More on Accelerationism

In the spirit of Dominic Fox’s comments, I thought I would post a few thoughts about the recent discussion between Anthony Paul Smith and Pete Wolfendale.

One of the things that’s striking to me is the call, on the part of Accelerationists, for interpretive charity. I mention this not primarily because I want to protest it, nor because I want to defend a certain flippancy in responding to Accelearationism (which no doubt I could be pinned with at times), but simply to analyze it. My question, very simply, is why it is that critiques of Accelerationism seem to be received as if they were lacking in charity. Is it because the Accelerationist project is imagined as having a value such that too hasty critique of it would lead to a dismissal that would be ultimately unfortunate? (If so, in virtue of what is this value derived?) Is it because the Accelerationist project is imagined as being fundamentally right, such that critiques of it could not touch its essence but only stem from seizing on an accidental misphrasing? … Again, these are serious / honest questions – I don’t mean to phrase them in such a way that they are already read to be lacking charity.

On a related point, I wanted to clarify a bit about the nature of the critique of Accelerationism that I, at least, advance. It is, rather (perhaps too) bluntly, that it is a developmentalist project, which is to say that it is, in the narrative and possible positions it sets up, structurally complicit in the colonialism and anti-black racism that are entangled in modernity. (Perhaps this could be disentangled – I don’t think so, but in any case, given the historical reality I think the burden of demonstrating this disentanglement is on those who advance the modern project, and this means, at the very least, that critical awareness of such entanglement ought not be pathologized in advance as a kind of refusal to participate in a “positive” project of emancipation or “space of reasons.”)

Anyway, I think it’s important to emphasize that this critique is an “objective” critique. By this, I mean that it is aimed at the actual argument articulated in, for instance, the Accelerate Manifesto. Accordingly, when I make this critique about Accelerationism, it is not aimed at the supposed intentions of individuals advocating Accelerationism, it is rather about the objective character of the claims. To get into a kind of moralistic debate about individual intentions is a distraction. My interest is not to start a debate over whether an individual advocate of Accelerationism is or is not colonial, nor to urge individual Accelerationists to do this or that in order to avoid the risk of colonialism; it is something both less and more than this, namely to say that the Accelerationist project is, in its objective articulation, colonialist.

Furthermore, the reason that I, at least, do this is because I think it is important to say what it is. This is to say that I am not optimistic about the capacity of Accelerationism to expand itself, or to be more inclusive – to let more people in, as it has sometimes been phrased. It is simply that Accelerationism, given the relatively strong attention it has garnered, becomes a significant thesis – and if a thesis has serious problems, then it’s important to point that out. It is a matter of analysis, rather than an investment in Accelarationism’s survival.

Also, regarding the modality of analysis (or study): there seems to me (and I say “seems,” as I may be wrong) to be a sense in which Accelerationism understands claims that it is entangled in coloniality as somehow multiculturalist or as motivated, following Dominic’s comments, by a “preferential option for the poor” – that is, by a kind of representationalizing discourse. I don’t think this reflects the nature of such critiques. Again, at least for my part, it is simply a matter of analyzing the Accelerationist argument, rather than any kind of moral judgment – in other words, the point is not “Accelerationism is excluding people / Accelerationism needs to do a better job of representing the oppressed,” it is rather (to say it again) that “Accelerationism is, in its objective articulation, colonial.” I am a realist in the sense that there is anti-black racism, there is coloniality … and so analysis of what is said and called for involves analysis of such realities. On my analysis, Accelerationism’s relation to modernity is one that furthers – or at the very least does not substantively antagonize – these realities. One could have a debate on this, but if so, then that should be the debate, apart from any attachment to questions of representationalism.

 

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7 Responses to “More on Accelerationism”

  1. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I haven’t read Dominic’s remarks yet, but I want to say that I would sign up to everything said here. So where you say “for your part”, I would say this is what I have aimed for if not always reached. In the discussion I felt I was being pushed to be representationalist or to respond to the summer school set up as needing to be more inclusive. I kept trying to resist that, because that’s not my point. That this kind of critique is misunderstood or confused with normal multiculturalist discourse is unsurprising, especially when the coordinates for conversation have shifted so far form such concerns.

