Cody Jones

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Reviews, thoughts, and miscellany. Less focused than 'Projects.'

Response to Xenogothic

I have to apologize at the outset for the loose organization of this response. I'm deep in the middle of reading for my doctoral exams and quite simply do not have a lot of time to dedicate to writing, as much as I would enjoy that.

I want to say, too, that I appreciate Xenogothic taking the time to write a response to my original comment on their post here. Here is their response. It will probably be helpful to read both posts, as the following assumes some familiarity with the issues.

There's a lot to think about and unpack here, and despite the length of the following, there's no way I'm going to be able to touch on all of the things I have to say, nor is there any real promise what I have to say will be said clearly, nor for that matter that it was thought clearly (and as such, apologies to any Wittgensteinians tuning in).

It's also unclear, at least for me, to whom I am speaking, or who is the target of my remarks. There's something to be said for Xenogothic and Nick Land sharing the brunt of the discursive force, and so I'll attempt to direct the following in such a spirit.

A Note on Leftism


One of the things I keep seeing on many accerationist blogs is this accusation, usually leveled at someone who isn’t entirely on board with the unconditional accelerationist platform, that the contemporary (dare I say, mainstream?) left is intolerant, or that they (okay, we) are not open to ideas that have been influenced or corrupted by ideologies we don’t agree with. 

I’m probably something of a recovering left-purist, and it’s completely easy for me to believe that sometimes, with or without conscious consideration, I dismiss ideas because I sense they’re tainted by some non-conforming ideology. That being said, I don’t think I’m a stranger to bricolage, whatever mode that might take, and I certainly don’t see much evidence in my own selection of thinkers and artists that would be symptomatic of a leftist ‘intolerance.’

Outside of me, and more to the point in the present response, what I think the charge means, really, is that a certain clade of accelerationists are frustrated by what they perceive to be the limitations of left discourse, but what is really a rather loose set of critical principles in their own, particularly when it comes under scrutiny or attack for being lackadaisical with regards to clear thinking and rigor. To be clear, I don’t think this holds true for the majority of accelerationists, but it certainly does for Nick Land (more on this in a moment). This idea that the left is intolerant—which I would argue is one of the core messages of Xenogothic’s post, and something I’ve seen all over the place—seems like a theoretical bandaid preventing anyone from noticing the wound where there should be thought. It feels like a dismissive rhetorical tactic meant to shield people from having to slog through the unsexy parts of philosophy and politics, do the hard labor of working on the aporias that haunt this field, addressing with critical doubt the difficult and inhumane problematics of race, gender, economic class, geography, sovereignty, and so forth that would make anyone, me included, throw their hands up and retreat to shiny, bright, accelerationism and speculative realism, because these latter-day salvific philosophical sets suggest,  fundamentally, that we don’t need to care about such trivial things as where a person is born, their identity, their ability to articulate and defend themselves, and how they may be structurally limited by a hegemonic and violent global system in ways we are not.

I am not, in and of themselves, opposed to accelerationist and speculative realist models (I recognize that I alone have introduced the issue of SR into this conversation, but I sense them going hand-in-hand, even if the proponents of one have no truck with the other, and in fact find the ontologies contradictory), as I myself am keen to admit, I am very excited about the pathways and possibilities they offer. Much of my current research deals with these theories and thinkers.

But that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with them. The most respectful thing to do in philosophy is to murder your teacher, and try as I might, I cannot see how the configuration of a patchwork future, a kind of Landian unconditional accelerationist utopianism, is anything short of bad theory, and bad politics. Despite avowals to the contrary, it has very little to do with leftism. 

