Theory Rehab : /acc(elerationism)

It strikes me as silly to have to do this almost a decade after Mark Fisher, Sadie Plant, and company took up the task with gusto, especially since so many others have taken a crack at it since–but then, culture moves very quickly and very perniciously these days, and isn’t it precisely the “ruthless criticism of the existing order” that we all must engage in for the cause? This cultural leviathan shatters ideas into a thousand pieces and it’s up to us to pull them together, not “back” together, but together again, anew.

Accelerationism has run into a major problem in the course of its cultural evolution: its aestheticization as some kind of apocalyptically transformative politics that universally rejects ethical value judgements as fundamentally irrelevant to the structuration of the transformation. A deeply naïve glorification of collapse. This ended up catching on as the most culturally prominent view (aesthetics are the art of propaganda) and is thus the one that was eventually signal-boosted by the mainstream media when that establishment caught on to its popularity.

Another crucial weakness that has emerged in accelerationist theory is reducible precisely to its origins–it has largely been championed by people who, for essentially aesthetic reasons, believe that unconstrained libidinal pluralization and proliferation are the essential parts of Deleuze & Guattari’s theoretical legacy. Enter… the hundreds of subdivisions of “acc” thought. Each of these have wildly varying prominence, goals, and most importantly rigor. Whether it’s u/acc (unconditional) l/acc (left) r/acc (right) g/acc (gender) z/acc (no, seriously, just slap a letter in front of it and make some shit up) or any of the panoply of other permutations, accelerationism has surged into cultural saturation in a way that has produced an uneasy tension between the serious philosophical, academic, and Marxist work done under its banner, and the essential shallowness (and belligerence) of the various individuated and varied cultural conceptions you find on, to use the perennial example, twitter. This is, as we should well know via the lens of 20th century Marxist thought, the advanced kind of recuperation that tears theory down and scatters its warped pieces around the habitus. This is how an originally leftist theory can be capitalized on by the new libertarian far right, who’s goals it actually does serve in its popularly conceived form. The feedback loop that occurs between the new right’s millenarian accelerationism (which is politically coherent in the their terms) and the less reflective actors on the left–who associate it thus and either paradoxically fetishize acceleration-as-collapse or oppose it–leads to the overall corruption of the concept when it begins to seep into the mainstream in earnest.

In simplest possible terms a true left-accelerationism relies on the idea that the radically emancipatory facet of the enlightenment is still in play (rather than somehow fatally corrupted by its violently imperialistic eurocentric ‘origins’ and leading towards inexorable dystopia) and that this hinges on the “revolution of everyday life” in such a way that a deeply technologized human civilization can approach the loftiest dreams of communism. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek throw down the gauntlet before their increasingly atomized and, dare I say alienated revolutionary comrades:

The most important division in today’s Left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.

A progressive accelerationism of any kind is not catastrophism. It is a commitment to a longstanding political ideal that has threaded itself throughout history of the world, one that in this case involves leaning into the increasingly technologized nature of modernity in the interest of rectifying the failure and degradation of the capitalist system. The obstacles this faces, be they the economics that undergird silicon valley or biospheric collapse, are just that–obstacles, not features, of the acceleration and the left-accelerationist project. Rather, we should look to Wolfendale’s snappy formulation:

If there is any essence of left-accelerationism, it is the call to rigorously discriminate between the emancipatory potential of social and industrial technologies that have emerged within capitalism from the oppressive potentials that will inevitably be actualised should we fail to stop them. If technosocial acceleration means dystopia, then this is because we let it, and we have the option not to.

Accelerationism is ultimately a contemporary extrapolation and development of the very ideas Marx put forth a century and a half ago concerning industrial society, capitalism, and the emancipatory nature of the enlightenment project. This is not about some inexorable breakdown of the order we have wrenched from nature, it is about the role the “coruscating potency of reason” plays in defining and expanding the order that is the register of our experience, and the nature of our society.

Here is the full text of the Urbanomic accelerationist reader, via libcom.

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