  2. danbarber Says:

    Anthony, absolutely — just to clarify, the “for my part” was not to distinguish myself from what you said, because i agreed very much with that (and it was clear to me that you were resisting the representationalist frame). I just imagined there might be other critiques out there that had different angles, etc.

  3. David Bell Says:

    Some tangents/reflections:

    1. Totally agree with the above. This isn’t about the exclusion/non-inclusion of certain bodies from accelerationist discourse, but about the exclusion of certain modes of thought and certain labouring bodies/ecologies. That perhaps shouldn’t be separated from the non-inclusion of certain bodies in accelerationist discourse, but it can’t be reduced to it either. I think a lot of people assume that those critical of accelerationism/universalism are making this kind of identity reductionism (this ties into broader critiques of ‘identity politics’), but I just don’t see this. People aren’t pushing for recognition/inclusion for certain identities (whether that’s inclusion in accelerationist discourse or in the state); they’re pushing for a change in the way people conceive of ‘identity’, and thus to create their own discourse/programmes on the basis of these understandings. I’ll come back to labour below.

    2. Accelerationism’s temporality seems, to me, to be the source of many of its exclusions. It’s extraordinarily linear and hangs on an extremely problematic concept of ‘the future’ that, ironically, seems pretty nostalgic (as if hauntology moved quicker than the years and now finds itself projected into the future). Hito Steyerl might have accused accelerationism of ‘dead white Ferrari envy’ but for me the car best suited to accelerationism is the DeLorean – greeted with great fanfare for its supposed futurism – but shoddily put together, and very quickly hopelessly out of date.

    3. Who builds the DeLorean? Who builds the highway it speeds Back to the Future along? Which is to say, whose labour is accelerationism ignoring and whose dispossession is it ignoring (and I include the more-than-human in this ‘who’)? This is less about accelerationism’s modes of thought and more about its political economies/ecologies (though they’re linked, I think). How do we have this shiny new future without conflict minerals? How do we power our future without dams built on indigenous land? How do we feed our future without destroying the rainforest?

    4. Accelerationism assumes a certain (consuming) subject as providing revolutionary impetus. It’s Lyotard’s subject who swallows polystyrene, metal bars and its sausage pâtés; the consumer who cannot face the thought of losing some of their privilege. Ok, fine, I love Coca-Cola too; I want monorails in my utopia. And though this subject may be historically conditioned that doesn’t necessarily mean it can be undone through ethical/ascetic self-mastery (which is of course just another form of consumerism). I get this. But that subject is also spatially as well a historically conditioned: there’s a question of the degree of ‘subsumption of the consumer’ here. A significant portion of the world’s population isn’t in this position and, I would speculate, doesn’t have this (supposedly) ready-for-the-future subjectivity. Where it’s long been suggested we have to push non-capitalist societies through capitalism in order to advance their modes of production, I want to suggest that for accelerationism this is also necessary in order to create a sufficiently future-oriented consuming subject as well.

    5. And so back to the producer. If I can be permitted to get a little ‘vulgar’, we can change the ideological superstructure (and thus the subjectivity of consumers) through a change in the mode of production. In other words, we don’t have to accept the consuming subject as a given; and surpassing it doesn’t necessarily mean denying it. Who knows what subjects would be produced by a revolution in the means of production? This is why I’ve far more time for Jameson’s ‘Wal-Mart as Utopia’ thesis* (which the accelerationists also seem to like). And it’s through organisation at the level of production that we might find some answers to the questions posted at the end of point 2, above.

    6. There’s a very naive reading of technological history going on here. ‘There were admirable attempts to do this in the past, but they failed. But now we have the technology to do them properly! Promethean mastery is in our grasp!’. Yes, ok, we’ve all read Red Plenty and Cybernetic Revolutionaries. But part of the lesson here in those books – or in Red Plenty, at least – is that technology is distorted by Machiavellian scheming, by ideology – by, well, politics. That’s not going to go away, no matter how good your processors. And I just don’t trust said processors, either.

    7. Localism/folk politics is a straw man. Folk culture is decidedly global: you only have to listen to folk music to know that. And what’s figured as local is often pretty global too. Total false dichotomy (even as they say they want to overcome binary logic). Even where things are local, they work beyond their space-time to influence and inspire (or are we to damn the Paris Commune for not being ‘The World Commune’, for not ‘winning’?).

