Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in

Between 2005-2007, I wrote (although not here) about an ‘acceleration phase’, as part of other ‘-isms’ I had coined (smartism, paymentism) to describe rapid changes in society, although it never occurred to me that one could create an entire philosophy around it.

Over the past five decades, and especially over the past few years, much of the world has got faster. Working patterns, political cycles, everyday technologies, communication habits and devices, the redevelopment of cities, the acquisition and disposal of possessions – all of these have accelerated. Meanwhile, over the same half century, almost entirely unnoticed by the media or mainstream academia, accelerationism has gradually solidified from a fictional device into an actual intellectual movement: a new way of thinking about the contemporary world and its potential.

To some extent it has always been this way, similar to how an exponential function always grows exponentially no matter where you look at it. Although the author sets the demarcation at 50 years ago–about the same time as the French postmodernist movement, which explored themes of commercialism–in forthcoming post, Late Stage Capitalism, I discuss how the demarcation is probably closer to 2008.

If capitalism hits a bump in the road, and slows down” – as it has since the 2008 financial crisis – “they say it needs to be kickstarted.”

The evidence suggest that capitalism has accelerated since 2008, but it’s a different kind of capitalism. Capitalism–as in the acquisition and ownership of capital–has been on a tear since 2008 and is stronger now than ever before; capitalism, as in entrepreneurship and small business (except apps and social networking), maybe not.

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

The article includes Nick Land among accelerationists, but Land’s recent writings, at best, are only lukewarm about accelerationism. He’s closer to being a reactionary than an accelerationist. Although some reactionaries may believe accelerationism is inevitable, they don’t necessarily see it as a force of good, but rather as a force of multiculturalism and political correctness, whereas other reactionaries may seek accelerationism, not an end in and of itself, but in order to accelerate the collapse of the ‘system’ so it can be rebuilt. As discussed in the post, SJW/liberal Cathedral vs. Tehnocommercialism Cathedral an ‘accelerationist’ government will probably resemble some admixture of neoliberaism and neoconservatism, which means more immigration, which reactionaries obviously oppose. Just imagine Tyler Cowen in charge of America.

In some ways, Karl Marx was the first accelerationist. His Communist Manifesto of 1848 was as much awestruck as appalled by capitalism, with its “constant revolutionising of production” and “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions”. He saw an ever more frantic capitalism as the essential prelude to the moment when the ordinary citizen “is at last compelled to face … his real conditions of life” and start a revolution.

Marxism and accelerationism are related in that they place ‘capital’ at the center of their philosophical universes, with religion and ethnography secondary (as everyone knows, Marx likened religion to an opiate), but the major distinction is that postmodernists and Marxists see capitalism as inherently exploitative and alienating, whereas accelerationists are optimistic. Postmodernism puts ‘power’ at the center of its universe.

Two years later, another disillusioned French Marxist, Jean-François Lyotard, extended the argument even more provocatively. His 1974 book Libidinal Economy declared that even the oppressive aspects of capitalism were “enjoyed” by those whose lives the system reordered and accelerated. And besides, there was no alternative: “The system of capital is, when all’s said and done, natural.”

Surprised the article does not mention Society of the Spectacle, published in 1967 by another French Marxist, Guy Debord.

Recent examples of accelerationists include the late American professor of business administration at the University of Maryland, Julian Simon, who famously argued against the theory of Malthusian catastrophe.

His optimism is the opposite of Land’s pessimism, although, ironically, Simon suffered from lifelong depression.

China was already an accelerationist society: fixated by the future and changing at speed. Presented with the sweeping projects of the Chinese state, his previous, libertarian contempt for the capabilities of governments fell away.

This blog mentions China a lot for that reason, although, imho, China’s success has more to do with high IQ than government. Low-IQ countries, no matter what system of government they choose, tend to always be inferior and suffer from stagnation, high inflation, and corruption. Low-IQ countries depend on foreign capital inflows and or commodities to prop up their economies, whereas China is able to grow organically through trade and innovation.

Neoreaction has a faith in technology and a following in Silicon Valley, but in other ways it seems a backward-looking cause for accelerationists to ally themselves with.

Yet again, another author making a generalization about NRx based on some 4-year-old information that is no longer relevant. Nick Land is an outlier; as someone who has been reading NRx blogs for years, the majority of neoreactionaries don’t subscribe to a materialist/techno-capitalist view of the world. For example, there is Mark Citadel, an Eastern Orthodox NRx blogger, and in the spirit of Hegel, his writings are imbued with religious and historical themes as central. Often Peter Thiel is mentioned when discussing NRx and Silicon Valley, but he’s not really Dark Enlightenment anyway–more neoliberal/libertarian.

NRx is also sometimes lumped with the rationalists of the Less Wrong community, but according to Slate Star Codex surveys, the majority of rationalists are politically liberal, albeit classically liberal. Rationalism as an epistemology is useful but I can do without the socially liberal stuff, which is why I created a sub-category, right-wing rationalism. The common thread between Less Wrong (as well as related rationalists Tyler Cowen, Michael Huemer, Arnold Kling, and Bryan Caplan) and NRx is the ‘shared narrative’ of opposing majoritarianism, intersectionality, and low-information discourse. That’s important, but hardly sufficient to make the leap to being a reactionary.

The reason why there is so much confusion by journalists about NRx is because NRx writers seldom write at the object-level. Object-level writing constitutes the vast majority of online commentary and is about ‘objects’ that are tangible and easy to describe, that fit into simple ‘good vs. evil’ paradigm. NRx is an extension of political philosophy and thus tends to be more vague. That’s not to say it doesn’t have objective values, but a greater effort is required by the reader to elicit them.