This isn’t an issue of who is or is not a true leftist, but like any ‘-ism,’ there are family resemblances, memes, and semiotics structures that undergird a set of conditions for thought. I see little to none of that, beyond the possibility of glib rhetoric, here. Leftism is a verb, not content. It is a commitment to a kind of self-mastery. That commitment isn’t loyal to thinkers or to ideas in-and-of themselves. It is the commitment to the labor, the project, of the alleviation of suffering. To modes of aid and affiliation. It tends to be utilitarian over deontological, materialist over idealist, libertarian over authoritarian, collective over individual, and queer over cis. It places a premium on rationality and consensus, holism over atomism, and justice over precarity and chance (again, more on this in a moment). Really, I stand with Amy Ireland: If nature is unjust, change nature. We can continue to loosely toss around the invective that one of the problems today is that the left isn’t open to ideas that have been ideologically tainted, and to be sure, this is true for many of them, but I want to submit that we don’t conflate a dedication to just and functional political futures with narrow-mindedness. This, by extension, suggests that certain ideas are foreclosed upon, forever and on: no fascist was ever a good fascist. If they were good, they were not fascists. To back off the extreme example, no capitalist was ever a good capitalist. If they were, it wouldn’t be capitalism, because the system is inherently predicated on contradiction and exploitation.

So, I reject the claim that what I’m doing is shooting from the hip with regards to what is and is not tainted by ‘the wrong kind of politics.’ Instead, I would offer: one of the more frustrating things about contemporary accelerationism, xenopoetics, neorationalism, etc (groups with which, again, I’ll happily identify) is the reaction formation to left absolutism: sometimes we mistake a desire, a need, really, for systems and systems thinking for ideological purity. In other words, I’m not reacting (insofar as I am conscious of my reasons for reacting, which it must be gracefully admitted could be a limited amount) because I think what’s being discussed here is a good idea that has historically been laced with the wrong kind of politics. I’m reacting because I think it is the wrong kind of politics. (Really, if I thought we had to discard any concept that had been misappropriated, I wouldn’t be a leftist, either.)

In short, I’m not preaching a return to left melancholy, as Xenogothic implied where it was stated that the left are paralyzed when trying to make new solutions. I’m suggesting that the solution that gives the left back its potency isn’t found in patchwork futures (High connectivity, low integration), I’m suggesting it’s found in a different metaphorical spectrum altogether: high connectivity, high autonomy.

Really, what I’m suggesting is, we get even pickier about what we do and do not salvage from the fire. No purity, no clinging to old reasons and old logics. This will have some growing pains and there are immense lodes of possible futures here, but…

The Patchwork Problem

...they certainly aren't found in Nick Land, and they certainly cannot be found in the so-called patchwork model.

As far as I understand it, the project of a ‘patchwork’ futurity is simply an attempt to rehabilitate the concept of the market (or if you prefer, ‘free enterprise’ and ‘competition,’ though ultimately these three cannot be more than resemblances of one another) outside of the material and social conditions of late stage financial capitalism, i.e., the contemporary political moment. I said as much in my original comment, suggesting the patchwork configuration furnished by Land--a future of high connectivity and low integration--was absolutely nothing more than a utopian and techno-determinist fantasy of the 'marketplace of ideas.' 

Xenogothic's response took me to task for comparing the patchwork model to the marketplace of ideas, going so far as to point out that I had fundamentally misattributed the function of the notion, that it originates in issues of free speech and the Supreme Court. This was all in effect a rather drawn-out way of positioning me as myself compromised by capitalist realism, the radical bourgeois espousing a kind of Foucualt-woke neoliberalism that has issue with disrupting the status quo, but like the non du pere that it so wishes to obey, must infinitely reassess and reinvent the status quo through the myth of progressivism. 'Twas ever thus under the machine of capitalism. All of this is summed up rather effectively when Xenogothic says:

[Cody's] invocation of the 'marketplace of ideas', even with everything discussed above aside, just feels like an attempt to reframe patchwork into the language of business. In this way, their anti-neoliberal comment nonetheless feels like it is built upon an inherently neoliberal argument. It eats itself in its self-neutralising business framing. [1]

Except this isn't really true, is it? The metaphor of the marketplace of ideas really isn’t used to talk about freedom of press or expression, as Xenogothic suggests. It’s the idea that competition will reveal truthfulness. That history ends. This is, as far as I can tell, precisely what you’re suggesting about experimentation in a patchwork world.  Xenogothic mentioned Milton, and go on to say the marketplace of ideas is “not only an analogy but a myth.” I agree. That’s my point. It is a myth. It doesn’t work. It is itself predicated on the myth of barter. All ‘free’ markets require constant intervention. 

