re talking about the way the accelerationist discourse of reason functions, not reason itself!).

  38. You were saying just now that “racial hierarchy” is “intrinsic to the internal dynamic of a ‘rationalist’ politics”. One of the cruces here is whether what has come to be “intrinsic” – for contingent, historical reasons – can be unpicked. So Plato, a believer in racial hierarchy, got there first, or at least got to put his name on the idea. What are we non-believers in racial hierarchy to do? Reverse- and re-engineer. Why should we believe that it is *impossible* to do so?

    Human beings are globally capable of reason, but are mostly not good formal reasoners in much the same way that we’re mostly not good at jetskiing. There are cranes upon cranes needed to get from the basic human ability to “do reason” to the rather more specialised ability to use formal idioms. It would be absurd to differentiate between humans and non-humans on the basis of specialisations of this kind. A knowledge of Martin Lof type theory is not necessary for salvation. It is, however, a useful and valuable kind of thing, the kind of thing which gives us a few more degrees of freedom in the ways we think about things that concern us. A left-accelerationist rationalist politics is one which opposes itself to the many and various obstacles placed by capitalism in the way of the wider adoption and use of useful and valuable things of this kind. It has nothing to do with setting up a cabal of Pythagorean sages.

  39. To be in conflict with neoreactionaries would imply we thought they were worth engaging. In so far as many of us have spent a lot of time criticizing the (implausibly but somehow nevertheless) less nerdy version found in nostalgic theologies of Christiandom we have already done our time. The current Dark Endorkenment version is more funny and a bit pathetic than anything else, while acting as symptoms of deeper issues in the more serious and powerful forms of Silicon Valley’s ideologies. But imagine taking Justine Tunney or Mencius Moldbug seriously as such! It would be like taking Miguel Serrano seriously as such, rather than finding the obsession with esoteric Nazism interesting as a phenomenon.

  40. A political agenda of increasing opportunities for people to learn different formal logics seems harmless enough, and it also seems like a really bad-faith way of portraying what Accelerationism is advocating, meant more to defuse my critique than to actually answer it.

  41. Why would you waste your time if you really thought the point was, “Logic is racist” (N.B. I don’t hold to this claim. It is an example of something that, unless there was further context with which we could infer some more nuanced meaning, is a dumb thing to claim)? You can’t possibly think that’s the claim, right? Like, find a few non-white folks who like logic and then you win? Like Wolfendale going around citing Sen now or Srnick and Williams banging on about afro-futurism. You can’t possibly think that’s the point?

  42. This is a very minor point, but are you guys saying “continental theology” as a joke? Or is this like when Zizek says theologist (ie. an effect of nescience)? If it’s a joke, fair enough, if its ignorance, there is no field called continental theology, though the ways in which we could all be considered “theologians” is far from clear.

  43. Anthony, I enthusiastically support your call for the patient, archeological work of ferreting out obscure, oppressive tendencies in the historical projects of modernity and transmodernity, rationalism, etc. But the devil’s in the details, and I’ve been disappointed to see public debate between our parties remain at the level of vague insinuation. It seems sinister, when we’re dealing with a charge as serious as racism.

    I don’t think it’s unfair to measure the seriousness with which a philosopher views a charge by the rigour they try to put into demonstrating it. It’s on this account that I see AUFS’s insinuations of accelerationism’s “racism” as upsettingly flippant (and mean-spirited, marginalizing, slanderous, etc.).