    8. A friend that works for an NGO was part of a team trying to improve conditions in a Kenyan village. He and his team asked the village council what the biggest problem was. “No clean water”, they were told. The women of the village had to make a 6 hour round-trip to the nearest well. So the NGO workers built a well closer to the village. The well was repeatedly vandalised: filled with rocks so it could no longer be used. The NGO workers were bemused. They asked the village council why. They claimed not to know. Eventually, they asked a woman in the village. “It is us”, she said. “When we walked to the well we had time away from the men. We could talk and enjoy ourselves. With the well here they make us work hard in the time we would have been walking to the well. We would rather walk all day.” The NGO then set up a programme based on critical pedagogical methods to explore these issues, and the villagers agreed to provide a womens’ only space. Maybe it’s this kind of engagement that gets decried as ‘local’ or ‘folksy'; as a barrier to acceleration. And it was, in a way. But it was utterly necessary. We can’t simply accelerate through/over peoples’ lived experiences, nor assume that there is any such thing as linear movement to a better future. The failure to engage with the women wasn’t an accident, it was the result of a faulty worldview and set of operating practices that ignored the specifics of local power.

    9. Not only does accelerationism damage those whose lifeworlds don’t fit into its linear, Leninist conception of history, it fails to acknowledge that they can help us too. If we bothered to engage with ‘local’ or ‘folk’ knowledges, we might find that they provide some clues on how we might live beyond capitalism. To say we can learn from non-patriarchal hunter-gatherer societies in the far north-west of Canada, for example, is not a call for primitivism; it is to say that our past might offer clues to our future. It is to acknowledge – as the Zapatistas did – that modernity and the global doesn’t have to trump the local, the embedded, the folk – but can work with and through it (and vice versa). And what of organisations like Via Campesina! or the MST? These are people who have resisted subsumption into capitalist forms of production; or escaped it (relatively, in both cases). They don’t have all the answers, of course, but they have been addressing crucial issues from the left for many years and need engaging with, not dismissing. To tell them that their resistance is wrong-headed and they need to submit themselves to capitalism is fucking obnoxious.

    10. I’m repeating myself now so I’ll just do a TL;DR:
    a) What about struggle in the field of production?
    b) The ‘local’/’folk’ is a strawman.
    c) Accelerationism’s ‘future’ is not universal, and looking at ‘local/folk’ presents might help us figure the post-capitalist future differently.

    *he’s now developed this into arguing that a universal draft would be a utopian move in the USA. Accelerate the armed forces! (no, really, he has: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNVKoX40ZAo)

  4. Prof. G. E. B. Kivistik Says:

    How many slums will we bulldoze to build the Information Superhighway?

  5. Philip Says:

    I find the claim that the accelerationists are hard done by and excluded by an insular, conservative, ‘protect their own’ academy to be rather conceited (even if it’s true). They make it sound like they are people who’ve been doing hard theoretical labour for years and years. This stuff is a couple of years old, for the most part. The sense of entitlement is extraordinary.

    Plus, the whole notion of ‘folk’ politics is quite simply anti-political. To prepend ‘politics’ with ‘folk’ is to demean both terms. Either you engage with others on their own terms without a priori diminution of those others or you don’t.

  6. Ross Wolfe Says:

    I’m not really sure why the accelerationists feel so persecuted by the academy. Or rather, I’m not sure why they desire to join the academy in the first place. By Marx’s time, already, the much-vaunted German university system had already become a place where ideas and politics went to die. That’s why he was basically unemployable, an intellectual and political pariah. He became stateless in 1848, his citizenship universally revoked.

    As wretched as the dinosaur Marxist sects can be, academic leftism — not just social-democratic or Marxist professors but, even more absurdly, anarchist professors — is still more craven. Sometimes they’re more clever or innovative, not as bound to partisan dogmas, but the New Left’s “long march” through the institutions has not brought society any closer to revolution.

    Max Weber, the first professor to teach Marx’s Capital in a university setting, himself deeply influenced by it, was a committed anti-Marxist. In some ways, the first post-Marxist, synthesizing Marx’s account of primitive accumulation with Nietzsche’s ideas regarding asceticism.

    Either way, here are my thoughts on the exchange between Wolfendale and Smith.


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