Futher, I recognize that the market reproduces its own conditions, but Xenogothic's solution seems to be to ‘deregulate’ the global economy further and simply replace this market with a newer, more socially open market, which really just means we’re drifting into an idealist flavor of the political ideology of the decade, that dragon anarcho-capitalism, a self-contradiction if ever there was one. Xenogothic's model takes the current capitalist mode and literalizes it: there is but one subjectivity and it is economic. Everything else is mere aesthetics. tTheir objection has nothing to do with my being a left purist. It seems like it has to do with my being a leftist at all. 

What's worse, is that their objection is predicated on a conflation of content versus container, wherein the structure of the critique is superannuated into a symptomatic reading of the object under scrutiny. Pointing out aspects of neoliberalism does not a priori, mean that the argument is thusly ordered. Of course the argument is informed by neoliberal subjectivity. We are all neoliberal subjects. All critiques of capitalism will be inflected by the neoliberal hegemony.

But really, that’s not even my point. My point is, I’m saying that from as far away from neoliberalism as I can possibly stand, Xenogothic's idea, Nick’s idea, it positively reeks of neoliberalism. 

But I’ll concede the point and retract the analogy. Let’s attack the problem from a different angle, because it's worse than the marketplace of ideas, really: The patchwork model exacerbates some of the worst tendencies of the neoliberal order and eradicates some of the few I would imagine remain included in emancipatory future imaginaries. Not only that, but the patchwork model is techno-determinist and libidinal in character. In other words, it's a fantasy, not a project. 

Land, of course, isn't the first to imagine this. 

A more or less functional model of this type of society can be found in Neal Stephenson’s novel, The Diamond Age (1995). Stephenson’s world is much like what Land and Xenogothic are describing, where the nation-state was been replaced with 'phyles,' which are collectives of people organized around various cultural, ethnic, political, or ethical similarities (in this model they’re rather geographically distributed across many cities, and so the integration is arguably higher than what is being suggested by Land, though I assume this is a rather minor difference in practice). All of these enclaves are supported and networked by the Feed, which is a kind of universal source for electricity, data, and raw materials, which can be turned into food, water, necessities of many sorts. There is no scarcity, but there is, somehow, competition. 

And there is a global government, of sorts. What keeps phyles that would otherwise be lethal enemies from killing each other is the Common Economic Protocol, which emphasizes that one rule above all must be respected: personal property (which Stephenson does not distinguish from private property). 

(It is worth noting that *The Diamond Age* did much to fire the imagination of Bezos, with internal reports showing the prototype Kindle was nicknamed ‘Fiona,’ as a reference to the reader of the infinite, networked, eponymous book that motivates part of the plot.)

But let's look carefully at all of this. For Stephenson to imagine a function version of the patchwork model, several things have to happen. First and least-plausibly in the near future, the earth has been transformed into a post-scarcity world. Food, shelter, water, even comfort, is abundant and free. It requires nothing but a trip to a distribution facility. This is facilitated by, second, an essentially unlimited amount of energy, which in and of itself, means that there is relatively little purpose in having a market economy at all: in effect, infinite energy means that markets are relegated to game-playing, a second-order process that, while serious, does not make or break the world. Third and finally, everything is run and modified by nanotechnology: matter is transformed at will by machines of loving grace. There is little illness. There is little reason at all for the Common Economic Protocol because there is nothing to fight over but ideology. The society also relies on inherent contradiction: there is still a unifying world-governing principle, meaning that high connectivity and low integration, while true in some ways, is absolutely false in others. 

Even though Stephenson manages to work a book out of a hunk of utopianium, that doesn't mean there is much at stake. This seems to mesh well with Axxon N. Horror's remark that "a lot of this is science-fiction" regarding how a patchwork model would function. This comment, which I took to be in the spirit of supporting the patchwork, is really more instructional for pointing out its flaws. This all loops back to maybe my core objection: the project is utopian. It trades nearly all description for prescription. Effective reasoning is a dialectic between these poles, it is not one or the other. 

What's more is that all of this presupposes a null subject. It privileges rational actors as a presumption over all other presumptions. The idea calls for a tabula rasa, where we are all the same sort of person, in ever sense. No geography, no gender, no nothing. For that matter, the metaphor of a planet doesn’t even hold any more. For a real patchwork future, again as Axxon N. Horror notes, you’d need actually existing space stations, space ships, by implication, as Stephenson observed, a post-scarcity amount of energy.