    We can agree that historical projects are complex and rife with obscurity, and that they can carry latent dangers and promises that require a lot of patient, careful work to pick apart. I respect the nuance and subtlety that you show Heidegger, for example, or that Adam presumably shows Schmidt-via-Agamben, Zizek, etc. — a caution with respect to the disasterous elements of these men’s work, tempered by a curiosity and scrutiny that keeps you from carelessly dismissing them as irrelevant to any rethinking of politics, political theology, theology, etc. Please understand that we are not less cautious or attentive in our use of Land, Plato, Hegel, etc. Wholesale insinuations of racism are not helpful — we’re aware of the danger, and we’re working on it in detail. They seem designed only to publicly smear and vilify us. If you do notice some *particular* thread in our fabric of commitments and interests that could lead somewhere disastrous, then why not try to bring it to our attention in a respectful and genuinely helpful manner? You should expect that our interest would be in correcting that thread, or at least examining it more closely to see if we should take on your concerns. We have different visions and different enemies, but our most powerful enemies, I think, are the same (at the very least, I think we’re all opposed to capitalism and imperialism). Neither of us want the other advancing a project that is complicit with imperialism and capitalism. Why can’t our disputes be about critical cooperation, instead of mean insinuation? This isn’t an electoral race.

  44. I’m not on Facebook so I am actually really glad this debate is spilling out on here because I think this thread is almost on the verge of turning constructive.

    In summary the core contentions seem to be:

    1. Is a politics committed to “reason” necessarily entail a racist hierarchy of those with more or less ability to reason with those in the party of reason placed at the summit.
    2. Relatedly and perhaps vitally do the things boosterised by accelerationism (reason/enlightenment/universalism) entail a repetition of the racist and colonialist logics that were their initial historical crucible? Evidences for the latter are that:
    a) That one “right” strand of accelerationist though explicitly *does* endorse racism via so-called human biological diversity. There is the influence there, which is not disavowed sufficiently for a lot of people first meeting the ideas.
    b) It seems intrinsic to even Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation of accelerationism that peoples must pass through capitalisation, they must be decoded and deterritorialised before we can move to the strategies they propose – and this, of course, is the project of colonialism where the deterritorialisation was literal.

    APS contends that by lacking attention to such things there is a strong risk of 2.

    These are my thoughts anyway of where the real bones appear to be.

  45. The broad thrust of the critique, as I understand it, is that “collective self-mastery”, buoyed up by a wide variety of technological prostheses, is a bad thing to want because we just can’t distinguish it from mastery-of-purportedly-lesser-humans (and the reduction of the latter, along with most of the biosphere, to some sort of standing reserve). We are supposed to quail in dismay at the possibility that the “collective” we are talking about might turn out to be the projection of some in-group’s self-image, ours for example, and not truly the generic subset of all humanity that we keep saying it is. Our refusal to be dismayed into inaction is sheer hubristic stubbornness, and will cause us to slide inexorably down the slippery, slippery slope that leads all impure hearts to racism. We should renounce our ambitions, and resign ourselves to building magic teepees while we wait for capitalism to finish collapsing around us.

  46. I can’t speak to your judgment of the public debates and the goalposts remain very vague to me, but I am writing an article on this topic. I don’t think the issue is one of being careful with Hegel or anyone else. I also think the work I’ve seen that is supposed to respond is not sufficient at all, in part because it remains moored to a certain framework that is riven through, to its very core, with a framework that avoids the kinds of analysis needed. I also have no desire to engage in critical cooperation with people who, when I did bring these things to their attention at the time I believed we were friends, ignored it, became defensive, leaped to circle jerk mocking sessions on Facebook, and so on. I don’t really want to start that conversation, but you keep slipping from the abstract to the personal. Let’s just keep it at the abstract for the sake of ease and less drama.

  47. Anthony, I meant “continental theology” harmlessly enough to refer to those doing theology (or some variant on what a layperson like me might call theology) within or in communication with the “continental” philosophical tradition. All I meant was “people who theorise about religion, whose footnotes contain names like Agamben, Zizek, Heidegger, Levinas, Nancy, Marion, Severino, Badiou, etc.”. I might have made a snark-motivated swipe at it in the same sentence (my apologies if I did), but the label was meant innocently enough. I don’t expect it to be any more accurate than “post-structuralism” or whatever, just a pointer.