But you can get around all that. We could just have a fully integrated society, where people wouldn't need to pick up and move as collecti-- wait! Look where we've ended up. To this end, there’s no problem with the nomad of Deleuze & Guattari when one can quite literally pick everything up and walk away. But if the scale of high connectivity, low integration is a single, individual, person, that would make it no different that high connectivity and high integration.

The problem of identity is insuperable. It cannot be reduced to merely 'you do you,' as Xenogothic suggests. But let’s just call it: Nick Land doesn’t give a shit about identity. He doesn’t give a shit about identity in precisely the way one would expect someone like him to not give a shit. I don’t particularly fault the guy. I probably wouldn’t either if my entire political ideology was simply an extended fan-fiction of Neuromancer

And maybe this gets to the heart of it: If Land wants to be Case and not a mega-corp, then he has to recognize one of two possibilities: either Case hates the world he’s in (he does, a bit, though not his ability to jack into the matrix), and therefore is not a supporter of the world Land wants, or Case likes it, and is therefore a conservative, which is actually kind of apt for Land. If Land wants to be Wintermute, the same applies, but with the idea, undialectical, idealist, purely ideological, that we must first generate a cyberpunk dystopia in order to achieve the Singularity. To return to Stephenson: his cyperpunk dystopia Snow Crash takes place before The Diamond Age. Tabula rasa grounded in fantasy, both times.

This is a videogame mentality, but really it's an idea at least as old as Aristotle: catharsis, a kind of libidinal fun, to watch others suffer. It is not fun to actually be the sufferer. Land doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish his pornography from his politics, and as such, he’s worked himself into a corner trying to rationalize the world as he wants it, and its disconnect from the world as he finds it. The results have been decidedly mixed, as I’m sure you agree.

But we can’t let it go there, because the model of the patchwork society is a science fiction fantasy of a certain sort. I think patchwork models are probably good raw material for an imagined future, but I think they require planning, collaboration, and directionality, and I don’t think Nick Land thinks that. We have a responsibility to think complexly, like systems theorists, and analysts of large-scale data. I constantly hear how it’s so great we have these decentralized systems and nodal metaphors of connectivity where anyone on the internet can connect with anyone else. These are then used to prop up arguments like the patchwork model. The problem is, if we’re reasoning by analogy here, then we aren’t the users of the internet. We’re the designers of it, the systems admins and software architects and GUI designers that carefully, thoughtfully, plan things out. Then, in conjunction with, but not control over, other designers, the vast network began to emerge. That’s the truth of these things: there is a coherent and brilliant set of designs at work to create decentralized, modular, and autonomous systems. Using the end-user experience to describe the underlying designs is like trying to speak French because you happen to know the plot to Madame Bovary. Affect theory aside, there’s no way to do that, and geopolitics, really, geopoetics, has got to be one of the things you really don’t want to half-ass.

This is a fantasy, and not an effective one. It reifies a sort of crypto-mascunlinist instrumentalization of reason in the service of great works, a frontier nostalgia digitized and uploaded into the nascent cybernetic-libertarian mode of life, where we strike out, ‘go west, young androids’ and the ingenious and the tough, those that can subdue and master super-nature, are considered the most resilient and successful.  want no part of an open future. Competition does not distribute ideas nor resources equitably nor with anything other than the most simplified of feedback loops, a most basic cybernetic vocabulary. Competition and experimentation are not the same thing, one does not presuppose or necessitate the other, but I see no distinction in the patchwork model, especially as Xenogothic notes that the only thing preventing white ethnostates or fascist regimes is that they wouldn't be viable in the market ("Ethnonationalism becomes ethno-isolationism and good luck surviving long with that outlook").

Patchwork, as Xenogothic holds, probably is a fantasy, and to their credit, they admit that it's a tabula rasa, too: "Patchwork is a 'rip it up, start again' approach.” But it’s not. It just isn’t. What happens at the beginning? What happens at the end? Does one state shout ‘eureka’ and then dominate the others? Do they export their idea? Do they sell it? Is it a gift? How do you know you have figured out a better model? How do you get literally any fraction of your society to agree it’s a better model? How will you implement it? How will others that don’t wish to be included react? Won’t it just be a patchwork forever? Is a quilt the end of history? Isn’t fragmentation just code for sovereignty? I ask all of those questions with an eye towards the theoretical. I don’t even care about the practicality right now. I just want the theory to make any sense at fucking all. Patchwork projects of other sorts have maps. Accurate or not, there’s a guiding conception over and above the idea of competition weeding out ineffective forms of life. What’s to stop the neo-fascists from making a dirty bomb and placing it in the center of an anarchist commune? If the answer is, ‘competition,’ I wish to direct your attention to... the world. The patchwork model treats as solution the very thing that has been most destructive to us: it equalizes private enterprise with governmentally. How, really, is a voluntary assemblage in the form of a micro-state different than a transnational corporation? Put a different way, how would it be effectively distinct from the Vatican, an entity that is both corporation, religion, and nation state? It’s a big step back in the guise of a great leap forward.

As much as we want to hope that clever theoretical positioning will save us, it quite simply must be said that the patchwork model isn't a replacement of the state with a post-state, it's the replacement of the state with nothing but corporations. However divorced from a contemporary capitalist model they may very well be, these meta-corporations will almost certainly, without exception, exploit. This is because, as much as we pretend, the corporation is not something that can be divorced from profit seeking, and this is infinitely more so in a patchwork model with no prescribed ideology. There is nothing in practice or in theory stopping anyone from simply declaring a corporate fiefdom.

It's hard to imagine that this has anything but the crassest of intentions, that it dreams of smuggling a violent economic subjectivity into the future. But let's be real. This isn't really genuine political optimism. It's making a virtue of selfishness and greed. It seems like this is a symptom in a lot of accelerationist circles: people can't stand the idea of having to be part of a society. They only want to answer to themselves and people that look or feel like them, all of this 'smuggled in' through an ostensible desire for pluralism without homogeneity.

If you think I'm being unfair, Xenogothic notes: 

[T]he potential for the unrestricted progression of other political ideals, and the proliferation of as-yet-unsubstantiated alternatives, whatever they may be, is not something I am willing to sacrifice for the sake of a single patch of shitheads.[2]

And:

Neocameralism, then, often comes across, to me, as a way to smuggle a new radical geopolitical perspective into acceptable discourse through the language of business. [3]

What's fascinating about this is, in other places, Xenogothic points out how against businesses and corporations they are, something that feels like they're speaking out of both sides of their mouth. They say that "irrespective of subjective political desirability,” neocameralism, brainchild of the alt-right superstar Moldbug, is a useful way of thinking through a 'business ontology' and 'smuggling' certain political doctrines into the future. The crassness and disinterest, the lack of anything like political compassion, baffles me here, because I can't really imagine that Xenogothic would be okay with something like this. "Subjective political desirability" is a great way to say, I'm not a precarious subject affected by certain aspects of this rhetoric, so it's not my problem. I don’t know for a fact who Xenogothic is, but the toxicity surrounding Moldbug isn’t something I’d ever be comfortable framing as ‘subjective political desirability.’ I guess in the sense I am neither a racist nor a raging sexist then yes, it is subjective I don’t want those things. I suppose I’m just wondering why we’re picking literally the shittiest parts from really important thinkers? And from utterly useless thinkers? Moldbug is human trash. I don’t know what to tell you. Sexism and racism will always make someone human trash. That is my prescriptive, transcendental, idealist, claim. Bury me at sea.

This post is superbly long, so I'm going to wrap it up: Why does any of this need to be a process that is haphazard, survivval-of-the-fittest, YES, free market? I suspect this has something to do with an ideal subject not wanting to compromise their freedom for any reason at all, some utopian life outside of the Leviathan or social contract, but instead of it being cruel, nasty, brutish, and short, they imagine it’ll be no bed times and all the entertainment you want, but with no responsibility to anyone else, other than the pursuit of a good life. If that isn’t what Land is suggesting, then why go to so much trouble to deploy a political configuration that simply scales this desire? Why are we not looking for collaborative models of autonomy, ie, positive freedom autonomy, over and against negative freedom autonomy (free from the requirement that you not be racist because you live in your little fantasy bubble ethnostate)?