    And re: Radical Orthodoxy, that’s cool, and reminds me that my earlier accusations that you guys don’t engage meaningfully with your political opponents was out of line. And just as I have no stomach for reading pages and pages of RadOrth (is that a thing? Probably not. I’m going to use it though, and see if it catches on as well as “RadFem”), I’m of course totally fine with you having no interest in reading NRx material. NRx is like our own little RadOrth. All I ask is that you not *confuse* us with NRx! I would never, even at my most exasperated and pissy, call you a Milbankian!

  48. For me the core problematic where it gets creepy is when one says “well, technological superiority is a marker of superior reason as such”. That a modern technical civilisation is better and that other civilisations are worse seems intrinsic to accelerationism and any other thing that says “progress is important”. Then one begins thinking of what to do with those forms of life not yet incorporated into that civilisation, then things start to feel dicey. Again, feeling out these issues without conclusion.

  49. My suspicion of Accelerationism isn’t on the level of nuanced details — I think the entire thing is problematic, from top to bottom. Restricting authentic critique to the level of details and dismissing more global critiques as slanderous is just unfair. Is it simply impossible that there could be a fundamental flaw in the Accelerationist project as such? Why is this recently born school of thought so blessed?

  50. Dominic,

    No. You’re not even trying to understand, but that’s fine. You gotta protect yourself after all.


    I have read NRx blogs and writings. A lot of them. Just because I am not going to write journal articles does not mean I have not. I also have not conflated you with NRx. I have said, and I’m repeating myself here and finding that very frustrating, but I have said that it is a form of tangential evidence that accelerationism feels comfortable platforming NRx people, making chummy jokes with them, and generally being kind of gleeful about related aesthetic/political projects (not all NRx) that have disgusting racial components (Cthulhu mythology arising out of Lovecraft’s race views, for example) while also standing behind a manifesto that nearly universally blasted and alienated existing leftist organizations and groups. There are people in the activist world who found the way they were cast by the manifesto as extremely offensive and antagonistic, much the way you feel I’m casting you. Perhaps you were unaware of this since I only know through conversation. This was my point, though, that the closeness and friendliness was symptomatic of something. It’s not the problem, it points towards a potential one.

  51. My endlessly repeated argument is “partisanship of reason is uniquely susceptible to racist forms of thought because that party claims to be uniquely exemplary of something constitutive of humanity as such.” That is neither vague nor insinuating. The responses, however, have been vague in the sense of misdirecting (we only mean formal logic narrowly construed! even though we clearly don’t just mean that!) or insinuating (Anthony and I repeatedly turn out to be the “real racists” due to assumptions you’ve hallucinated into our remarks).

  52. And, no, I don’t think you should waste your time reading RadOx literature. Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory is interesting, sometimes in its own right and sometimes as a phenomenon, but other than that, no. They do have some influence over actual power in the UK, which is part of the reason I found responding to them important.

  53. Well, there certainly could be *global* problems with left-acc, but demonstrating that would take a lot of work. The first thing you’d have to do would be to get very clear on some fundamental premise or desire that this loose network of thinkers shares, then you’d have to show that *no matter how carefully that premise is nuanced*, or complicated by additional premises, that it leads to disaster. Just think of the work I’d have to do in order to say that the AUFS tendency is *fundamentally wrong*. You’ll tell me that AUFS is not a monolithic block, and you’d be right, but that’s also true of accelerationism.

    As for accelerationism being “problematic”, well, of course it is. What isn’t? How could you possibly have an assemblage of political and theoretical problems, heuristics, and commitments that isn’t “problematic”? Isn’t that just the nature of the beast? If it weren’t “problematic”, it would have to be pretty damn vacuous, trivial, and uninteresting.

  54. I don’t understand how AUFS is the same kind of beast as accelerationism. We don’t have a reader, a manifesto, a summer school, art world funded conferences, hot sauce, a youtube page, or anything of the sort. I really don’t see the connection…

  55. Again, I do admire the way you’ve engaged with RadOx, from the little I’ve been able to eavesdrop over social media and blog posts. NRx, too, has the ears of some powerful people, mostly through Silicon Valley.

    As for the chumminess, maybe that’s just a matter of personality. Some of us, Dominic, for instance, have voiced discomfort and political resistance to the idea of, say, chatting with Land on twitter, and I respect that. I genuinely enjoy talking to people who see things in a way directly opposed to my own, and I find conversations with them to be no less interesting than (and irreplaceable by) conversations within my “in group”. Given how complex and intersectional oppressive tendencies are, almost *anyone* I’d have interest in talking to or engaging theoretically is likely to have some set of prejudices I find odious, and sometimes those prejudices target me directly.

    As for #Accelerate putting some people off, well, I guess that’s a risk that any manifesto runs. I have seen “folk politics” used carelessly, as a blunt instrument of dismissal, and I’ve made my objections to that kind of usage known. I’ve also seen it be used carefully as a productive critical tool. We can’t please everyone, but I would be interested in talking to people who felt that their hard and productive activist work was unfairly dismissed by #Accelerate, a document I largely but not uncritically sympathise with.

  56. I do think we’d be more justified in objecting to a critique of AUFS on “non-existence” grounds — at the very least, anyone wanting to critique “us” would have to do a lot of legwork of defining exactly what commonalities they were intending to critique. We’ve never proclaimed ourselves a school, and the only vehicle we share is the blog, where most members of our “group” post sporadically at best, and where a lot of miscellaneous people (including some who are clearly opposed to certain plausible candidates for unifying features of an “AUFS tendency”) have posted over the years (especially for book events, but not only for that).

  57. To disclaim a bit at the start: I’m an interested outsider in the conversations taking place around accelerationism because I research the communication of technological changes. No one that I know of is so far including me in their movements. I say all of that because the conversation here is heated, and I am sincerely trying to understand some of these criticisms to the benefit of my own project.

    To Adam: After reading your give and take with others here, the clearest articulation of your issues seems to be, in your words in the original post: “if all human beings have basically equal reasoning capacity, and if billions upon billions of people have found Islam to be plausible and appealing, then there must be something good about Islam.Yet people who self-identify with “reason” never draw that conclusion, because the “party of reason” always turns out to be an elite who knows better than everyone else and deserves to be in charge.” This issue, to me, seems like something waiting to be remedied in practice. Some of your respondents here encourage that emancipatory claim on behalf of aspects of Islam. That encouragement would not be enough to someone already knowledgeable of the myriad contributions of Islamic history to thought around the world. However, if it is a question of someone doing the work in an environment cordial to the efforts, that does not seem to condemn the left-accelerationist projects. It does not let them completely off the hook for getting that kind of work done either, of course. Their universalist credentials and people spewing segregating rationalities for racist purposes place some special urgency on getting that work done. Backgrounds, numbers, institutional positions, academic publishing, and other factors, however, pose some practical obstacles. If we ignore those practicalities, we end up with a criticism that no one could ever satisfy.

    Some of the confusion being expressed by others above concerns how your original post and subsequent responses suggest that the practical issue brought up in the quotation I cited pairs up with the logical claim that “declaring oneself to be on the avant-garde of ‘reason’ is always going to lead to racism if you take it to its logical conclusion.” As I said in the previous paragraph, your problem seems to be an issue with how partisans for reason are conducting themselves. But while I would say that the marginal position of Islam in accelerationism you identify is a practical issue separate from the logical consequences of the accelerationist project, you seem to be saying that the role of Islam and of race in general is a logical consequence of the accelerationist project that is only dodged in the practices of accelerationists who do not want to be viewed as racist. You seem to take that position back in your later posts, so I am not entirely sure I am reading you correctly, but am I close?