Xenogothic says: “'Business ontology' isn’t the same as rejecting ontology as such, just as rejecting the 'marketplace of ideas' shouldn’t slide into the rejection of having ideas.”  I’m not. I’m really not. I’m suggesting that maybe the patchwork isn’t the best mode of production to advocate for a) replacing global capitalism, and b) ensuring people continue to develop and have ideas. It seems to me that there is no good distinction between a patchwork world and a universal market. I must aver that markets are not rational actors, nor do they distribute resources rationality. A market is a market, where goods or services, including politics and ideas, are exchanged, where economic reason of whatever flavor obtains to the exclusion or near exclusion of all other rationalities; it doesn’t matter if it’s corporations or individuals or tiny states that are practicing a bizarre more of neo-mercantilism, it will never be configured along the lines of rational, non-contradictory modes of production, nor an ethics of mutual aid. What it has is the illusion of those things, and the illusion of a non-coercive system of governance. But absolute choice, this concept of freedom, is never real, and the closest models we have of a society of voluntary individuals, requires a specific kind of politics. Not a temporary, optional, meta-politics that secretly governs as the hyper-sovereign even after a subject has chosen their 'phyle.' That's the thing, history is what hurts, and absolute, total, free choice of political epistemology has been tried, and it has failed. Spectacularly. Some ideas are cordoned off.

A "You do you mentality;" that’s quite literally just unconditional libertarianism. In fact, it might just be right libertarianism. There are common accords base on mutual aid and shared values in nearly all left libertarian models I’ve ever seen, including accelerationism. You do you until when? 

“If you don’t like it, offer an alternative. That’s the idea.” Okay, my alternative is having a mode of production that doesn’t allow for or at bare minimum facilitate Nazis. But “the silver lining to this ethnostate example is, of course, that all white nationalists will be isolated to a relatively small area.” This actually is an assumption.

Xenogothic says of the right: “Maybe they just know that the dumbest thing to do when thinking about patchwork is to make assumptions?” It’s not assumptive to try to tease out the consequences of theories and actions. It’s dismissive to treat desire as mere assumption. There really would be a problem with having white ethnostates. Call me a Stalinist, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest Nazis and white supremacists are always bad. Politically, ethically, aesthetically, there’s not much I can say for them.

Instead, let's imagine this: the idea of solidarity across identify swathes. ‘Solidarity without similarity’ as Xenogothic noted Consciousness Razing called it, what Laboria Cuboniks calls making the universal the intersectional, a “political orientation that slices through every particular, refusing the crass pigeonholing of bodies.” This requires more than 'you do you.' It requires large-scale systems organizing. It requires planning and flexibility and hybridization. Most differently, it requires queer bodies and identities, a multiplicity of subjectivities, not simply ideas.

If you don’t transition to a collaborative analysis of complex problems, you’re simply perpetuating the impotent and depressingly small-scale struggle of insurrectionary and protest-based leftisms that dominated the post-68 world. The reason they worked before that moment was because it really was a low integration low connectivity world. Socialism in one country ‘works’ to the extent you don’t really have to give a shit about other countries, unless they invade you. After the bomb, after the internet, after the fiat currency and after global warming, effectively, after a set of Hyperobjects were introduced, you can’t have anything remotely as effective with the tools you’re choosing. LCLI becomes HCHI, and with it, so too do our tools need to be changed.

I guess it really comes down to whether you view the illusion that is the human in politically (I first mistakenly wrote ‘complicatedly’) pessimistic or optimistic terms. Are left political projects because of our intrinsic desire for mutual aid or are they attempts to counteract an organic system that resists such things?

So yes, to answer Xenogothic's question from their first post, it really is so dangerous to shake things up, but shikata ga nai, that’s what the material and cultural conditions demand. But this project is an infinite one. Leftism is the responsibility of worldbuilding together. It is also something that has stages that can, in the global analysis, look contradictory, when they are in fact not. Who’s to say the patchwork problem isn’t one of those stages. I don’t think it is, but I haven’t really asked that many people. 

 

 

Cody Jones1 Comment