  58. No, you are not close. I’ve repeated several times that my core claim is that an avant garde “party of reason” is uniquely susceptible to racist forms of thought (of which Islamophobia and historical Western racism would be examples, but not the only possible ones) because they are claiming a special relationship with something that is regarded as constitutive of humanity as such. I admit I was unclear in the post itself, but I’ve repeated the streamlined version of my claim enough times that I hope people could have caught on.

  59. I’m not really calling AUFS monolithic at all. I’m just saying that there’s quite a bit of variation between us all. We do share some commitments with one another, but very, very few, if any, and possibly none, with Dawkins and his crew (we mean very different things by “reason”, for example, and universalism).

    But just to keep this simple: it’s best not to accuse people of terrible things like racism without good reason, and those establishing “good reasons” would take a lot more work than I’ve seen put into some of these insinuating posts coming from the AUFS-camp, as heterogeneous as that camp is.

    It just seems that everything coming at us from this direction is distorted by an overwhelming desire to smear and denigrate our work, or even us personally. Would I sound too naive or sentimental if I asked why we can’t just be nicer to one another?

  60. @nervemeter

    Rather than address complaints regarding the possibility of critiquing groups, could we perhaps take a look at the core bones of contention here, that I tried to summarise and Adam has repeated here?

  61. The fun thing is that I basically don’t know any of the Accelerationists personally. I’ve interacted with a few online here and there. To take a move from your book: you’re the one who’s paradoxically personalizing this debate, with your spurious claim that my motive is personal.

  62. If you don’t understand the critique, or you just don’t buy it, then say that. But it’s maybe a little convenient for me that when you find a critique that you don’t believe to live up to the high standards of your movement, lo and behold: it’s motivated by subrational factors like personal vendettas!

  63. As for your main criticism of the “party of reason”, Adam, I appreciate how you’ve distilled it here. If we saw ourselves as somehow “identifying” with reason more authentically than anyone else out there, I see how this could problematic and elitist. I’m not sure how exactly it would *necessarily* slip into racism, aside from the truism that racism is one of the forms that elitism can take. (You do see NRx elitism slipping this way for *some* — but not all –neoreactionaries, with their HBD nonsense, etc.)

    But our prioritization of reason as a *value*, and not an identity, doesn’t fall into the same trap, I don’t think. An anarchist movement, for example, might prioritize individual freedom above all else (and let’s say for the sake of argument that freedom is constitutive of what it means to be human) without thereby falling into the elitist trap of believing that “anarchists are more free, and therefore more human, than anyone else”. Some might, but they’ll likely be called out by their anarchist comrades for douchebaggery and appropriately critiqued. We do not “identify” with reason at all. Reason, if anything, is an anonymizing, depersonalizing force for us — speech is rational (or treated as rational) largely to the extent that its validity is not (or is not held to be) contingent on positive characteristics of the speaker.

    I have a visceral distaste for (and, I hope, theoretical objection to) the tendency of “identifying with reason” — this is what makes people who publicize their IQ scores, or MENSA membership, so utterly unbearable. This is why I, like every other left-acc I know, avoid New Atheist subreddits.

  64. I caught your streamlined versions up until I started typing, so I apologize for missing further clarifications that help a bit.

    Using some of the various words you’ve now used to express the hazards you worry about, accelerationism is uniquely susceptible to racism due to an intrinsic, implicit kernel that lends to it recreating racist thought in form though not in detail. It would seem accelerationists are meant to refute that criticism in their continuing practices, as I suggest, but the racist logic you would identify is so insidious and their anti-racist practices anathema to that malicious core of their research that the only solution would seem to be stopping. Worse, I struggle to think of any academic project that could escape these hazards.

  65. Adam, would you say, generally speaking, that a universalist political project that does not collapse into racism (or some other hierarchisation of humanity relative to some purportedly (perhaps spuriously) observable or positive characteristic) is possible in principle? Joshua makes an interesting point about the size of the net you’re casting, and I’m wondering if you see universalist emancipatory projects as doomed in advance.

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